How does God dispense His grace to the elect? He does so through means of grace.
What does “means of grace" mean?
1. “Grace” is God's unmerited favor extended to sinners. It originates with God, and it comes only from Him. Grace provides every aspect of salvation and is completely apart from any works.
2. “Means” comes from the Latin word “media.” These are the instruments, or methods, God employs to bring grace to the elect, both in the inception of salvation and in the continuance of salvation.
What are “the means of grace?”
1. They are not merely good or useful activities in the Christian church and the Christian life.
2. If you examine the Reformed Confessions, you will find technical language used to define and identify the “means of grace.”
From the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession
2LBCF 28:1. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world.
2LBCF 29:1. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.
2LBCF 30:1. The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and showing to all the world the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.There are two criteria of "means of grace" in the statements above.
1. Divine Institution. Or, in sharper language, "dominical" institution. Only the Lord may institute means of grace. Some of God's institutions are limited to a particular covenant, such as circumcision. But dominical institution are divine institutions that come from Jesus Christ in the new covenant.
2. A Promise of Divine Blessing Attached to the Institution. This is covenantal thinking. The acts God commands, or institutes, are related to His covenant. God explicitly promises that He will bless these acts, and thus, we are able to trust His promise of blessing.
What, then, is the method God has appointed by which He accomplishes His converting and sanctifying will in the church?
It is primarily through the preaching of His Word. The preached Word of God is the preeminent means of grace. But God's primary means also include baptism, the Lord's Supper, and prayer. There are some other secondary means as well. Occasional days of fasting and thanksgiving should not be neglected, for example.
1. This doctrine is not intended to teach that the above activities are the only activities that may or should ever be present in the church. There is a wide variety of activities in which our churches may and should participate. But, the "ordinary/ordained means of grace" are the things we must always do and never neglect. And, these are the only activities upon which we may expect and anticipate God's blessing. there are, however, some things churches may do and perhaps ought to do, but are they are not means of grace and therefore no promise of blessing rests upon them. Such acts may include: associations of churches, ministerial training institutions, youth groups, small groups, Christian schools, home schools, counseling centers, SS, fellowship meals, discipleship meetings, financial giving, etc.
2. We must take care not to invent man made means of grace for ourselves and wrongly expect God to bless them. For example: altar calls [the anxious bench, marketing/business strategies, pomp and ceremony, lights and fanfare, etc.]. That was the error of Roman Catholicism.
3. Not Ex Opere Operato (in the doing it is done). God never promises to bless any acts of obedience to the means of grace when faith is lacking. For example, the preaching of the Word only brings grace to the hearer when the hearer believes the message preached.
For further consideration: Consider how the means of grace relate to the five solas of the Reformation: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. Consider how the means of grace relates to the regulative principle of worship (proper worship is “means of grace” worship).