“Train yourself for godliness…” (1 Timothy 4:7)
Once you repent of your sin and trust in Christ, then God declares you to be righteous—godly, pure, even though you are still a miserable sinner. He forgives you of all your sin! That’s God’s work for us—justification, accomplished at the cross and received only by trusting in Jesus. And the Spirit of Christ, having entered your life, now begins to train you to be actually godly. To become what you actually are. That’s God’s progressive work in us—sanctification, wrought by the Spirit.
How does sanctification happen? Spiritual training. It’s what we call the “means of grace”—training that God has given us to actually grow us in godliness. The Spirit alone can make us godly people; but he uses ordinary means to that end. Like the water hose in your garden. It’s just an ordinary water hose, but that is the means, the channel, by which the life-giving water flows to your grass.
Here are 3 private means of grace, and 3 public means of grace.
Private Means of Grace
1. Personal Bible reading. Make this a part of every day—to carefully read some portion of God’s word. If you’ve never done this, then start with one chapter a day… J. C. Ryle: “Yesterday’s bread will not feed the laborer today, and today’s bread will not feed the laborer tomorrow. Gather your manna fresh every morning….And so give your Bible the best, and not the worst, of your time.”
2. Prayer. As you read, God is speaking to you. As you pray, you are speaking to God. Be sure to praise him for things you’ve seen in his word, thank him for things he’s done in your life, ask him for things he’s promised to his children. If you don’t feel like praying, then ask God to help you. Confess your sin to God—be specific. Confess your cold-heartedness toward him. Pray, until you pray. Use your Bible as ammunition—use the prayers in the psalms or in Paul’s letters.
3. Meditation. You think about what you delight in. And you delight in what you think about. They feed on each other. And as you come to know God through his Word, you delight more in him and in his Word. So why are we so often dull and dreary? Thomas Watson said, “the reason we come away so cold from reading the word of God is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” When you read, don’t let it just pass through your mind like water passing through a pipe. Consider it. Apply it. Think of meditation as eating the Bible. Spurgeon said, “It is good to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language… so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.” All the great men and women of church history have been saturated in the Scriptures. If you pricked them, they bled Bible.
Public Means of Grace
1. Public worship in church. Singing, praying, hearing God’s word read and preached—these are channels through which the Spirit strengthens his people.
What was the early church doing in the upper room on the day of Pentecost? It says they were praying together (Acts 1:14), and so we dedicate ourselves to prayer on the First Friday night of every month, as well as other times.
If God hears and answers us individually, how much more so when we come together to make requests known to him? As one of the Puritans said, “The presence of God, which is enjoyed in private, is but a stream; but in public it becomes a river, that makes glad the city of God.”
2. The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism shows our union with Jesus, and the Lord’s Supper shows our communion with him, at the Table, as we look forward to seeing him face-to-face.
3. Fellowship. I agree that Christianity is personal, but it’s certainly not private. From the very beginning of the NT church, they gathered on the Lord’s Day: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Fellowship is not just having a good time or a warm feeling with others. It’s a relationship people have because of something they share in common—namely, salvation in Christ. We are one in him.
That’s the basis of our lives together on Fridays and throughout the week. Fellowship is crucial for growth in godliness. And this is the area where I believe we can grow most as a church.