What Are the Means of Grace? Answered by Jon Moffitt
Hey everyone, this is Jon, and I’ll be answering the question: What are the means of grace? If you’ve grown up in a traditional evangelical church, you’ve been taught that the way in which you mature, or grow, is by disciplining yourself through certain spiritual acts, such as: Bible memorization, daily devotions, prayer, journaling, fasting. The better you get at these, the more mature you’ll become.
Paul speaks to the Christians in Galatians chapter 3, and he warns them and says: why are you so foolish to think that you’ve begun by the Spirit, receiving a gift of grace, faith, that you are now going to perfect yourself by use of the law, or disciplining yourself through the flesh? He says that the way in which you’ve begun, which is by the Spirit through faith, is the way in which you’re going to continue. So, he is encouraging them that you are both saved and sanctified, or matured, by faith.
This is what the reformers refer to as ‘the means of Grace’. God gives us means to strengthen our faith because our faith is what sustains us and is what grows us or sanctifies us.
There are means that God has promised that if we use those means, the means of grace, then God is going to strengthen and bolster our faith. The confessions describe these as the word, sacraments, and prayer – The sacraments being the Lord’s table and baptism.
If you look at Ephesians chapter 4, you’ll notice that Paul, after this glorious Gospel message, hands the church very important instructions. He says that God, through the Spirit, has gifted many of you to be teachers and preachers, and that when the church functions properly, it builds itself up in love.
The instructions to the believer after receiving the Gospel is to come together in a corporate reality, and receive the gifts that God has given the church: the preaching and teaching of God’s word. So, it’s through the corporate preaching and teaching of God’s word that he strengthens our faith.
Can you read God’s word individually by yourself? Yes, but that’s the new reality. During 1700 years of the church, past Acts, they didn’t have personal Bibles. They used the public preaching and teaching of God’s word to strengthen their faith. So, it doesn’t necessarily work for a large section of history.
When it also comes to baptism and the Lord’s table, these are what we would call physical means, where we actually taste, and feel, and see. We hear God’s word, the preached word, and then we physically interact with the means of grace. When we think about baptism, we are buried in the likeness of his death, and raised in the likeness of his resurrection. We are experiencing physically what happens to us spiritually, and we look back to our baptism to remind us that we are one with Christ because we’ve been cleansed and we’ve been united. We’re in common union with Christ. This is what communion means: Those believers who are in common union, we come together in communion, and receive from Christ his body and his blood, so that we can have our faith strengthened. We’re looking to the cross for what Christ has done every time we take communion, not to what we have done. We’re not looking to our faithfulness, but to Christ’s faithfulness to us, and then, in prayer – What are you doing in prayer? You’re depending upon God. Every time that you go to him confessing your sin, go to him with a need, or even praise for who he is, you are depending on God outside of yourself. So, prayer is another form of dependence.
We receive God’s word to strengthen us, we receive the sacraments to encourage and strengthen us, and we also pray to receive his grace to strengthen us. It’s through these primary means that God uses to strengthen and mature us. God can, and does, use other means throughout scripture. Even fellowship is an important means which God uses, but these other means are not the primary means by which God has promised to strengthen our faith. So, that’s where we want to focus our attention, trusting in what scripture has handed us to be the primary means in which God will fulfill his promises in maturing and strengthening our faith.