We have discussed in the past the deadly religious materialism known as sacramentalism: the belief that material things and rituals channel God’s grace and spiritual power to men. Such is
the serious error of “transubstantiation,” the idea that the Roman Catholic clergy can and must change wafers and wine into the body and blood of Christ to make the “Sacrifice of the Mass” effective. That Church damns to hell all who reject this dogma: “If anyone says that by the sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred ex opere operato [by the act itself], but that faith alone in the divine promise is sufficient to obtain grace, let him be anathema [eternally damned].” This “New Law” comprises 1,739 rules in more than 1,000 pages of the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law.
The Bible, however, teaches that God’s grace, whether in salvation, sanctification, or provision for living to His glory, comes to man by faith: “By grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph:2:8); “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab:2:4; Heb:10:38); “we walk by faith” (2 Cor:5:7), etc. Physical things of this world may illustrate, but they cannot substitute for or play the part of, the spiritual realities of God and of His grace, which one can only receive by faith.
Such is also the error of “baptismal regeneration”: the belief that baptism has efficacious power and is essential for salvation. Not only Catholics, but generally Lutherans, Calvinists, and others also partake in varying degrees of this heresy through the practice of infant baptism. We have quoted Luther’s small catechism (followed by every Lutheran group today, including the Missouri Synod): “Holy Baptism is the only means whereby infants…can ordinarily be regenerated…it works forgiveness of sins…delivers from death and the devil [and] gives eternal salvation….” Calvin said, “God in baptism promises remission of sins…regenerating us…makes us his by adoption…let us therefore embrace it in faith.”
On the contrary, there is no spiritual power in water (or anything physical) or in its “sacramental” use. Man is not just a body, but eternal soul and spirit—yet this world gives the dying body all of the attention. Sadly, this is also true to a large extent among professing Christians. Such religious materialism robs its followers of truth and life.
We need spiritual life—and physical things or ceremonies involving them are not the means to this end! One might just as well trust in the “good luck” of a rabbit’s foot as to hope for spiritual benefit from a Catholic scapular, medal, crucifix, or relic of an alleged “saint.” And how much “worship” is created by the lordly pastoral robes and other religious accoutrements even in evangelical churches? As Christ said, true worship of God can only be in “spirit and in truth” (Jn:4:24).
Yes, there was a physical tabernacle (which became Solomon’s temple) that contained special objects used by the priests in worship and service before God. But these were specifically designed by God for the Jews as “patterns of things in the heavens…the figures of the true” (Heb:9:23-24). Far from there being any spiritual value in those objects and sacraments themselves, they were “a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect...[but were] carnal ordinances, imposed…until the time of reformation” (Heb:9:9-10). That time came nearly 2,000 years ago with the fulfillment of these types in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
These all pictured various aspects of the coming sacrifice of Christ through which alone forgiveness of sins, salvation, and reconciliation to God could come. These “carnal ordinances” were done away after Christ had fulfilled them: “But Christ…[not] by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood…is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself…Nor yet that he should offer himself often…for then must he often have suffered…but now once…he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb:9:11-28). Thus, the inner “veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mat:27:51) the moment Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was complete.
Hebrews chapter 10 declares that the fact that Old Testament sacrifices had to be repeated day after day proved that they could never pay the penalty for man’s sins. The writer argues, “For then would they not have ceased to be offered?” (10:1-2). Nor can the Roman Catholic “sacrifice of the Mass” pay for sins, as its endless repetition proves.
These Old Testament representations are then contrasted with the true sacrifice of Christ: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God…by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified…there is [therefore] no more offering for sin” (10:12-18). Our Lord’s cry from the cross, “It is finished,” was His triumphant declaration that He had paid the full penalty for the sins of the world!
One either accepts Christ’s payment and the forgiveness and home in heaven He purchased with His blood and offers to all who will receive Him, or rejects Him and spends eternity in the lake of fire, personally bearing God’s infinite judgment.
To accept Christ’s payment, one must believe on Christ: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts:16:31); “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph:2:8). Believe what? The gospel: “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the scriptures…” (1 Cor:15:1-4). The gospel alone is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom:1:16).
These simple and familiar truths are forgotten, compromised, perverted, and corrupted among many who claim to be “born-again evangelicals”—and even despised today as too boring to attract youth. But this “sound doctrine” is (1 Tim:1:10; 2 Tim:3:16; 4:2-5; Titus:2:1) essential to “life and godliness” (2 Pt 1:3). For this we must “earnestly contend” (Jude 3); it is our life! But how is “sound doctrine” related to the simplicity of the gospel?
For Christ to fulfill the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies as proof that He was the promised Messiah, and to pay the infinite penalty for all mankind, He had to qualify in a very special and vital way: He must be eternally God, without beginning or end; the One who became and is forever, through the virgin birth, a true flesh-and-blood man—God “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim:3:16).
Jesus clearly declared the necessity of believing that He is God: “if ye believe not that I am [i.e., the I AM of Ex 3:14—he is in italics, added by the translators], ye shall die in your sins [and] whither I go, ye cannot come” (Jn:8:24, 21). Yet there are thousands of those who claim to be “born-again” Christians who deny that Christ is God. They are not Christians. By Christ’s own words, they will not be with Him in heaven. We must warn them!
Christ makes clear the necessity of believing that He is both God and a real flesh-and-blood man: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (Jn:6:53). Eat His flesh, drink His blood? Could He have meant that literally? In fact, “eating” and drinking” are metaphors for coming to Christ and believing on Him: (Jn:6:35, 40, 47-51). This can only be what He meant by, “he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (6:57).
Catholics, Lutherans, and many Calvinists take this statement to mean that the physical body and blood of Christ must be ingested into the stomach. This is supposedly possible for Catholics through the magic of “transubstantiation,” for Lutherans through “consubstantiation” (i.e., that the bread and wine simply are Christ’s physical body and blood), while Calvin taught that the ingested bread and wine impart Christ’s physical body and blood to believers.
The error, though lethal, is simple: failure to realize that Christ, as always when speaking to the multitude (Mat:13:34), was teaching spiritual truth through a physical illustration. When He said, “I am the light of the world” (Jn:8:12), or “I am the door” (Jn:10:7), or “I am the good shepherd” (Jn:10:14), or “I am the true vine” (Jn:15:1), did anyone who heard Him then, or should anyone now, imagine that He was speaking literally? Of course not—and for good reason! For Christ to be a literal, physical light, door, shepherd, grapevine, piece of bread, etc., would not only be absurd but of no spiritual and eternal benefit to anyone!
Thus when Christ said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (Jn:6:35), Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists all admit that He didn’t mean He was a physical loaf of bread. Nor could he have been speaking of physical hunger or thirst. Obviously, then, when He went on to say, “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die” (Jn:6:50), He neither meant physical bread nor physical death nor physical eating. He was communicating eternal spiritual truth.
So it must be also when He said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (6:51), “Living bread” is clearly a metaphor, as is His statement that this “living bread” is His “flesh.” Clearly, the “eating” is symbolic of believing that “Jesus Christ is come [once and for all] in the flesh” (1 Jn:4:2-3). He is both God and man in genuine human flesh. That much should be clear.
Yet when Christ goes on in the same breath to say, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (Jn:6:53), Rome insists that He means literally eating and drinking His physical body and blood! But His blood was poured out for sin on the cross and His resurrected body has no blood in it for anyone to drink. Nor could anyone “eat” His resurrected, glorified body that He inhabits at the Father’s right hand. And to imagine putting Him back in His pre-resurrection body so He can be physically “eaten” is to engage in fantasy and blasphemy! Furthermore, to ingest Christ’s physical body and blood into one’s stomach would no more bring spiritual life than to ingest any physical food.
Yet Rome declares that although Christ is at the Father’s right hand, her priests can bring Him back in His pre-crucifixion body onto Catholic altars to be “immolated” (made to suffer His sacrifice on the cross) again and again for sin. That grievous error robs those who believe it of the spiritual truth and eternal salvation Christ offers—and gives them instead bread and wine in their stomachs!
That same misunderstanding caused the Jews to complain, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn:6:52). Rome thinks it solves the dilemma through transubstantiation, so that the body and blood of Christ are ingested “under the appearance of bread and wine.” But Christ made it clear that He was speaking spiritual truth: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (6:63). Words and the ideas they express are not physical but spiritual.
Satan turns man to the physical and blinds him to the spiritual. God explained to the Jews that He caused them to hunger in the wilderness in order to teach them that “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord…” (Deut 8:3). Israel failed the test and was so completely absorbed in physical lust that she missed entirely the spiritual reality God wanted His people to enjoy: “My people have…forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns…that can hold no water” (Jer:2:13).
In contrast to Israel’s failure, Christ in His temptation in the wilderness did not yield to Satan’s promises of earth’s kingdoms with their possessions and power. He quoted the liberating truth, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Lk 4:4). This is the Word upon which we are to “meditate day and night” (Ps:1:2), by which we are “born again…which by the gospel is preached” (1 Pt 1:23, 25).
Christ declared that He was the living word and that all of the Word of God spoke of Him. No wonder Jeremiah said: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart…” (Jer:15:16). We need, moment by moment, to heed the Psalmist: “O taste and see that the LORD is good…” (Ps:34:8)! We, too, would then cry out, “My soul thirsteth for God…” (Ps:42:2). For some “holy water” that He offers? No, but for a deeper knowledge of Himself!
May Paul’s passion be ours: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…” (Philippians:3:10)!
We want to come back to this theme again next month. In the meantime, let us meditate day and night upon Christ and upon the Father and His Word. In the process, we will discover that we are “feasting on the living bread [and] drinking at the fountainhead,” as the old hymn says. TBC