Q: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convicting and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Jesus gave us a simple formula for Christian discipleship. Matthew 28:19 records the words of our Lord as he said, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations”. Now, too often, we act like that's all Jesus said. We hear the “great commission”, but we tend to neglect the instructions on how to carry out that commission. But Jesus did tell us how to “make disciples”. He continued, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
What Jesus gave his disciples, and what he gives us today, is a simple “Word and Sacrament” ministry. Preach the Word and administer the sacraments (baptism here in the “Great Commission”, but as we see the New Testament church grow and thrive, we see that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was and is just as vital to discipleship). Over the next several weeks, we're going to examine this “Word and Sacrament” ministry and see how it is truly effective for the spread of the gospel and for Christian discipleship.
This week and next, we will look at the ministry of the Word, particularly the preaching of the Word. This week's catechism reminds us that the Holy Spirit uses the reading, and especially the preaching, of the Word of God to convict sinners and lead them to repentance. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the effectiveness of the Spirit's work through preaching in Romans 10:14 when he writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
It's interesting that, as we look at the history of the church from the time of the Apostles forward, the true revivals, the ones with long-lasting effects such as what we see in the book of Acts, or we see in the early centuries of the Church, or in the time of the Reformation, or during the Great Awakening, have all been based around the preaching of God's Word. It's almost as if Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said to make disciples by, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”!
But notice too, that the catechism doesn't just say that the preaching of the Word is useful for conversion, but also for building us up in holiness and comfort. And this is what Paul is talking about in our Scripture reference for the week. The Word of God is not only useful for conversion, but also for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete...” In other words, the preaching of the Word is a vital ministry for the whole of the Christian experience. God, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the ministry of the Word, draws in his elect people, and then uses the same ministry of the Word, again through the power of the Holy Spirit, to conform his people to the image of his Son Jesus Christ. This is why Starr Meade writes,
The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring non-Christians to faith in Christ. The Spirit of God also uses the Word of God to cause Christians to grow in holiness. A non-Christian who never hears or reads the Word of God will probably not become a Christian. A Christian who never hears or reads the Word of God will probably not grow in holiness.