Ordo Salutis: The Means of Grace
Adding a section on the means of grace is really related to things like the spiritual disciplines and other catalysts God uses to grow our faith. It is speaking of those things we can consistently count on God to use in our lives to give more of His grace to us, whether we are aware of it or not. The “means of grace” is very much a Wesleyan phrase that John Wesley used to describe one of the ways God works in us.
Wesley writes, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Sermon 16). He later lists in the same sermon that the “chief” means of grace are prayer—corporate or personal, searching the Scriptures, and eating the Lord’s Supper. God has chosen certain avenues and activities by which he gives grace. Many of these are the spiritual disciplines that we have talked about earlier.
Wesley also wrote in this sermon several clarifying statements as to what is meant by the means of grace.
- The means of grace must be tied to the end, or goal, of Christianity. If they are not part of loving God, they keep Christianity out of the heart rather than bring it in.
- If they are separate from the Holy Spirit, they cannot profit us. There is no inherent power in the means of grace, but only by the Holy Spirit at work in them do they profit us.
- The means of grace cannot atone for sin. Only the blood of Christ can offer forgiveness for sin.
- A large number of Christians abuse the means of grace to the destruction of their souls. They believe there is merit in them that will cause God to favor them even though this is not how God gives us His favor.
The means of grace can also be called sacramental, because the sacraments–communion and baptism–are also outward signs of an inward grace. So we might say that prayer is sacramental. We might say marriage is sacramental or that raising children is sacramental. It is not that they are sacraments, but that God uses these relationships as a way to change us.