Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A Means of Grace (Romans 2)

"Circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:29b).

Historically, the “means of grace” are the instruments through which God’s Spirit graciously grows believers in Christlikeness as he fortifies them in the faith and conforms them into the image of the Son (2 Cor. 3:17–18). The New Testament teaches that God also promotes the spiritual welfare of his people through the preaching of the Word, the right practice of the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), as well as other means—including prayer, worship, fellowship, and the process of church discipline.

There are two sacraments or ordinances: baptism and the Lord's Support. While Catholics believe that the sacraments are necessary for salvation, Protestants disagree. The sacraments do not establish or constitute the grace they signify. God conveys that which they symbolize apart from their use. For example, people may be baptized when they are only days old, but that which baptism signifies (purification and forgiveness of sins) is not applied until later in life.

The church of Christ is required by God to administer and participate in the sacraments faithfully. When believers willfully neglect the use of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, the result is spiritual decay, for they are being disobedient to God’s precepts. Christ has commanded that we observe all things that He has commanded us—this includes participation in and administration of the sacraments. To disregard the sacraments is to disobey Christ.

Sacraments are signs and seals of grace. They have been added to the church to certify God’s faithfulness in the covenant of grace. A seal presupposes the existence of that which has been certified but is not instrumental in bringing it into existence. When Reformed churches speak of the sacraments being “means of grace,” they do not mean, as the Catholics do, that the sacraments are necessarily instrumental in salvation. Reformed people mean that the sacraments are practices through which God strengthens the already existing faith of His people. Through the sacraments God reminds us of spiritual blessings. Thus is our faith strengthened.

In water baptism, the faithfulness of God in keeping His promise and covenant comes to the fore, strengthening our trust and faith in Him, and acts as a symbol of a believer's union with Christ and of Spirit baptism. In the Lord’s Supper, our faith is increased by spiritual communion with Christ. Through the sacrament God adds to His promises the visible sign so that by combination of the promise and the sacrament we will obtain full assurance of faith.

The efficacy of a sacrament in serving as a means of grace in this way depends not on the elements themselves or in the character of the person who administers them, but only on Christ and the work of His Spirit in all those who possess the grace that is signified and sealed by the sacrament.

When you partake of the sacraments, do you give God the proper praise? Do you come with a right spirit? How important is it to you to participate in the sacraments? Do you look forward to participating in the sacraments, or are you indifferent? Commit to being faithful in partaking of the sacraments.