For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...and all were made to drink of one Spirit."
1 Corinthians 12:13
The Greater Means of Grace
A Fourth Tier
Hopewell administers the Lord's Supper every Sunday. Do you know how weird that is?
It is quite unique, especially if you consider the fact that many churches in America do not observe the Lord's Table at all. Of those churches that do celebrate Communion, a good portion of them may only do so two or three times a year.
One might ask why Hopewell makes the regular practice such a priority. The answer lies in the power it has to increase your sanctification.
For the last several weeks you've been reading about the different ways God imparts grace to the believer to bring victory over ongoing sin. We've talked about how God uses certain means in this process. Specifically, we've said that some of these means of grace are more effective than others.
Along with the Word of God, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are the most vital of all the means of grace. The Lord works through them to impress upon us the gospel and stir up our hearts to greater obedience more than any other means.
This may surprise you. You might have thought that the sacraments were significant, but maybe you would not have thought to put them in the top tier. Someone may even worry that this sounds a little too Catholic.
We recognize that the Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration and transubstantiation (i.e. the belief that the bread and wine actually become the physical body and blood of Christ) are grave errors. But those errors should not make us downplay the real significance and power of the sacraments.
Some Protestants have done just this very thing. Many, in contrast to the Catholics, have emptied the sacraments of their significance, believing them to be mere memorials. The sacraments, in this view, are simply a time to remember that Jesus died for us and nothing more.
To be sure, the sacraments do have a memorial dimension to them. We are to remember the glorious truth of Christ's atoning death. However, we should also recognize that there is much more going on in those sacred moments. When baptism or communion are administered the Lord imparts grace to the believer who is acting in faith.
Think of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 about the Lord’s Supper. He says, "Whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup in an unworthy manner is guilty concerning the body and blood of our Lord.” He also says that these unworthy partakers eat and drink judgment unto themselves. That is why some of them had got sick. Some had even died!
That doesn’t just sound like a mere memorial or time to remember, does it? Not at all. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are special rituals that are used by the Spirit of God to display the gospel and renew souls. That’s why there are such severe consequences for misusing them.
Furthermore, when the New Testament speaks of the sacraments it typically does so in ways that show it is much more than a bare symbol. For example, Paul speaks of baptism as "the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Tit 3:5). Peter calls upon the Pentecost audience to "repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins." (Acts 2:38).
Such passages reveal that the sacraments have spiritual realities intimately connected to them. While the exact nature of those realities is not expressly mentioned (there is some degree of mystery), it does express that the sacraments are more than mere memorials.*
One thing is for certain though: baptism and the Lord's Supper are tools that God uses to further our spiritual reformation. The Lord, by means of these sacred rites, brings His grace to bear on our lives so that we might be further cleansed, forgiven, and renewed in holiness.
While there is still more to learn about the sacraments (as we will find out in future issues), we can come to the Table this week with great anticipation. As we participate in the Communion celebration, we can know that the Lord is ministering to our hearts. The saving work of Christ, which is presented in the elements and received by faith, is being brought to bear upon us and changing us into the likeness of Christ.
* Pratt, Richard "Baptism as a Sacrament of the Covenant."
New Morning Series
This Sunday we'll begin to delve into the most famous sermon in all of history: the Sermon on the Mount. Join us as we hear what God says to us today through the timeless words of Christ.
Exegete Scripture Like a Pro
Ready to take your study of the Bible to the next level? Learn to "exegete Scripture like a pro" in our new Sunday Evening study. Matt will teach the principles of exegesis and help us apply them practically as the group works through the book of Colossians.