Sealed and Sustained: The Believer's Union with Christ and His Church
This weekend at Coastal we will share in what has become my favorite corporate worship experience: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. There is something special about gathering corporately to celebrate what God is doing in and through the lives of the members of Coastal. It is my prayer that we would be intentional about preparing our hearts and minds to partake in these two ordinances instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Baptism symbolizes the believer's union in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:4 (ESV), "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." On the surface, it may seem as though Paul is arguing that baptism is necessary for salvation, however, the emphasis is not on the act of baptism itself but on what the baptism represents. The Westminster Confession of Faith defines Baptism as, "... a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life." (28.1)
Believer's baptism serves as a visual representation of Christ's atoning death, burial and resurrection, our union with Him, and our union with His body, the Church. Our baptism into Christ is a means of grace that reminds us of Christ's baptism into God's wrath on our behalf which guaranteed the salvation of His people. John Calvin described Baptism as "...an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promise of his good will toward us to sustain the weakness of our faith." (Institutes of the Christian Religion)
As we celebrate new believers receiving the sign and the seal of baptism into God's Church, we can't help but be reminded of the Holy Spirit's sustaining work in our own lives to help us "...walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV) At Coastal, our mission is to develop authentic followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV) As believers, we have no greater pursuit than joining God in His ordained work of saving His people, that He called before the foundations of the Earth. In these moments, we are witnesses of a physical manifestation of the fruit of every hour invested, every dollar given, and every effort made in service to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the same way that Baptism serves to symbolize our initiation into God's Church, the ordinance of the Lord's Supper serves to symbolize our ongoing need of God's grace to sustain our union with Christ and His church. Jesus instituted what we call the Lord's Supper when he took the bread, gave thanks, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:19-20, ESV) When God worked through Moses to free Israel from slavery in Egypt, He subjected Egypt to ten plagues, the last of which was the death of the first-born sons. In Exodus chapter 12, God instituted the Feast of Passover. He instructed the Israelites to put the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts as a sign of their covenant with Him so that when he came to strike the land of Egypt, Israel would be spared. Exodus 12:26-27 (ESV) says, "And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped." With this in mind, Christ was teaching his disciples that He is the true Passover Lamb, ushering in a new covenant in which his broken body and shed blood would atone for the sins of God's people once and for all. Just like the people of Israel, our response to this should be a posture of worship.
The Apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 11, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." Let us examine ourselves as we approach the Lord's Supper and partake in such a way that honors the Passover Lamb.
This Sunday, as we observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, let us remember the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Let us remember the New Covenant that seals and sustains our union with Christ and His body, the Church.