The True Worship of God:
The Means of Grace

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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The expression "the means of grace" is not commonly used in the Christian community today. For Protestants, the phrase leads to questions. Salvation is "by grace" and "through faith." How then can we legitimately speak of "the means of grace" as something additional required in the Christian life?

The answer comes in recognizing that God's grace does not end with forgiveness, "the washing of regeneration," or adoption into the family of God. Once "born again" to a living hope (as Peter describes it in I Peter chapter 1), we need to grow in faith. Certainly it makes no sense for a farmer to care for his field unless he first prepares it and then sows seed. At the same time, the farmer who seeds and then walks away from his field is just trusting to luck. Productive farmers prepare, plant, and then tend until the harvest.

Salvation comes by grace through faith. Without faith in Jesus Christ, we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Once we have fellowship with God through the redemptive work of Christ, we need to cultivate our spiritual lives. Agricultural metaphors are used throughout the Scriptures. They are present not only because the world in which the Scriptures arose was more agrarian than ours, but because there are many similarities between farming and spirituality. Just as farming consists of creating the conditions that enable plants to grow, spirituality involves creating conditions that enable spiritual growth. "The means of grace" are those things that we bring into our lives that create the conditions God can use to build us up in Christ Jesus.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that it was fanatical to expect "the end without the means." In other words, if we want something, we must be willing to contribute towards the fulfillment of that desire. Wesley's "opposites" were the "quietists," people who believed that if God wanted anything to be done, He would do it Himself; and therefore it was wrong for Christians to do anything that might appear to be "helping" God. The quietists had the mistaken impression that to do anything spiritual was to deny that salvation is by God's grace and to deny God's sovereignty. However, Wesley's position, which is that of traditional, orthodox Christianity, is both logical and Scriptural. Paul told the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 4:12-13, see also Galatians 6:7-8). In this verse Paul recognizes that only God can do an eternal work in us. But he also admonishes the Philippians to take their spiritual development seriously and thus "work out" their salvation. In other words, God often uses means.

Imagine that you are invited to someone's house for a very fine meal, one that you neither prepared nor helped pay for. You receive this meal because of the graciousness of your host or hostess. But, you receive none of the benefits of the meal if you refuse to eat it. Eating doesn't earn the meal - it is still a gift - food that you did not prepare nor pay for. But you must eat it to derive the nutrition nonetheless. Similarly, the means of grace enable our spiritual growth.

The following, then, are things the Scriptures teach careful Christians to do to provide the conditions for God to bring spiritual growth and fruitfulness in their lives:

Abstain from evil - This seems obvious, but it has not been so for so many Christians. Contemporary culture honors and rewards self-indulgence. Our culture has blunted our sensitivity to many forms of wickedness. Comparing our lives to that of the pagans around us may make us feel superior, but it doesn't challenge us to be where we need to be spiritually to be faithful to God. The Scriptures must be our guide. Our influence upon others for good or evil must also be considered in all of our decisions. Where there are questions about how to behave, let us live, as professor Dr. Delbert Rose taught, "on the eternally safe side."

Do good works - The phrase "good works" can be discouraging, making it seem as if we need to give away all we own or surrender all of our free time. What this really means is to serve Jesus Christ in everything we do and, where it is within our capability to do something for others, particularly to encourage and help other Christians, to do it. These may be small things, everyday tasks, and most of the time, that is what they are. Large or small, "good works" are unselfish acts done to honor God and to build the Body of Christ.

Pray - Prayer is a central part of the Christian life. Both public and private prayer are important. It may be accompanied by fasting. This fasting should be done intelligently, perhaps reducing our intake of food rather than eliminating all eating in order to have the strength to do our daily tasks. It should never be done to the detriment of health; for instance, diabetics would have a difficult time completely fasting. However, we can fast even in such circumstances by restricting ourselves to the blander foods and eating no more than is necessary to sustain our health.

Read the Scriptures - Once again, both public and private Scripture reading is important. The kind of Scripture reading that helps our growth emphasizes practical application rather than just learning Bible facts. Nevertheless, memorizing Scripture can help us meditate upon it even when a Bible is not available. Let us also discipline our beliefs by consulting wise teachers so that we don't enthrone our impressions as "truth" rather than truth itself. Not "we" as individuals but "we" the Body of Christ have the mind of Christ - which honors Christ and calls us to humility.

Take part in public worship - Jesus worshipped regularly in the presence of others, and so should we. He also instituted baptism and the Lord's Supper to help us remember who we are and to help us proclaim the Gospel to all mankind. Failure to fellowship and worship with other Christians hurts the witness of the Gospel in the world and prevents God's ministry to our soul through others. We are saved as individuals, but we are saved to be part of the family of God.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume V, Part 3, March 1997.

Copyright 1999, 2001 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

Revised November 11, 2001.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated November 11, 2001.