2 Peter 3:17-18
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)
The consistent teaching of the New Testament about the Christian life is growth. We’re to grow in all ways, but Peter commands us to grow in two specific things: grace and knowledge. A grace is a gift given to one who hasn’t earned it. It’s something you can’t get no matter how hard you work, like salvation. When we grow “in grace” we receive more and more Holy Spirit power for godly living. The Spirit’s bank of grace is infinite, to be sure, but my capacity to receive His gifts is limited. I need to grow in appropriating more and more the resources the Spirit makes available.
We’re commanded to grow also in “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. I must grow in understanding what the will of God is. Sin can be unintentional for two distinct reasons, unconscious or involuntary. I know well enough it’s wrong to be impatient and I don’t plan to “lose it.” But suddenly I find myself upset over the way someone speaks to me. I need God’s enabling grace. On the other hand, I keep discovering racial prejudices that are buried so deep I had no idea they were there. I need knowledge—of myself and of God’s view of right and wrong.
Should there be a third category, “bondage”? Although I can’t find that separate variety of sin in Scripture, it seems that chemical dependency does fall in a different category. Is it ignorance? No. Is it involuntary? Not exactly, though it may seem so to the tippler. Is it unconscious? Certainly not. We call it an addiction, and that it is. My problem with creating a separate category is that soon our contemporaries will dump all sorts of things into the “addiction” bin where you’re trapped and there’s not much hope of getting out. The truth is all sin is addictive! A particular pattern of failure gets an ever-tighter grip on a person till it seems uncontrollable. But is it? The Bible offers a way out and it’s the same for those unyielding sins binding us as for sins with a lesser grip, though it may be a greater challenge, the conflict may be more intense.
So, for two reasons I hesitate to create a third category: Scripture doesn’t make room for a condition for which one is less responsible than with other sins, and the way of deliverance is the same for deliberate and addictive sin. One more thing to notice before we turn the spotlight on ourselves. The temptation to involuntary sin, once we succumb to it, becomes voluntary. I may be caught off guard by a tempting image on TV but if I keep watching, it’s conscious sin, deliberate and defiant. The same is true of unconscious sins—falling short of God’s holiness. The moment it becomes conscious I can make some choices and the sin shifts categories. When I realize that a scenario I’m running on myself is actually an ego trip and don’t cry out to God for deliverance, that ego trip becomes conscious and deliberate. Thus, whenever the unconscious rises to the level of consciousness I’m responsible to deal with it as a matter of choice. I may not win instant victory, but at that point I join the battle, or a rebellious spirit stands exposed.
It may not be easy to judge clearly in our own lives. But usually, down deep, we really do know the difference between deliberate and unconscious sin, if we will only resist the temptation to rationalize and make excuses for our attitudes and behavior.
Are you aware of any defects in your Christian life, things you struggle with, things you need to change? Maybe you’ve called them “habitual sins,” meaning the temptation is always at you and you go down in defeat more often than you’d like others to know about. Why not create three lists, (Deliberate Choices, Unintentional-involuntary, and Unintentional-unconscious) in your private journal, being very honest and very thorough. Once you’ve been honest about it, you can choose to quit or start pleading for God’s resources (graces) to overcome.