June 23 – LD 25, Day 6: The Meaning of the Sacraments

Read: Acts 2:37-47

The sacraments have often been misunderstood and misused. One of the reasons why the Reformation of the church was necessary was because of the abuse of the sacraments by the church of Rome.

It is easy to use the sacraments out of mere custom or superstition or without the proper attitude of faith and spiritual understanding. In Bible times, this was being done by the church of Corinth. The apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the church of Corinth to correct the serious abuse, especially of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We can read about this in I Cor 11: 18 - 34. Because of the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, the members of the church of Corinth who ate and drank unworthily were “eating and drinking damnation to [themselves], not discerning the Lord’s body.” The judgment of God even came upon the whole church. The name of Christ was being dishonored.

One of the greatest evils with regards to receiving and observing the sacraments is to treat them as though they have some inherent, mystical power in themselves. This leads to superstition and idolatrous use of the holy sacraments, which Christ has given for the worship of the one only true God and trusting in Christ, not in mere outward ceremony.

We must properly distinguish between the outward sign of the sacraments and the blessed reality they were intended to signify. These two must not be confused.

When Christ gave the sacraments to the church, He chose simple outward signs. In the case of baptism, the sign is water. In the case of the Lord’s Supper, the sign is the broken bread and the poured out wine. The water in baptism signifies the precious reality of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ as the only ground of our righteousness before God. The bread in the Lord’s Supper signifies our Lord’s broken body sacrificed for us on the cross, and the wine signifies His precious blood which was poured out in His suffering and sacrifice for us on the cross. Only the blood of Christ could atone for our sins.

The mystery of the meaning of the sacraments is that they are visible signs of invisible spiritual realities. By these outwards signs, Christ intends to strengthen our faith in Him and in His suffering and death on the cross and all the riches of salvation that we have through the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

The Lord accommodates to the weakness of our faith with regards to the hearing of the preaching of the Word. The preaching of the Word appeals to our ears. We receive the preaching through faith, by the faith which God gives us. This faith is able to receive those things which we cannot see, but God has nevertheless given to us in His Word. Peter tells us in I Pet 1: 8 - 9 that we have not seen Christ in His bodily appearance. We will not see Him until He appears again in glory at the end of the world. Yet already now, we rejoice in Christ. We cannot see the spiritual realities of salvation which we have in Christ. However, we know and glory in these blessings as we receive them by faith according as we are told of them in His Word.

In the sacraments, God gives us visible signs and seals of the grace of God in Christ. He appeals to our sight, our taste, our touch to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ. This the Lord does in connection with the sacraments and through the work of His grace and Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Last modified on 21 June 2015

Additional Info

  • Date: 23-June
den Hartog, Arie

Rev. Arie denHartog (Wife: Sherry)

Ordained: October 1974

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1974; Foreign Missionary, Singapore - 1979; Randolph, WI - 1987; Redlands, CA - 1990; Minister-on-Loan, Singapore - 2001; Southwest, Grandville, MI - 2005; emeritus, Dec.31, 2016

Website: www.southwestprc.org/

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