In this article, we’ll explore the biblical foundation for the means of grace and why they play a vital role in the Christian life.
A Concise Definition of the Means of Grace
The means of grace refer to the spiritual practices and disciplines that God has gifted to His church to convey His grace and blessing. Grace is God’s undeserved love, mercy, and power that brings salvation, transformation, and spiritual growth.
Key means of grace include:
- Hearing and studying Scripture
- Participating in the sacraments of baptism and Communion
- Praying, worshiping, and singing praises
- Fellowshipping and serving in the church
- Sharing our faith with others
These practices serve as channels through which God strengthens our faith in Jesus, nurtures our spiritual growth to become more like Christ, and unites us closer together in the Christian community.
By actively participating in the means of grace, Christians receive the tools needed to walk faithfully with God throughout life’s ups and downs. Neglecting these vital practices weakens faith and stunts spiritual growth over time.
The Biblical Support for God’s Means of Grace
Several key passages of Scripture reveal how God has gifted spiritual practices to His people to supply His grace and spiritual nourishment continually. These means of grace work not by any power or merit of our own, but through the working of the Holy Spirit as we step out in obedient faith.
God’s Word and Preaching as a Means of Grace
In His parting instructions to the disciples, Jesus commanded them:
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
The proclamation of the gospel through both spoken and written words by Jesus and His followers gives grace to believers and leads unbelievers to find salvation in Christ. Scripture emphasizes that God’s Word is more than just ink on a page or vibrations in the air – it carries the active power of the Holy Spirit to create and nurture saving faith. As Romans 10:17 (ESV) says:
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Preaching the Scripture and telling people about Jesus are vital ways in which grace is supplied. This allows the Holy Spirit to spark initial trust in Christ unto salvation for unbelievers, as well as ongoing growth and encouragement for believers.
The Sacraments as Means of Grace
In addition to His Word, Jesus directly instituted two sacraments to impart grace and blessings:
- Baptism: Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19). This celebrates our new identity in Christ through the washing away of sins and public profession of faith.
- The Lord’s Supper: At the Last Supper, Jesus shared bread and wine with the disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you…This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20). By eating the bread and drinking the cup, we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection, which brings salvation.
These physical, tangible practices utilize common elements of bread, wine, and water to impart the grace won by Christ on the cross. Linked with God’s promises in Scripture, the sacraments become effectual means the Holy Spirit employs to nourish faith, remind us of the gospel, impart blessings, and unite us to Jesus.
Prayer as a Means of Grace
Prayer is a powerful way that God’s children receive grace by humbly communicating their needs and inviting God’s power and presence into any situation. James 5:16 (NIV) says:
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Through prayer, Christians cry out to their Heavenly Father, intercede for others, offer thanksgiving and praise, confess sins, and make requests according to God’s will. As we present our petitions with faith in God’s promises, the Holy Spirit brings comfort, direction, strength, and blessings that enable us to align more closely with Christ each day.
Why Means of Grace Are Vital for Christian Living
If left to our own devices, disciples of Jesus would quickly fall into complacency, sinful habits, doctrinal confusion, ineffective witness, and spiritual dryness. But by God’s great mercy, He has provided ordinary practices to supply us with His grace that bears the fruit of an extraordinary Christian life!
Here are some key reasons the means of grace are vital:
- Grow a deeper love relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit
- Receive assurance, guidance, comfort, and blessings from God
- Become more like Christ in godly character and virtue
- Develop spiritual disciplines that withstand temptation and suffering
- Prevent straying from sound doctrine and biblical truth
- Maintain vitality to carry out the Great Commission in evangelism and missions
- Experience deeper intimacy in Christian fellowship and accountability
- Faithfully administer church sacraments and ordinances
- Worship God in spirit and truth through Scripture, song, and prayer
When believers neglect the consistent practice of the means of grace over time, their faith often erodes like a muscle that atrophies from disuse. Churches lose their lampstand of Christian witness and influence when they depart from rightly administering baptisms and Communion, preaching the Word, and contending for sound doctrine.
But those who cherish and employ God’s means of grace position themselves to flourish by the nurture and power of the Holy Spirit. They bear all manner of good fruit in their personal walk with God as well as public ministry. As Jesus said:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)
Key Questions About What Is Means of Grace
Let’s explore some common questions people ask when trying to understand the means of grace.
What specific spiritual practices are considered means of grace?
While not an exhaustive list, the table below shows some key means of grace and examples of each:
|Examples of Means of Grace
|Participating in Worship
|Attending church, singing hymns, responsive Scripture readings
|Reading & Hearing Scripture
|Personal Bible reading, listening to sermons, Scripture meditation
|Partaking in Sacraments
|Baptism, Communion/Lord’s Supper/Eucharist
|Fellowship groups, accountability partners, mentoring young believers
|Generosity, hospitality, integrity, purity, courage, patience, kindness
|Employing spiritual gifts to serve God and the church
|Personal and corporate prayer, prayer journals, conversing with God throughout the day
|Evangelism, teaching Scripture, discipling new believers
|Practicing Spiritual Disciplines
|Solitude, silence, fasting, worship, service, learning
What is the relationship between grace and means of grace?
We must understand that the means of grace have no power in and of themselves. Their spiritual efficacy comes solely from God’s grace at work through the person of the Holy Spirit. If practiced legalistically or without faith, they profit nothing.
The means serve as instruments or delivery methods God uses to supply believers with various types of saving, strengthening, and sanctifying grace. But we always rely fully on God’s grace, not our own effort. If you’d like to read more on what is grace, check out the article solely dedicated to breaking it down.
If grace is free, why do we need means of grace?
This poses an excellent question! Grace is certainly free in that we can never earn salvation or merit any favor from God through good works or religious rituals.
However, in His wisdom, God still ordained spiritual practices to nurture our faith and growth in grace as Christians. Means of grace serve as tangible exercises to train our hearts, minds, and bodies to depend on Christ, obey His Word, and align with godly principles.
God lavishes us with free grace daily, but He calls us as disciples to actively participate with Him as co-laborers through means like Scripture reading, prayer, worship, fellowship, and service. By engaging in these practices, we do not summon grace but position ourselves before God to receive His abundant outpouring.
What is the difference between means of grace and spiritual disciplines?
Means of grace and spiritual disciplines are very similar and overlap significantly. Both involve practices that foster spiritual health and maturity. However, some distinguish them in these ways:
- Means of grace emphasize receiving God’s unmerited favor while spiritual disciplines focus more on training for holiness.
- The concept of means of grace connects more with the grace-oriented theology of Lutheran and Wesleyan traditions rather than with Reformed or Anabaptist groups that shaped many disciplines.
- Spiritual disciplines encompass a broader range of practices for spiritual growth, while means of grace highlight the church’s corporate means God gave to nourish faith.
There are no strict lines here, and many use these terms interchangeably. The key is that both personal and corporate disciplines nurture our spirits and open channels for God to develop Christlike virtue in us by His power and grace.
Do sacraments automatically impart grace?
Some church traditions teach that properly administering sacraments confer grace automatically by their physical nature, regardless of the recipient’s heart condition. However, Scripture shows that the physical elements have no power apart from active, faith-filled participation.
The means of grace only benefit those who respond to them with genuine faith in God’s promises attached to them. Without faith, they remain empty rituals, unable to impart spiritual blessings. Even Spirit-breathed Scripture falls on deaf ears apart from faith (Heb 4:2). God intends the means as a launching pad for actively trusting and obeying Him by His grace.
Diversity in Practicing Means of Grace Across Christian Traditions
While all faithful believers value God’s Word, prayer, baptism, Communion, and other fundamental means of grace, interpretations and emphasis differ between church traditions. Gaining perspective helps us understand and learn from diverse Christian communities.
The Catholic church recognizes seven official sacraments as established means of grace: baptism, Eucharist/Communion, reconciliation/confession, confirmation, marriage, holy orders for clergy, and anointing of the sick. Catholic theology emphasizes that properly administrated sacraments confer sanctifying grace to those who participate.
Mainline Protestant Overviews
Groups descending from the magisterial Protestant reformers like Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others almost unanimously uphold preaching the Word, reading Scripture, prayer, singing, baptism, and Communion as Christ-ordained means of grace. They differ somewhat on issues like frequency of Communion, eligibility for baptism, or use of set liturgy.
Most evangelical churches celebrate baptism and Communion as tangible means of grace, but some reserve the “sacrament” designation for Communion alone. Many evangelicals also emphasize personal Bible reading, small groups, and serving in churches as key means God uses to transform hearts and distribute grace.
In Pentecostal circles, baptism of the Holy Spirit signified by speaking in tongues, serves as another means of grace and enabling for ministry, in addition to water baptism and Communion. Pentecostals also see healing prayer, prophecy, and dynamic Spirit-led corporate worship as special means of God’s grace.
This brief survey demonstrates how groups of genuine believers can differ in interpreting and applying God’s means of grace in the church while remaining grounded in love for Scripture. As we extend grace and charity toward one another, we sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts and allow rich diversity that displays the manifold wisdom of God.
A Call to Action: Commit to God’s Means of Grace
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:
“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:7-8)
Just as athletes discipline their bodies through nutrition plans, practices, strength training, and rest, Christians must likewise steward their spiritual lives. Engaging the means of grace serves as “spiritual workouts” to nourish our inner selves and build Christlike muscle.
By utilizing God’s gifts of preaching, the Scriptures, prayer, baptism, Communion, and other means, ordinary followers of Jesus access His extraordinary grace. This grace transforms us increasingly into His image with ever-growing glory by the Holy Spirit’s renewing power.
So, examine your life. What areas are lacking in practicing the means of grace? I encourage you to dedicate yourself in these key areas:
- Read the Bible regularly to grow in truth
- Pray daily to deepen intimacy with God
- Participate in church worship and fellowship
- Partake in Communion with reverence
- Get baptized if you haven’t, or renew your baptismal vows
- Serve within church ministries by faith
- Share Jesus and make disciples in your life
As we avail ourselves of God’s profound yet simple spiritual practices, we’ll thrive under the nurture of His sustaining grace and overflow with Christlike virtue that invites others into the kingdom.