Imparting Grace: Sacraments and their Effects On Man, Part 1 of 3

In his Epiphany sermon at Westminster Abbey on Thursday, January 6, 2011, the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall recalled thoughts from Christmas and the offer of God’s love in the outstretched arms of the incarnate infant Christ. Apart from this, his love is apparent in created order according to Rev. Hall. This message recalls Paul’s Epistle the Romans in chapter one. God’s love, his grace, is apparent in the created order of our world, a world which in all it’s physical beauty and tactile grandeur is a display of his common grace to mankind.[1] This grace is intended to drive man to himself. This tactile world was incarnated by his Son, taking on a physical form and inhabiting a world in which mankind sees, tastes, feels, hears and smells God’s wonderful creation. This physical Christ was given for our sins, according to the writer of Hebrews, once and for all.[2] So the question remains, for what reason do we need and partake in physical sacraments? For if we have been given all we need for salvation and been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,[3] why the need to concern ourselves with physical acts when the spiritual is accomplished? The short answer is because our Savior is a physical savior and our final destiny is to be with him, physically. So what does this have to do with the sacraments?

Let’s continue.

Scripture testifies that we are being saved though we currently exist in a reality of salvation through his grace.[4] This is an awkward tension that exists for the believer and an issue for which we must allow others to pursue for now. This tension relates to the eschatological (future) plans of God. Heaven has NOT met earth and the Lord has NOT descended in the same way in which he ascended.[5] We remain in a physical world lest we make the Gnostic heretical error that the physical need not matter to the being who’s destiny is only a disembodied spiritual state. Revelation 21 reveals a reality in which the God of Creation will reign with mankind in a re-ordered heavens and re-ordered earth: quite literally, when heaven and earth collide. It’s has not been difficult for cartoons, movies and modern day popular culture to illustrate heaven as a non-corporeal existence in which saints chat with country singers and where politicians pay penance while St. Peter watches the clock. The human mind has easily conjured up such images that have come from a merging of late medieval and renaissance art and misinformed folk religion. Yet man has been unable to illustrate a completely reconstructed physical existence apart from pain and death where a love for God is the light, which guides all man’s actions and decisions. However, this is the reality in which God’s chosen will exist.

So what does this have to do with sacraments and their (perceived) effects on those who partake in them? Simply stated,  they are present physical realities which point to the final (and physical) state of existence for those who are in Christ. Yes it is true on a base level that they are physical representations of inward realities, but I believe we can not end the definition at that. As we partake the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are reminded of Christ’s promise to return and drink wine with us once more and so forth.[6] Over the next two entries into this series, I will propose a different way in which the present-day evangelical Christian should view the sacraments and living a life that is sacramental. Drawing from Scripture, the history of the church, and interacting with present day views my goal is to affirm what Scripture teaches, assess what the church has believed and provide a synthesis in which believers today should view the concept of the sacraments and their grace-imparting effects on physical man who’s ultimate destiny is physical existence with the Lord of Creation. In the next entry, I will look at the two “Gospel” sacraments and how they have been viewed through Scripture and history. In my concluding entry, I will address other sacramental ideas and ultimately how we should understand physical elements imparting the grace of God to mankind. May the Holy Spirit grant us wisdom in the discussion of God’s truth and the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the building up of the body of Christ until he returns to reign with man.

[1] “Sermon given on the Feast of the Epiphany: Thursday 6 January 2011.” (accessed January 12, 2011).

[2] Hebrews 10:10.

[3] Eph. 1:3; Titus 2:11.

[4] 1 Cor. 15.1-2; 2 Cor. 2:15; Eph. 2.8-9.

[5] Rev. 21.1-6.

[6] Matt. 26:29.


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