Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 4:49 pm
The Messenger, May 24, 2012
See, Touch, Taste, Smell
By RB TOLAR
Special to The Messenger
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.” Ecclesiastes 5:1
Today’s article examines the purpose of the sacraments. Where there is no understanding of these, there may be a frivolous or disrespectful attitude toward the sacraments. As in all modes of worship, we are to approach the sacraments with utmost seriousness, lest we offer “the sacrifice of fools.”
Question 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all His blessings: where then does that faith come from? Answer: The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.
In the third chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must be reborn. A pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27) upon the unregenerate heart is required (John 3:5). This faith is applied by the preaching of the Holy Gospel (“the word of Christ,” Romans 10:17).
Our faith is confirmed, the catechism goes on to say, by use of the Holy Sacraments, those things given to visibly signify our salvation. In Romans 4:11, Paul speaks of the sign and seal given the Old Testament believer, Abraham.
So then, what are the signs and seals given to the New Testament church? Or, as Question 66 phrases it: What are the sacraments? Answer: Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them He might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put His seal on that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross.
As stated, the sacraments are visible signs of salvation. Since they were instituted by Christ, they are also holy signs, which indicates that the sacraments are to be observed with deepest respect (1 Corinthians 11:27-31).
These were instituted, the catechism teaches, that we might understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and to seal that promise. And the promise is this: God grants the Christian believer forgiveness of sins and eternal life (by grace, through faith; Ephesians 2:8) for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross (Hebrews 9:11-12).
Question 67 asks: Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation? The answer is an emphatic Yes! The Heidelberg Catechism answers: Right! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments He assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross (1 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 3:27).
Question 68 asks: How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament? The answer is: Two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:19-20; I Corinthians 11: 23-26).
As the churches of the Reformation broke with the Roman Catholic Church, this biblical truth began to be taught again.It is held to and taught by Protestant churches to this day.
So we see that the sacraments were instituted by Christ with a specific purpose in mind. Let us honor God when we participate in them by treating them with the deepest reverence and awe.
The question next arises: In what way do the sacraments signify the salvation of the Christian? We will consider the answer to that question next week.
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Editor’s note: RB Tolar is a member of Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy. He strongly urges readers to consult the scripture references used in this article “to see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11b).