I like new things. I enjoy the smell of new things. Sometimes, even the thought of something new is exciting, like planning a trip to somewhere I’ve never been or searching for a new house or looking at paint swatches for a new wall color.
As humans, we love to pursue what’s new. New technology, gadgets, and tools. New methods and strategies. New innovations and discoveries. We love stories of people reinventing themselves. We look forward to new days, new school years, and New Year’s Day.
We also look for the “new” in our spiritual lives.
While new things are helpful (and I often wonder how I lived before Amazon and smart phones!) in our walk with the Lord, we don’t need something new. As we grow in our faith and Christ-likeness, we don’t need a new method. We don’t need an innovative strategy. We don’t need a new “10 Step Guide to Spiritual Growth.” We need exactly what God has provided for us. He’s given us everything we need and it’s been available to us all along.
We need the means of grace.
God has provided ordinary means by which he uses to strengthen and grow our faith. Theologians use the term “means of grace” to describe these means, though the Bible doesn’t use this phrase. In Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, he defines the means of grace as “objective channels which Christ has instituted in the Church, and to which He ordinarily binds Himself in the communication of His grace” (p. 604-605). These are the means God chooses to use, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, in our spiritual growth. God uses these means to draw us closer to himself.
What are these means? They are primarily prayer, the Word of God, and the sacraments.
The Westminster Confession Shorter Catechism puts it this way:
Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.
God doesn’t change and the means by which we receive his grace hasn’t changed either. Generation after generation, God works in us using the ordinary means of prayer, the Word of God, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is how he feeds and nourishes us spiritually. It is how we abide in him. It’s how we know him. It’s how we grow in him.
We see the early church grow through these means, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
The phrase, “means of grace,” reminds us that from beginning to end, our life in Christ is all of grace. Our justification is by God’s grace, our sanctification is by God’s grace, and our future glorification is ensured by God’s grace. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). It is not our ability to read God’s word, or how well we listen to the word preached, or how beautiful our prayers, or how faithful we are to take communion which strengthens and grows our faith; it is the Spirit’s use of these means, by the grace of God and for his glory, which transforms us.
This doesn’t mean God never uses other means to communicate his grace to us. While they are the norm, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t use extraordinary means. Certainly there are examples in the Bible of God doing so. But when it comes to the ordinary, daily growth of the Christian, we can trust that God will work through the means he’s promised to use.
So while new things are intriguing and we are quick to ditch old technology for whatever is new, when it comes to growth in the faith, we don’t need something new. We need to read and hear the word preached. We need to seek our Father in prayer. We need the sign and seal of baptism. And we need to join our church family in the feast of the Lord’s Supper.
Let us grow through the ordinary means of grace.