Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
The chief article of the Christian faith, the article upon which the Church stands and falls, is that a person is justified—made right with God—by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith believes that, for Christ's sake, we are received into God's favor apart from any of our own works or merits. Instead, it is Christ's merit—His life, death, and resurrection—that is credited to us when we believe. God counts this faith as righteousness.
But the question is: how do we get this faith? If it is something we produce, then we're sent right back to our own work or merit. But faith is not our work. So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake (Augsburg Confession V.1-3).
The Word and the Sacraments are instruments of the Holy Spirit. They are the means by which the Holy Spirit comes to you as a gift in order to bestow faith. Faith is His work, not the work of the faithful. Faith is the Spirit's pleasure, wherever He bestows it. The Word and the Sacraments deliver the good news that God justifies the sinner, and receives Him into grace for Christ's sake, by the faith that He works.
There are some who think that they can obtain the Holy Spirit by their own works—by meditation or inspiration or perspiration. But the Spirit will always remain elusive to those who pursue Him by their own works. The Spirit is always gift.
Why is it important that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes through means? St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). Another way of saying, "jars of clay," is, "earthy vessels." Through very simple, earthy means—an uttered absolution, a handful of water, a bite of bread, and sip of wine—God delivers His Holy Spirit. The beautiful simplicity of these means shows us that it is God's power, His Word of forgiveness, that both creates and sustains our faith. As one old Lutheran teacher once said, "The earthier, the giftier." In the name of + Jesus.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri.
Created: August 1st, 2016