How does a sinner gain eternal life? Grace. How does a Christian grow in Christlikeness? Grace! When it comes to spiritual growth, too often we are looking for a miracle or a mission trip to jumpstart our faith. But God has already provided the seemingly ordinary ways through which his Spirit works miraculously to change our hearts and make us more like Jesus. Theologians refer to these instruments as the means of grace. As R.C. Sproul put it, “in His grace and in His wisdom, God has provided ways by which we can regularly have our faith in His promises fortified.”
Theologian John Frame classifies the means of grace under three headings: the Word, Fellowship and Prayer. First of all, God provides for our growth through reading the Bible and hearing the Word preached (Romans 10:17). There is nothing magic about the words themselves; they have power because God literally speaks them. If you want to hear God speaking, look to no other book than the Bible.
Next, there’s fellowship. This includes both the worship of God that we do with fellow believers as well as the interweaving of our lives with each other. Indeed, Paul prays in Colossians 2:2 that the church “may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” Personal devotions are important, but we cannot achieve the “full assurance” of Christ’s love on our own. We need community worship and fellowship.
Under fellowship we should also include the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While by themselves the sacraments don’t automatically confer grace, God has instituted them to “confirm his promises,” as one of the old catechisms describes it. They help us by allowing us to see God’s promises in action. They are signs and seals of the reality that we really do have fellowship with the living Christ, if we come to him by faith. I Corinthians 10:16 even says that through Communion we “participate” in the body and blood of Christ.
Finally, there’s prayer. Prayer brings us closer to God, as we learn to praise him, ask him for our daily bread and for forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 6:9-13). Prayer also draws us closer to each other. In James 5:16 believers are urged to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” There is something about being together that increases the power of our prayers.
All of the means of grace operate through the local church. The Holy Spirit can work anywhere and in any way he wishes, but God has chosen to bind himself especially to these ordinary ways that we can see in action on any given Sunday. So the first step to spiritual growth is to bind yourself to a local church. As you hear God’s word preached, worship Him with your church family, observe and participate in the sacraments and pray together, you will grow. What the Holy Spirit can accomplish in your life through these ordinary means can be truly extraordinary.