Speaking Sacramentally

All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (vv. 3–4).

- 1 Corinthians 10:1–4

As Reformed soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) gains a wider hearing today, we must remember that Reformed theology, indeed, biblical theology, is more than the five points of Calvinism. Reformed theology is sacramental, unafraid to speak of the sacraments as effectual for God’s people. This is not a sacerdotal scheme of salvation that says all who partake of the sacraments inevitably benefit from God’s grace. Yet we do mean that God truly works in the sacraments to bless those who trust in Him. “The Lord offers us mercy and the pledge of his grace both in his Sacred Word and in his sacraments. But it is understood only by those who take the Word and sacraments with sure faith” (John Calvin, Institutes 4.14.7).

When we feed on Christ by faith in the Lord’s Supper, the bread and the wine do not become our Savior’s human body and human blood (The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 78). Nevertheless, as a link exits between sacramental signs and what they signify, we rightly refer to the bread and the wine as the body and blood of our Lord. In so doing, we speak sacramentally, just as Scripture does in many places. In today’s passage, for example, the Apostle Paul refers to the Rock that satisfied the thirst of the wandering Israelites in the desert as “Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1–4). Paul understood the Old Testament, and he certainly did not conceive of Jesus as the literal, physical rock that Moses struck to provide water for Israel (Ex. 17:1–7; Num. 20:2–13). But his language is entirely appropriate. After all, the Son of God, as the second person of the Trinity, was the ultimate source of every good gift to Israel in Moses’ day. The water came through the rock, but the blessing was, in the final analysis, not from the rock but from God Himself. In calling the means by which the water came “Christ,” Paul reminded the Corinthians that the water received through the Rock came from the Lord God Almighty.

The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. To refer to the bread as His body and the wine as His blood is not to make an ontological claim (statement of being) that human flesh and blood are eaten and digested in the Supper. Speaking of the bread and wine as His body and blood reveals our conviction that the Savior Himself—the whole Christ—is the true source of the grace we receive at His table.

Coram Deo

Speaking sacramentally, we refer to the bread as the body of Christ and the wine as His blood in order to proclaim that He is truly present when we sit at His table. Ours is a supernatural faith, and we expect a supernatural meeting with the Lord in the sacrament. We do not chew human flesh and drink human blood at the Lord’s Table, but we show the reality of our faith when we expect Him to strengthen us through the sacrament.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 24:1–11
John 4:31–34
Colossians 2:19
Revelation 19:6–10

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