A Means of Grace to Consider

Conceived by hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), the church never stops receiving its redemption and its identity from the living voice of God. The “two words” of the Word accomplish different things: the law convicts and directs, and the gospel justifies and gives life.

The new creation is effected in the church but not by the church; like the faith and new birth of its members, it is a creation of God’s Word (creatura verbi). Conceived by hearing, the church never stops receiving its redemption and its identity from the living voice of God. God’s both creative and redemptive. God’s Word is never inactive or ineffectual; by the Spirit’s power, it always accomplishes what the Father has spoken in his Son (Isa. 55:11). There is no opposition here between divine and human action. Within the appropriate covenantal context, the words of commissioned representatives—whose personality and characteristics are not overwhelmed in the process—actually bear God’s Word, accomplishing what it speaks. Only the written Word of the prophets and apostles occupies inspired canonical status, but the subsequent preaching of ministers communicates exactly the same Word, illuminated by the very same Spirit.

Preaching involves teaching, but it is much more; its sacramental role as a means of grace underlies the Reformation understanding. The proclamation of the gospel not only calls people to faith in Christ; it is the means by which the Spirit creates and strengthens this faith. It is critical to recognize that the “two words” of the living and active Word of God—the law and the gospel—accomplish different things. By speaking the law, God silences and convicts us; by speaking the gospel, he justifies and renews us. While everything that God speaks is true, useful, and powerful, only the gospel of God’s mercy in Christ gives life (Rom. 1:16; 10:15, 17; 1 Peter 1:23–25).

The Word of creates His community. Although private prayer and meditation on Scripture is crucial to the Christian life, God’s saving action is public and social from the outset—creating genuine community in Christ by the Spirit, rather than merely an aggregate of individuals who have decided to come together for excitement or convenience. The Word heard in preaching and visibly signified and sealed in the sacraments creates and sustains the community, as those who are called out of themselves to God and one another.

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