Means of Grace- Part 1
There is a phrase that has been used by the Church for centuries that is familiar to some and unfamiliar to others: the means of grace. For starters, let’s define grace. In the Old Testament the beloved Hebrew word is ‘chesed‘ and is translated as ‘unfailing love’, ‘steadfast love’, kindness or mercy. In the New Testament we have the Greek word ‘charis‘ which is commonly translated grace; God’s unmerited favor. This merciful, unfailing, undeserved love that God has for His Church is given freely without earning it. We don’t have to be good enough, attend church enough times, spend a certain amount of time reading the Bible; do see where I’m going? Grace is a free gift from our heavenly Father and our soon-and-coming-King and Bridegroom Jesus. God desires to bless us in many ways as a godly husband desires to bless his wife. For those of us who are married, do you remember those early days? You couldn’t do enough for each other. Even though we may have strayed from those early days, God has not. Grace is poured out on His Church because His love never fails; He is unchangeable, so unlike us.
You may ask, “But how does God accomplish this pouring out of His love; what does it look like?” Individually it’s easy to see: peace in our hearts, answered prayer, a joyful spirit in the midst of turmoil, to name a few. But what about the Church, the universal, corporate Body of Christ that has existed for two thousand years? How does the Head of the Body (Jesus) bless the rest of the Body (the Church)? That’s what I want to discuss: the means of grace.
This phrase is defined differently by different church denominations but they all have several ways or means in common. In the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches we have the Word and Sacraments as central to this working definition. We are going to look at the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism as ways that God blesses and favors His Church but we’ll also take a Reformed look adding some other ways that we receive His grace. It’s exciting to read stories of our history in the Christian Church, get to know a few of our Church Fathers, and see that they were ordinary people like we are, receiving the benefits of the means of grace. They were sinners who came to experience God’s grace personally, became leaders in the Church, and wrote good theology that has existed for two millennium. Let’s take a look at the these divine ways or methods that God uses, through His Holy Spirit to the Church, to show us repeatedly how much He loves us. The times and the culture may have changed but God continues to show His unfailing love, chesed, throughout the world, in every nation that honors Him, through these means of grace.
… and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33b ESV