I have a drill. Actually, I have six drills … I think. Two of them do not work. I won’t say what brand they are. What do my drills do, at least the ones that work? They drill holes. They drive screws. Occasionally they do a few other things. I also have at least five hammers. What do they do? They pound nails. Occasionally they break things. Some of those things are broken on purpose. Some are not. I have sixteen saws, maybe more. What do they do? They cut things. Most of the time they cut things in the right place. So far, they have not cut any body parts.
These are my tools. So far, I have ascribed activity to them, as if they do these things on their own. You probably didn’t even think that sounded weird, because we describe tools according to what they do in the hands of a person. When we say that a drill drills holes, a hammer pounds nails, and a saw cuts boards, we assume there is a person behind the tool.
We often speak this same way concerning the Sacraments. During this Lenten season, we are considering the sections of Luther’s Small Catechism that deal with the Sacraments. The Sacraments are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Confession and absolution is also included in these sections.
We say concerning each of these, that they forgive sins. Baptism forgives sins. Absolution is a synonym for forgiveness. And the Lord’s Supper forgives sins. And in each case, we speak this way because Scripture speaks this way. But someone might object and say, “But only God can forgive sins.” This is true. It is also true that only the builder drills holes, pounds nails, and cuts boards. But he uses his tools to do it.
This is how we should think of the Sacraments. They are tools. And whose tools are they? Are they the pastor’s tools? Are they the Church’s tools? Sort of, but not really. They are the Holy Spirit’s tools. When we say that Baptism forgives sins, we mean that the Holy Spirit uses it to forgive sins. When we say that absolution is the word of forgiveness, we mean that the Holy Spirit uses this word to forgive sins. When we say that the Lord’s Supper forgives sins, we mean that the Holy Spirit uses it to forgive sins. The Sacraments, along with the Word of God, make up the Holy Spirit’s toolbox. The technical theological term for them is “means of grace.” The Holy Spirit uses them to deliver God’s gifts to us. They are not magic. They are not tools we use for our own selfish purposes. They are the Holy Spirit’s precise instruments to do his gracious work. That is why we treasure them.
The peace of Christ be with you all,