During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century an insidious philosophy – namely, rationalism — spread throughout Europe and America. Rationalism’s proponents asserted that human reason, unaided by divine revelation, is the sole guide to all attainable religious truth.
Human reason became the new god. The idea put forth was that if the human brain could not figure something out, it could not be true.
People began to turn away from the “other-worldly” focus of the Middle Ages toward the more worldly focus so prevalent in our day.
The Bible, however, speaks of a whole different concept of attaining truth.
The “carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). Without God’s Spirit, people walk in darkness, unable to find truth. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
How then can people come to a knowledge of the truth of God and His Word?
In His perfect wisdom God has chosen to use certain “means” employed by God’s Spirit to bestow His grace on us. We refer to these means as the “means of grace.”
Although the phrase is not found in Holy Scripture, it accurately depicts the means or methods by which God connects with people. The means of grace are the gospel in the Word of God (both written and spoken) and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).
The Gospel in Word & Sacrament
These means of grace have long been a focal point of Lutheran teaching. For example, the Lutheran Confessions state, “Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art. VIII, A.D. 1537, written by Dr. Martin Luther).
Oh, the miracles which take place through the means of grace which cannot be understood by our reason! “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). It is God’s Word itself that holds the power to create, sustain, and grow faith in the heart.
In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the applying of water in connection with the Word of God can turn what was once dead into something alive in Christ. “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Furthermore, there is the miracle of receiving the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper (doctrine of the Real Presence). Our Savior’s blood was “given and shed for the remission of sins.” By human reasoning this too seems impossible.
There are many who would have us believe that God works apart from the means of grace, or else they add to the “means” beyond what Scripture allows.
For example, though prayer is often put forth as a means of grace, it is not so. True prayer can be offered only by one who is a believer already. Prayer is a fruit of faith, a part of the sanctified life of a Christian.
Simply put, any who would like to add to the invisible church of believers—”the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints”—cannot do so without the use of the gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16).
Therefore, let us thank God for the means of grace through which He made us His own! Let us then remember that our “faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
I know my faith is founded On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord;
And this my faith confessing, Unmoved I stand upon His Word.
Man’s reason cannot fathom The truth of God profound;
Who trusts her subtle wisdom Relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient, It makes divinely sure,
And trusting in its wisdom, My faith shall rest secure.