Pastor's Blog

Images of runners leg, open bible,praying hands, group of people worshipping and children doing a craft around a table

The Means of Grace

Welcome to 2023! Have you made any resolutions? Have you broken any yet?

While New Year’s resolutions may not be your thing, most of us seem to head into the new year with some intention to do and/or be better. This year I’m going to eat less and walk more; watch less TV and read more; spend less and save more. And from this list and the many more good intentions we could add, getting into shape seems regularly to come out on top.

Like many of you, taking better care of my physical body is an ongoing goal and a continuing struggle. And while I want to be a good steward of the body God has blessed me with, I am both comforted and challenged by Paul’s words to his young protégé, Timothy:

…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come, 1 Timothy 4:7–8 (NIV).

First, Paul affirms the value of caring for our bodies. I think we could extrapolate that Paul would affirm the value of many of our new year’s goals and much that is touted in today’s self-care movement. Jesus himself when questioned regarding the greatest commandment, asserted that to love God with all your heart, soul and mind is the first and greatest commandment. It is not doing a disservice to this commandment to argue that loving God with everything we have and are involves taking care of our bodies and managing our time and finances well, among other disciplines.

Secondly, though, Paul goes on to qualify the value of physical training compared to the value of training ourselves in godliness. And the primary distinction that drives Paul’s argument is that while physical training can enhance the quality of our lives in the here and now, godliness is a supreme benefit both in this life and the life to come. Again, this line of reasoning holds for many of the resolutions we set for ourselves.          

If we are going to follow Paul’s advice, we first need to understand what he means by godliness, and secondly, how we go about training ourselves in it.

Though much could be said about the topic of godliness, I think we could use Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 and 26 as a good starting point. In Matthew 6:9-10, Jesus teaches his disciples to begin their prayers with the phrase, your kingdom come, your will be done. Then, in Matthew 26:39, Jesus cries out to his Father as he considers the horrors of the cross with the declaration, Yet not as I will, but as you will. Here we see that godliness is about learning to trust our heavenly Father enough to do things his way, rather than ours. And this is a daily discipline – even a moment-by-moment struggle. Again, in Jesus’ words, this is about taking up our cross, daily, and following him.

However, if we are honest, I’m sure we can all identify with the Apostle Paul’s words recounted in Romans 7 where he says, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out, (Rom. 7:14-20). Breaking this cycle of destructive self-will requires training – training in godliness – which is essentially training in the way of Jesus, the only one who has ever perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father.

Now that we understand that at baseline godliness is about learning to trust and follow the will of God by following the way of Jesus, how do we go about training ourselves to do that? Again, there is much we could say about this topic, and many different ways that we could approach it; just as there are many legitimate dietary plans and workout routines to help us achieve optimum physical fitness. But here, I would like to focus on an ancient tradition called The Means of Grace.

For those of us that have been followers of Jesus for some time, the disciplines set out in this tradition will seem obvious or simplistic. But the same could be said for any attempt we make to take better care of our bodies, our finances or our relationships. As alluded to at the beginning of this article, we get in better shape by simply eating less (and better), and walking (or exercising more). We gain financial stability by spending less and saving more. And we can greatly enhance our relationships by talking less and listening more. It’s not that complicated, it’s just not easy.

The Means of Grace have to do with understandings and practices that assist us in availing ourselves of the grace of God in our lives and growing in our ability to live the lives that he created us for and calls us to. These means or experiences and exercises are not complicated, but most of them require effort and consistency.

So here we go – an ancient way of training ourselves in godliness – The Means of Grace, among other things, including baptism and communion, are simply what many of us have been taught since we were new Christians: Read the Bible, pray, hang out with other believers, make worship – personal and corporate – a regular part of your life, be generous and purposeful with your time and your money and be a witness – share your faith story as you have the opportunity. If we apply ourselves to this means – these habits – we will grow in our awareness of and experience of God’s grace in Christ, and more and more we will be agents of that grace to our families, friends and neighbors. In other words, we will be more and more like Jesus and more equipped for the challenges of this life and better prepared for the life to come.

 One final, but vitally important, means of grace, is to be baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit. As we begin to put into practice the various disciplines mentioned above, we position ourselves to receive the incredible grace of the very presence of God in our lives by his Spirit which, like a personal trainer or life coach, but so much more, gives us the encouragement and the power to grow in true godliness and Christ-likeness. As Paul says in Galatians 5:16, …walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

As we pursue The Means of Grace, we will grow in godliness and more effectively work together in the name and way of Jesus for the Glory of God and the Good of Our Neighbors Near and Far.

Happy New Year,
Pastor Scott