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What Do You Mean By, “Means of Grace”?

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Previously, I wrote that there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the Church, ‎because salvation is by grace, and grace is ordinarily given by the means of grace, which are ‎given to the Church.‎ ‎ ‎

The question arises, what do I mean by the means of grace? To answer this question, we will ‎begin with a broader explanation of the concept, and moving from the gracegeneral to specific, ‎conclude with a narrower definition as that concept applies to the context of the Christian ‎Church. ‎

Means and Grace

The term, “means of grace”, is comprised of two key words, “means”, and “grace”. A “means” ‎is simply an instrument or thing through which an effect is extended or communicated. ‎‎“Grace” is a gift or blessing. Christians say that God’s grace is unmerited favor, which is to ‎say that His grace is a gift, or blessing that we do not earn. Taken together, a means of grace ‎is an instrument or thing through which God gives or shares His blessings. In this general ‎sense, there are many means of grace, because anything that God uses to give His blessings ‎is a means of grace. For example, God gives mankind food and gladness through rain and ‎fruitful seasons (Acts 14:17). Food and gladness are grace. They are God’s gifts, undeserved ‎gifts. The rain and fruitful seasons are the means through which God gives those gifts.

Special Grace ‎

Because we are discussing the means of grace in the context of salvation, we must narrow ‎our focus from common grace, to special grace. Common grace refers to those gifts which ‎God gives to mankind generally, such as life, and food, and gladness. The gifts and the ‎recipients of them are universal, or common. Therefore, we call it common grace. However, ‎God gives some gifts to some men that He does not give to all men. These gifts and the ‎recipients of them are special. Therefore, we call it special grace. Special grace is sometimes ‎called saving grace, or salvific grace, because it pertains to salvation. When discussing the ‎gifts which God gives only to the Church, we are discussing special grace, also called saving ‎grace, or salvific grace.

Blood on the Doorposts

In Exodus 12 we read that God destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, but spared the firstborn of ‎Israel. When God spared Israel, it was a gift, an undeserved gift. It was also a special gift, ‎given only to special people. Therefore, it is an example of special grace. Now, let us consider ‎how God extended that grace to Israel. The LORD instructed them to select a lamb, which ‎they were to kill and eat (12:1-8). He also instructed them to take some of the Lamb’s blood ‎and put it on the doorposts and lintels of their homes (12:7). The LORD told Moses,

I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the ‎land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I ‎am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I ‎see the blood, ‎ I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you ‎‎(Exodus 12:12-13 ESV). ‎

By morning, God had destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, but had passed over the houses of ‎Israel (13:29). That was grace. Previously, God had told Israel to spread the lamb’s blood ‎upon their doorposts and lintels, so that when He saw it, He would pass over their houses. ‎That was the means. The blood on the doorposts was a means of grace. Note four things ‎about this means of grace.

First, it was objective. It came from outside of the people. Just as grace came to Israel from ‎outside of themselves, so also it came to them through means outside of themselves. In ‎addition to being external, it was also a tangible, sensible thing. The LORD said, “The blood ‎shall be a sign for you” (12:13). The blood was an outward sign. It was visible to the people ‎of Israel. ‎

Second, it was given to the people by the LORD. The people of Israel did not devise their own ‎salvation. Nor did they invent the Passover rite. The LORD told Moses (12:1, 7); Moses told ‎the elders (12:21); and the elders told the people (27-28). Because it was given to all Israel, it ‎was a public, not private, affair. It began with the “whole assembly of the congregation”, and ‎then it was applied to individuals as members of households (12:6-7). But it did not stop ‎there. The Passover continued as a rite among the people of Israel from that day until the ‎death of Christ (12:14).

Third, it communicated saving benefits, that is to say, grace. The LORD said, “When I see the ‎blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you” (12:13). The same ‎destroyer, who struck the Egyptians, could have likewise struck Israel, except that the LORD ‎would not allow him (12:23). ‎

Fourth, it depended on God. All the blood, from all the lambs in the world, could not have ‎saved a single Israelite, if not for the LORD working through it. It was the LORD who saw the ‎blood and passed over the houses according to His promise (12:13). ‎

Means of Grace in the Church Today

Now that we have a general idea of the means of grace, and an Old Testament example, let ‎us again narrow our focus to consider the means of grace in the context of the Church today. ‎Here we may define the means of grace as: objective instruments, given to the Church, by ‎which the Holy Spirit communicates the benefits of Christ. This definition has four basic parts. ‎

First, the means of grace are objective instruments. They exist outside of us, and ‎independent from us. We cannot conjure up the means of grace from inside of us. Like Israel, ‎we are saved by grace. Both that grace, and the means by which we receive it, come to us ‎from outside of us. As objective instruments, the means of grace are sensible, that is to say ‎they are perceived by one or more of our five senses.

Second, the means of grace are given to the Church. Neither individuals nor the Church have ‎the authority to institute a means of grace. They are given to us by Christ, who is the Head ‎of the Church. He has not given these means to the world. Because the means of grace are ‎given to the Church, they are for use in the Church, and by the Church. This means that the ‎means of grace are public, not private. It also means that they will continue as long as the ‎Church continues on earth. ‎

Third, the means of grace communicate the benefits of Christ. The grace in the means of ‎grace refers specifically to those things purchased by Jesus Christ for the salvation of His ‎people. ‎

Fourth, the means of grace communicate the benefits of Christ by the Holy Spirit. The means ‎of grace have physical characteristics, but their true operation is spiritual in nature. The Holy ‎Spirit, the Comforter whom Jesus promised, is He who communicates the benefits of Christ. ‎

So, when we speak of the means of grace in the context of the Church today, we mean those ‎objective instruments, given to the Church, by which the Holy Spirit communicates the benefits ‎of Christ.

Next time, God willing, we will discuss the ordinary means of grace instituted in the New ‎Testament. ‎

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