We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. God gives us this faith by his Holy Spirit, and practically through the means of grace: the preaching of the Word, and the sacraments.
LD 25 q&a 65.
Since then faith alone
makes us share in Christ and all his benefits,
where does this faith come from?
From the Holy Spirit,
who works it in our hearts
by the preaching of the gospel,
and strengthens it
by the use of the sacraments.
LD 25 q&a 66.
What are the sacraments?
The sacrament are holy, visible signs and seals.
They were instituted by God
so that by their use
he might the more fully declare and seal to us
the promise of the gospel.
And this is the promise:
that God graciously grants us
forgiveness of sins and everlasting life
because of the one sacrifice of Christ
accomplished on the cross.
LD 25 q&a 67.
Are both Word and the sacraments
then intended to focus our faith
on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross
as the only ground of our salvation?
The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel
and assures us by the sacraments
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.
LD 25 q&a 68.
How many sacraments
has Christ instituted in the new covenant?
Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.
The work of the Holy Spirit
What did you learn about “being saved” in LD 7, a 20?
What did you learn about “being righteous before God” in the first line of LD 23, a 60?
Explain in your own words why faith is so important.
Faith is extremely important. It is a matter of life and death! Once you know that, it is natural to ask the question: how? How do I get that faith? How do I keep that faith?
On one hand, faith is not difficult. It is not something we “do”. It simply means trusting God completely, and living your life depending on him. On the other hand, it is very hard for us. Because of sin, we don’t really want to rely on him. We can doubt or have “little faith”. If it were up to us, we would quickly lose our faith.
How do you get and keep faith? The Catechism says: the Holy Spirit. He works it in our hearts. In this way, God himself makes us believers and makes our faith strong. (You learned this already in LD 20 q&a 53. Now we will look at the details.)
This means that faith is not something we can be proud of. It is not so much our work, but God’s work.
Read Eph. 2:8-9. What does it say about faith? What should we not do, according to these verses?
The means of grace
But this work of the Holy Spirit does not happen in an invisible, magical way. He uses the means of grace. There are things that we can hear and see and participate in, and through it God grows our faith.
The means of grace are
- God’s Word (or the gospel)
- the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper)
You can read God’s Word in your Bible. You also hear the Word when you listen to a sermon that explains the Bible. The Word tells you much about God and about yourself. It tells you especially that our entire salvation rests on Jesus’ one sacrifice for us on the cross (a 67). When you hear this and learn to understand it better, the Holy Spirit does his work, so that you believe that it is true and that it is for you.
In Roman 10:13-17, Paul explains why it is so important that God sent us preachers of the gospel. Summarize his reasoning by filling in the blanks: call upon God < __________ < __________ < __________ < send.
The sacraments are “pictures” to go with the Word. Baptism is a picture of the washing that you need because of your sin. It also marks you as someone who now belongs to Jesus Christ. The Lord’s supper shows in a picture that Jesus’ body and blood save us and feed our new life. When you receive the sacrament, the Holy Spirit grows your faith.
Really, the Word and sacrament teach us the same thing. The Word tells the story; the sacrament illustrates and “underscores” it.
More about sacraments
The word sacrament literally means “something holy”, or “sacred ritual”. It is not directly found in the Bible. The church has used the word “sacrament” in different ways. We use it for holy rituals that the God commanded us to perform as a means of grace. In the Old Testament, there were many rituals; but in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus has commanded only two: baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
The Catechism states this specifically in answer 68. That is important because the Roman church teaches that there are seven sacraments. (The other five are: confirmation, penance, marriage, ordination, last rites.) The Protestants disagreed, because five of them are not means of grace commanded by God.
To explain what a sacrament is, the Catechism uses two words.
- It is a sign: a picture showing what the gospel tells us.
- It is a seal: a picture promising that the gospel is true (and true for us).
In the next two lessons, we will study baptism and the Lord’s supper in more detail, and see exactly how they are signs and seals.
- Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Does that mean that it is wrong to say that we believe? (Hint: Canons of Dort, III/IV, art. 12, especially the last part.)
- The Catechism calls the preaching of the gospel a means of grace. Some people would rather say that the gospel itself is more important. What do you think?
- If you listen to the Word with a stubborn heart, or use the sacraments as an unbeliever, will that do you any good?
- Can you think of some Old Testament “sacraments”. Why are we no longer using them?
- Find out more about the five additional sacraments of the Roman church. What is their meaning, and when are they administered? Why do we not consider them “sacraments”?
- Is public profession of faith a sacrament? Why, or why not?
- Some people are worried because of their weak faith and doubt. They may think that the Holy Spirit is unwilling to give them saving faith. What practical advise can you give them? (Hint: Canons of Dort, I, art. 16; and V, art. 14.)
All: Memorize q&a 65, 66.
Older students: Also read the article Sacraments: Reformed view vs. Roman view. Be ready to discuss the main points of this article.