God’s Word testifies to the fact that the Holy Spirit works only through the means of grace. And there are numerous passages to support this truth. So we confess that the Holy Spirit works only through God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper—the means of grace by which we receive God’s loving gifts of forgiveness, faith, and eternal life in heaven. Here is a short list of Bible verses concerning this work of the Holy Spirit:
God’s Word—2 Thessalonians 2:13–14; 2 Timothy 1:9; John 17:17; Ephesians 2:10; John 17:3; John 1:12; Romans 8:14; John 16:13; Romans 3:28
Baptism—John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38–39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 5:25–26; Titus 3:5–8; 1 Peter 3:21
Lord’s Supper—Matthew 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–29
Martin Luther wrote the Small and Large Catechisms as summaries of the main teachings of the Christian faith. He clearly described the active work of the Holy Spirit in the meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. In the Small Catechism, Luther wrote:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith; just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins; and at the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”
Notice that the Holy Spirit does the work—He enlightens, He sanctifies, and He keeps the person and the Church in the true faith. There is nothing here to indicate that a person does anything to earn their faith or deserve the credit for being a Christian.
Unfortunately, some churches promote the error “that the Holy Spirit comes without the external Word but through their own preparations and works” (Augsburg Confession, V: Ministry of the Church). Perhaps you know people who think that the Holy Spirit works in them without the means of grace. You may hear people claim that the Holy Spirit works through their prayer, good works, speaking in tongues, dreams, and direct revelations from God. The sinful nature wants signs and visible evidence of God’s presence and love. God knows how much we desire a direct revelation, and He gave us His Word, the Bible. Luther commented that God does give certain signs along with His Word for us to believe His promises. Water and God’s Word belong to the Sacrament of Baptism. The bread, the wine, and God’s Word are the Lord’s Supper. God gives His blessings in ways and means that He has put in writing so that we can be certain that they come from God and not the devil.
The Augsburg Confession states, “That we may attain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel. That is, God, not because of our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ’s sake” (AC, V: The Ministry of the Church).
The unbelieving person has no natural knowledge of Jesus to make a decision for Christ or to accept Him. St. Paul wrote, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Faith is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who operates only through the means of grace. The church was established to teach God’s Word and administer the sacraments to believers. We thank God for the work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the holy Christian Church and keep us in the true faith.
Christ Lutheran Church and School
Port St. Lucie, FL