For every believer, the ultimate goal is to become like Christ and our pursuit for maturity is a dynamic process that continues as long as we live. For this growth to take place, we have a responsibility to continue pressing on towards maturity and as we do this, we are not left on our own but it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purposes. In this article, I am going to endeavor to talk about the means of grace and their place in the life of a believer in the pursuit of maturity.
In Philippians 2:12-13, we see two concurrent and intertwined processes: God working in us and we also working out our salvation. The Bible does not say, “God is at work in you to bring about His good purposes, therefore stay in bed”. It says, “work out your salvation because God is at work in you.” What we learn from this is that God’s work does not make our work unnecessary but it makes our work possible.
As we begin to look into this, it is important to note that just as salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8), living the Christian life is also by grace alone. It is God’s grace that enables us to take part in the Christian disciplines or spiritual disciplines or what we can also call the means of grace. The term used does not really matter but the key is that God has revealed certain channels through which He regularly pours out His favor.
The means of grace are not about earning God’s favor, twisting His arm, or controlling His blessing but for constantly saturating ourselves with more of Him for consistent saturation and enjoyment of Jesus Christ, which is the end goal of these means.
We can think of means of grace as ways we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him as Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus placed themselves in Jesus’ path and sought Him. We can also look at them as channels through which God gives us spiritual food for our survival, growth, and nourishment.
The end goal of these means of grace is that we may know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who He has sent (John 17:3) and that we may consider everything else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 3:8).
When all is said and done, our goal in practicing these disciplines should not be to become a skilled Bible reader, practiced prayer or a faithful churchman but to be the ones who “understand and know God, that He is the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth (Jeremiah 9:23-24).”
The practices mentioned above are important but they should not be an end in themselves but a means to an end. They are simply a channel or means through which we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him. God’s grace empowers and inspires the various disciplines or means by which we avail ourselves in the path of His grace. What are some of these ways?
From Scripture, we find various means by which we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace as we seek Him. There are Christian books that cover the topic of spiritual disciplines more broadly and comprehensively. However, this article is not meant to cover all the spiritual disciplines or to provide a comprehensive list but to highlight the key principles that we find in Scripture: reading God’s Word, prayer, and fellowship (Acts 2:42).
For every believer, there is nothing as important as the time spent studying God’s word. At the end of the day, there is simply no replacement for finding a regular time and place, blocking out distractions and letting your heart and mind be captured and thrilled by God Himself speaking to you through His word.
The truth is that you cannot claim to love God more than you love His word. In other words, you love God as much as you love His word. Why is this so? This is because God has revealed Himself to us through His word. It is through His word that we are able to know Him and what He desires and requires of us. Therefore, we can never overemphasize the importance of God’s word in our lives as believers.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
As believers, it is important that we acknowledge Scripture as the supreme authority in our lives. God’s word is sufficient, infallible and inerrant. This means that all that we need to live the Christian life is in God’s word…for it is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
We live in a culture that encourages instant gratification and sadly, this has also affected our faith. Most times, we want quick fixes to things and this has been translated even to our Bible reading. We must learn that Bible reading is not learned overnight or even after a semester of lectures but requires that we discipline ourselves day after day, imbibing God’s word, so that it dwells richly in us, informing our minds, inspiring our hearts and instructing our lives.
Daily Bible reading can be a marvelous means of grace. However, we should be careful not to make it about checking off boxes or fulfilling an obligation but desiring to hear from God. We can think of Bible reading as a regular surveying of the biblical landscape to find a spot to settle down for a few moments to meditate, which is the high point and richest moment of Bible intake.
When it comes to reading the Bible, we should make meditation the high point of our daily devotional time. Meditation can simply be described as letting the Word of God dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). As we go about this, we should remember that we are not alone. God has not left us to ourselves to understand His words but has given us a Helper- the Holy Spirit to help us understand for on our own we cannot.
In our Bible reading, we should always bear in mind that we are not reading to gain knowledge but to take to heart what God’s word says. In John 13:17, Jesus says that “if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” James 1:25 also promises that someone who not only hears but does what God’s word says will be blessed in what he does.
For the Christian, prayer is not merely talking to God but responding to Him. This is not a conversation we start, but a relationship into which we have been drawn. We must bear in mind that God is the initiator and has spoken first and ours is to respond with gladness. In Prayer, we speak to God, who has already spoken in His word.
The purpose of prayer is not to get things from God, but to get God Himself. This is where we fail many times when we approach prayer as an avenue to get things from God. As C.S. Lewis so memorably said, “Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.”
In the words of David Mathis, “the great purpose of prayer is to come humbly, expectantly and – because of God- boldly into the conscious presence of God to relate to him, talk with him, and ultimately enjoy him as our great Treasure.”
Therefore, we see that prayer is the glad response to God for His greatness and His grace. Just as the psalmist says in Psalms 6:9: “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer”, this also applies to every Christian. As we pray, we are assured that God hears us and accepts our prayer.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are exhorted to pray without ceasing. There is a place for both praying in “the closet” and corporate prayer. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus says that when we pray, we should go into our rooms, close the door and pray. We are not only to pray in private but also pray with others. We see this in the life of Jesus whereby He took with Him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28).
In prayer, we are able to speak back to God, in response to His word to us, and experience what it means to enjoy Him as an end in Himself and not as a means to our needs and petitions. We should take this means of grace very seriously so that we may ultimately learn to enjoy God in prayer.
In Acts 1:14, we see that not only did the first Christians devote themselves to the Word, and to prayer, but also to fellowship. Their fellowship was in Jesus Christ for in Christ, they had become fellow heirs of the divine inheritance and they shared everything they had with each other.
The early church was knitted together in fellowship in such a way that they became a community for the purpose of progress and joy in the faith. In the same way, God expects us to be in fellowship with other believers. Hebrews 10:24 exhorts us not to give up meeting together but to encourage each other.
It is through fellowship that we get to make friends who will help us grow in the faith and also meet others to whom we can be an example to and walk with in terms of discipleship. It is through fellowship that deep and meaningful friendships are formed that will encourage us to keep pursuing the kingdom of heaven.
Another major role that fellowship plays is to protect us from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The body of Christ (the church), has the role of drawing back those who may wander from the faith because of the deceitfulness of sin. God has given us each other in the church not just for the company but to be to each other an indispensable means of His divine favor.
As I conclude, it is my hope and prayer that we will actively pursue these means of grace and put ourselves in the path of God’s grace bearing in mind that the end goal is the enjoyment of Jesus Christ. In the case where the fire may have died down, we can rekindle it and where there is no fire we can ignite it so that we may grow into Christlikeness.