What if you need a bath? What if you need to brush your teeth? What if you need to cook some food? For each of these you need water. Until 1974, my grandparents brought water in a bucket from the hand pump well to the house. After my grandpa died, we put in a pipe with an electric pump so Grandma could have water by turning on a faucet in both the kitchen and bathroom. The means for the water to get to the house was first a bucket and then a pipe. In a similar way, God has given us means by which He gives us His grace.
Let’s review the problem. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Romans 5:12, 13 NASB). We are sinners from the moment of conception. We have inherited this condition from Adam who first broke trust with God when he believed the lie that he could be like God. From Adam we have inherited the desire to rebel against God and try to be our own gods. As a consequence, we have inherited death, eternal separation from God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We can’t solve this problem, but God has solved it. He has given us the free gift of forgiveness of sin and eternal life. He sent His one and only Son to die the sacrificial death that would buy us out of our slavery to sin and death and set us free to be His faithful people.
God has provided the solution to our problem. We can all be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:24, 25a). We are left, however, with the question about how this gift is actually given to us. Just as the pipes from the well or city main bring water into our houses, God had provided means by which His grace comes into our lives. The primary means is God’s Word, the Bible. God spoke to over 40 men who over a period of 2000 years on three continents and in three languages wrote God’s one story for us. The Holy Spirit has preserved God’s Word so that we can have it today in our own language. God has given us wisdom and the ability to learn new languages so that we can faithfully translate His Word from the original languages and verify accuracy when new translations are made. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). When we hear God’s word (or read it so our minds hear it), God give us faith. We use the gift of faith when we read to understand what we read. We find in the words God has spoken to us the will and plan of God for our salvation.
We also find, as we read and study God’s Word, that God has given us another channel (means, pipeline) through which He gives us His gift of grace. This means is in two parts: Baptism and Holy Communion. When we study these holy acts, we find that Jesus Himself commanded us to practice them, that they use physical elements, that the elements are used together with God’s Word, and that God gives grace through them. Because these are holy acts, we call them Sacraments (from the Latin sacra which means holy).
We are fortunate in western society to be able to turn a faucet handle and have good, clean, potable water. We are more fortunate that many scholars have worked countless hours translating God’s preserved Word that we might have it in our heart language. We continue to pray for translation work around the world that more and more people would have the primary means of grace in their mother tongue. God has graciously given us His Word, true and trustworthy, as the primary means of grace and in it has shown us that He comes also to us in the holy acts of Baptism and Holy Communion.