Two weeks ago, in Part 3, we learned that we have to be fully convinced of God’s ability and intention to work in our lives as He promised. Now we need to move into understanding how grace plays a roll. There are many kinds of grace but the particular grace that we passively benefited from to bring us to Christ, now grabs us by the heart and says, “keep working with me to increase your understanding and joy like never before”.
Acts 2:42 enlightens us about where this fresh supply of growing-grace flows from. There are ordinary (common) vehicles or channels of grace (‘means of grace’) that, if we intentionally ride along with, will keep us in the flow of God’s blessings. This is how we move into and through sanctification that grows us in Christ. The Reformed tradition has typically taught that there are three channels through which grace flows:
- The Word
- The Sacraments (Baptism & Communion)
Christ is the fountain-head of grace and when we open our Bibles and read about Him, we receive further understanding and strength. When we see the work of Christ displayed through the symbolism of baptism, we are reminded of what Christ has done in the life of that believer. When we see the elements of communion, we remember His sacrifice and promises. All of this benefits us and we grow.
Remembrance via the sacraments is essential in the life of the believer but availing ourselves of fellowship with believers and staying in the active flow of sanctification with a local church body (along with reading the Word and prayer) are perhaps the better ticked boxes if we want to stay in the flow of grace on a daily basis.
- The Word
Eminent Saint or Pretender
“The ‘means of grace’ are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in Church, wherein one hears the Word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man . . . Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.” – J. C. Ryle*
A Christian falling away from the faith and into sin doesn’t just happen. There has to have been a lack of grace-growing activities that laid the foundation. It is predictable. When a Christian removes themselves from the ordinary means of grace, they will sin.
If you are stuck in some sin that you can’t get out of, the first thing you should do is repent and then get back to the means of grace that were given for your good:
- Reading or listening to the Word
- Fellowship with other believers in the local body of Christ
“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” (see Philippians 2:12–13). God’s work does not make our work unnecessary; it makes it possible. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace does not just pardon our failures; it empowers our successes—like successfully enjoying Jesus more than life. These are the means God has given for drinking at the fountain of life. They [the 3 means] don’t earn the enjoyment. They receive it. They are not payments for pleasure; they are pipelines. The psalmist does not say, “You sell them drink,” but, “You give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8). But all of us leak. We all need inspiration and instruction for how to drink—again and again. Habitually.“ – David C. Mathis**
We must stay devoted to the flow of grace through the means of grace. We must be moved deep within our souls when we read/listen to the Word, fellowship and pray. All of this is to keep us from becoming despondent in the face of trials, experiencing a sin-relapse, or further shame from a stunted spiritual growth; all of which take away from the ultimate goal of bringing glory to God.
Blocking the Means of Grace
“We live in a Christian generation where we have become experts at moving people by everything and every means available, and rarely is the means the Word. You see, if it’s something else, it can only hide the Word and therefore separate the people from the grace that they so desperately need.” – Pastor Steve Wilson
The American evangelical church today is full of hyped up musical performances, silly skits and pastors who use outrageous props like beds and dog collars to illustrate their point. I’ve even heard one threaten to gargle with peanut butter to get your attention if that’s what it takes. Could we be any more vocal about our disbelief that the power of the Holy Spirit can draw God’s children, or that Christ’s sacrifice is utterly sufficient, dignified and holy? Let’s all just make farty-noises with our armpits instead of saying, “Amen”, or have a boiled egg eating contest during sunrise service. What’s the difference? It’s not like this is life or death, right? Got unrepentant sin? Just fire up the PR team and choreograph an interpretive dance to tell the world how it connects us with God’s grace. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me [Paul] to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul further rebukes lofty, clever and poetic speech; wanting only to exalt the cross instead of blocking the flow of grace from the Word.
What is real fellowship? In the early church they were devoted to sharing feasts in remembrance of the Lord’s Supper and they remembered the source of grace which was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His future coming back.
“Now, you can have ‘fellowship’ and it just be food and there is benefit in that but if that food-fellowship is separated from the source of grace (the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice), then that food-fellowship can quickly deteriorate into a dangerous pot-luck; where people aren’t enjoying the benefit of fellowship that produces the flow of grace but are now fighting and dividing and celebrating something other than Christ.” – Pastor Steve Wilson
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul tells the early church that they’ve taken the grace out of the feast by removing the remembrance of Christ and making it all about the food. There was no longer a benefit to the fellowship, therefore it was no longer a means of grace. Fellowship has to be purposeful. It’s the remembrance plus the eating where grace flows.