Sacraments, not Just Signs

Question
Regarding the sacraments, how would one use the Scriptures to teach a skeptic that communion and baptism are more than just signs, but a means of grace as well?
Answer
Insofar as the sacraments are not just signs but also seals, they really promise/offer to us the benefits they depict. That promise/offer is a gracious one. Because the seal is the means by which God promises/offers the same thing to us over and over again, it is a means of grace.

Of course, the Bible doesn't explicitly say that baptism or communion are seals, but systematic theology implies it. For example, the Bible does say that circumcision is a seal (Rom. 4:11), and insofar as we see baptism replacing circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), baptism is by extension also a seal. The Lord's Supper does not specifically claim to be a seal, but the logical relationship between them implies that if one sacrament functions as a seal, so does the other. Besides this, there is the typology of the Passover, the first covenant meal that served as one means by which the Israelites were saved from the Angel of Death. Then too, a systematic study suggests to us that God would not have given the sign if the thing it signified were not true, again implying a seal aspect.

Moreover, the Bible specifically tells us that both sacraments actually accomplish things. The Lord's Supper is mentioned less frequently, but in 1 Corinthians 10:16-21 it seems clear that to partake of the Supper involves a sharing in the body and blood of Christ, as well as a mystical union with other believers in one body. Just as we would be sharers in demons (not just worshipers, but sharers, in some form of union with them) if we partook of idolatrous meals, we share in Christ when we partake of the Lord's Supper.

Baptism is mentioned frequently as a means to such things as regeneration, salvation, union in Christ's death (through which we obtain forgiveness of sins, etc.), including such places as Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21. We don't claim that baptism does these things on its own merit or by its own power. But the Bible does seem to indicate that it is the means by which these things take place. This really isn't any different from saying that prayer or reading the Bible is a means of grace. God uses the action of the sacrament as a way to do these things for us, or to strengthen our faith.

Finally, it is worth noting that sacraments are means of grace because of the simple fact that they are visual representations of the gospel and of God's covenant. When we see them or participate in them, we remember the truths they represent just as if we had heard them read from Scripture. Hearing and seeing God's Word is a means of grace because it reminds us of the truth and strengthens our faith by that remembrance. It can also be the means the Holy Spirit uses to teach us, to rebuke us, to bring us to repentance, etc. All believers ought to be able to say that the sacraments are means of grace, at least in this sense.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.