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The means of grace highlight the necessity of the church in the Christian life. The Lord has not designed us to live the Christian life alone. It has been remarked that believers are like hot coals. Alone they go out, but together they fan into a flame. Public worship is the place where we enter into the special presence of the omnipresent God (Pss. 113:4; 139:7). When the Father gathers His family together, Christ speaks to them through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:11–17; Eph. 2:17) as we offer our prayers by the Spirit and enjoy God’s presence in the sacraments. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves (Heb. 10:25) means more than simply being with other Christians. The public assemblies of the church under its officers are where we receive means to sustain us in salvation. We must appropriate and use the means of grace by faith, preparing ourselves to receive them and studying their nature and use from Scripture.

The means of grace are useless without faith. It is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6). Faith involves trusting in God’s promises in Christ and expecting His blessings by the Spirit. The means of grace do not work automatically; they are instruments through which we receive grace, not machines that produce grace. Using the means of grace to persevere in salvation makes us depend on the triune God. We trust in the Father who chose us for salvation, in the Son who purchased our salvation, and in the Spirit who applies salvation and brings us to glory. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), we are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18), and we will be saved (1 Peter 1:5). The Spirit invincibly preserves the eternal life that we have in Christ (John 14:16; Phil. 1:6). Yet, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13; see also Rev. 3:21). The victory by which we overcome the world is faith (1 John 5:4) because by faith we receive Christ (Col. 2:6), who is our wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Whoever believes in Christ will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), but if we do not believe then we will not be established (Isa. 7:9). The means of grace are valuable because we have fellowship with God through them. If we come to church to feel religious or reverent, but we have not met with the triune God, then we should count everything as loss. Faith is the means by which we reach out to the God who reaches down to us in the means of grace. Do we want to know the Father better as we enjoy fellowship with Him through Christ in the Spirit’s power? God has appointed the means of grace to create two-way traffic between heaven and earth. God reaches out to us through means, and we reach back to Him through faith.

The Lord uses the means of grace to nourish spiritual life in Christ. We should expect the Spirit to bless the Father’s chosen means by faith.

Yet, exercising faith requires preparation and meditation. Faith involves the entire person in our minds, hearts, and wills. We need to know what we should believe and what we should do. We need hearts that love the Father, who loved us and gave us His Son (1 John 3:16–18). We need Spirit-wrought affection for God, and we need to submit our wills to His. In order to benefit the most from the means of grace, we should prepare our hearts to meet God in them in public worship. The Bible assumes that Christians meditate (Pss. 1:2; 119). This means thinking biblically, clearly, carefully, and devotionally about the glory of God as He reveals Himself in His Word and works. Meditation makes a difference in the Christian life. Do we come to worship knowing God’s promises to meet us there? Do we know what pleases Him, and do we think about what He is doing and what we are doing when we come to worship? Do we expect to hear Christ’s voice in the preaching of the Word? Do we revel in the love of the Father, who raised His Son from the dead and who leads us to celebrate this fact every first day of the week? Though the Spirit is sovereign, working in different measures at different times, do we expect Him to be faithful in bringing us to Jesus through the means of grace? In short, through preparation and meditation, we take the focus off ourselves when we use the means of grace and redirect it to the triune God. What could be more profitable to our souls? Preparing to receive the means of grace teaches us to live as God meant us to live: for His glory, with other people, to the salvation our souls.

Both faith and preparation require study. Often, believers want to study how to understand the Bible better. This is good, so long as we study the Bible for God’s sake rather than to satisfy our curiosity and thirst for knowledge only. Christianity can easily devolve into focusing on my justification, my adoption, my sanctification, and my trials and joys. Christianity is not merely getting a list of benefits right, but it is about knowing the right God in the right way (John 17:3). The means of grace remind us that everything that matters in life comes back to seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). When we think about preaching and sacraments, it is easy to think that these are the preacher’s “jobs” and that they do not touch us personally. If preaching, sacraments, and public prayer are means that the triune God has given us, then should we not study the means of grace and their role in the Christian life, and encourage pastors to promote them in their public ministries? Other institutions offer us outward benefits in this life. Only the church gives us God, and God reveals Himself to us through the means of grace. The world offers health, wealth, and prosperity; God offers Himself in and through the ministry of the church. The means of grace are the ways in which we should seek and find Him. When was the last time you read a book about the preaching of the Word? Do you study the sacraments? Do you cultivate prayer, in private, family, and public worship?

The means of grace promote Christian faith and life, and they foster Christian hope. The end result is loving God and our neighbor. Just as we perish without food and water, we perish without receiving Christ as our spiritual food and drink (John 6:53). Though the means of grace are simple and at times seemingly unremarkable, God does great things through them. In our sanctification, we should expect slow and steady progress (most of the time). There are rarely quick fixes for sin, and giant leaps in sanctification are unusual. God delivers some people instantly from sins that are deeply set in their lives, but most of the time we need to fight to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). The triune God uses the means of grace to kill sin in us and to lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps. 23:3). Skipping church is like skipping meals. Each meal may not be spectacular, but all of them together keep us alive. We often do not learn how much we grow by the means of grace until we neglect or lose them.

The Lord uses the means of grace to nourish spiritual life in Christ. We should expect the Spirit to bless the Father’s chosen means by faith. We should prepare to receive the means of grace by study and meditation. We should trust in God to use means to bring us to the Savior rather than trusting in the means instead of the Savior. Let us look for the Lord in the means of grace to foster the work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope (1 Thess. 1:3) as we confidently endure to the end of our race (Heb. 12:1). Jesus is the pioneer and end of our faith, and He will place our feet in wide places (Ps. 31:8) as we use the means that He has appointed to walk with Him.

The Sacraments as Means of Grace

For the Worship and Glory of God

Keep Reading The Ordinary Means of Grace

From the June 2020 Issue
Jun 2020 Issue