This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Ben Sansburn looks at the overall theme of the means of grace laid out in the book's introduction. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.
The high winter tide of God’s grace, in all its untamed, unconstrained grandeur, has risen on the shore of this world in Jesus Christ. The glorious news of the gospel is that this grace has flooded in and sweeps up undeserving rebel sinners into God’s cosmic redemption. God is restoring us as bearers of his image. He is returning us to the goodness of the Garden - creating in Christ a sacred space where humanity can enjoy fellowship with the Triune God, where we know and love him and are known and loved by him, a space where we are transformed to reflect the beautiful image of his Son.
We’re reading David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace as a community this summer because our hearts need to grasp the height and depth and breadth of this grace. God’s grace hasn’t just rescued us from sin and death, it is working in us daily to produce life. Through the grace of the gospel, the life of the age to come is working in us now the transformation we’ll experience in full when Jesus returns.
But this transformation is not inevitable. If you’ve experienced at all the far too influential echo of your old-self — your sinful self-obsession and tendency toward self-gratification — you recognize this reality. We don’t just jump into the tide of God’s grace to be passively carried along in the current to glory. So how does authentic, meaningful transformation happen in our lives?
Laying in the Way of Grace
It’s here that the means of grace interrupt us. God has seen fit not to just tell us that living water is available for our sustenance, he gives us means to tap it. There are what David Mathis calls, “regular channels” for availing ourselves of God’s lavish grace; well worn paths “where [God] has promised his blessings.” These spiritual disciplines, or habits of grace, are practices around which we shape our lives in order to receive God’s ever-flowing grace. They are ways, as Jonathan Edwards explains, of “laying ourselves in the way of allurement.” The rest of Mathis’ book will examine these habits under three headings: hearing God’s voice, having his ear, and belong to his body.
What bothers us though, or at least bothers me, is that these rhythms of grace are far too mundane. They seem ordinary, trivial, or even *cough* boring. In our culture of instant gratification, fad diets, and reality TV, the thought that God dispenses his grace through such commonplace means as reading your Bible, praying, and meeting with other believers seems all too ordinary.
Yet isn’t this fitting? The story of the Bible is centered on a God who delights to use the ordinary to accomplish what is extraordinary. From dust, humanity. A shepherd-boy is Israel’s covenant-king. The world’s Rescuer, born in a manger. If we know the God of the dirt and the stable, it shouldn’t surprise us that he would employ such simple everyday tools to do his re-forming work in us. The question for us as we shape our rhythms and routines around such simple practices is, “Are we willing for supernatural transformation to look so, well…. natural?”
The Purpose of Grace
A quick point we must remember as we focus on the means of grace this summer. The catalyst of our re-formation as image-bearers is not these channels or pathways, but God’s grace itself. It is not because of our best efforts that God’s grace works in us, but often despite them. If we don’t understand this, the means of grace can easily become spiritual measuring sticks we use to evaluate ourselves and others, and beat those who don’t measure up. The goal of the means of grace is God himself, not merely an outward, illusory form of spiritual maturity.
So let’s press in together over the next 10 weeks toward the goal of God’s abounding grace (as it works in us through grace-ward habits) — to “know…. the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [he] has sent” (John 17:3). My hope and prayer is that this book and our study of it equips you to receive and enjoy his grace in deeper and fuller ways than you ever have.
Questions for Study and Reflection*:
1. Review the section “Flooding the Future” on p. 24. God’s grace stretches back into eternity past and forward into eternity future. Ponder that and complete the following:
a.) State a surprising fact that you learned from this section about God’s grace.
b.) Draw a timeline and title it “God’s Grace in My Life.” Add and label points on the line to represent the stages of life you have passed through up to now (infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adult, etc.) Add notes to the timeline that identify the ways God’s grace came to you at these different points in your life, the way God’s grace came to you before the timeline began, and the way God’s grace will continue after it ends.
2. Carefully read Romans 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:29; Hebrews 13:20-21; and 1 Peter 4:11. Explain or illustrate with a drawing the dynamic of God working in you through your effort and actions.
3. Read Philippians 3:7-8; John 17:3; and Hosea 6:3. Most likely, you want to cultivate habits of grace in your own life because you are aiming for one or more specific goals. Write your goal(s) out.
* Study and Reflection questions taken from the Habits of Grace Study Guide.