The Differences Between Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 1 Corinthians 11:28NKJV
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 177, which asks, “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?” It gives the answer, “The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”
As we have been seeing, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two sacraments which Christ gave to His church for her benefit until He returns. They benefit us precisely because they both are God-given & God-authorized signs and seals of His salvation. In God’s Word we have the story of salvation. We see our fall into sin in our forefather Adam as he was tempted by his wife, who was on her part beguiled by the devil. Yet even as Adam and Eve were initially confronted for their sin, we immediately see God’s promise to send a Redeemer. A Seed would come from the woman who would prevail over Satan and restore man to God. The rest of the Old Testament builds on that original promise, progressively revealing more and more about who that Seed would be, what He would do when He came, and How God would preserve His line. Along the way, God gave His people various signs to go along with His Word, by which they could know God was going to fully accomplish their salvation. The signs were a help to their faith, something tangible from God that they could hold on to: the Rainbow, Circumcision, Passover, the Priesthood, the Temple, the sacrificial system, ceremonial cleanliness, dietary, laws, etc. All of which, in different ways, pointed to the salvation the Seed would accomplish for them. When Jesus finally came and actually accomplished that salvation those signs were reduced to two. Each one bringing out a different, and necessary aspect of the salvation we have received by faith.
First, we need to see that we have been converted. That God has taken away our sin and made us acceptable in His sight. Unless we are convinced of our reconciliation we cannot and will not draw near to God for the grace to turn from sin and to do good works. God’s Word assures us that if we believe in Christ we most certainly have been forgiven and we are accounted as righteous before Him. Yet we are weak in our faith. We are slow to believe God’s promises. We see our sin and our continued failures and what’s more Satan himself will rise up and accuse us and magnify our sin before our eyes and we begin to doubt. To address this predisposition towards unbelief, God appointed for us the sacrament of baptism. In our baptism we have a God-authorized sign of our being washed, being regenerated, being made acceptable to God, and if we believe God at all, that sign becomes for us a seal of God’s immutable promise. It is not a sign of our promise to God but of His promise to us. Therefore, this sign, like the promise itself is for the believer and for his children. It is not something we do; as when we eat the Lord’s Supper; but it is done to us. Accordingly, the sign can and should be placed upon our children so that they can be assured that Christ’s promise to save believers is to them too. And that we would be assured that God will most certainly accept and save them if they believe.
Second, we need to see that God, by His grace, will keep us to the end. He will continue to subdue our unbelief, continue to give us faith and increase our repentance. That He is with us to strengthen us with new mercy and grace whenever we are in need and as long as we live. I believe in Christ, I am convinced that my conversion was real, but how do I know that God will keep me to the end? I continue to sin and rebel after my conversion. What assurance do I have from God that He continues to take away my sin and restore my soul? To answer this need of our souls God has appointed for us the Lord’s Supper. It is a symbolic meal of supernatural sustenance to assure us that God’s grace is sufficient for us each and every day. He will continue to take away our sins. He will continue to give us spiritual renewal and vivification. However, because in this sacrament we are affirming and professing (by our active role in willfully eating and drinking) that we have faith in Christ, that His death is enough for our atonement, and that His power is sufficient for our lives, we must be of apposite age to take responsibility for such an affirmation and profession. God is holy. Those who approach Him must know what they are doing. So God gives a sign and seal to those who profess faith, that they may be assured that God will continue to give them the grace to “finish” their salvation, as they continue to “feed upon Him” (to seek Him by faith).
So we have two different sacraments to address our two greatest spiritual needs! May God bless them both to us as real and powerful means of grace in our lives.