Means of Grace
United Methodists see faith as inseparable from good works “as love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice, and renewal of life in the world.” Wesley taught “means of Grace” as spiritual practices through which we experience and grow in grace and are equipped for mission and service to the world. A full life of discipleship includes both loving God through works of piety, and loving others through works of mercy. Wesley believed that engaging in these means of grace were necessary to strengthen and confirm our faith, and be fully formed into the image of Christ.
The spiritual disciplines in which we grow and mature in love for God are called Works of Piety, and include both individual acts of devotion, such as prayer, studying the Bible, and fasting, and communal acts of worship, such as the proclamation of Scriptures, holy communion, baptism, and holding one another accountable through Christian conferencing, small groups and Bible study.
Acts of devotion and worship draw us closer to God. While personal acts of devotion keep our hearts centered on Christ and open us to the guidance of the Spirit, public acts of worship build up the body of Christ and allow us to experience God’s presence and power in community. By engaging in these works of piety, our spirits are renewed and we are prepared to be sent into the world to act as the heart, hands and feet of Christ.
Jesus calls his followers to reveal their love of God by caring for those whom God loves: the poor, hungry, sick, prisoners, strangers, outcasts, hopeless, persecuted, and marginalized. Works of Mercy are the personal and social practices through which we grow in grace by loving and serving our neighbors, through acts of compassion and justice.
Acts of compassion are the individual good works we do when we visit the sick, minister to those in prison, feed the hungry, extend hospitality to the stranger, comfort the grieving, and give generously to the needs of others. They are the simple, every day acts of kindness through which we share God’s love with our neighbors.
Social works of mercy are called acts of justice. It’s when people work together for the betterment of the community and the world by transforming the conditions that create injustice and inequality. This include ending oppression and discrimination and advocating for the poor and marginalized. We perform acts of justice when we write letters to our elected representatives, sign petitions, march, protest, vote, or volunteer to serve on committees and boards that address social needs. While an act of compassion would be to minister to the immediate needs of an abused child, acts of justice would be asking why child abuse happens in the first place, and then working with others to end child abuse all together.
Early Methodists set the example, by providing education and medical care to the needy, advocating to end slavery, working for better working conditions and changing child labor laws, and addressing alcohol abuse. United Methodists today are still changing the world through initiatives in global health, clean water and sanitation, hunger and poverty, immigration and global migration, creation care, and disaster response and recovery. The general rule of discipleship calls every congregation to “witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”