How to Understand Our Benefitting From Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Howdy,

On the Lord’s Day evening since about Thanksgiving at Bethany we’ve been spending time going through what the Reformed believe about the sacraments. It’s not so much that we are special in what we understand them to be, but that the mechanics of how we go about honoring Baptism and the Table testify to something very important about the way the Scriptures teach us about feeding on Christ in the bread and the cup and benefitting from the waters of Initiation. It cannot be emphasized enough that our church confesses, as the WLC makes clear, that these acts of eating and drinking and the pouring of water over the head are neither bare memorials nor the kind of things we do because we are supposed to. We commune and receive the fullness of God in a way we do not in any other portion of the life granted by our Creator. The sacraments must maintain their special place in our hearts. Yet meditation upon them often alludes our busy schedules and we rush into taking them without right due consideration as to what we’re doing.

It can be a struggle sometimes to keep fresh in the means of grace. As we walk through the catechism questions today I want to take the time to really think through what we gain in these covenantal signs of mercy and grace given to us by our Heavenly Father in His Son and through the application of that blessing in the inward work of the Holy Spirit. Everything we do in the Christian life must not only be done exclusively by the expressed command of our Lord, but it needs to be acted upon with a right heart and mind.

Merely going through the outward motions leaves us in a state of spiritual starvation as we gain none of the nutrients of faith promised in the sacraments. So, what can be done about it?

Here’s are the Q/A’s for this week:

Q. 163. What are the parts of a sacrament?

A. The parts of a sacrament are two; the one an outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ’s own appointment; the other an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified.

Q. 164. How many sacraments hath Christ instituted in his church under the New Testament?

A. Under the New Testament Christ hath instituted in his church only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper.

The doctrine of our union with our Lord Jesus is central to comprehending why God in His wisdom reduced the number and adjusted the outward circumstances of the sacraments in the new covenant, as promised in Jeremiah 31. As the Temple was remade in three days in Christ so to were the ways the people of God would visit with Him changed as well. In the first question the Westminster Divines actually begin this conversation by ironically telling us something that didn’t switch in the crossover of the covenants. God has always complained through the prophets that Israel sought Him only with their lips and not with their hearts, a word Jesus repeats in Matthew 15. What does the Lord require? According to David in Psalm 51 it is, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.”, which is echoed by Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” In each of these passages we hear the heart of what WLC 163 is teaching us, that we must mix faith with our duties or they are vanity, or worse (1 Cor. 11:29).

We must both understand the Sacraments as the Bible presents them, and we must love the one whom the Sacraments point to if we are to benefit from their blessing. These two constituent parts are designed to work together, and must always be together, in order for us to receive Christ and His promise. In Baptism this means that the outward sign needs to be done in a Trinitarian way (Matt. 28:19), in the worship of the Church (Acts 2:40), and by lawfully ordained minister (1 Cor. 4:1) with water (Acts 8:36). In the Lord’s Supper the outward signs are the bread (Mark 14:22) and the cup (Luke 22:17-18) and their being overseen likewise by a steward of the word.

But what about the other part, the inward one? When it comes to Baptism that is witnessed to us in passages like Galatians 3:26-27, Romans 6:3-7, and Colossians 2:11-12 which says: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The promises of the gospel are always yeah and amen in Jesus. When it comes to that inward work Baptism is only effectual when it is done in accordance with the commandment of God (John 14:15) and when the Holy Spirit by virtue of Christ’s call is exhibited. Our assurance then in the sacrament comes not from the people, whether the person receiving the sign (infants or new believers) or the person placing the sign (the minister), but from, “. . .  the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Rom. 8:16).

The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. The effectual application of our feeding on Christ at the Supper Table of the Lamb is born out of the same type of Holy Spirit work for our savior is “. . . the bread of life” (John 6:48) by which we are nourished, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). We are strengthened in the body by this and His grace.

In closing, at the beginning we talked a little bit about our union with Christ. Sometimes theology can sound dry and boring, but it should never be that. When we take a moment to really consider what we are doing when we offer up our children for Baptism, or take the bread and the cup from the Elder as we feed together at the Communion table it is all the more astonishing that Jesus would not only lay down His life for such unworthy sinners as us, but would in the eternal love of His promise continue with us in our weakness. Yet it is in the sacraments that we do truly see the thing signified visually for eyes and hearts to be at peace. Do not forsake these good things that God gives, that we might dwell with Him forever in the house of His blessing.

A final word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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