Spiritual Discipline vs. Means of Grace

At some juncture I am going to blog about the week I got to spend at home (and by home, I really mean Stanford Medical Center because that’s where most of our time was spent) for my dad’s transplant. God taught me a lot in that week. But it’s more than I want to write right now, so this will have to do.

At one point my dad and I got to have a great conversation about the means of grace. This morning I was talking with him and the topic came up again. Right after we got off the phone he e-mailed me this quote from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline,

“God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace … A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain.  He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain.  This is the way it is with the spiritual disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit … The disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground … where he can work within us and transform us … They are God’s means of grace … the path of disciplined grace.”

To talk of means of grace is the same as talking about spiritual disciplines, but I prefer the term “means of grace” better for a few reasons.

  1. Because I’ve witnessed too many people excuse their pride, vanity, and restrictive lifestyle by calling it “discipline.” The word “spiritual” drops off and the pursuit becomes “discipline” for its own sake. This can turn into a very ugly thing.
  2. Because I wonder if sometimes people know what the spiritual disciplines are beyond just prayer and personal time in the Word? I rarely hear talk of being baptized or taking communion regularly as spiritual disciplines, even though they are.
  3. Because it puts the emphasis on us, not the Lord or the adopted family we now belong to. The way I’ve heard spiritual discipline talked about and portrayed seems to have a lot to do with our own work and effort and very little to do with what the Lord is doing in and through our effort, or through the things we are participants in with our fellow believers.

I like it because that’s what it is — regular practices that serve as conduits for God’s grace in our lives.

What are some examples of the means of grace, you ask? Well, they include everything from baptism, to taking communion, to reading and hearing the Word, evangelism, prayer, personal study of Scripture, communion with God (abiding in Him), ministering to others, giving, and meeting regularly with other believers. That’s not an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea.

All of those things are “means of grace” because through them God pours out His special (not common) grace in our lives. They are not ways for me to pick myself up by my own bootstraps and appear to be spiritual. They are not ways for me to discipline my body in a way that has nothing to do with godliness. They are not commands from the Lord to be thoughtlessly put into practice with no purpose or aim. They are not an excuse for legalism, which is “holding people to the standards of tradition rather than Scripture” (that’s from my pastor, Dave Hegg. If you want to listen to the best sermon I have ever heard on legalism, please click here.)

Why do I read my bible? So God can provide me with grace to know and believe Him, give me wise counsel to graciously instruct me how to live (I don’t mean the way He instructs is gracious — although it is — but the fact that He instructs is gracious), and grace to convict me through his Word.

Why do I pray? So that God can graciously hear and answer my cries, so that He can increase and build my faith that He is powerful, wise, and good, so that I will be convinced that when I pray God hears and acts in a way He wouldn’t if I had not prayed, and so that I can testify to others of answered prayers, and so that I will pray for others in confidence that my God hears me.

Why do I go to church? So I can receive grace from the ministry of my pastor from the pulpit and from other believers through fellowship. So I can receive grace through serving and sacrificing for the Body of Christ and through seeing God work in His Body.

Why do I take communion? So I can remember the grace that was shown to me through Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf and receive the grace that comes from keeping the main thing the main thing, that is Christ was crucified and raised from the dead for my sins.

Why do I give? So I can receive grace from the pleasure of helping God’s people and the joy of being a cheerful giver and good steward of God’s money. So I can build up my hope in the treasure I have waiting for me in heaven.

When we obey God in these ways He gets the glory, we get the help (that’s not original — it’s something my dad has told me for years.)

I want to think more about the “spiritual disciplines” in this way. They are a privilege to get to participate in. The more we practice the means of grace, the more grace we receive. The more grace we receive, the more we will be like Christ.

One last thought. In order to be sanctified & transformed into Christlikeness, the means of grace are essential. But we have to remember they are just means, not the end. They don’t make us righteous. Christ alone is righteous and He alone is our righteousness. We can’t let the means replace the end — He has to remain the main thing.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a graphic demonstration of one of God’s means of grace in my life……

Baseball. And good friends who are faithful to love, correct, bear with, challenge, and fight for our friendship.


3 thoughts on “Spiritual Discipline vs. Means of Grace

  1. Love it Lizzy … btw, “He get’s the glory and we get the help” is not original to me either. It is how Piper describes the effects of prayer.

    Love you,

  2. Bravo! Once again you have clearly communicated something we so often get twisted up thinking about. I love the last part especially. Spiritual disciplines don’t make us righteous; Jesus has already done that, praise God. Thanks, dear wordsmith!

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