In previous posts I’ve been writing about God’s grace and what it means to grow in that grace.
Today, we learn about means. By what means can we grow in God’s grace?
A word about means, means are method or instruments for accomplishing something.
For instance, if I am fastening two boards together, the means by which I do it could be a nail or an adhesive like glue. The means by which I drive the nail is a hammer.
Similarly, if I have a vision for becoming a person with no debt, the means by which I do this might be to write a budget and follow it, work a second job, invite a roommate to help with rent, and so-on.
Christian growth in grace is no different. Many times we read the commands in the Bible to have certain virtues or character traits and we miss out on the parts of Scripture that offer means for gaining those character traits.
One way of talking about the means of growing into Christ’s image in to talk about “spiritual disciplines.” Some people don’t like that language because it implies doing hard work, but Jesus calls us to be disciples, so having disciplines seems like a natural outgrowth of that. But if you do not like the language, then call them “means of grace.”
What are some of the means the Bible gives for growing in grace?
- Meditation on the truths of the gospel of Christ
In fact, this very act is what we did in the post on vision. Thinking about the greatness of Jesus, his love for us, his plan for history, the mercy of his Father, and the power of his Spirit, and what kind of person he wants to make of us is precisely one of the best means for achieving that vision (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6).
- Knowledge of Scripture
2 Timothy 3:14-17 makes it clear that knowing, not just the gospel (the New Testament), but the whole Bible is important for wisdom and training in righteousness. Reading the Bible as a book meant to reveal Jesus Christ and to train us in wisdom can help you to grow in wisdom and righteous character. With this fact in mind here are some means that are meant to help you have more Scripture intake:
- Read the Bible
- Bible memory
- Bible study
- Listening to the Bible out loud.
- Listening to the Bible with the church community.
- Meditating on the Bible.
- Praying the prayers of the Bible.
- Making visible inscriptions of important passages of the Bible in your home.
This discipline is controversial, but it is at its heart, saying no to food for a set period of time in order to receive a blessing from God. In the New Testament that blessing is connected to receiving a reward from God for prayer and alms giving. I suspect that the idea is that fasting gives us time away from food to pray and extra resources to give. Later Christians connected fasting, rightly in my mind, with learning self-control (self-mastery) and temperance.
- Prayer (with the specific meaning of “asking God for something”)
The prayers in the Bible range from prayers for good things, prayers for bad things, prayers for help, and prayers for forgiveness. But most especially in the New Testament we see prayers for help in character transformation. This is especially so in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and the prayers in Paul’s letters.
- Practicing the Presence of God
This spiritual discipline is similar to the self-help tool called “mindfulness.” Except instead of trying to be non-judgmentally mindful of your internal feelings and external circumstances, you try to bring God or rather, truths concerning God before the mind. There are three ways to do this:
- God as revealed in nature
In doing this you can think either personally about God’s presence in nature. But this has limits, because not everything it beautiful and capable of lifting your mind and soul to the Lord. You can also do this philosophically by thinking about causality and the need for a first mover or prime cause for every aspect of reality you see or experience. Both of these are important.
- God as revealed in Scripture
Here you bring God before the mind by recalling memorized Scripture about God’s greatness, love, and mercy. Examples of this that are built into the Christian life are singing hymns, taking the Lord’s Supper, and remembering the meaning of Baptism.
- God as revealed in personal experience
Here you remember answered prayer, specific moments of spiritual intensity, and the stories of other Christians. By recalling these specific acts of God on the stage of recent human history, you can remember more fully Jesus’ promise “I am with you every day” (Matthew 28:20).
- Confession of Sin
Confession of sin to others (God included) has a doubly cleansing effect. The first is that the Bible teaches that confessing sin is one of the conditions for receiving cleansing from unrighteous character (1 John 1:9). Secondly, is that it works like finally going into that messy room in the house that you avoid so that you don’t have to clean it. Once you calmly admit what is wrong you can become much more active in removing it. It’s just the way the human mind works. Keeping some bad habit as a deep dark secret seems to fuel our efforts to avoid confronting it ourselves. Simply admitting it to the Lord and/or a trusted Christian friend is enough to destroy our patterns of avoidance and internalized shame.
Now, obviously, there are other means to growing into the Biblical vision of Christ-like character in the kingdom of God, but these are some of the most explicitly Biblical ones.
No Instant Power-Ups
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in all of this is that growth in Christian character is by degrees and is awaiting a final transformation that we ourselves cannot do (1 John 3:1-2). You might work on a spiritual discipline for quite sometime before you one day notice: well, Jesus has really changed me. The metaphors the Bible often uses for spiritual growth are building houses, growing crops, taking long journeys, and being students. None of these things occur with instantaneous efficiency. There is no reason to expect your spiritual growth to happen this way, either. In other words, be like the ant in Proverbs 6:6-8.
Do you have anything you think should be added to the list?
Posts in the series
- What does “grow in grace” mean?
- Growth in Grace: Vision
- Growth in Grace: Intention
- Growth in Grace: Means
- Growth in Grace: The Feelings
 There are several reasons for this. One is a recent Protestant aversion to anything that sounds like works. In the reformation era, works were only considered bad insofar as they were treated as necessary when the Bible either never mentioned them or forbade them or insofar as they were treated as a means of earning rather than a means of showing gratitude (growing in grace). Many modern Protestants think that any talk of “trying” in the Christian life is bad. I deal with this misconception in relationship to how Christians talk about “duty,” “debt,” “obligation,” and “trying” here.