When we moved here in 2014, Daniel was 11 years old. Now he’s 14, and is taller than his mother. Our children are growing up – because that’s what children do. That’s also what the children of God do. The theme of growth is throughout the New Testament. In I Corinthians 3:6-9 Paul says that believers are God’s field in which ministers of the gospel plant and water the seed of the word, and God gives the growth. Peter commands us to “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).
But what does growth look like? How does a disciple of Jesus Christ grow in a healthy way? When God grows us, what are we looking for? What does maturity look like? How do you know if you’re growing and maturing? Here’s an answer that obviously isn’t the only answer, but it’s a good answer, a memorable answer, and a balanced answer: know the truth, grow in godliness, go show and tell the love of Christ in good deeds. Or to put it another way, comprehension, character, and competency. This is my desire for each one of you, that you would grow in your knowledge of the truth, in godly character, and in a zeal for deeds of mercy and compassion and justice that are good and profitable and meet pressing needs.
Where do I get this? It comes from Titus, one of my favorite books of the Bible. Paul says in Titus 1:1 that he is a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God, and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness. He wants both unbelievers and believers to come to the knowledge of the truth, and that truth is according to godliness. That is, knowing the truth and living a godly life go hand in glove. And then along with this increased knowledge and increased love and fear of God must go a zeal for good deeds (Titus 2:14; 3:1, 8, 14). These good deeds are deeds of service and mercy and kindness and tangible care and concern for others, deeds that help other people physically and spiritually, that bring life, light, joy and peace where there was only death, darkness, sadness, and fear. And it’s these good deeds that “adorn the doctrine of our God and Savior,” to use Paul’s language in 2:10, that make it even more attractive and highlight its beauty. We show the love of God in Christ as we serve those in need, both inside and outside the church (see Gal. 6:1). And of course as we show His love we also have opportunity to tell of that love in words, sharing the gospel, giving an answer for the hope and generosity that is in us.
According to Paul, biblical growth is three dimensional growth: in our intellectual apprehension of doctrine (principle); our moral transformation of heart and life (piety); and in our practical outworking of this truth and love in good deeds (praxis). Truth and godliness (god-likeness) and good deeds always go together, like a three legged-stool. There is a cognitive aspect to Christianity, a transformational aspect and a practical aspect. All three must be present in a growing Christian. Some people say that theology is useless; but Paul doesn’t agree. He says that sound theology must lead to sound living, both in relation to God and to man, love of God and love of neighbor. “The things which are fitting for sound doctrine” in 2:1 are the fruit of the Spirit, character traits and qualities that Paul expects to see in God’s people as they grow (see also I Timothy 6:3). The reason why he wants Titus to teach and preach the doctrine of the gospel (3:4-7) is precisely so that it will lead to good deeds.
Do you see how these three aspects of growth are integrally connected, and yet we’re so prone to separate them? Paul calls us to grow in all three areas – know the truth, grow in godliness, go show the love of Christ in good deeds. But what do we do? We isolate one of these three and acts as if it’s the end all be all, we focus all our attention there, and look down on the people who don’t share our emphasis. So you have people who only focus on theology; others who only focus on personal piety and holiness; and others who only focus on mercy ministry and taking care of the poor and needy. Some people have a whole lot of doctrine in their heads, but it’s useless knowledge; they don’t use it, it doesn’t transform them. Other people think doctrine doesn’t matter, we just need to love Jesus, have our quiet time, and strive for holiness. Others don’t care much for doctrine or personal piety, but they’re always game for social action or serving at a soup kitchen; we just need to love one another and get along. But these groups usually don’t get along very well together! And Paul says, You don’t have to choose, and you must not choose! All three legs of the stool are vitally important for the believer who wants to grow in a biblical manner. Doctrine must lead to piety and practice. Godliness must be anchored in the knowledge of the truth and manifested in concrete deeds of love; it will only arise from a knowledge of the truth. Good deeds aren’t good if they are done apart from a sound theology and a heart of love and compassion.
Do we have a balanced emphasis upon knowledge of the truth and godliness/piety and good deeds? Are you growing in your knowledge about God and your knowledge of God, i.e., theology? Are you growing in godliness, in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? Are you growing in humility? Are you becoming more like God each day? Is your knowledge impelling you on to love and good deeds? Are you thinking through the practical implications of your faith? Does your head have a heart and hands and feet? May the Lord enable us to grow proportionally, increasing in our knowledge of the truth, in godliness, and in our zeal to show and tell the love of Christ in good deeds!