Means of Grace and the Christian Life

10 December 2020

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

Psalm 81:10

Being a parent comes with the joy of messy meals. When our little ones were graduating out of their milk-only diet, they entered the soft-food phase. Pureed veggies and fruits for toothless babies = messy. Our first child was a pro from day one. He’d open his mouth wide and we would fill it, with barely any mess. Our second and third – not so much.

God had a similar problem with His people. He brought them out of Egypt, feeding them along the way. They learned that they couldn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that came from the mouth of God. But they soon brought their taste buds to lesser gods (Psalm 81:8-9,11-12). They feasted on the sin of idolatry, and found themselves both bloated and starved.

We too live in an age that is bloated and starved. The glut of social media, tv binge, and information fills us up, numbing our appetites, and leaves us feeling depleted. This helps explain recent survey findings that report a continual decrease in daily prayer and Bible reading amongst professing Christians, not to mention decreased church attendance.

This all brings up the oft-assumed and oft-neglected topic of the means of grace. True Christians celebrate grace – God’s unmerited favor received through faith in Christ. We may even celebrate God’s sovereignty in grace – we wonder in amazement that the Spirit effectually opened our hearts to believe. But celebrating God’s grace without the employment of the means of grace very well may be delusion. A child who won’t open their mouth won’t get fed, and those who don’t get fed end up dead.

What Are Means of Grace?

John Frame defines means of grace as “channels by which God gives spiritual power to His Church” (Frame, Systematic Theology). Christians are part of a family – the body of Christ; the Church. Means of grace are the way that the whole body is nourished and held together, growing with growth from God (Col. 2:19). Means of grace are ordinary – like spoons, plates, tables, and time. But the means of grace carry the power and presence of God to us.

Ordinary means of grace are the broad commands and contours of the Christian life (these don’t exclude other contours and commands, but do facilitate them). We’re commanded to read and meditate upon Scripture (Psalm 1); gather with the church regularly under word and sacrament (Heb.10:25); to pray without ceasing (1 Thess.5:17). In short, it’s the Word, Sacrament, Fellowship, and Prayer (Acts 2:42). Notice that these means of grace are both public and private. The Word is to be sung, heard, read, and feasted upon in the Sunday assembly; but it is also to be our meditation day and night. Prayers are to be prayed in large gatherings (Acts 1:14), in small gatherings (Acts 16:13), and in private (Matt.6:6). Fellowship and the Lord’s Table can’t be done alone. Deitrich Bonhoeffer gives an important warning about the need for both public and private spirituality: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together). We need both public and private means of grace, and each brings mutual reinforcement to the other.

What Do We Need to Do?

Those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (1 Pet. 2:2-3) long for the means of grace. Yet, in a distracted world like ours, we can’t afford to be passive. We must be active. We must be on guard and order our priorities rightly. Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor. 9:6). That is the principle that defines the Christian life. After a challenging year, many Christians are feeling spiritually weak, perhaps even spiritually confused and apathetic. How have you sowed? Have you given yourself actively to the means of grace? If not, don’t be surprised that you feel weak or apathetic. You’ve become bloated and starved. A Christian who doesn’t read the Word, pray, and fellowship with other Christians is – not only a Christian in disobedience, but one who is withering away.

What will you do about it? Hear the invitation and command from your God in Psalm 81:10,16: “I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it….But he would feed Israel with the best wheat. ‘I would satisfy you with honey from the rock’.” We simply need to show up to the table, open our mouths wide, and let Him give us what truly satisfies. Sweetness, strength, and health come from the generous hand of God for all who will receive.

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