As mentioned in the previous blog, the means of grace are the various means by which God communicates His grace to His people. When Christians spend their time and effort using the means of grace with genuine faith, they will discover that their patience devotion will be greatly rewarded with spiritual growth and maturity. A summary of the means of grace is summarized in Acts 2:42
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The early church submitted to the teaching of the apostles, who were the recipients of Christ’s authoritative teaching. The apostolic teaching was authoritative because it was the teaching of the Lord communicated through the apostles, not simply the words of the apostles. His teachings were theirs; their teaching was God’s Word. This is why the apostolic teaching (i.e. the New Testament scriptures) became as authoritative as the Old Testament scriptures.
The significance of the apostles’ teaching (and the Scriptures) in general has been discussed by multiple Christians so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Rather, I will discuss how devotion to the scriptures has lead to great growth and stabilization in my Christian life. For me, a consistent and faithful study (both OT and NT) of the scriptures led to growth in three main areas.
The Word of Christ
First, the study of the scriptures gave me a proper understanding of the essential messages and categories of scripture. As a younger Christian, I spent much time focusing on relatively minor issues and very little time understanding the overarching themes of the scripture. Moreover, as a younger Christian, I believed that the Bible was primarily about how I should respond to God, rather than a book displaying the glory of Christ. Jesus Himself testified that the essential message of the OT was His coming (cf. Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-47). Moreover, Paul describes that the whole unfolding of redemptive history is for the glory of God and the glory of Christ (cf. Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 1:3-12). This gradual rearrangement of thought has made me more passionate for His glory and less self-centered. Moreover, this view of scripture dramatically changes how one interprets the Old Testament. Instead of viewing the characters and narratives of the OT as good moral stories to learn from, the OT now becomes the unfolding of redemption history with signs pointing to its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. This constantly gives me a deeper appreciation of the true harmony and inspiration of scripture.
The study of scripture continues to inform me of the major categories in the scriptures. As a young Christian, I regret spending so much time and energy focused on issues that simply aren’t very important in the scriptures (such as the type of music a Christian should listen to, the types of movies and TV shows a Christian should listen to, etc). Much time was wasted in zeal because it wasn’t in accordance to a proper knowledge of God, which comes through the scriptures. Now, I spend much more of my time on the major categories of scripture: scripture’s view of God, man, sin, Christ, salvation, and the Church. Understanding the major categories of scripture also demonstrated to me that our American culture at large does not truly understand what God views as important. Many of the categories seen as evil in our culture (such as individualism) isn’t a category that scripture finds important. This has informed my approach to evangelism, discipleship, and ministry to the Body.
The Word and Our Worldview
Second, the study of the scriptures gave me a biblical worldview that’s not simply confined to church life. This is vitally important since I have a secular vocation as a professor. As a scientist, it is very easy to separate my private devotion to Christ from my job or to remain ambivalent of how scripture informs my understanding of the natural world. Moreover, it is tempting to simply adopt the worldview of many of my colleagues (either humanism or naturalism), but a diligent study of the Scripture has deepened my conviction it is impossible to adopt these positions. A truly consistent Christian cannot affirm the claims of naturalism (specifically that nothing exists outside of the natural world) or the claims of humanism (specifically that man is the highest judge of truth). It is inconsistent for a Christian to claim that the Bible is the ultimate source of authority and then be ambivalent about it in terms of science and the natural world. Either God is the reference point by which we assess truth and knowledge or man (and the dominant prevailing culture) through his wisdom is the reference point. Furthermore, the nature of sin makes neutrality between two opposing worldviews impossible. Without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, human rationality is blinded by sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 5:19) and the mind of sinners is characterized by vanity and darkness (cf. Romans 1:21).
These are laughable positions worth mocking in the eyes of many academics, but these convictions formed by the Word of God are worth the mocking. Just as much as the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18), so is the worldview held by those who trust in the truth of the gospel and the claims of scripture. Yet it is in the foolishness of the message of the gospel that God demonstrates the folly of man’s wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24-25). Analogously, it is in the apparent foolishness of the witness of scripture in this age (and in all ages) that God will emphatically demonstrate the folly of man’s wisdom. Understanding this point has strengthened my conviction of why it is necessary to maintain a biblical worldview even if the prevailing culture mocks our beliefs, for “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:25).
The Word and Our Growth
Third, the study of the scriptures has continued to stabilize my Christian life. Too often, I am swayed by my emotions towards unsustainable emotional highs (usually in a worship service) or devastating emotional lows (usually in response to sin). However, it’s only through digesting and wrestling with scripture that my life has become stable. It is through this stable searching of the scriptures that we are made wise for salvation (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15) and that we are properly equipped (cf. 2 Timothy 3:17). In particular, it is the promise of Christ in the scriptures that stabilizes our Christian life. After one of the strongest warning passages of the New Testament, the author of Hebrews encourages believers to rest on the promises of God through Christ Jesus through faith because
… we who have fled for refuge [in Christ] might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul… Hebrews 6:18-19
Our faith is not simply a commitment to Christ, but it’s a commitment to Christ, anchored by a true knowledge of God and His promises in the Word. This knowledge primarily comes through a diligent study of the Word. These two components of faith cannot be divorced from each other, but it is when our commitment and knowledge of Christ increases that our faith increases. For this reason, our growth in faith is usually in accordance to our devotion to the scriptures. Personally, meditating and studying the scriptures has anchored my life in Christ, more than any worship service could ever produce. This is the effect of using the means of grace – it produces gradual yet amazing effects in the life of believers.
Laboring in the Word
Those of us with Baptist leanings recognize Charles Spurgeon as a great example of how one’s diligence and persistence in the Word lead to deep spiritual roots and spiritual growth. An article by Steven Lawson illustrates how Spurgeon grew in his ministry and in his personal life through a persistent study of the Word:
Charles Spurgeon believed that if he was to be used effectively in evangelism, he must have a comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures. Consequently, his sermon preparation was marked by thorough study of the biblical text. He declared to his students: “Be masters of your Bibles, brethren. Whatever other works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles. ‘Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.’” As Spurgeon saw it, a minister’s depth in the Word would ultimately determine the breadth of his ministry.
To gain such profundity, Spurgeon made it his goal to plumb the depths of the Bible. He wrote, “To understand the Bible should be our ambition; we should be familiar with it, as familiar as the housewife with her needle, the merchant with his ledger, the mariner with his ship.” He added, “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.” Spurgeon followed his own advice and pursued an extensive understanding of the Scriptures.
One of the important lessons that can be gained from Spurgeon’s life is that a strong grasp of the Scripture did not come automatically. It takes great pains and laboring to go beyond the superficial meaning of Scripture to discover the heart of God in the Scripture. It takes great pains to see the great harmony and consistency across all of the books of the scripture. Unfortunately, we live in a time where it is assumed that a person can simply open the Bible, ask God for a “revelation”, and obtain the meaning of scripture. It’s a foreign concept to many that studying the scriptures is an arduous task that requires devotion; it requires the interaction of the Holy Spirit and the mind to truly unearth the riches of God’s word. Lawson continues his description of Spurgeon:
Spurgeon said: “The ministry demands brain labor. The preacher must throw his thought into his teaching, and read and study to keep his mind in good trim.” In other words, power in gospel preaching demands arduous study. He admitted: “I scarcely ever prepare for my pulpit with pleasure. Study for the pulpit is to me the most irksome work in the world.” But he understood that if he refused to pay this high price, he would have no business in the ministry: “An idler has no right in the pulpit. He is an instrument of Satan in damning the souls of men.” Again, he warned: “He who has ceased to learn has ceased to teach. He who no longer sows in the study will no more reap in the pulpit.” Even for a genius like Spurgeon, Bible study was hard work. But depth in the Word is absolutely necessary if there is to be depth of conviction and soundness of conversions.
Lawson’s last sentence is extremely important – depth in the Word is absolutely necessary if there is to be depth of conviction, soundness of doctrine, and soundness of conversions. If we would be honest with ourselves, we recognize the truthfulness of this statement. Our lack of conviction (and clear articulation) of essential doctrinal matters, our lack of a Biblical worldview in many areas of life, and our propensity to be carried away by various waves of modern methods of spirituality (cf. Ephesians 4:14) can be traced back to our dearth in the Word. This reality is not just true of us individually, but it is also true of our leaders and in the church at large. Any church that has forsaken the pure preaching of the Word at its public gatherings is robbing the people of God’s primary means of grace and is showing itself to not be a valid church. Any pastor who fills his pulpit with anything but the exposition of Scripture, carefully explained and carefully applied, has failed his calling before God. The result will be few conversions, little growth in the grace and knowledge of God, and a fleshly motivated congregation. Those who are truly converted need God’s Word to grow: “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
The Word and Church History
A practical element of our devotion to the Word is through reading the works of men and women of God throughout church history. This involves reading commentaries, systematic theologies, Christian biographies, and church histories. As with all things, this must be properly balanced. Because these readings are not inspired by God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16), they are not infallible authorities and, thus, they can misinterpret the scripture. This is true of all commentaries, even from the church fathers (such as Athanasius, Ignatius, Augustine, Polycarp, Tertullian, etc.) or our favorite preachers. At the same time, we must realize that we are not infallible authorities on the scriptures ourselves. We are walking in the footsteps of many men and women of God who have labored in the Word and we neglect their insight to our peril. Reading these works makes sure that we are not reinventing the wheel when it comes to fundamentals of the faith and it also enables us to see fads of modern spirituality as they truly are. Spurgeon is an encouragement to many of us since Spurgeon was never formally educated in a seminary, yet was well-read. As Lawson records:
Despite lacking any formal education, Spurgeon was remarkably well read and exceedingly learned in “a Puritan sort of way.” His personal library in his Westwood home boasted an estimated twelve thousand volumes of Bible commentaries, systematic theologies, linguistic aids, church histories, and Christian biographies… Hughes Oliphant Old notes that Spurgeon was “a rapid reader who read the English Puritans widely and perceptively. The Puritans produced an amazing amount of literature of different types, and Spurgeon read and reread this literature.” Through this vast reading, Spurgeon acquired a “rare combination of biblical clarity, theological coherence, rhetorical zest, perspicuity of diction, universality of appeal and urgency of application.” As a result, he was well prepared to preach the full counsel of God with extraordinary powers of communication.
Fortunately, we live in a time where we have free access to literature from great men and women of God. Despite the unparalleled access, many American Christians are ignorant of their own heritage and resources and because of this anti-historical approach to the Word, we find ourselves, as a church, constantly in fruitless debates with one another over peripheral issues of doctrine and constantly involved in anti-Christian forms of spirituality. As Spurgeon himself notes:
Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it. Many preachers are not theologians and hence the mistakes which they make. It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders. Nowadays we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection and cry “Eureka! Eureka!” as if they found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but a piece of broken glass.
For those who think means of grace are only the domain of Lutheran and Reformed theology, I suggest reading Wesley’s sermon on the means of grace. He suggests that though God may providentially work in various ways to His people, we should avail ourselves of the means of grace:
And in the mean time, the sure and general rule for all who groan for the salvation of God is this, — whenever opportunity serves, use all the means which God has ordained; for who knows in which God will meet thee with the grace that bringeth salvation?
To those who are slack in their study of the scriptures, I would urge you to devote yourself to the scriptures. All who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in searching the scriptures. It is here where God has promised to growth His people.