Means of Grace vs. Spiritual Disciplines
After reading my previous pastoral word, I realized that I woefully underdeveloped a crucial element in our understanding of the means of grace. Let me first give a brief review. The means of grace are simply public and private activities (such as praying and hearing the Word of God) that are gifts or graces (and not law) from God. When performed in faith, they conform us more into the image of Christ. We stand in grace (Rom. 5:1), not works, and grace flows only through the channels of faith.
When considering means of grace, such as Bible reading and prayer, the focus should be on knowing God, not as much on a method. I read a blog where the author made an anal- ogy with a shovel and a buried treasure. When pursuing a treasure, we use the shovel to get to the treasure; we don’t use the shovel or become skilled with the shovel for the sake of digging holes. Christ is our prize (Phil. 3:7-16) and we use means of grace to get closer to our prize! If you struggle with trying to get through your Bible reading plan (or feel guilty when you get behind), one reason could be that you do not have the treasure in mind.
I think we can help each other in keeping Christ as the goal by choosing appropriate words. Instead of asking questions such as, “How are your spiritual disciplines?” or “How are you doing on your Bible reading plan?” perhaps a more appropriate question could be, “Are you pursuing Christ and how?” Of course, pursuing Christ must include using His Word and prayer (among other things), but asking this question changes the emphasis. Furthermore, answers devoid of using the public and private means of grace must be met with suspicion. A response such as “I just feel closer to Christ” is, at best, an answer that is not very well thought out and, at worst, a symptom of emotionalism or self-deception.
I don’t think I am splitting hairs over word choice. The phrase “means of grace” places an emphasis on receiving what God has done for us in Christ. “Spiritual disciplines” puts the emphasis on what we must do for God; the emphasis on activity apart from a goal places a new burden on us and can make Bible reading a spiritual whip. In all humility and through faith, press on to know Christ. He has set us free; so stand firm in your freedom and serve Christ (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1).