When I use the term “mechanism for growth”, it may bring to mind images of gears and cogs turning in some massive machine. Or perhaps one thinks of a lab experiment where ingredients A, B & C produce D. These images come from a world where knowledge is an inanimate it more than anything else. Those considered wise are skilled at attaining and employing it in various aspects of life.
But from a Biblical perspective, wisdom is primarily a Person and knowledge is much more than the accumulation of it. We’re talking about a relationship with the Living God, where the mechanism for growth is organic, not mechanical. To abide in grace is to abide in the Holy Spirit of grace and His empowerment for life. Grace is entirely relational.
The first covenant established by God with humankind was called the Edenic Covenant. Just about all of us have heard the story from early Genesis where God created the universe, placing Adam & Eve, His prized and unique creatures, in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for the plants and trees (Genesis 2:15). In the cool of the evening God would come and fellowship with His much loved children. But the human race chose independence from their benevolent Creator and that didn’t go so well.
Under the Mosaic Covenant, humankind became God’s garden, which He watered and tended (Isaiah 5:1-7). Even with God’s nurturing, it took a lot of work on the part of Moses and his followers to measure up to God’s standards of perfection. Once again, they failed miserably.
Jesus then instituted an entirely New (and different) Covenant. Through this paradigm Jesus established Himself as the garden (vine) into which humans could be grafted (John 15:1-8). The ramifications of this stretch my mind like a rubber band! If God is the vine, what effort is required on our part? Simply to abide in His nourishment! Any work on our part would be a labor of love in response to what He has already done for us—not the type of laborious effort required to appease His wrath or to make something happen within ourselves.
Wow, do I like this analogy! I’m a gardener and more than once I’ve pruned an errant branch from a plant or a tree. On a hot day that thing begins to wither in no time at all. But those branches that stay connected—boy can they produce the fruit!
For some reason we often picture the Christian life as an attempt to fulfill unbending requirements so that we can appease God. The result is that we fail to abide in the vine, causing our spiritual lives to become dry and withered, no matter how hard we try. If we could simply learn to stay connected, the results would be entirely the opposite. That which appears to be difficult (i.e. living the Christian life) would more often come with ease.
This is why faith working through love is the mechanism for spiritual growth. Faith enables us to abide in a loving relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit of grace. It’s not mechanical. It’s not a formula. It’s a living relationship. This is the true nature of Christianity and no amount of religious activity or hard work can ever substitute!