"He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised."
Seals of God's Promises
The Sacraments as Means of Grace
"You may kiss the bride."
Why is the ceremonial kiss between the bride and groom such a big deal in a wedding? Why not dispense with it? After all, it's awkward for the couple and kind of weird for everyone in the audience to be onlookers, right?
Some might say, "Well, this is moment the couple has been waiting for all this time!" However, that's not necessarily the real focus. The kiss serves a higher purpose in the ceremony.
The couple has just declared their commitment to love one another in their vows. The purpose of the kiss is to further express that love and confirm the reality of the promises they have made. In sum, it is a physical gesture which seals the vows and conveys the groom's love to his bride in a dynamic fashion.
We might say that the kiss has a "sacramental function" in the covenant that the new husband and wife make with each other.
In this way the couple's first kiss is somewhat akin to what what the Spirit of God does in and through baptism and the Lord's Supper. God has established a covenant with us. In so doing he promises to save us from our sin. He then confirms his love and applies the saving benefits of his Son through the sacraments he has instituted.
This is why we said last week that the sacraments are some of the most powerful of all the means of grace. In these rites God not only visibly shows us the gospel, but he also brings the grace of that gospel to bear on our lives through them.
We can look to the life of Abraham to understand it a bit more. What was the purpose of circumcision in Abraham's life? Paul tells us that it didn't cause him to be righteous. After all, he was declared righteous when he was around 82 years old (Gen. 15). Circumcision didn't come until he was around 99 years of age (Gen 17).
Paul explains the role of circumcision in Romans 4:11. Abraham "received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised."
God had made promises to Abraham (Gen. 12 & 15). But Abraham was weak and had a hard time believing. So God gave Abraham circumcision as a way of boosting his faith. As a seal it confirmed the promises and strengthened his resolve to believe them.
The sacraments of the New Testament serve the exact same purpose. When a believer partakes of the Lord's Supper, the Spirit impresses upon our senses the reality what Christ has done on our behalf. We not only are made sure of God's love for us, but the love of God is conveyed to us by his inviting us to join him in this intimate meal.
Likewise, in baptism the Lord declares his promise to to wash away our sin, renew our sinful hearts, and adopt us into his family. As we witness a baptism, the Spirit of God makes the reality of those things all that much more clear in our minds. It pushes away doubt and affirms our interest in serving him.
Furthermore, by faith we see God's love expressed; for he essentially says "I give you my name and welcome you as my disciple." What could be more meaningful to a sinner than that?
Thus, the sacraments serve to strengthen our assurance, deepen our love, and awaken us to greater obedience. They become avenues by which the Spirit grants us the fruits of Christ's saving work.
Most of all, when we walk away from the sacrament, we may think to ourselves, "It's amazing how the Lord loves me."
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A Reformed and family integrated Church in Ashland, Ohio.
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