You may have heard the term “means of grace” before and been a bit confused by it. You might think it refers to ways of receiving grace, but the only way to receive grace is through faith in Jesus Christ. The means of grace are the things (or means) that God has given to us by grace to help sustain and strengthen our faith.
There are cases like the thief on the cross where the believer is taken to heaven soon after professing faith in Christ (Luke 23:43), but normally believers live for years before dying and joining Jesus in heaven. The means of grace help us persevere in the hard life as Christians. The Bible speaks of five primary means of grace God has given: study, hearing the word preached, taking the sacraments, prayer, and fellowship.
The study of the Bible is important because we simply cannot know who God is – His character and the promises He gives – without studying His word. When we feel alone and abandoned, the Bible tells us that God is always with us (Psalm 139). When we feel we have sinned too much, the Bible affirms that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:37-39). When we feel like God is not in control, the Bible says that God even what Satan intends for evil, God intends for good (Genesis 50:20).
These are just a few examples of how God’s word gives us strength to persevere when we feel like the world is too much for us or that God has abandoned us.
Preaching is the natural extension of studying God’s Word. Paul said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).” God uses the preached word differently than when it is read privately, but they complement each other.
We see this illustrated in Nehemiah 8:1-8 where Ezra the priest preached and taught the people in Jerusalem for the first time since the Jewish people were exiled decades earlier. After Ezra preached, it says, “Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground (Nehemiah 8:6).”
Hearing a man called and equipped by God preach the truth of who God gives us strength week by week.
Sacraments are those means of grace ordained by Jesus. Most protestant churches observe two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord ordained baptism when giving the great commission. Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper with His disciples is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Luke we see that it was not meant to be a one-time thing when He says, “Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).” Jesus was still with His disciples at the time, so by saying “do this in remembrance,” we are to understand that they were to continue observing the supper in the future.
There are differences in the understanding of the Lord’s Supper, but there is a shared understanding based on Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).” In this verse we are reminded that it is to be done frequently and that through it we proclaim and remember what Jesus did.
Baptism is also understood differently, but Paul also explains aspects of it by saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3–4).” Just as in the Lord’s Supper, baptism points to Jesus and His work.
We see prayer commanded and modeled throughout all the Bible. The Psalms are prayers in song form for nearly any emotion we may be feeling. We see very powerful intercessory prayers such as Daniel 9:3-19 that model how we can pray for others. We especially see the importance of prayer with Jesus.
Jesus told His disciples, “When you pray… (Matthew 6:5)” showing it was something He expected them to do regularly. Jesus Himself prayed continually, from the beginning of His ministry (Mark 1:35) to the end (John 17:1-26). Although Jesus was fully God, He still showed that we do not have the strength to make it even one day without direct communication with God the Father.
Fellowship as a means of grace is seen in such places as Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” Through actions such as stirring each other up and encouraging each other, the writer shows that we are meant to help sustain each other through life.
Sometimes we help each other through an encouraging word for someone who is struggling; other times it may be a corrective word when we see a brother or sister going down the wrong path. In any case, the goal of fellowship is to encourage others in their walk with Christ.
Let us thank God for the different means He has given us to persevere in our lives.