Signs and Seals
HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAY 25
It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from?
The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.
What are sacraments?
Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s sacrifice finished on the cross.
Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
Right! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments he assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.
How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
Two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Signs and Seals
Tuesday, June 13: Romans 4
The Catechism tells us that the “Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see.” We live in a culture that loves signs. We adorn our cars with bumper stickers, proclaiming for all to see our choice of political candidate or our belief about climate change or our pro-life stance. We spray paint our driveways with the emblem or initials of the school we support. We tattoo our bodies with the names of our children or our favorite bible verse or an image that captures something meaningful to us. We tell stories with signs. They are visible symbols of our identity, tangible ways we can proclaim to the surrounding world who we are. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper act as signs and seals upon us as we seek to live faithfully before the Lord. When we receive the Sacraments, God is gifting us with a tangible sign that points us toward the spiritual truths of the written Word and the Living Word. When we understand that the Sacraments act as holy signs and seals upon our hearts and lives, we see something so much grander and richer than the story we try to tell with our bumper stickers or our spray paint or our tattoos. When we are bathed in the waters of baptism or when we promise to care for one being baptized, when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we are called back to the gospel promise: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is important to note that the Sacraments do not cause faith or somehow assure our salvation. We are not saved simply because we were baptized as young children or participated in the Lord’s Supper a required number of times. Only our faith, defined by a loving God, made possible by the sacrificial Son, and sustained by the Holy Spirit can do this. Instead, participating in and celebrating these rituals proclaims and reminds us that we have a better story, one defined by a God of just and gracious love, who gathers us up under his wings and proclaims that we are his children, holy and dearly loved. We find assurance in promise. As we continue to both study and celebrate the Sacraments, I hope you will find yourself pointed toward the gospel promise, and I hope you will find assurance of God’s love in your life.
Chaplain Sarah Hoogendoorn