Josh Hamilton, Relapse, and the Means of Grace

In case you missed it, Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in one game last week.

In case you don't know baseball, that's a big deal. Only 15 other players in Major League history have accomplished the feat.

But what's impressive about Hamilton is that it's not just one good game. It's now several outstanding seasons, and an unusual career. An unashamed evangelical, Hamilton is one of the more amazing sports stories of our time as he has recovered from drug addiction and alcoholism, with God's help, to become one of the game's elite players. Not only is he a four-time All-Star, and the 2010 Most Valuable Player, but he currently leads the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.

ESPN's Pardon the Interruption interviewed Hamilton the day after his four-home-run performance, and in the course of the interview, he was asked about his recent "relapse" (he admitted in February to over-drinking at a bar in Dallas). Hamilton responded with depth and authenticity about his faith and that he's been learning to evaluate the weeks and months that lead up to temptations to relapse. In particular, he says he's learned to ask, "Did I stop praying? Did I stop getting into the Word? Did I stop fellowshipping and allowing people who care for me into my circle?"

What he's talking about are the so-called "means of grace." In fact, John Frame (who explains the means of grace as "certain channels by which God gives spiritual power to his church") categorizes the various Christian means of grace under the three precise headings Hamilton mentions: Word, prayer, and fellowship.

So how do we Christians, recovering sinners as we are, avoid relapse, grow in our faith, and continue to avail ourselves of the grace of God for everyday life? Here's Frame:

Without God’s grace, we are lost. And we need God’s grace not only at the beginning of the Christian life but throughout. So, naturally we ask, where can we go to find God’s continuing grace to us? Where do we go to get the resources for sanctification, for continuing spiritual growth? The short answer is that there are three places: the Word, fellowship, and prayer.

Except for the second, we can find those resources either privately or publicly. The second, fellowship, is by definition public. But we can receive the Word either by individual Bible study or through the public preaching and teaching of the church. And we can pray, of course, either privately or publicly. In our private use of the means of grace, we come to God as members of the church, the body of Christ. Apart from Christ, our Bible study and prayer will not help us. Indeed, we need other members of the church to help us understand the Bible and to teach us how to pray. So, in an important sense, even the private means of grace are within the church. . . .

It is not typical in Reformed theology to regard fellowship as a means of grace. But I think it clearly is. Remember all the passages . . . on one-anothering? Those make it plain that our spiritual health depends on one another — both what other believers do for us and what we do for them. The larger concept that includes all those one-anotherings is the concept of fellowship.1

This is the stuff of healthy Christianity — for superstars and unknowns alike. The ground is level at the cross, not just at conversion, but for everyday spiritual wherewithal. We're all invited to avail ourselves daily of God's means of grace in the Word, prayer, and fellowship.

  1. John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord (P&R, 2006), 260–261.