Means of Grace

– Brad Anderson

In times of unrest and frenzy, we all tend to forget our grounding. Just yesterday I received a phone call at the church that our power bill was two months past due and our power was about to be turned off. Thankfully, not having any authority to pay the power bill and not being that reactionary of a person, I stepped back and consulted all the wisdom (people and resources) at my disposal in order not to pay the bill immediately over the phone. I called our treasurer and our treasurer called the power company. Easy enough.

It was a scam. I’m glad I consulted the right people and resources. In a few short minutes the truth was known and we could move on with our day.

Those who trust in Jesus need to use the same non-panic inducing wisdom for daily, faithful living, and our God has given us his trustworthy, clear channels by which he pours his grace and favor: the means of grace. Charles Hodge defines the means of grace as “those institutions which God has ordained to be the ordinary channels of grace, i.e., of the supernaturalinfluences of the Holy Spirit, to the souls of men.” Supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on your very soul? Yes, that can happen.

While inward means are the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life for salvation (repentance and faith), the outward and ordinarymeans (WSC 88, WLC 154) “are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.” Scripturally, these means are communicated in the Great Commission in (Matthew 28:18-20) and traced back to the beginning of the church (Acts 2:42). 

These means are ordinary because they are the standard (ordinary does not mean boring!), God-appointed channels. These means are not given for the sake of novelty or occasional devotion, rather their intent is to be engaged on a regular basis to grow in true Grace—Christ himself. God is intentional in the ways he chooses to communicate to his people and save the lost. As Vos says, “Of course God could have made a plan to save sinners without the use of outward means of grace; but he has not chosen to do so, and so we must avail ourselves of the means which God has provided.” We are not to wait for a special feeling or prompting, rather we are to give ourselves eagerly and regularly. 

Ray Ortlund sums it up quite well: 

How do I, as a believer, access the grace of the Lord for my many needs? Where do I go, what do I do, to connect with the real help He gives to sinners and sufferers here in this world? I know I am saved by His grace alone. But Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matt. 11:28-30).

Our gracious Lord is not playing ‘catch me if you can’ with us. He wants us to be sure of Him, come to him, and draw strength from Him so that we can live fully for Him. But He does not give Himself to us in any way we might devise. He has made Himself knowable and accessible in specific ways of His own wise choosing. His appointed avenues of blessing are the means of grace.

How many means of grace are there? Louis Berkhof limits his list of the means to those observances that would be administered by ordained clergy: the preached word and the sacraments. Wayne Grudem has an expansive list of eleven. He adds to the original four: worship, church discipline, giving, Spiritual gifts, fellowship, evangelism and personal ministry to individuals.  What Berkhof limits to those things administered by ordained clergy, Grudem prefers a significantly “everything under the sun” approach. Berkhof’s position is highly clerical—his list of means can only be executed by clergy. Charles Hodge saw the need to include prayer to the means of grace because it is intended to draw one close to God and makes one’s soul “holy and blessed.” 

One is in good company by sticking close to the catechisms with the word, sacraments, and prayer as the means of grace. Personally, I’m for expanding the list a little bit to include fellowship, discipleship, and worship. 

No matter your list, there is nothing spiritually healthy by ignoring the means of grace. By not sitting under the Word preached or reading Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16), one cannot expect to hear from the Lord and know his desires. By not praying (1 Thess. 5:16-18) one cannot expect to know God’s presence. By not participating in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16), one cannot participate in the blood of Christ proclaiming his death until he comes again. By not being baptized one does not receive the initiatory sign and seal of belonging to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). By being regularly absent from the assembly of God’s people (Heb. 10:25) one cannot expect the blessing of fellowship and worship. The inverse to all of these makes for a stronger connection with God and his people!

In the end, God’s blessing is not typically found in the strange and unusual. He gives us outward and ordinary ways to know and grow in him. In the best, worst, and frenzied of times, his means are there. May we go to them often.

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