For by grace you have
been saved through faith,
and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8 WEB

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New Life of Beauty and Grace

Two Avenues of Grace

The Lord knows how difficult it is at times for us to believe in Him; how hard it can seem to only live by faith in His Word. We yearn for a “touch” from God; we want to see Him in the flesh. And He wants to meet with us! These two “avenues of grace” are His way of bringing invisible divine life into events of the material world. We make contact with Him through tangible means which are not only aids to our faith, but actually pathways for His life to enter and transform ours.

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:37-38 ESV

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV

Two for the Journey

Tragically, the two activities that Jesus gave as tangible means of being united to Him have caused some of the most intense divisions between His followers. Let’s don’t let that happen for us. Bread, Wine and Baptismal Font : Two Avenues of GraceKeep in mind that they are sacred mysteries and stay humble.  Participate in them with grateful wonder, press in to understand them, but always be willing to bow before mysteries that no one fully understands. Above all, be on guard against insisting on only one way of seeing them or doing them—your own. That has been the downfall of multitudes!

These two avenues of grace are called sacraments to indicate that they “make sacred” two ordinary things: in baptism, the water; with Holy Communion, the bread and wine. How that happens, exactly what it is that happens, and what has to be done for “it” to happen, I will happily leave to the scholars and theologians to debate among themselves. A good rule for walking gently with the Lord is, “Don’t make anything harder than it has to be.” The hard part of the sacraments is understanding them with perfect knowledge.[1] Good luck with that one! The easy part is doing them.

Baptism: Initiation

Baptism can be called the new convert’s first step of obedience. It is a universal command of the gospel given by no less an authority than Jesus’ hand-picked leader for the new movement. On the day of Pentecost when thousands cried out to be saved after hearing Peter preach his first sermon, he told them to “repent and be baptized.”[2] In saying this Peter was being absolutely faithful to what Jesus commanded His disciples to do—make disciples and baptize them, beginning in Jerusalem.[3]  So, if we want to keep this simple, we need only ask two questions: 1) Do you want to be saved? Then, repent (be converted to faith in Christ) and be baptized. 2) Do you want to obey Jesus? Then, become a disciple and be baptized. I don’t want to leave it there, but let’s at least agree to begin there!

If you have become a Christian, then you are a convert and a disciple. A convert is one who has transferred allegiance; a disciple is one who is seeking to be trained in the ways of a master. Have you been baptized? That’s your first step. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is the One putting it before you. Why? Don’t insist on a definitive answer. Obedience isn’t about you always knowing exactly why you are being led a certain way. That is not Jesus being in charge; that would still be your intellect and your will in command. It is amazing how many people buck at this. Don’t let that be you!

Fortunately, most new converts are eager to be baptized. That is a true sign of the Holy Spirit working on the inside causing us to “will and to work for His good pleasure.”[4] In the Bible all it took was some water, a convert and someone willing to do the baptizing. Philip baptized a fresh convert by the side of a desert road.[5] Paul baptized a whole family at night after being let out of jail.[6] This was in the early days before churches organized formal ways of doing the sacraments. At the very least it demonstrates that “in a pinch” any way is better than no way. If you are in more ordinary circumstances, simply present yourself to be baptized at the local church you attend.

Now, at last, for some explanations. Peter told the crowd to repent and be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins.” Water baptism is an unmistakable sign of being washed or cleansed. Do we do it as a witness that we have already been washed by the Blood of Jesus (through our faith-conversion) or do we do it in order to be cleansed of sin? The texts are suggestive of both interpretations. Paul gives us another image, that of being baptized into the death of Christ. [7] His thought is characteristically deep. Baptism is “burial” of the old life that enables us to be raised into new life with Jesus. Is he speaking figuratively or literally? Are Paul’s baptismal death and Peter’s baptismal cleansing primarily a) genuine spiritual occurrences in their own right, b) outward signs of something faith accomplishes, c) witnesses to others?  This is why it really helps to “embrace the Mystery” and live by simple faith![8]

 

Communion: Connection

Staying well connected to Jesus is practically the whole walk in a nutshell. Jesus is the Source and ultimate goal of our new life; He is the Way we follow, the Truth we believe, and the Life that we enjoy. He is the One rescuing us from the ocean of sin and self that ever seeks to drown us; He is also leading us to heaven and into a more heavenly life on earth. Of course we want to stay closely connected to Him! Many things aid us in this, especially what we call the "Big Five" Connecters: Bible, prayer, worship, fellowship and service.

One of the greatest connectors of all is Holy Communion. If baptism is the sacrament of initiation, communion is the sacrament for continuation. Through communion a grace is available to more intimately connect us with our Risen Lord. (“How is it available?” There you go with those questions again!) What could be more intimate than somehow taking Jesus into our bodies? This already happened during the New Birth of course: Jesus now lives inside us through His indwelling Spirit. However, lest we forget, or become doubtful, here is a way given by the Lord of “proving” to us all over again—and again and again, as often as we may receive it—how willing He is to love us, forgive us, and live within us.

Taking in the wide scope of present day church practice communion services range from being intimate gatherings to immense congregations; from brief moments of devotion to elaborate and lengthy ceremonies; from informal, spontaneous prayers to the recitation of ancient and prescribed liturgies. Speaking solely out of my own experience, I have met and missed the Lord in every kind of setting, but I have been met by Him far more often than not. Just as He says in His Word, He truly is present to commune with us. That leaves the door wide open for us to find the best way to commune with Him.[9]

Just how Jesus is present with us through communion is a subject of tremendous curiosity. As is well known the Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine of communion become the real Presence of Christ—His actual Body and Blood. Jesus own words encourage this interpretation: "Take, eat; this is my body."[10] Most Protestant and Pentecostal denominations tend to see the bread and wine as mere symbols of Christ’s presence, taken “in remembrance” of what He has done for us—a “memorial” service. Jesus’ own words encourage this interpretation as well.[11]  Anglicans take a middle road, believing in a “real” Presence of Christ, but not a literal changing of the bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Jesus. For them the real Presence is primarily to be found in the changed lives of those who receive Him.

The common element in all these different practices and beliefs is that the “elements” of communion—the bread and wine—become a graced means for the participants to draw closer to Jesus, be cleansed of sin, be reassured of acceptance, and experience the peace of His presence. Much, much more can be said and experienced, but this is simply a primer to set you off on your journey of discovery with (let’s hope) a balanced overview of the rich territory that lies before you. We are intended to feed on Christ, to drink Him in, to taste and see that He is good.[12] Enjoy the Paschal feast! [13]

 

Two More to Explore

Two Realms of Habitation  It is hard enough learning how to live in one world, this one. Yet, our calling is to learn to live in two realms at once. It’s no good saying you can’t—God knows you can with His help. In fact you have already been “seated with Christ” in the heavenlies. You are in this world, but not of it: You are on pilgrimage through it looking for the “city not made with hands” which God is building with the new creations He is raising up.

Two Invisible Kingdoms  You won’t find this in your science books. They don’t even have it on their radar. What science reveals to us, however, is the presence of invisible realities we never knew existed. Things like bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and radioactive emissions threaten our lives even though we cannot see them. It’s time to gain eyes to see what science is blind to. Two invisible kingdoms are at war all around you; sometimes you even feel the “tug of war” going on within you. It really helps to know what you are up against.

Baptism Scriptures

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:8-9 ESV

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:37-38 ESV

Communion Scriptures

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Matthew 26:26-29 ESV

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. John 6:52-59 ESV

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV


Scriptures and Foot Notes

[1]  Proverbs exhorts us to “get wisdom” and “get understanding” in several passages, but it also issues us this strong warning against leaning on what you (think) you know, rather than trusting the One who knows all: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV
[2]  The quote is from Acts 2:37-38 that is at the top of this page. Only after writing the sentence did I see the humorous way it could be misread. But no, the people were not crying out to be saved from a dreadful first sermon attempt by a new preacher! They were experiencing the “dread” of seeing their sins with all excuses and pretenses stripped away.
[3]  See the Baptism Scripture section: Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8-9
[4]  For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 ESV
[5]  And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. Acts 8:36-39 ESV
[6]  And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Acts 16:29-33 ESV
[7]  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. Romans 6:3-4 ESV
[8]  May you learn to love this attitude of the Psalmist (which I cherish): Lord, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalms 131:1-2 NKJV
[9]  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." Matthew 18:20 ESV
[10]  See Matthew 26:26-29 in the Communion Scriptures section.
[11]  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Luke 22:19 ESV
[12]  "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” John 6:56-57 ESV
[13]  Paschal means Passover. One of the main themes of Holy Communion is that Jesus is our Passover Lamb in true fulfillment of what the Israelites experienced in Egypt when they spread the blood of lambs across their door posts so that death would “pass over” their households.