Self-Examination and the Sacrament

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” (vv. 27–28).

- 1 Corinthians 11:17–32

Paul tells us that we must not eat the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner lest we eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:27–29). In this teaching, we learn several things, not the least of which is the fact that the sacraments do not automatically convey grace to all who partake of them. Indeed, sacraments may actually become means of cursing and judgment for those who do not approach them properly. Furthermore, since the spiritual realities of blessing and cursing occur when the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is administered, we know that there must be a true spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament. If congregants were not lifted up to heaven to commune with Jesus, there could be no blessing or cursing, for these spiritual realities presuppose that the Lord’s Supper brings us into our Savior’s presence (Ex. 3:1–5; Lev. 10:1–3; Ps. 16:11; 105:4; Luke 5:1–8).

Of course, we want to be blessed and not judged when we visit with the Lord Jesus Christ at His table. That means, the Apostle Paul says, that we must examine ourselves before we partake of the bread and the wine to ensure that we are worthy of coming to the Lord’s Table. As we saw yesterday, worthiness to come to the Lord’s Table does not require sinlessness. The sacrament is for sinners, and yet it is not for all sinners; rather, it is only for sinners who have repented of their sin and turned to Christ for salvation (1 Cor. 11:28; 1 John 1:8–9). Question and answer 81 of the Heidelberg Catechism put it this way: those who may freely come to the table are “those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins” but who nevertheless trust that they are pardoned in Christ and yearn for the strength that He provides, by His Spirit, in His Supper.

Worthiness, says John Calvin, “consists chiefly in faith, which reposes all things in Christ, but nothing in ourselves; secondly in love—and that very love which, though imperfect, is enough to offer to God, that he may increase it to something better, inasmuch as it cannot be offered in completeness” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.17.42). Our Father prizes “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). He welcomes all who put their trust in Christ Jesus alone for salvation and then, by the Spirit’s power, evidence this trust through love for God and neighbor.

Coram Deo

Self-examination of one’s soul before partaking of the Lord’s Supper involves determining whether or not one is a Christian. We are to consider whether we are trusting in Christ alone for salvation, and we are to repent for the unbelief that remains in our hearts. We are to repent of our sin and seek reconciliation with others wherever possible. As we do these things, casting ourselves on Jesus Christ, we are welcome at the Lord’s Table.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 34:18
Isaiah 57:15; 66:1–2
Matthew 5:23–24
1 John 4:11

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343