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We are considering the two components of growth in grace. The first is getting rid of impediments to that growth, which is a necessary thing—but preliminary. The second thing is actual growth in grace. This growth in grace is a form of life, and like all life it requires food. Our spiritual life in Christ must be nourished as much as our physical lives require nourishment.
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2).
“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
Summary of the Text
We must always remember that the Christian life cannot be reduced to a series of techniques. It is not a thing you can tinker with. In all of the epistles, we receive the benediction of grace and peace. In most of the epistles we receive this grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit is usually not mentioned (although He is here in this passage). Why is that? I am following Jonathan Edwards in this, believing that this is because the grace and peace is the Holy Spirit. And so the pious wish that grace and peace be multiplied can be translated into personal terms. This too is related to honesty.
And as we see in the passage from Acts, when God visits a congregation in reformation and revival, He is poured out on everyone—and not just on the religious professionals. Sometimes it comes to the religious professionals last. One time in the nineteenth century, in Cornwall, a man named William Haslam was preaching a sermon entitled “What Think Ye of Christ.” During the sermon he was convicted of his own dry Pharisaism, and the Holy Spirit came on him. Another local minister who happened to be present stood up and shouted, “the Parson is converted!” And so we should yearn for the statement from Acts to be true of us as well—and great grace was upon them all.
Another Brief Word
As we strive for engagement with the means of grace, we want to make sure that we do not take what was said last week about the reality of remaining sin to discourage us. What is the point? As Christians we are called to the mortification of sin, and there are three kinds of mortification. The first is one that all true Christians have experienced—God has transformed our weed patch into a garden. “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal. 5:24). The second is what all backslidden Christians are called to. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). The tense of mortify here indicates that it is to be an “over and done” action. You are digging up big weeds from your garden. You are not permitted to “phase out” the big weeds. The third kind of mortification is daily and ongoing. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). This is tending the garden also, but it is the gardener going out every morning at 5 am to pull weeds. And you always find something.
The last thing I would want to do is upbraid you over not worshiping the Lord when the only reason I could speak to you is that you are here. But I do want to remind you of the importance of weekly worship. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
This is not a lecture, and you are not coming here for mere data. This is a covenant renewal service, and you are coming here to be strengthened, edified and built up. “For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified” (1 Cor. 14:17). Paul is constantly after edification. The worship service is a construction zone. There should be spiritual sawdust all over the place. The word for edified there is oikodomeo, a compound word meaning to put the roof on the house. Mark a difference between an emotional blessing, say where you get choked up, say, and edification, where you come out of the service with a wall knocked out and a load of two-by-fours on the lawn.
And remember that the service culminates in the Lord’s Supper, where all the blessings of the entire service (the music, the readings, the preaching) are sealed for us. The relationship between the sermon and the sacrament is not that of paired items that complement each other, like wine and cheese, or ham and eggs. Rather the relationship of preaching (and the whole service) is like cooking and the Lord’s Supper is like . . . eating. Services with great preaching and no sacrament are like watching celebrity chefs on television. Services with little mini-sermons (for all the mini-Christians) and Big Eucharist are like some kind of raw foods thing. Here’s your bag of carrots.
Read the Word
We are Christians who worship God the Father through the Word. As people of the Word, we are people of the Word. We are to be steeped in the Scriptures. Our lives are to marinate in it.
Consider what the Word says about our relationship to the Word. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart” (Deut. 6:6). The king was required to copy out God’s law by hand for himself (Dt. 17:18-19). He was to have this Word so that he might learn to fear God. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). Indeed, for a robust understanding of the role of Scripture, meditate on all of Psalm 119. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). When the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, one of the results was that the people dedicated themselves to the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42).
This is why, incidentally, the Bible Reading Challenge has been such a good thing. Read the Word.
The prayers we offer up together on the Lord’s Day are the prayers of this congregation. They are not meant to replace your own prayers. Rather, they help to train and shape your prayers.
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). “Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thess. 5:25). “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (Jas. 5:13).
For many Christians, private prayer is a great trouble spot. So let me conclude with two bits of counsel on learning how to pray. First, don’t be too proud to learn how to pray by learning to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Let Jesus teach you. That’s what that prayer is for. And second, start taking risks by asking for specific things. That way you will know if the prayer is answered, right?
And don’t forget to offer it all in the name of Jesus.