Over Against the Other
“And he brought them all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other” (Gen. 15:10a).- Genesis 15:9–11
Our study today affords us the opportunity to explore again the role of the sacraments in the Christian life. Even though the ceremony enacted in response to Abram’s request for a sign is not a sacrament, this act of God, like the rainbow (Gen. 9:12–17), has many things in common with baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In his Institutes, John Calvin defines a sacrament as “a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him” (4.14.1). Today’s passage relates how God ordered Abram to cut a few animals in half and lay the carcasses in two rows with a path in between (Gen. 15:9–11). We will discuss this rite and its meaning in a few days, but for now we must see that the grace depicted here is God’s absolute commitment to give Abram a land, a name, and offspring. The carcasses and the smoking fire pot (v. 17) serve as the outward signs of the promise while Abram shows his faith by trusting God (v. 6) and doing as He says (v. 10).
In baptism, God testifies that the “old self” was put to death while the new person in Christ is raised to life (Rom. 6:3–11). The Lord’s Supper looks back to our Savior’s embrace of the curse in our stead and looks forward to that day when His body and blood will be our only sustenance (Matt. 26:26–28; John 6:22–59). When we participate in these ordinances by faith we meet with the Lord as Abram once did (Gen. 15). Being baptized, we are incorporated into the body of Christ and show forth His pledge to fill us with the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Similarly, in the Supper, we commune with Christ in heaven and, with His people, cling to Him in obedient fellowship, proclaiming His death until He comes (1 Cor. 10:14–17; 11:26).
Participation by faith is key as the sacraments do not grant grace apart from personal trust in Jesus. They do not work ex opere operato — by virtue of their outward performance. They only fortify our faith if we trust in the Lord and His promises. Thus Matthew Henry writes: “Those who would receive the assurance of God’s favor, and would have their faith confirmed, must attend instituted ordinances, and expect to meet God in them.”
The medieval abuses of the church, coupled with the modern tendency toward naturalism, have caused many evangelicals to be wary about the sacraments. Since, by the Spirit, we are lifted up into heaven during worship (Heb. 12:18–24), we also enjoy the presence of Jesus when we partake of communion in faith. Believe the promises He seals to us in baptism and look forward to meeting Him as He strengthens your faith when you commune at the Lord’s Table.
Passages for Further Study