The Role of Sanctification, Part III
Sanctification is fostered through the Means of Grace
God, in his sovereign wisdom, appointed specific and objective means of grace by which he saves, nourishes, grows, and matures his children spiritually (Acts 2:42). Those primary means are the Word of God, sacraments, and prayer (I Cor. 1:18; Heb. 4:12; I Cor. 10:16-17; I Pet. 3:21; Mt. 6:5-15). When faithfully discharged, these ordinary means effectually communicate Christ and His saving benefits to God’s elect through the instrument of faith. In other words, they work. They accomplish that for which God purposed them (Is. 55:10-11). The Westminster Larger Catechism (1647) states:
Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.
These means may be unimpressive, even foolish, to the onlooking world. Indeed, they have almost no marketing appeal in our consumeristic age. Nevertheless, they are “the power and wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:18-30).
Immediately following Pentecost the early church was “devoted to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Why were they so passionately committed to these means? It was because they believed that it is through the Word, sacraments, and prayer that the light of God’s Kingdom is breaking into this dark world (Mt. 4:17).
God’s inspired Word creates and nourishes true saving faith. Paul writes in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We read elsewhere that, “like newborn infants [we are to] long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it we may grow up into salvation” (I Pet. 2:2). Again, faith is created and strengthened by the living Word of God. The Word raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ, and it nourishes our new life in him that we would grow and mature as God’s children (Eph. 2:5-6; 4:17-32). Christians were never meant to be stagnant. Those who have new life in Christ will be sanctified through the law and promises of God’s Word (Heb. 4:12; II Tim. 3:16-17; Jn 17:17; Ps. 119). God’s law not only exposes sin and shows us our need of Christ, it also serves as a sure guide for the Christian life.
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also primary means of our sanctification in Christ Jesus. Through the waters of baptism and the elements of bread and wine at the table, God’s gospel promises are represented and confirmed to the believer. The visible word instructs us to look away from ourselves to the only true remedy for our sin and misery–– the cleansing blood of Jesus (Titus 3:5; Mt.26:26-29). Rightly understood, then, baptism and the Lord’s Supper firmly “fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Notice that Christ not only creates faith, he perfects it (sanctification); and he does so through his ordained means of Word, sacraments, and prayer. The sacraments not only remind us that through our union with Christ we are justified, but also that we are being sanctified. With grateful hearts and eyes fixed on the crucified and risen Christ, believers pursue a life of growing faith and godliness.
Prayer is also a means by which God sanctifies his redeemed children. As we pray according to God’s will, the Holy Spirit uses those prayers to transform our hearts and lives, and the hearts and lives of others for whom we pray. The Heidelberg Catechism comments that “God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them” (HC Q. 116).
Christ Church, let us trust the wisdom of our heavenly Father and devote ourselves to the means of grace for our sanctification. To marginalize, trivialize, or ignore these ordained means is tantamount to a plant rejecting water, sunshine, and nourishing soil for growth. May we flourish spiritually under the means of grace.
- Pastor Jon