The first and chief gift of sanctification that we receive from Christ is the indwelling of the Spirit and our being guided by him (Rom. 8).
Habitual grace is given to us as a principle of grace opposed to the principle of lust that is in us by nature. This is the grace that dwells in us. In the understanding, it is light. In the will, it is obedience. In the affections, it is love. But it is all one principle, all one grace.
Actual ability to perform every spiritual duty is given to us. Without Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Believers continually depend on Christ for new influences of grace or for supplies of strength from the Spirit. For every new act, believers need new grace. Christ must work in us to will and to do for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). So purchased grace gives us the Spirit of holiness, habitual grace and actual ability to carry out every spiritual duty. –John Owen in Communion with God
If I had to sum up where I’ve been inwardly over the past few weeks, I would say that I am learning that for “every new act, believers need new grace” and that is given to us through Christ.
As of late, I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom. I was going through this absolutely wonderful study of Hebrews (and I did finish that study) and just thinking on everything I had learned over the course of that study. And one of the main things that I learned is that faith is very hard, extremely difficult. Faith in God and in His Word really goes against our natural inclinations, and we are truly dependent upon God to give us faith and increase our faith as we continue our Christian journey.
There are two passages that stood out to me towards the end of my study, and they are both found in the eleventh chapter:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. V. 13-16
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. V. 24-26
Living in this country, I think that our idea of faith generally has an “immediate expectation” attached to it. We have faith that God will do certain things or work a situation out, and we generally expect that to be done in a reasonable amount of time. Now, God oftentimes orchestrates our circumstances to teach us how to live by faith. Whether that looks like a long delay to prayers, the elusive and evading healing that we want to see happen, or just a situation that never seems to improve no matter how much we prayer, God ensures that His children truly learn how to live by faith, no matter how ridiculous we appear to be in the eyes of the world. And we also learn how to live by faith bearing through all kinds of disappointment, disapproval from others, and all kinds of failings as we strain to keep our affections and eyes on Christ.
So over the past few weeks, having learned all of this and spending much time meditating on the Word, I suddenly felt like I had a spiritual flat tire while on a journey in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight and a weak cellphone reception. First, I figured maybe it was staying up too late at night, and I was just really tired. Then, I figured it was the drain of having a sinus infection for almost a month, and I went to the doctor. Then I thought it was just the normal stress of having young children and trying to adjust to the new summer schedule of our home when my husband isn’t teaching and trying to work from home. Basically, I thought it was just a lot of stuff in my life. But then, I just felt like doing the same old thing that I normally do whenever I get in a deep funk….I felt like unplugging from the world, closing myself off from everyone so that I’m not bothered, and being lost in my thoughts by myself until I somehow made it through. Granted, that meant that I would likely be more irritable and less outgoing for the next few months, but that is what I’ve always done. But, by God’s providence, I was still studying God’s Word on my own, walking through the Sermon on the Mount with my 5 year old who has speech and language delays (breaking down Scripture so that she can understand it is not an easy task), reading a book on making the means of grace spiritual habits, and still having Bible study with my husband in the evening. Somewhere, in the midst, it dawned on me that I really need to view the ordinary means of grace with much more faith than I ever have if I wanted to get through this rough spot.
Instead of disconnecting from the world, I needed to trust that God would give me the grace and strength I needed through His church. I needed to listen by faith to the Word preached. I needed to trust, regardless of how low I felt, that fellowship with my brothers and sisters was needed and very useful to my Christian walk. I needed to pray, even though I didn’t feel like I could put words together in a coherent and sensible way and lacked desire, trusting that God still wanted my broken and feeble prayers. I really needed to have faith that the Lord’s Supper was more than just a memorial, but that Christ was truly broken and given to me to nourish and sustain me in a very real way (my husband has written well on this). All in all, I needed to walk by faith, thoroughly convinced that everything that I had learned was very much true and would be done in my life, in this situation.
So, I repeat, faith is very difficult and hard. Taking time to study the Word and read good theological material is time very well spent in the Christian life. But praying the prayer that God would plant His Word deep within your heart and mind so that you won’t easily forget it means that you want His Word to become more than warm feelings and excitement. You want the Word to get down deep, so that it’s firmly rooted within you. You want it to sink down to the level of a firm conviction, but once it’s there, it must be tested and tried. And our Lord is the BEST refiner we know.
So I write this, not out of the fire. My flat tire is in the trunk, and I have a low quality spare on right now. But I know that God is writing His Word on my heart and mind every step of the way. He is taking His Word from “this is real good” to “this is truth for life, and I must never let it go”.
Moreover, I found the quote from John Owen above to be extremely encouraging. God gives us new grace for every new act and new place we find ourselves in life. We’re not scrapping the bottom of the grace jar with the back of the butter knife hoping to get a little more to get through the season. No, He abundantly provides us with the grace that we need specifically tailored for us and our present circumstances. Our Lord is not a miser; He richly gives to us out of His abundance. And no matter how desperate the circumstances may be, He never ever tires of hearing from us or giving us what we need. But it takes faith to believe that.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!