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What Luther Says

What Do We Mean By 'Means Of Grace' Exactly?

I know that when I was first exposed to Confessional Lutheranism it was like learning a whole new language in some respects.

One of the phrases I heard so often that was confusing to me at first was whenever people referred to the "Means of Grace" in conversation.

I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, but I knew that whatever it was it was pretty important stuff.

So, what do we mean by "Means of Grace" exactly? The following article is quoted in part from the Christian Cyclopedia provided by The LCMS.

1. Definition: Means of Grace. 
The term “means of grace” denotes the divinely instituted means by which God offers, bestows, and seals to men forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Properly speaking, there is but 1 means of grace: the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16–17); but since in the Sacraments the Gospel appears as the verbum visibile (visible Word) in distinction from the verbum audibile (audible Word), it is rightly said that the means of grace are the Gospel and the Sacraments. The Law, though also a divine Word and used by the Holy Spirit in a preparatory way to work contrition, without which there can be no saving faith, is not, properly speaking, a means of grace. It is the very opposite of a means of grace, namely a “ministration of death,” 2 Corinthians 3:7. Prayer is not a means of grace, but faith in action.

2. Basis of The Means of Grace. 
There are means of grace because there is, 1st, Christ’s objective justification or reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19–21) and, 2nd, Christ’s institution. In other words, there is forgiveness for all through Christ’s active and passive obedience. Christ wants this forgiveness to be offered and conveyed to all men through the Gospel and the Sacraments (Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15; AC V, VIII).

3. Twofold Power of The Means of Grace. 
The means of grace have an offering or conferring power, by which God offers to all men forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Matthew 18:20; 26:28; Acts 2:38; 20:24; FC SD II 57), and an operative or effective power, by which the Holy Spirit works, strengthens, and preserves saving faith (Romans 1:16; 10:17; 1 Corinthians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 2:14–17; 3:5–6; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:23; FC SD II 56).

4. Importance of The Means of Grace. 
The doctrine of the means of grace, part of the doctrine of the Word, is a fundamental doctrine. God bestows His saving grace “only through the Word and with the external and preceding Word” (SA-III VIII 3; John 8:31–32; Romans 10:14–17). Therefore the Bible inculcates faithful adherence to the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution (Matthew 28:19–20; John 8:31–32; Acts 17:11; Titus 1:9). Because of the strong emphasis on the Word in the Lutheran Confessions, Holy Scripture has rightly been called the Formal Principle of the Reformation.

5. Means of Grace And The Lutheran Church. 
The doctrine of the means of grace is a distinctive feature of Lutheran theology, which owes to this central teaching its soundness, strong appeal, freedom from sectarian tendencies and morbid fanaticism, coherence, practicality, and adaptation to men of every race and degree of culture. According to Lutheran doctrine the means of grace are unchanging, sufficient, and efficacious. The efficacy of the means of grace does not depend on the faith, ordination, gifts, or intention of the administrator. Hearers of the Word, communicants, and subjects of Baptism derive no benefit from the means of grace unless they have faith (the receiving means; the hand reached out to accept blessings offered in the conferring means); but it does not follow that faith makes the means of grace effective. The Word is effective per se; the Sacraments are Sacraments by virtue of Christ’s institution. Faith does not belong to the essence of the means of grace; it is itself a blessed work through the means of grace by the power of the Holy Ghost (Romans 10:14–17; Ephesians 1:19–20). 
The Lutheran Confessions generally speak of the Word and the Sacraments as the means of grace (Ap VII–VIII 36; SA-III VIII 10; FC SD II 48), specifically denoting the Gospel as the means of grace (AC V). The Lutheran Confessions take a decisive stand against “enthusiasts,” who teach that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of men without the Word and Sacraments (SA-III VIII 3–13; LC II 34–62; FC Ep II 13).

6. Means of Grace Have The Same Effect. 
The Sacraments have the same effect as the spoken or written Word because they are nothing else than the visible Word (see par. 1 above), that is, the Gospel applied in sacred action in connection with the visible signs. For this reason the Sacraments offer, convey, and seal to the recipients forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation just as the Gospel does when it is spoken, contemplated, or read. It is therefore not in agreement with Scripture to ascribe to Baptism (see II below) regeneration exclusively and to the Lord’s Supper (see III below), as a special function, the implanting of the germ of the resurrection body. Also the Gospel regenerates when it is read, preached, or contemplated in the heart (1 Peter 1:23).

7. Calvinism And The Means of Grace. 
Calvinism rejects the means of grace as unnecessary; it holds that the Holy Spirit requires no escort or vehicle by which to enter human hearts. The Reformed doctrine of predestination excludes the idea of means which impart the Spirit and His gifts to men, the Holy Spirit working effectively only on the elect. According to Reformed teaching, the office of the Word is to point out the way of life without imparting that of which it conveys the idea. Reformed theology regards Word and Sacraments as necessary because of divine institution. They are symbols of what the Holy Spirit does within as He works immediately (i. e. without means) and irresistibly. “Enthusiast” doctrine of the Anabaptists and of the many sects since their day regarding the “inner light,” generally identified with the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and the “2nd conversion,” has its root in this specifically Reformed doctrine of the immediate working of the Holy Spirit.

8. Roman Catholicism And The Means of Grace. 
Roman Catholicism emphasizes 7 sacraments as means of grace. The Council of Trent (Sess. VII, Canons on the sacraments in gen., 6 and 8) taught that these sacraments confer grace ex opere operato on those who do not put an obstacle in the way. Roman Catholic theologians differ on questions pertaining to sacramental grace, e.g., some regard it as identical with sanctifying grace, others hold that it is a special type of sanctifying grace. Grace bestowed by the sacraments is often described in Roman Catholicism as a spiritual quality infused by God into the soul. Baptism, according to Roman Catholicism, wipes out original sin in the baptized.

9. Necessity of The Means of Grace. 
The means of grace are necessary because of Christ’s command and because they offer God's grace. God has not bound Himself to the means of grace (Luke 1:15, 41), but He has bound His church to them. Christians dare not regard as unnecessary the Sacraments and the preaching of the Word (Matthew 28:19–20; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23–28), as some “enthusiasts” do. But Lutheran theology does not assert an absolute necessity of the Sacraments, since faith and regeneration can be worked by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men through the Word without the Sacraments. Mere lack of the Sacraments does not condemn, but contempt for them does (Luke 7:29–30).

Obviously, you can see from God's Word why the Means of Grace are important to every believer in Christ (or why they should be).

I also hope you can clearly see what it is that separates the Lutheran faith apart from the others and why it is the Lutheran church that most closely confesses "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

In any event, perhaps that was helpful in explaining what you need to know about the Means of Grace so you now have a much better understanding of them.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, the Means of Grace mean everything because they are God's gifts to His own (us) here on earth, which forgive us of our sins and strengthen our faith in Him.  

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Nice share here! For a while I've been struggling with the Catholic doctrine of Baptism removing Original Sin, leaving only Concupiscence, or the tendency to sin. It is this (in my opinion, errant) doctrine which is the basis for all separation in doctrine between Catholics and Lutherans. I guess that's why Melanchthon spent so many pages on this very topic at the beginning of the Apology...


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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