Growing in Grace
Last spring, as I walked through our garden, I was thrilled to see the fast-growing tomato plants and the size of the fruit they produced. After several weeks of tending, weeding, and watering, the day came when the tomatoes were ripe and ready to pick. Walking carefully through the tomato vines, I picked several plump, red tomatoes; I thought back to my childhood and the big, lush gardens my parents grew. They always enjoyed gardening, and the fruit from their eﬀorts was a blessing to our family as we sat down to enjoy meals together.
When we consider the care and nurture gardeners must provide to help their plants grow, we see several parallels between horticultural care and the process of intentional nurturing in the life of the sanctified Christian. If we desire to grow spiritually and bear fruit—and this should be our constant goal—we must recognize that we play a part in the growth process. Of course, we understand that our spiritual growth comes from God. God germinates the seed and causes the plant to grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). He produces the small bloom that develops into the ripened fruit. Yet He also invites us to cooperate with Him in this process of developing a mature character.
God longs to redeem and transform every aspect of our lives. Even after we are sanctified, the Holy Spirit is at work to transform the immature and unloving tendencies of our personalities. It’s never appropriate to say, “Oh, that’s just him,” or “she’s just that way.”
Holiness should aﬀect every part of our lives, changing the ways we speak, think, and respond to others; it should help us to watch the attitudes we harbor.
Sanctification takes place in relationship with God. He purifies and energizes this relationship while we give of ourselves in devotion to Him. Our response in faith brings us to the point of entire sanctification.1 Entire sanctification is the moment when the Spirit of God purifies the hearts of justified believers. God is willing and waiting to do His work if we will consecrate ourselves to Him and enter into this work of grace by faith.
When a husband and wife gaze into each other’s eyes and share their vows with each other on their wedding day, they realize that their marriage is just starting. This is similar to the spiritual encounter we experience when we consecrate everything to God and ask Him to sanctify us by faith. Both of these covenant relationships need to grow and mature; they also require us to develop a deeper, sacrificial love.
In Stephen S. White’s introduction to T.M. Anderson’s book, After Sanctification: Growth in the Life of Holiness, he recalls something that Anderson once said in a sermon: “Entire sanctification is an end; but is not only an end, it is also a beginning. It is an end to sin in the soul and the beginning of a life of spiritual development which should be exceptional.”2
This spiritual development is what we call growth in grace. This spiritual growth should cause the fruit of the Spirit to be developed in our lives. In fact, the litmus test of the sanctified heart should be that the fruit of the Spirit is being formed in us daily. God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control should be more evident in our lives today than they were a few months ago or even last week.
In chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples the parable of the sower. The diﬀerent types of soil in the story represent the varied hearts of listeners: hearts similar to a hardened path, hearts that are laden with rocks, and hearts that allow weeds to choke the sown Word, stunting any growth. The only heart that Jesus commends is the fertile heart; it is free of rocks and weeds, allowing the seed to germinate, grow, and flourish.
This should be the goal of the sanctified heart, representing the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s consider some ways that we can cooperate with God, allowing His grace to cultivate and transform our lives. John Wesley taught that by regularly observing the means of grace, a person can cooperate with God in His work of redemption and transformation. Just as God’s grace enables a person to believe in Him and draws the unrepentant person to His love, His sanctifying grace continues to transform us after we have been entirely sanctified. Wesley understood “outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying or sanctifying grace.”3
When we make prayer a priority, study Scripture, experience Christ in the Eucharist, and participate in corporate worship and discipleship groups, we position ourselves better to receive God’s grace that sanctifies us. These practices, or spiritual disciplines, allow the Holy Spirit greater freedom to speak to us and bring us to a place where transformation and spiritual maturity can easily occur. Now more than ever, the world needs to see holiness lived out by God’s people. God desires for us to grow in grace, resulting in Christlike lives in the world.
In the third chapter of Colossians, Paul tells the church then, and now, that mature Christians must make wise lifestyle choices. He says that we should get rid of the sinful (earthly) nature and clothe ourselves with God’s character, love, and forgiveness. God’s grace is our source for spiritual growth and maturity. We also have His Word and the Christian community as resources to join Him in this process of growth.
Practicing these spiritual disciplines is as essential to the soul as fertilizing and cultivating the soil are for gardens. May we be willing participants in our own spiritual formation and a constant source of help and encouragement to others as we grow together in grace.
Darren Melton is lead pastor of Gateway Church of the Nazarene in Oskaloosa, Iowa, USA.
1. Keith Drury, Holiness for Ordinary People, (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2009), 103.
2. T.M. Anderson, After Sanctification: Growth in the Life of Holiness, The NNU Wesley Center Books, http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyctr/books/0601-0700/HDM0681.pdf (accessed September 24, 2020).
3. John Wesley, “The Means of Grace” (Sermon 16), (Waterford: CrossReach Publications, 2020), 9.
Holiness Today, January/February 2021
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.