God's will for Christians is that we grow up. Physically we're born and then we grow up. Spiritually we are born again and then we grow up. God's will is not comfort and ease for the believer. He'll send trials to test our faith. He's chipping away what doesn't look like Jesus. Our society, more and more it seems, produces wimps. God wants warriors.
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ..." 2 Peter 3:18 (ESV)
"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." 1 Corinthians 16:13 (ESV)
We grow up the same way we were born: God miraculously working in us, through faith in Jesus. But God has chosen certain means through which he grows us up in Christ. Historically they've been known as the means of grace. This doesn't mean that these things save us, but that God has chosen to work through them in the life of the believer to bless and grow and strengthen us. We don't hear much about them these days. It's all about how to be happy and successful. God wants us holy.
God is sovereign in his use of the means of grace. But the Christian is responsible. What is our duty toward the means of grace? Our duty is to be DILIGENT in them, looking past the means of grace to Jesus Christ. JOYFUL DILIGENCE.
What are the means of grace? They are all found in the church, the assembly of the saints. Historically they've been identified as the preaching of the word of God and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Others throughout the ages have added prayer to the list. Wayne Grudem has a longer list. He takes a more general view, calling all the things God uses in the church to bless his people the means of grace.
I take Grudem's viewpoint. My list has 10 means of grace:
1. Proclamation of the Word.
2. Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
3. Assembly of the Saints.
5. Evangelism and Good Works (acts of mercy).
6. Financial Giving.
7. Ministry in the Body (anointing w/oil, laying on hands, spiritual gifts, etc)
8. Submission to Authority.
9. Mortification (war on sin).
10. Suffering (not seeking it out, but receiving it when God sends it).
Our duty is to apply ourselves to these things with JOYFUL DILIGENCE, looking past the means of grace to Jesus Christ and him crucified. God will use these means to grow us up!
Because all the means of grace are found in the expression of the local church, to isolate yourself from the church is to commit spiritual suicide. It would be like someone refusing to breathe but saying they are trusting God to stay alive. God in his wisdom has appointed the means of air to keep us alive. Spiritually, God designed it so that we need committed connection to the saints!
How about you? Are you growing in grace? Are you applying these means of grace with all diligence and joy in Jesus?
I'll close with a few quotes on the means of grace.
To persevere in grace we must seek to use all the means of grace that can assist us—not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; not neglecting either private or public prayer; using what grace we have if we expect to get more; doing what we can for God, as we expect him to do all for us; in fine, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that worketh in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure. If these things be in you and abound, they shall be the means of preserving you, and you shall be among. the happy number that shall sing, " Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before his presence with exceeding joys unto him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Charles Spurgeon, (http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3504.htm)
“And in the mean time, the sure and general rule for all who groan for the salvation of God is this, — whenever opportunity serves, use all the means which God has ordained; for who knows in which God will meet thee with the grace that bringeth salvation?” John Wesley,
(Wesley, Means; 266)
I hate the devil, and the way he is killing some of you by persuading you it is legalistic to be as regular in your prayers as you are in your eating and sleeping and Internet use. Do you not see what a sucker he his making out of you? He is laughing up his sleeve at how easy it is to deceive Christians about the importance of prayer.
God has given us means of grace. ...If we don’t eat, we starve. If we don’t drink, we get dehydrated. If we don’t exercise a muscle, it atrophies. If we don’t breathe, we suffocate. And just as there are physical means of life, there spiritual are means of grace.
John Piper, (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2008/3468/)