How to Develop a Right Conception of the Grace Offered in This Mystery

Good Morning,

A way that contemporary Christianity is weak is that we have a very poor understanding of the practical nature of the Trinity. Our lack of a proper doctrine of God has led us to not only to lose the right fear of the Divine we should have, but we have severed ourselves from the source of our creation. We have become parched in soul primarily through our not attending to the well which produces eternal life. The focus of our faith should never be Jesus in Himself, as if we can separate our Lord from His Father, or the Holy Spirit. What I mean by that is sometimes our approach to the Christian life is merely transactional. We come to the Bible, to worship, to prayer, and to the subjects of our catechism questions today, and ask the question, “What do I get out of this for what I need today?”. This misses the richness available to us in the shared mercy of our spiritual union with God. Our big “O” orthodox friends can take 2 Peter 1:4 too far, but there is much truth to the idea that in our redemption purchased by Christ we are, “. . . partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Central to the story of the blessings of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is to take our hearts and minds and reorient them towards the mystical nature of what is happening when we pour water on the head of a covenant child or an adult convert or eat the bread and drink the cup. We inhabit the anti-supernatural ethos of our age in no more way than by not really believing that this stuff matters. No matter our pushback on that we testify to what we truly hold in our heart of hearts by what we do with our feet. Let’s take a look at the Q/A’s:

Q. 161. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?

A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.

Q. 162. What is a sacrament?

A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.

The opening words of the first answer can be confusing, however, our rightly understanding what we mean by effectual makes all the difference. If we go back a second to what I stated before about our often thinking about salvation as just being a payment and nothing more, my sin for the righteousness of Christ, then when we see that word effectual, which we know means “makes it happen”, it changes our relationship to the sacraments. Our being saved is a lifelong act of dying to self and living to Christ. The sacraments are a way, a means, granted by God in order that we might grow in that faith we profess to have. That’s why when we talk about the reality of those being saved not ever losing their salvation what we are talking about is the totality of what has happened to us in Jesus is not a thing you can lose. It’s not an object like a present or a physical article that drops in value or can be misplaced.

It’s an identity, a life.

To expand on that point that is why it is important to notice that the WLC is not teaching here that the elements of water, bread, and the cup contain within themselves the grace which blesses the receiver. It explicitly rejects the Roman Catholic (and Methodist) view that the taking of these in themselves will present to the beneficiary Christ and His benefits which can in their own way grant and gift new life to even the unbeliever. Bread remains bread, the cup stays the cup.

As Reformed, we understand that the sacraments only have a profit due to the Holy Spirit. We need to go back to something else I mentioned above. We should remember that we are not meaning that we are waiting for the appearance of the third person of the Trinity at the moment of taking. It is not as if the pastor needs to invoke the presence of God in order for the sacrament to work. Faith without works is dead and so is the bread a condemnation to the eater at the table if it is not mixed with existing, real lively belief found in a person previously redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We miss the glory available to the true Christian if we forget the simple reality of the already incredible event of our salvation purchased in and by our Lord. The Apostle Paul shows us this more deeply when he writes about it in Ephesians 3:14-19:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

In closing, one of the reasons why we often do not benefit, or see the benefit of the supper or baptism is through our lack of appreciation for the God who has given it to us. These are not bare symbols, but just as the sacraments of the old covenant they in their own way illustrate to us the work ongoing in our hearts by the promise found alone in Jehovah. The last question of the Catechism for today expresses this in listing all the good things which come from a proper thankfulness in the heart of a believer as they approach the table, or the love of God for a covenant child as the already present reality of their belonging to Him is expressed in the waters of baptism. It is needful for us to remember the ever present presence of God, and the manner in which He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in the keys of the kingdom found in these mysteries of faith, blessed by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of the command of the Father, and by the redemption purchased by Christ Jesus our Lord.

Last word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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