Growth in the Christian Life, Part II

Yesterday I introduced the topic for this series of blogs. We noted that the new birth transforms a person’s desires and aspirations. This implants within every believer a yearning to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). We desire to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1), to “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

How does this happen? The first suggestion I made yesterday was that growth comes as we avail ourselves to the means of grace. In today’s blog I’ll explain what our forefathers in the faith meant when they referred to the “means of grace.”

The Means of Grace Explained

The “means of grace” are the “resources” God has given to us to “grow us up into him,” to strengthen us spiritually, to further our sanctification. Theologians typically say God has given us the Word of God, prayer, and sacraments (or ordinances) as means of grace.

The Word of God

God is a talking God, and redemptive history, as outlined in Scripture “is essentially a narrative account of God’s gracious self-communicative activity,” or an expression of his “communicative self-giving,” to quote John Webster. He reveals himself to us as one who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). He comes to our rescue in Scripture. Truly, as Calvin said, “Without the word nothing is left for men but darkness.” While we learn many things in Scripture, since all of it ultimately points to Christ (Lk. 24:44), God’s redemptive initiative and accomplishment is the central focus.

So, what does this mean for us? The Bible is to be hidden in our hearts (Ps. 119:11); it is to be meditated upon (v. 15), and delighted in (v. 16). It is the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17); it is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12); and it “is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). If we are to live in a way that glorifies God then we must know his Word.

Prayer

In a world filled with distractions and heartache, as well as personal and relational challenges, we are in desperate need of unhurried time alone with God so that we can come “into the dining room of his strength, where we can feast to our heart’s delight.” We need to pray if we want to get to know God more.

I prefer to combine my Bible reading time with my prayer time. As you read the Bible, zero in on one truth to focus on. Summarize it, if you can, in a single sentence. Then praise God for the truth revealed. Spend the next few moments confessing to God how you fall short of the guiding principle you wrote down. Then petition God for strength to do better. Growing into your prayer life will be a lifelong journey. For help, consult Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life.

Sacraments/Ordinances

The ordinances refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Without attributing salvific efficacy to either ordinance, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are integral to our walk with Christ because they are signs of the new covenant. Baptism is a sign of a believer’s initiation into the new covenant, which points to what the sign signifies, namely, that a believer has received by faith alone the forgiveness of sins and union with Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:2-5; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12). Just as circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant promises God made to Abraham (Rom. 4:11), so in the new covenant, God uses baptism to confirm our initiation into the covenant community and strengthen our consciousness of salvation.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ to be a sign of the new covenant—a sign pointing both backward and forward. As Paul explains, the Lord’s Supper “proclaims” the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). Additionally, the Lord’s Supper announces the triumph of Christ over the powers of sin, death, and Satan, and Jesus promises that his people will drink of the fruit of the vine with him when the kingdom comes in its fullness (Lk. 22:18). As with baptism, when the Lord’s Supper is viewed canonically (that is, taking all of the Bible into account) one can see that it has certain affinities with the Passover meal in the OT. Just as the purpose of the Passover meal was commemorative, so likewise is the case with communion. As theologian Graham Cole notes, both Israel and the church were/are called to be a “community of memory.”

As believers who have trusted in Christ, when we reflect upon our baptism, we recall that we have what the sign signifies: union with Christ. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we recall that Christ’s body was broken for us and that his blood was shed for us. He accomplished our redemption. Because of his work on our behalf we have received all the benefits of salvation. We’re united with Christ and with all those who have also been united with Christ.

Praise God that he shares his light, life, and love with us.

Readers interested in pursuing further study can consult the resources listed below.

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[1] The word “resources” comes from John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the LORD: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philipsburg: P&R, 2006), 261.

 [2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016), 62.

[3] John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 42.

[4] Commentary on 2 Peter 1:19, in John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1855), 388.

[5] Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1992), 1.

[6] See, e.g., The 1689 London Baptist Confession 29.1-4.

[7] Brandon C. Jones, Waters of Promise: Finding Meaning in Believer Baptism (Eugene: Pickwick, 2012), 7, 135.

[8] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the LORD: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philipsburg: P&R, 2006), 282-286; Russell Moore, “Baptist View: Christ’s Presence as Memorial,” in Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, eds. John H. Armstrong and Paul E. Engle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 30-44.

[9] Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 131.

 

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