Christianity 201

August 14, 2010

Your Spiritual Report Card

Years ago, I told someone that, “you should always carry a sermon in your back pocket.” In other words, we who are the laity should always have a message to bring.

If I have a sermon in my back pocket, it would be on II Peter 3:18. I’ve actually used this in two different churches. Right now there is a great deal of debate as to whether pastors should preach sermons written by others, but I’m not even sure a pastor should recycle one of his own sermons. But if another invitation would come up, I might actually do this again. If it’s getting near the end of the school year, I compare this word of instruction to a two-subject report card; a way to check up on yourself and see how you’re doing in Christian growth:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Some people listen to sermons in church and immediately shut down their thinking processes because they’ve heard the verse before, or consider it too basic, too Christianity 101. At that point, I always say, that if you’ve been a Christ-follower for some time, and you want a report card that lists more subjects, if you want Christianity 201, you should look at Colossians 1: 9-12. Here’s how The Message version translates* this section:

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.


That presents a greater challenge. I can give myself passing grades on the II Peter section; grace and knowledge aren’t an issue. But the Colossians passage… Look at the individual phrases and see what marks you would give yourself. Here’s the more familiar wording from the TNIV:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.

*I’ve used the word translation since Eugene Peterson worked from original languages. Some would prefer the word paraphrase, which Evangelicals tend to use pejoratively, and linguists don’t use at all. Placing text “A” in words understood by people group “B” is translating.