ByCraig van Echten
August 29, 2018
Bible reading: 2 Timothy 3:10-4:4
Brothers and sisters,
In light of this morning, our new birth is a work of God. God caused it. And as Philippians 1:6 says, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
But then, how does God do His work? After opening our hearts, how does He cause faith to grow? How does God mould us and shape us to be like Christ? How does He strengthen our faith and keep us on the straight and narrow? How does He help us in our doubts and struggles?
This afternoon I’m going to speak about, what is called in theology, ‘means of grace.’
The Catechism referred to these means in answer to the question ‘where does true faith come from, and the answer ‘The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it through our use of the sacraments.’
You see, God doesn’t play catch me if you can with His people. Rather, He makes Himself available to His people. And He has appointed specific avenues for this to happen. Put simply, the ‘means of grace’ are God’s delivery systems. They are the conduits by which God channels his grace and favour.
In the natural world, we see God using means. Boys and girls how does God make the plants grow? God uses the means of soil, water, and co2. How does God enable us to cure diseases? He uses particular medicines to address particular diseases.
In the world of Spiritual things, we also see God using means to create and strengthen faith.
This afternoon I want to look at the two primary means or avenues that God ordinarily uses. To put it differently, there are two key delivery systems that God uses. Firstly, the preaching of the Word. Secondly, the sacraments.
Firstly, one part of the delivery system of grace is the Word. Once God has regenerated the heart, He could reveal Himself to someone via a dream. You hear stories of that in the Muslim world. But God’s usual method is His Word.
1Peter 1:25 we read, “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.”
We see very clearly in these two passages that through the Word faith is created. It is also through the Word that faith is strengthened.
Now I’m sure we know this don’t we? We understand that God works powerfully through His Word.
So, this is more a reminder to us. You might know that prior to the sixteenth century Reformation there was a huge emphasis on relics. For example, people claimed to have bits of wood that belonged to the cross. People claimed to have a vial of milk from the breast of Mary and so on. Now, in the second to last sermon before he died, Martin Luther lamented that people were still going after relics. He lamented that people went to places such as Triair to look at Joseph’s pants. Why did people do that? They thought there was power in these relics. They didn’t trust in the power of the word.
This is a challenge in any generation. In our times, there is always pressure for programs, the right strategies, the right music (old or new), the right this or that. Sometimes Christians can give these things more credit than they are due. In a way people still chase after Joseph’s pants. But where’s the power? What is God’s delivery system for creating and sustaining faith. It is His Word.
I know. It may seem boring. Another sermon. It may seem less than spectacular. But, I tell you with confidence that a church that has the Word at the centre, as we try to do, is a powerful church. We are a powerful church!
And you will be a powerful Christian, if you continue to surround yourself with God’s Word, if you continue with regular devotions. With photosynthesis a plant will grow. With God’s Word we will grow.
And if you wish to bring someone to Christ what do you do? When the time is right, you share with them God’s Word. Don’t expect conversions if you hide the Word from those around you.
Secondly, another part of the delivery system are the sacraments.
There is one key different between the sacraments and the Word. That is: The sacraments can not create faith. Nevertheless, they do strengthen faith. And in that respect are a means of grace.
We see this clearly in the Lord’s Supper. 1Corinthians 10:16 says, “The cup of blessing that we bless is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ.”
You can see from such a text, that the Lord’s supper does more than simply remind us of the gospel. Not only is it a reminder, but it is also a spiritual participation in Christ. That’s what we read. It’s as if Christ is at the table with us. And so our faith is strengthened, not only as we remember, but also as we participate in Christ through faith.
Can you see how the Lord’s Supper becomes a delivery system of God’s grace? Not, by the way to communicate righteousness like in the Roman Catholic Mass. But, rather to strengthen faith.
So, I think this means that the Lord’s Supper is more important than we might think. I think we all appreciate God’s Word as a means of grace. Do we also appreciate the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace?
So, let me summerize. God could create rain out of nothing, but He chooses to bring it through weather systems. God could, and sometimes does work without means. However, God ordinarily uses the means of His Word. And how does God sustain our faith? Ordinarily He sustains our faith through both the Word and the Sacraments. So the Word and the Sacraments are rightly called means of grace. They are God’s delivery systems.
This is not to say you might not be blessed and encouraged by things such as a Church lunch, fellowship, listening to Christian music and the trials you face. However, it is the Word and the Sacraments that are the divinely appointed means which should always remain primary.
So what? Alot of Christians find these means all too boring. Many are looking for Joseph’s pants. Many are looking for a spiritual high via the latest speaker, event, program or activity. By all means we should be zealous and on fire. But how will we reach a higher plane Spiritually? Through the means that God has given. Let’s continue to make every use of them!