Daily Devotional By Desiringgod Ministry – John Piper Ministry 15 May 2024 | Topic: Where Jesus Travels - Faithwheel.com
John Piper Ministry, desiringGod.org

 Daily Devotional By Desiringgod Ministry – John Piper Ministry  15 May  2024 | Topic: Where Jesus Travels  

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Where Jesus Travels

Introducing the Means of Grace

Eden Baptist Bible Conference | Minneapolis

Here’s a little outline of where we’ll be going in these sessions. In this first one for the Sunday School hour, we’re just going to talk about the idea of means of grace. First of all, that God is gracious and that he has his particular, chosen, appointed means for our lives to live in the supply of his grace. Then the sermon this morning will focus on God’s word as a means of grace. Jonathan Edwards called the word of God the “chief” and “soul” of the means of grace.

Tonight the topic is fellowship, and we’ll also have a special accent on the Lord’s Supper as part of the means of grace that are related to the fellowship of the local church. And I believe we get to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together tonight. Then tomorrow night will be a focus on prayer and on fasting. Fasting in particular is an accent to prayer.

My heart for these sessions is that I would love to clarifysimplify, and inspire, and here’s what I mean by that. I want to clarify the source of the Christian life as God’s ongoing grace. Christianity is not to encounter grace in the past and then live in your own strength; Christianity is to live on God’s ongoing supply of grace. So we want to talk about those means. What are the means that God himself calls us into, to live on the ongoing supply of his grace?

Then I want to simplify the pursuit of his grace. Sometimes we think about spiritual disciplines and we make a long list, like, “Oh, there’s 12 things you need to do, or actually 18, or more like 24.” Think of your full list of spiritual disciplines. If you were to try to do those disciplines at all times in your life, it would be your full-time job. So what I want to do is simplify that list and ask, what are the main principles? What does God want us to know about his ongoing means of grace? And then how might we, in our various seasons of life, with our particular bent and our particular calling, see the principles of God’s grace be operative in our lives without just checking off somebody else’s boxes from some long list of spiritual disciplines?

Then lastly, I want to inspire you to cultivate habits of grace through varying seasons of life, and to do so for a lifetime. So I’ll speak about the grace of God, then the means of grace, and then “habits of grace” is my way of talking about our own lives, our own application, and the ways in which we access God’s timeless means of grace in our various seasons of life, so that we might know and enjoy him, and in enjoying him, we glorify him in our lives through our actions and words.

My hope is that I want to put and keep the gospel and the energy of God at the center of this whole pursuit of spiritual disciplines or means of grace. And as I hope we see tonight, by taking a full session to emphasize the corporate dynamics of the Christian life, I want to emphasize those corporate dynamics in a way that I think often gets overlooked in discussions about spiritual disciplines. Often spiritual disciplines are really focused on what I do and what I do alone, like Bible reading and prayer by myself. And I think a very important dynamic — we’ll see this in biblical texts and we’ll talk about it at length tonight because it’s critical in the Christian life — is the covenant fellowship of the local church that we are means of grace to each other. And then I want you, however old or young, to know, to enjoy, and to glorify Jesus, and to have some sense of how to do that for a lifetime.

It is my prayer that this seminar would help you make God’s means of grace, and your own habits that develop around his means, not just accessible and realistic but truly God’s means for your knowing and enjoying Jesus for a lifetime. And you see there how the connection is made between looking at Jesus (seeing him), as we prayed before with Bill and Dan, and savoring him. I love that language. We want to employ the means of grace as a means to that end.

Faucets and Light Switches

So here in session one then we want to talk about the means of grace. I love this encouragement from Jonathan Edwards. We’ll get to the quote in context here in a few minutes. He says, “Lay yourself in the way of allurement.”

When I talk about means of grace, it’s helpful for me to think about faucets and light switches, maybe because as I was teaching this material to college students, I was becoming a homeowner for the first time, and I was beginning to think about things for the first time that I hadn’t thought about before. You grow up and turn the faucet and the water comes on. With the light switch, somebody else takes care of that. If you have the problem of turning that faucet and no water comes out, somebody else is going to deal with that. When you’re a homeowner, ain’t nobody else going to deal with that. You have to take care of what’s going on there.

The main thing that’s helpful about faucets and light switches (though it’s not a perfect illustration) is that it helps to demonstrate what means of grace are like in the Christian life. Because for me, I don’t provide the water. For me, the city of Minneapolis does that, and I’m not a plumber. I didn’t put it in my house, and I don’t know how to fix it if it goes awry. Fortunately, I married into the family of a plumber. My father-in-law is a plumber, but he’s two hours north. If we start to have a problem, that’s a long time before he can get onsite. I feel this now as a homeowner.

When I turn that faucet on and water comes out, I don’t celebrate what I did, saying, “Look at me, I turned the water on.” As the kids go to the sink to get water, as they shower, as they do whatever they do in the house, I don’t say, “Look what your dad did. Your dad gave you water.” They turned on the faucet and they engaged the means, the appointed means. The water was there waiting, and the power, the electricity, was there waiting because somebody else is supplying the power and we need to just release that power in the appointed place. We don’t walk around the house saying, “Water,” and water comes out. No, if you want water, you turn the faucet. If you want electricity, you flip the switch, or tell Alexa to turn the light on. But you do the appointed means to release the supply of power.

There are similarities in the Christian life. We can be prone to think, “Oh, I want God’s power. I want to walk in the wilderness and have God give me his power.” But God has given us appointed means. He has provided water, and he has plumbed the house, and he has put in a faucet, and he has told you, “That’s where the water comes from.” He has provided the electricity and he tells us where the switch is, as if to say, “That’s where it happens.” And get this, it’s not automatic. Just because I flip the switch doesn’t mean the lights will always go on. But if I don’t flip the switch, the lights aren’t going to turn on. Likewise, with God’s means of grace he has given us his regular places where he wants us to go to access his ongoing supply, his ongoing grace for the Christian life.

The Grace of God

Here is our outline for session one. We want to talk briefly, but not just briefly, about the grace of God. I don’t want to skip over this. I don’t want to assume this. We don’t want to say, “Oh yeah, God is gracious, move on.” We want to linger over the God of all grace and his graciousness. That’s so important in coming to him, because our awareness, our consciousness matters to him. He doesn’t want to just supply grace anonymously. He loves to give donations of grace that are connected to the name of his Son. So we want to talk about his grace. Then we’ll look at his appointed means of grace. And then at the end, I’ll say something very briefly about our cultivation of habits to regularly access his means of grace. Then I have to talk about the end of the means again. We want to end with that.

I’ve already given you a glimpse of the end of the means, but let’s come back because we have means, and means are means to some end. Means means something, and it means going to some end, and we’ll rehearse that at the end.

The Grace of Justification

First, let’s focus on the grace of God. It is so important that we duly acknowledge God and appreciate him in all his import, as he’s revealed himself to us as the God of all grace. That’s why I have 1 Peter 5:10 here. It says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace . . .” Brothers and sisters, this is the God who made you. This is the God who is, this is the God who sent his own Son, this is the God who has appointed means and wants to sustain you in the Christian life. He is the God of all grace. All true grace for your life, for your ongoing health, and for your ongoing survival as a Christian, is in him. He provides the grace. He’s the God of all grace. He has called you to his eternal glory in Christ. He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you in suffering and in times of life that aren’t acutely difficult. In all seasons, he’s the God of all grace, supplying the grace of our Christian life.

But let’s say that with a little more specificity. We can do this big category of grace in general, but what are some of the specific manifestations of his grace in the Christian life? First and foremost, let’s rehearse the foundation of his grace. Before we do anything or participate in any way, he has a foundation of grace, and there is 100 percent acceptance of us apart from what we do in Christ Jesus. We call this the grace of justification by faith. We could go to many texts, but let me give you two and summarize the grace of justification by faith alone. This is Romans 4:4–5:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due (we’re talking about a gift; wages are not the way to pursue acceptance with God). And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

We all need righteousness to stand before the living, holy God. We cannot, as sinners and as humans, provide that righteousness. But God sent his own Son to live out that righteousness in our human flesh, and die for us to cover our sins, so that being joined to him by faith we might have our sins paid for in him and have his righteousness in order to be fully, 100-percent accepted before his Father. This is the foundation of the Christian life in the grace of justification by faith. Before we do anything, before we act (we don’t deserve it in any way), he justifies us by faith by connecting us to his Son, in whom is righteousness.

Titus 3:4–7 says:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness (hear the language of righteousness that is not by works and is the foundation of our acceptance), but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace (justification is a manifestation of God’s grace) we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

First and foremost, God’s grace meets us before we’re engaged. We receive by faith. Before we’re engaged with our will, our energy, our actions, and our works, he justifies us in Jesus. This is remarkable grace.

The Grace of Sanctification

Sometimes people stop there. It is amazing grace, the grace of forgiveness, the grace of justification by faith. May we no way ever minimize the grace of justification by faith. And God’s even more gracious than only to justify us and accept us fully based on the righteousness of Christ. Calvin and the Reformers had this Latin phrase: duplex gratia.

Anybody know what that means? It means double grace. It’s grace times two. We all want God’s grace and justification. Amen. Never minimize it. And, what Calvin emphasized — probably with Luther’s weakness in the background — is that we believe in double grace. He gives us the grace of full acceptance in Christ and the grace keeps going. He gives us the grace of being practically rescued from the misery of sin. It would be an amazing grace to have our sins covered and then still have to live with the misery. But the double grace of sanctification now begins to remove us from the misery of sin.

Sin is not a good thing. It’s not joyful in the end. Pleasurable as it may feel in the moment, it will not be good for you in the long run and for eternity. It is a double grace to be rescued from the power of sin, not only pardoned from your sin. This is the grace of sanctification, and I rehearse it because it relates to means. These means of grace, we locate them in the part of the Christian life that is about sanctification, about becoming more holy, about being engaged in the progress that the Holy Spirit is making in us. Justification is apart from works, apart from our means. We’re not doing anything. We’re not reading any Bibles or doing any prayers for justification. But in sanctification we have the dignity of being engaged, of discovering the joys of holiness.

Here’s Titus 2:11–12. The appearance language is very similar to Titus 3:4–7. Titus loves to talk like this. Before he said, “God our Savior appeared,” and down here we have, “the grace of God appeared in Jesus.” So grace for the Christian has a face. Grace came. The God of grace has come in grace incarnate in Jesus.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people . . . (Titus 2:11)

Think of how that corresponds with the aspects of grace that are in justification and forgiveness. He continues and says this grace is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age . . .” (Titus 2:12). So grace not only receives us apart from our training to get us right with God, but grace also then begins to go to work on us. Grace trains. It’s like an athlete being trained. You engage, you work, and you train, and it changes shape over time. The person is changed. They become a better runner, a better player, or a better actor as they do the training. Likewise, grace begins to work on us, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright godly lives in the present age. There’s a double grace here — the grace of salvation coming and the grace going to work on us that trains us. Grace trains us.

A HOLY WORK ETHIC

In 1 Corinthians 15:10, I love Paul’s expression of this training, changing, transforming grace. He says:

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them . . .

You know who the “them” is here? It’s not lazy Corinthians. The “them” are the other apostles. He says, “I worked harder than any of them,” and I’m assuming Paul is not prideful at this point. I’m assuming he had such an industrious, Herculean work ethic that the differences were manifest, so that he could talk about them with humility and not brag. Everyone knew Paul worked so much harder than Peter and John. That’s okay. That was Paul’s particular gift, whatever it was. He worked harder than all of them. But you know what? It was the grace of God. He says, “Though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

So God’s grace not only met him on the road to Damascus, changed his heart, and saved him apart from him doing anything, but the grace of God went to work in him and he was a manifest worker. Paul’s a work ethic guy. He talks a lot about work, and that work is work that is done by the grace of God. So God’s grace not only saves, forgives, and justifies, but God’s grace trains and goes to work in and through us.

Philippians 2:12–13 is another place to show this dynamic of God working and our working. We need to have a place in our Christian life where we think of how God works and we don’t. That’s the place of justification. It’s a very important category to have in our reception of grace, and seeing God as the God of all grace. And we need to have a category for God working through our working. Philippians 2:12–13 says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling . . .

Then we’re given the reason why. Now, notice he doesn’t say “work for your salvation.” They’re justified. They’re accepted 100 percent, based on Christ alone and not their works. He is saying, “You’re accepted, now work that out.” Don’t work for it, work it out. And here’s why. Here’s why you work it out. It’s not in your own strength. He says:

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

God goes to work by the power of his Spirit in the Christian. He begins to change us, he begins to, by his word and by the Spirit, give us good desires and inspire us for holiness, and not sin. He gives us the will, and we want to work it out and do it in such a way that we’re not earning God’s favor. But because we have his favor, we are delighted to work it out with joy for his glory and the good of others.

The Grace of Glorification

Then finally, to bring this to a close in this parsing out his grace, we’ve spoken of the past grace in our experience of justification, present grace in sanctification, and now we have future grace in glorification. It’s amazing. I don’t know what the Latin phrase would be for triple grace. We should probably do triple grace too. The grace that is coming is the grace of glorification. Isn’t it crazy that we talk in that language, that God will glorify us? It’s amazing. Second Thessalonians 1:11 says:

May [God] fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power . . .

Just note here this idea of “work of faith.” Because there’s faith, the Christian works it out, and does so by his power, which is what we’re talking about in the means of grace, spiritual disciplines. And then Paul says, “So that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Yes, it’s the glory of Christ. Amen. That’s what we’re for, the glory of Christ. May Jesus be glorified. And then Paul says, “and you in him” (2 Thessalonians 1:12). May he be glorified in you, and then you will be glorified in him. He will be glorified in you according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. So God’s grace accepts us apart from our works, goes to work in us, rescues us practically from the miseries of sin, and his grace will glorify us as we glorify Jesus.

The last text here on this section is Ephesians 2:4–7. This is about the ongoing grace of God into eternity. Don’t think that first and foremost we’re saying grace is a past thing. We don’t live the Christian life in gratitude for grace, as if grace happened in the past and now we live in gratitude. That’s not how it works. And even going into the future it will be ongoing grace, upon grace, upon grace. Paul says:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved (a reference to justification) — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages (this is future) he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

“Before we’re engaged with our energy, our actions, and our works, God justifies us in Jesus.”

It will take eternity for our God to continue to show us the bounty of his grace. That’s what’s coming. That’s a way to capture what’s going to happen in heaven, and in the new heavens and new earth. God is going to continue to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Jesus Christ. He’s the God of all grace. First and foremost, we have to start with God being gracious. Don’t take that as a given or an assumption. Let’s love it and let’s rehearse it.

The Means of Grace

The second thing we will focus on is that he has appointed means. There are means of his grace. In the last generation or so, there has been a revival of this language of spiritual disciplines. Maybe it’s a revival, and maybe the first time the language has been used was in the late 1970s. Richard Foster had a book on the celebration of disciplines, and there have been many good books that have talked about spiritual disciplines. That is the subject we’re talking about here. This is about spiritual disciplines.

However, by starting with this accent on God’s grace and wanting to use that term “means of grace,” I think there’s some significance in it. I find this personally helpful. I found it helpful with college students and as I’ve talked with folks over the years. Casting it in terms of means of grace rather than spiritual disciplines puts the accent in some different places. It really helps how we think about the concept. D. A. Carson has said that “means of grace” is a lovely expression, and is less susceptible to misinterpretation than “spiritual disciplines.” You can interpret spiritual disciplines appropriately. It’s okay to have that in my subtitle. That’s the language people are using, but I really want to accent that these are means of grace.

Reading J. I. Packer was the first time I saw the connection between spiritual disciplines and means of grace. This is actually an endorsement for Don Whitney’s book, and remember that being a disciple means being a learner. J.I. Packer wrote:

The doctrine of the disciplines (disciplinae, meaning “courses of learning” or “training”) is really a restatement and extension of classical Protestant teaching on the means of grace.

Then he summarizes these means of grace in his parenthesis in an endorsement for a book. I love it. Packer endorsed many books. I think he saw these as teaching opportunities. He doesn’t typically just say, “Hey, I like this person. Get the book.” He usually sees it as a little teaching opportunity. He lists the means of grace as the word of God, prayer, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. I’ve already told you our outline. The word of God is the sermon this morning, prayer is tomorrow night, and fellowship and the Lord’s Supper I’m putting together tonight.

The Necessity of Means

We’ll see more about this phrase. I find that J. C. Ryle is particularly helpful here. I really like the way that Ryle talks about the means of grace and the categories he puts them together in. Here’s what Ryle has to say. We’ll probably come back to this tonight as a quick summary before talking more about fellowship. He’s writing over 100 years ago, so see the timelessness of this. This is not trendy. This isn’t a big means of grace trend. This is not trendy, this is timeless. He says:

The means of grace are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in church . . .

So at least here we have the word, prayer, and fellowship. And he talks about regularly worshiping, which is a corporate means of grace. He says, “Here, one hears the word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper.”

You have the word being taught, and the word is the Bible. Then there is this connection with Lord’s Supper. These guys keep wanting to mention the Lord’s Supper. We’ll see why in just a minute. Ryle continues, and this is a very important sentence:

I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make progress in sanctification.

That’s amazing. He says, “No one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make progress in sanctification.” What are the “such things”? It’s the word, prayer, and fellowship (the local church, corporate worship). He continues:

I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which he has begun in the inward man . . . Our God is a God who works by means and he will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them (the means of grace).

A similar observation I’ve heard before and seen in my own life is that I’ve never met a strong leader in the church or a Christian (someone who’s strong in the faith and benefits others) who has ignored the means of grace — in particular, accessing God’s word on a regular basis, praying about it, and being part of the local church. Let any of these slip, any of these three, and the matrix of strength for the Christian life goes away. And barring unusual circumstances of suffering, anyone who’s just languishing in their faith, very rarely (or ever) have I spoken with someone like that who couldn’t identify some lapse or pattern of neglect related to the word, or prayer, or the local church.

I’m not saying there’s a precise relationship where if you miss a day of devotions and you’re doing terrible spiritually. However, over the patterns of our life, there is a remarkable correspondence between attending to the ways God has told us that he has appointed for ongoing grace and spiritual health. We’ll come back to the Ryle quote.

Laying in the Way of Allurement

Let me give Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus as an example of what I mean by positioning ourselves. The title here on “laying yourself in the way of allurement” is important. Sometimes spiritual disciplines to me seem like they accent my doing. I have to take the initiative and I have to make this happen. This is on me. I need to muster up the strength and make it happen.

With means of grace, I want to accent the positioning of ourselves and the posturing of ourselves. God is the God of all grace. He has told us the places in which his grace is flowing, so the responsible response on our part is to position ourselves and posture ourselves to receive his grace. This isn’t first and foremost a posture of action, it’s a posture of reception. See that here in these back-to-back stories in Luke’s gospel about Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus.

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. (Luke 18:35)

This is interesting. Bartimaeus was not wandering in the wilderness, and lo and behold, the Savior of the world comes upon him in the wilderness. He was sitting by the roadside. There was a path, and he was sitting by the path. The passage continues:

And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (Luke 18:36–43)

Now, we can emphasize several things in this passage. The reason I’m emphasizing the positioning or the place where Bartimaeus was for our purposes regarding means of grace is that the next story is also along the path.

Positioned in the Pathway of Grace

Now let’s focus on Zacchaeus, a wee little man, maybe you know the song. Zacchaeus illustrates this better than Bartimaeus.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. (Luke 19:1–3)

This comes upon Bartimaeus in a way he didn’t expect, but he’s along a path when it does. He’s the kind of guy who wants help. He’s blind and he needs help. So where do you go to get help? Where people are. Where are people? On the path. So there’s a reason Bartimaeus was there. But it’s all the more here in this passage because Zacchaeus is seeking Jesus. He wants to access grace. So how do you access the grace in Christ? You go to the path where he’s coming. The passage continues:

He was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. (Luke 19:3–4)

He postured himself and positioned himself along the path where the grace was passing. Then it says:

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. (Luke 19:5–6)

He positioned himself to receive the grace as it came. Here’s a quotation from Jonathan Edwards:

Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.

Your desires for God, your holy desires for the one who made you and showed you himself in his Son, and rescued you, you need to put no bounds on those appetites. We need to put bounds on various earthly appetites, and yet in our spiritual appetites for Jesus and for God, put no bounds on them. Edwards continues on how to pursue it:

Rather, they ought to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and obtain more spiritual pleasures.

That’s what we’re after in means of grace. These are not mere duties to check the box, as if to say, “You must do this.” We want to inflame desire and obtain more holy, spiritual pleasure. And Edward continues on to say, “Endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement.”

Because of the nature of our God as a God of grace, and because he has given us his typical patterns, his appointed means of grace, the counsel is, “Do you want to know him? Do you want to enjoy him? Do you want to increase your spiritual pleasure? Lay yourself along those paths. Know what the paths are, and then cultivate habits of life that put you along those paths.”

The Lifeline of the Early Church

Here’s an example in the early church. This is Acts 2:42–47. What an amazing moment. It’s like the honeymoon moment of the local church before things get really bad with increasing persecution.

They devoted themselves (habitual language) to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

The apostles were teaching the word, people were praying, and people were devoting themselves to the fellowship. In that context, there was the breaking of bread, which probably meant eating together. And in that eating together, they were taking the Lord’s supper together as well. We want this, and people want this. This is exciting:

And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43–47)

We all want this effect, but do we want the means of grace? The wonder, the signs, the generosity, the sharing, and the adding to their number comes out of Acts 2:42. This is their patterns, their habits, and their devotion. It’s the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, and the prayers.

Historic Confessions and the Means of Grace

I’ll skip through this, but I just want to mention that means had such an important foundation in the Reformed and Baptistic confessions for centuries. This is why Packer referred to the classic Protestant doctrine of the means of grace. The language of “means” comes again and again in the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, which is a Baptist confession. It’s used over and over again. It also goes back to Westminster and the Belgic Confession, which is almost 100 years before Westminster. It talks about “our gracious God” — make sure to cast him in terms of grace — who “nourishes and strengthens our faith through the means where he works by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And Jesus Christ is presented as the true object of them.

The Canons of Dort from 1619 refers to means again and again, and the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1648. Again and again it speaks of “the use of means.” And so, we come back to Acts 2:42, where they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, and the breaking of bread, and the prayers. These are a means of God’s ongoing grace.

Hear His Voice, Have His Ear, Belong to His Body

So here’s how I summarize them. This is what we’ll be doing in the sermon tonight and tomorrow. How do we put ourselves, how do we position ourselves along the path of God’s grace? Number one, we hear his voice in his word. Number two, we have his ear in prayer. Number three, we belong to his body in the fellowship of the local church.

The reason I’m putting them in those terms is that I want to capture the personal nature of the Christian life, the personal nature of a relationship with God in Christ. We shouldn’t think of word, prayer, and fellowship as merely things, but aspects of relationship with God and with each other. So we hear his voice. You’ll see in the sermon here, I’m not going to accent hearing his voice apart from his word. The voice that’s in your head is you. Do you want to hear God speak? Open the book, hear the book, and hear him speak by the power of the Spirit in his book. I have to stop myself before I get into the sermon.

Then have his ear in prayer. It is amazing that we have the ear of God Almighty. The fact that he revealed himself is amazing, but even more the fact that he stops, and stoops, and listens, and says, “I want to hear your response to my word.” It is such a privilege we have in prayer that we’ll linger it over tomorrow night.

And then we belong to his body. We are means of grace to each other in the body of Christ. In particular, I’m going to linger in Hebrews. The sermon this morning will be Hebrews, and these will be the texts that I’ll use in the sermon. You can talk about having his ear in Hebrews through these two big exhortation passages that parallel each other. Do you want a nice Bible study? Take Hebrews 4:14–16 and Hebrews 10:19–23 and work through them together and see the connections, and be drawn into prayer. And then the main focus for tonight before we talk about the Lord’s Supper will be to look at Hebrews 10 and Hebrews 3 about being means of grace for each other.

Habits of Grace

Let me finish quickly with this. I told you the last two points are very brief. This is about our various habits of grace. What is a habit? It’s kind of a negative word. There’s been a kind of revival of the language and it’s becoming more positive. People talk about habit formation.

There were two books that were very popular to help bring about this idea of habits and tap the neuroscience of habit formation, which is really new in the last generation since MRIs were available. I mean, neuroscience has been huge in the last 25 years, and habit formation has been part of those discoveries. Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.

Now, here are a couple of things that are important in spiritual life related to that. I’ll summarize it in a second. The real key to habits is decision-making, and more accurately, the lack of decision-making. Part of this in trying to cultivate habits in our Christian life is to not drain down the power of decision-making that we could be putting toward God’s word, and prayer, and fellowship, and also not go through making the decision over and over again so that sometimes you decide not to make it. And then you choose other less valuable things than his word, prayer, and fellowship in their proper proportions and patterns.

Here’s a summary: Habits free our focus to give attention and be more fully aware in the moment. Habits protect what is most important; that is, they keep us persevering in the faith. And habits are person specific. I’m not trying to lay on you Saul’s armor, as if to say, “Here’s how I do my devotions and here’s how I pray. And here’s the patterns of Cities Church, and you should do the same ones.” This is not Saul’s armor. You’re not supposed to have somebody else’s armor on, but you can develop these in your season of life with your bent. And then, habits are also driven by desire and reward. Habits are formed because you are being rewarded in some way. You don’t form habits when there’s no reward, and all the more in the Christian life.

The End of the Means

So we end the morning session here with the end of the means. I want to put text with this. I don’t want to just say, “Jesus is the end, Jesus is the end.” Let’s put two texts on it, among others. We’re talking about means here. Means are means to some end. This is the end:

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

That’s the essence of eternal life, knowing the Father and the Son in him. And in our means of grace, we want to move toward that great end. That’s the goal. That’s the reward that would inform and cultivate our habits.

In Philippians 3:7–8, the apostle Paul says:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

So brothers and sisters, in talking about these spiritual disciplines (the means of grace) this morning, this evening, and tomorrow night, this is what we’re pursuing. It’s the surpassing value of Christ. It’s not the value of achievement, nor the value of feeling good about myself, nor checking boxes, nor the value of doing what somebody else told me to do, but the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord through his word, through a relationship with him in prayer where I respond to him based on who he’s revealed himself to be, and doing so in the body of Christ, in the covenanted local church community where we are means of grace to each other, so that we know more of Jesus in and through each other.

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