Tag Archives: westminster larger catechism

God’s Means of Grace: Prayer

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

As has been said before, albeit in different words, it is easy to lay a guilt trip on any Christian. Simply ask about their prayer life. We all recognize it should be more fervent, frequent and faithful than it is. Yes Westminster Larger Catechism #154 describes prayer as one of God’s normal ways of communicating the benefits of redemption, the other two being the word and the sacraments. Reformed believers are typically zealous about the preaching of the word, and seek to faithfully administer the sacraments. Yet the third, prayer, is at times neglected in reformed churches as it is in the broader church as well. So let’s take a quick look at prayer.

Each of the means of grace are for God’s use in sharing the benefits of redemption with his people. It is not that he is not able to do so in other ways, but just that he usually chooses to use these three means. This is clearly understood by the disciples. Not only do they ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (Cf. Luke 11:1), but it also occupies a central place in the life of the early apostolic church. For example, Acts 2:42 tells us that the saints gathered to commit themselves “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Prayer was a central part of the life of the early church. In addition, it is the threat to time spent in prayer that leads to the creation of the proto-deacons. The apostles ask for seven men to be chosen out of the company of believers so that they might devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4). The importance of prayer in the life of the believer is clear, but it is still God’s work.

In a sense, it is true that man is praying to God, but God controls the instrument he has ordained. In the first place, in Christ God has provided the door through which man enters his throne room in prayer. Sin has removed man from God’s presence, but through the death and resurrection of Christ, his Mediator, man is reconciled to God. So he comes to God in prayer bearing the approval of Christ or, in other words, praying in his name. In the second place, where prayer fails because of weakness and dulness of heart, the Holy Spirit intercedes“with groaning too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26). That means the imperfect, faltering words of the Christian are translated and transformed by the Holy Spirit to make them conform to God’s will. In the third place, the content of prayer is constrained by the glory of God. 1 John 5:14 teaches that if prayer is for things according to God’s will, God will hear. God does not acknowledge any prayer. Prayer that is according to his will is heard. So the access point, faithfulness and content of prayer are constrained by God himself. He is the one who uses prayer to bring us to himself.

Questions to consider:

  1. How does the primacy of prayer found in the early apostolic church help us to prioritize prayer today?
  2. What are three ways in which God constrains prayer for his use in communicating the benefits of redemption to his people.
  3. What are some reasons prayer may become neglected by God’s people?

God’s Means of Grace: The Sacraments

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the  covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without. (Westminster Larger Catechism #162)

When considering God’s ordinary means of grace, or his usual way of teaching and applying his work of redemption to his people, the sacraments can be thought more mysterious than preaching and prayer. However, by understanding sacraments a bit better we can more clearly see God’s purpose in them, which is no different than preaching or prayer.

A sacrament, by its very nature is a ritual commanded by Christ for observance in his church until he returns. Matt. 28:19-20 instructs the church to baptize and 1 Cor. 11:26 teaches the church to proclaim Christ’s death in the Lord’s Supper until he comes. Christ gives these two sacraments so, through the outward sign of what is represented, the inward reality would be taught. He did not give them for superstitious value. In other words, the Christian’s confidence is not found in baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Instead, the sacraments serve as a visible display of the gospel, to supplement and augment the benefits of Christ’s work as our mediator declared in his word.

Baptism is a membership ritual. However, it is not so in the way often understood today. Baptism is not so much a statement about the recipient as it is about the work of God in that person to himself. Baptism signifies the washing away of the filth of sin, or the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on believers. Certainly, to receive baptism as an adult does accompany a profession of faith, but it is through God’s regenerating work that this faith is possible. That is why baptism should only be offered to any person only one time. God does not regenerate us often, but only once. Remember the thing signified and it will guide how you practice the external sign.

The Lord’s Supper is more a profession of faith for the believer. The participant ostensibly adds his “Amen!” to the redeeming work of the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Because the Lord’s Supper signifies a confirmation of faith in Christ’s work, it is essential that participants are members of Christ’s church and profess faith in him. Each participant should ensure he is not despising the work of Christ through presumptuous sin. He should examine his commitment to follow Christ. He should ask God to relieve him of his spiritual weaknesses. An honest self-examination ensures the confession made through the participation in the supper is not hypocritical or flippant.

The things signified in the sacraments are mysterious. They are simply a restatement of the biblical gospel doctrines. Therefore, how God through them is no more mysterious than how he does through the word or prayer. Preaching is described as folly by the unbeliever (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:23). That is because they do not receive it with faith. Reciting rote prayers void of faith is no act of worship. However, when by faith we hear and pray, God works graciously in us. So it is with the sacraments. When we eat and drink, or water poured on our heads is met with faith, God graciously strengthens his people’s understanding of the benefits of Christ’s gracious work of redemption.

Questions to consider:

  1. What is signified in each sacrament?
  2. Look up the passages of institution for each sacrament and discuss Christ’s institution of each.
  3. How is the communication of grace through the sacraments similar to the word and/or prayer?

God’s Means of Grace: His Word

Bible Open

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him  of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear  without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

The central concern of the Bible is God’s reconciliation of man to himself. When sin polluted all of mankind through Adam’s transgression, God immediately promised a reversal of the fall through the work of the Seed of the Woman (Cf. Gen. 3:15). Since that time God, in his grace, has been sharing that message of reconciliation with his people through his word. To that end, the early New Testament church devoted itself to the apostolic teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Cf. Acts 2:42). Each of these four elements participate in God’s continuing work of communicating the benefits of redemption to his people. This post will specifically consider the continuation of the apostolic teaching within the church.

The apostolic teaching continues today through reading and preaching of God’s word. This post assumes the apostolic office ceased. To make the case for this assumption which would require a different post, which may be written another time. In this post we will simply assume it and in doing so recognize the centrality of Scripture to the church.

The reason the reading and preaching of the word is so central in the life of the church is because it is a continuation of that commitment to the apostles’ teaching. As the elders of a congregation read and/or preach this means of grace, God’s benefits of redemption are set before his people. The effect of preaching is guaranteed. In Isaiah 55:11, God promises that just as rain water the earth to grow crops, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but  it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” In other words, God’s word cannot be thwarted, either in awakening a soul, or hardening it. Acts 2:37-41 demonstrates this truth by showing the reaction of the crowd to Peter’s Pentecost sermon. There is an instant turning and crying out from the crowd, and a conversion of 3,000 souls.

Therefore, when we read God’s word we should approach it with the appropriate level of respect and reverence. It is God’s instrument to bring about conversion in the unregenerate, and work spiritual maturity in those he has already called to himself. Therefore, Christian, do not read it flippantly, but prayerfully. Seek to understand it, do not manipulate it. Apply it to your life, and do not disregard it.

The apostolic teaching is God’s gift to his people. It is an essential part of the conversion of sinners and spiritual growth of God’s people.

Questions to consider:

  1. In what way is the apostolic teaching continuing today?
  2. How does Isaiah 55:11 show the certainty of the effect of God’s word? What is it based on?
  3. Are you giving God’s word the attention it deserves as one of God’s ordinary means of grace?