The Means of Grace

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

WSC 88 of 107

Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers

Acts 2:41-42

WSC 88. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of Redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.1

1Mt 28:19–20; Acts 2:42, 46–47.

Acts 2 is familiar to many of us. At least most of us will know that this chapter contains the account of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured upon the Church. And we would also know that this is where the apostle Peter preached his first sermon, and how it resulted in the congregation being pricked in the heart and crying out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37).

Peter answered with those classic words:

Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call

v. 38-39

As a result of this gospel call, many people believed and three thousand souls were baptised.

Many sermons have been preached on these words, so we will not focus on them today. We want to focus, instead, on something more mundane. We want to focus on what the church did apart from repenting from their sin and believing in Christ.

In our Shorter Catechism, Question 85, which we studied previously, we ask, “What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?”


To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.

What are these “outward means”? This is the subject of our current study.

WSC 88 asks, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of Redemption?


The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are His ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

In other words, the means of grace or the outward means are the ordinary instruments by which Christ brings us the benefits He purchased for us in the living and dying for us. The means of grace, to put it in another way, are the channels or conduits through which the grace or benefits purchased by Christ are conveyed to us.

What are these means? Well, our Catechism suggests that all of God’s ordinances are included. Nevertheless, it lists only three: word, sacrament and prayer.

Providentially, all these three means are all mentioned in our text:

Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers

Acts 2:41-42

As we proceed further in our study of the Shorter Catechism, we will look at these ordinances in greater detail. But for now, we want to use our text as a starting point to consider three questions: (1) What are the means of grace? (2) Why are they necessary? and (3) With what attitude must we use them?

1.    What Are the Means?

If you look at our text, you will see several activities the church engages in. The people heard the Word preached (v. 41). They participated in the sacraments of baptism (v. 41) and the Lord’s Supper (v. 42). They prayed (v. 42). And they enjoyed each other’s fellowship (v. 42).

The Word is a means of grace. The apostle Paul says:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works

2 Tim 3:16-17

The apostle Peter says: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet 2:2).

If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, then certainly, to grow in grace, we need not only to read God’s word but also to hear it read and preached. This is why the early church not only received the word preached by Peter, but “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.”

What about baptism? Is it a means of grace, or is it merely a symbolic ritual? There is no biblical support for baptismal regeneration, which is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that one who is baptised will be born again by the act. Simon Magus was baptised but perished. The thief on the cross was regenerated without baptism. So, too, elect infants dying in infancy. However, we believe baptism is a means of grace that the Lord ordinarily uses to convey grace. Why? Because the Scripture ties baptism of the Holy Spirit and union with Christ with baptism of water.

Paul says:

  • “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit 3:5). 
  • “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26–27).

This is probably why the apostle Peter at Pentecost called upon the people not only to repent, but to be baptised:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost

Acts 2:38

What about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? We read in our text that the disciples “continued stedfastly…in breaking of bread.

Is that a means of grace? Those who hold that the Lord’s Supper is purely memorial do not think it is a means of grace that differs from the word preached apart from the fact that it is acted. But the apostle Paul says:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

1Cor 10:16

Communion is participation! When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we partake of the benefits purchased by Christ in His death. So clearly, the Lord’s Supper is a means by which Christ feeds us spiritually in a way different from the feeding of the Word.

What about prayer? We read in our text that the disciples “continued stedfastly… in prayer.

We noted that our catechism lists the word, sacraments and prayer as means of grace. I should add that many continental Reformed theologians, such as Loius Berkhof, do not hold that prayer is a means of grace. Indeed, some hold that the only means of grace is the Word.

Is prayer a means of grace? Look at Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Notice how we are to find grace in prayer. So clearly, prayer is a means of grace. The Lord would give us the Holy Spirit and work in us by His Spirit, but He would have us pray for it.

What about fellowship? We read that “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (v. 42). But we do not read of fellowship being a means of grace in our Catechism. Why? Because fellowship is fundamentally a human activity not exclusively ordained by Christ for His church. Fellowship itself does not convey grace. It is a vehicle by which we may use the means of grace with other brethren. Ultimately, this is why Christian fellowship is essential for Christian growth.

So, if we gather to sing Psalms, hear God’s word preached, participate in the sacraments, and pray, we receive grace from these means. But if we gather merely for games, chit-chat or coffee, then no grace is conveyed. Badminton and skating are not means of grace. Coffee conveys no grace.

Of course, if when you gather, you pray together or talk about God’s word together, then grace is conveyed through these means; however, the fellowship itself and the fun activities engaged in fellowship do not convey grace. They may help build bonds, but they are not instrumental in conveying the benefits purchased by Christ, at least not directly. It is for this reason some authors distinguish between socialising and fellowship. They say that socialising is not a means of grace, but fellowship is. Still, how is fellowship a means? It is a means through the incorporation of the means of grace in our socialising and mutual participation in each other’s lives.

So then, the principal ordinary and outward means of grace are word, sacraments and prayer. There are other means also since there are other ordinances such as those listed in our Larger Catechism, Q. 108, namely, “church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto Him.” But the most important means are the word, sacraments and prayer.

2.    Why are the Means Necessary?

The Roman Catholic church teaches that salvation is found in the church and that grace must be conveyed through the actions of lawfully ordained priests. So, we can understand why the means of grace or the sacraments are essential for Rome.

But Rome is legalistic. Its theology is based on human tradition and reasoning. As Protestants, we know that our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. For this reason, many Protestants think that the means of grace are unnecessary, and many take them for granted.

But our text shows how important they are.

In fact, do you realise that faith is not even mentioned until verse 44, and that indirectly, referring to “all that believe.” In this chapter, we have no record of Peter calling the people to believe, though he calls them to repent. Faith is implied in how the people “gladly received the word.” And it is assumed throughout the passage. On the other hand, the means of grace are highlighted. Faith is manifested in the use of the means of grace by those who believe.

You see, God does not only require us to believe in Christ and to repent of our sins for our salvation. He requires us to work out our salvation by using the means of grace.

God uses means. How do we know that? Well, the evidence is so overwhelming that we don’t need proof. God is transcendent. The heaven and heavens of heavens cannot contain Him (1 Kgs 8:27). Yet He commanded a tabernacle to be built and sanctioned the temple’s construction. While He forbids the people from making images to represent Him, He ordained that they should worship Him with offerings and sacrifices, with washing and waving, with vestments and rituals, and with feasts and holy days.

These are all means of the Old Testament.

Now, in the New Testament, we must worship God in Spirit and truth. Our worship is more spiritual than carnal compared to that of the Old Testament. But we are still creatures of dust. We have a body and soul, so Christ has ordained that we should receive His blessing with means that involve not only our soul but also our body.

Christ can, of course, convey the benefits of redemption to us without our doing anything. And in fact, the new birth is given to us monergistically (i.e., solely and entirely by the power of God without our participation at all). Even our sanctification is wholly the Work of God’s Spirit: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

But Christ has ordained that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He has appointed that we should use something that involves our intellect and will to receive the benefits He would convey to us. He does not want us to be inert, empty barrels insensitive to what is done to us. He wants us to be living souls who will receive the gifts that He bestows with gratitude.

This is why the means are necessary. This is why the Spirit records for us the activities of the saints after they were converted. Their participation in the means of grace gave evidence and demonstrated that they received the benefits that Christ purchased for them.

When they heard the word, they heard Christ speaking to them as sheep and lambs hearing their shepherd. When they receive the word preached, they receive Christ.

Through their baptism, they have their union with Christ signified and sealed. They were added to the number and freely enjoyed the power of the resurrection in Him.

When they partook of the Lord’s Supper, they received strength in the inner man through the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Not only did they remember Christ’s death for them, but in a mystical way, Christ conveyed to them something of what He purchased for them to strengthen them for their Christian walk and testimony.

When they prayed, they availed themselves of Christ’s mediatorship and the way to the throne of God that He opened for them. To put it another way, when they pray, they open the hands of their soul to receive what the Lord is ready to bestow upon them.

3. With What Attitude Must We Use Them?

Five things may be said about how the believers at Pentecost used the means of grace.

Firstly, they used them faithfully. This is implied in their receiving the word preached (v. 41). What is true regarding the word must also be true regarding the sacraments, for they are also appointed in the word. Likewise, it must be true regarding prayer. The Lord Jesus says: “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Mt 21:22).

Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Without faith all the means of grace are but empty rituals. Without faith, all exercises involving the means of grace are hypocritical. With faith, they look to Christ. With faith, the means of grace become effective means to enjoy and glorify Christ.

Secondly, they used them gladly. They gladly received God’s word. They were gladly baptised. There was gladness in their heart as they continued in their new Christian experience. There was no drudgery. There was no apathy. There was evidence of gratitude and love towards the Lord.

Thirdly, they used them ecclesiastically. It was the apostle’s doctrine that they attended to. It was with the church that they engaged in all the means. They did not simply make use of the means privately. There was a distinct connection with the church.

Fourthly, they used the means persistently. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, the breaking of bread, and prayer. They did not only do so for a while and then gave up. They persisted. They did not get bored of them.

Fifthly, they were steadfast and diligent in the use of the means. The Greek for “continued stedfastly” is only one word (προσκαρτερέω, proskartereō). But it is a compound word. They were not just persistent but wholehearted and careful in their use. They were not half-hearted and going through the motions.

Beloved brethren and children how have you been using the means of grace? Have you been faithful, cheerful, persistent and wholehearted? Have you sought to use them with the church?


The means of grace are essential for our spiritual growth. They are not optional.

They must be used if we are to receive the benefits that Christ purchased for us. But they are not to be used in a mechanical and faithless fashion. To do so would be to have a form of godliness while denying the power thereof.

Instead, we must use them with eyes of faith looking to Christ. We must use them with the church and so must not forsake the assembly of the saints as the manner of some is. We must use them gratefully and cheerfully with hearts of thanksgiving. We must persist in using them even when we feel our hearts straying from the Lord. We must seek to use them wholeheartedly, not grudgingly, superficially, faithlessly or mechanically.

We must not assume that we are saved simply because we are using the means of grace. But we must not neglect the means of grace if we are genuinely saved. The means of grace is like milk for a baby. If the baby is alive, it will grow with the milk. But if the baby is not alive, no amount of milk will make it grow. This is why our catechism says that the means of grace are “made effectual to the elect for salvation.” The elect, especially born again elect, will grow in grace. They will be working out their salvation when they use the means.

Remember that we are not only saved but also being saved and shall be saved. The means of grace provide us with the being saved part.

Let us bear in mind three things:

a. First, all three means, the word, sacraments and prayer, are vital.

It is essential to hear the word and to hear it diligently. If you are in a university and are very good in a subject, you may skip a lecture and not lose much. But in Christ’s university of life, you cannot skip worship and hearing God’s word without consequence. Every case of backsliding begins either with skipping worship or drowsy attendance at worship.

The sacraments are also necessary. If you are not baptised, you must seek baptism as soon as possible. If you are not partaking of the Lord’s Supper, you must seek to be admitted to the Lord’s Table as soon as possible. If you believe Christ and are not baptised, you are like a man who has a job but has not been confirmed in the job and so has not been able to enjoy some of the benefits a full-time employee enjoys. If you are baptised and you are not partaking of the Lord’s Supper, you are like a child who has not started on solid food.

Prayer is even more critical. If you pray not or pray infrequently or erratically, you are like a child who does not know how to breathe correctly and who refuses to drink water. It will be a wonder if you do not fall very ill spiritually.

b. So, firstly, remember that all three means are vital. Seek to make use of them.

Secondly, remember to look to the Christ of the means even as you use the means of Christ. Remember the purpose of the means of grace. They are meant to convey the benefits which Christ has purchased for us. They are not merely religious rituals. We must not think that mere attendance at the means pleases God or that God will reward us for attendance at the means.

Superficial attendance at the means of grace, or attendance at the means without faith and an eye upon Christ, is hypocritical and legalistic. It is merely to have a form of godliness, which Paul condemns.

So remember that your mind must be spiritually engaged when you attend the means. When you hear the sermon, think of what Christ, your shepherd, is telling you. When you are baptised, think of how Christ is taking ownership of you. When you partake of the Lord’s Supper, think of how Christ suffered and died for you and has given Himself for you. When you pray, remember that it was Christ who opened the gate of heaven for you, and you are praying in His authority.

c. Finally, remember that while the means of grace are significant, it is even more important to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of your sin. Remember that unless you truly believe and repent in the Lord Jesus Christ, all the means of grace do is to give you a sense of false security and lull you into thinking that you are going to heaven when you may be on the road to eternal damnation. Therefore, do not trade faith and repentance with the use of the means of grace. Use them, but make sure you genuinely believe in Christ and repent of your sins. And do not assume that you are truly born again since you are using the means of grace. See that you believe in the Lord. See that you repent of your sins daily and make your calling and election sure in Christ. Amen.

—JJ Lim