Pastor Jason Harris, commenting on the Gospel Coalition blog, on how God uses chosen means to save:
Interesting discussion. I haven't dealt a lot with this stuff since I was a Lutheran, then Baptist, then Calvinist, then Lutheran in High School. Nonetheless I occasionally get bible study questions about how to explain Baptism to Protestants.
The easiest and most natural point of contact is "the word of God". Lutherans and Baptists alike get all warm and fuzzy about that idea. But it helps to unpack one's self-understanding of the phrase.
Is the Word functionally information upon which the will reacts positively or is it a, for lack of a better term, supernatural "God force"? When one says one has heard the word and "gotten saved", does that mean that God himself has actually done a miracle or that salvation resides in the natural ability of Joe Atheist to logically process data in such a way that he makes himself Joe Christian.
In other words, is the "Gospel" the power of God or a logical proposition? All sinners, both Baptist sinners and Lutheran sinners, prefer to take credit on their own account and comfort in their own actions. It is just as wrong to take pride in the fact that you put money in the plate, got the kids out of bed every Sunday or got baptized as a work earning salvation as it is to teach recitation of magical prayers or obedience to a certain impressive degree of "progressed" sanctification as a criterion for paradise.
All Christians, both Lutheran Christians and Baptist Christians, brought to faith by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through the means of Grace and thinking in accordance with the new inner man, will recognize that any and everything related to their salvation is entirely the work of God.
They would also agree that God works in mysterious ways. "Was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see." How that happened to such a dirty rotten jerk like me is a "God thing". Yet conservative Christians, both conservative Lutheran Christians and conservative Baptist Christians, recognize that God is not an abstract force that hovers around mountains tops, in the blowing breeze and smiles of children.
He condescends and veils himself in simple physical tangible elements, most notably in the incarnation of the Logos. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is in the business of miraculously making dead things alive. He doesn't do this with advanced philosophical rhetoric, but through common every-day stuff. He spit in mud and smeared in on people's eyes. He stuck his fingers in people's ears. He washed their feet, because if he didn't they would have no part of him.
For the sake of simplicity, ignore Baptism and communion for a moment and focus on "the Word". When Pastor Bob drops a tract in the truck stop bathroom or preaches a sermon that gets you saved, what made that happen? Was it the paper on which the tract was printed? Was it the ink? Was it Bob? Was it your own reason? Was it the cool new Bose sound system? No. It was God. God's strong Word, Jesus himself, was cleaving the darkness, doing miracles, declaring light to be called out of darkness, killing the old man and causing those dry bones to rattle together and form ligaments and tendons.
Did this occur in a lightning bolt from heaven? No it came though means of ink, paper, vocal cords, Bose sound systems, ear-drums, neurological synapses, perhaps even a splash of toilet water from the loo in the truck stop bathroom that soaked in and highlighted a particular verse. Nonetheless God used the common everyday elements working with common every people to do extraordinary things.
Does ink save you? No
But God DOES save you though these things when he connects his Word, Jesus himself, to them.