“To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, he has provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.” (Augsburg Confession, Article 5)
For some time now, in my articles for Connections, I have been writing under the title of “Sacramental Discipleship.” The main theme I have tried to convey is that in our lives as disciples of Jesus, we serve as a kind of living “means of grace” in service to the world. That is, God uses us – real human beings – to convey the message of the Gospel through our word and actions, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Scripture teaches us that it is the Holy Spirit who creates faith, and he does it by means of his Word, spoken and heard (Romans 10:17). It is by the Spirit’s power, active in the message of Christ, that God turns us into believers. This foundational truth underlies the very definition of faith that Martin Luther describes in his Small Catechism.
Many often point to Luther’s words in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, where Luther affirms that his faith in Christ did not come “by my own reason or strength,” but rather because “the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel … and kept me in true faith.”
Luther’s statement echoes the Scriptural affirmation that “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It also reflects the same definition of faith that Luther presents when he addresses the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
Luther wrote, “The kingdom of God comes indeed by itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.” First off, we must realize that the biblical phrase “kingdom of God” is a reference to the reality of faith in our present lives. Such language is not about an earthly kingdom of this world, nor is it simply about a future life in heaven. It is the way Jesus described what it means when he rules as King in our hearts through faith (Matthew 6:33).
So when Luther goes on to ask the question, “How does God’s kingdom come?” he is able to say plainly, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life now and in eternity.” The kingdom comes to us when God himself brings us to trust and believe in Jesus.
But underneath Luther’s statement is also a clue to how Discipleship fits into this equation. As followers of Jesus, it is clear that we are not the ones who create faith – either in ourselves or others. But God does use us to make it happen. God has sent us out into the world as bearers of his Word. We are the instruments and ambassadors of God through which his message of the Gospel goes out to all nations – not to mention our own local congregation and communities. The Holy Spirit uses our witness as the means by which he enters the ear of listeners and takes hold of their hearts. As disciples of Christ, God uses us as his “means of grace” to communicate the promise of the Gospel to others.
As Scripture tells us: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). You have the promise that the Holy Spirit is at work in the words you speak in the name of Christ.
“As through means, God gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.” This is how God builds his kingdom in the world, one believer at a time.
— Pastor Steven E. King