If you have ever been a part of a religion, you probably have received a few sacraments.
Religions have ordained ceremonies and rituals that bestow God’s grace to humanity called sacraments. These rituals form the system of works that define the religion.
To the religious, sacraments are an outward visible sign of an inwardly received grace.
To the casual observer, they are sacred objects used by sacred people in sacred places to provide sacred blessings.
To everyone, if you don’t do them, you won’t receive or never had the blessing, which sounds a lot like what Paul says in Gal 3:12.
Sacraments are at the heart of all religion, and they have no place in the church, the body of Christ.
More or Less
What are the sacraments? Depending on how religious a religion is, there may be more or less sacraments.
Romans Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have seven: (water) baptism, confirmation, Eucharist (mass), reconciliation (confession), anointing the sick (with oil), marriage, and holy orders.
Protestants and Baptists keep two, water baptism and the Eucharist, and it may be some Pentecostal denominations have added back a third (anointing the sick or tongue talking).
They all have this in common: they are visible or physical actions that are stated to be a “means of grace” to those involved. Religions confess that they may not be the primary cause of grace, but they are a necessary, and often substituted, outward sign of an inner change.
In this regard Protestants are not at all that far from the Catholic tree.
Grace Contrary to Physical Sacraments
Why don’t these belong in church the body of Christ?
Religious men were persuading the Colossians that they needed to fulfill their obedience through the physical symbolism of special ordinances and sacraments. Here is what Paul had to say:
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” – Colossians 2:20-22
Paul’s rhetorical question declares religious sacraments do not belong in the church.
Oftentimes sacraments in religions are called mysteries, because it is a mystery to them how God can use ordinary physical things like water and oil to bestow spiritual things like grace. The truth is that he doesn’t any more.
Paul said that the mystery of Christ is no longer a mystery, it has been revealed (Eph 3:1-3). We receive grace through faith in the finished work of Christ, not through religious sacraments.
When Paul speaks about a dispensation of grace, he is not speaking about a sacrament. He is speaking about the message he was given that God’s grace can be freely received through faith in the gospel.
Since Christ finished the work, there is no more work for us to do. Since we are crucified with Christ, there is nothing else in this world for us. Since God’s grace is sufficiently given through Christ’s finished work, there is no more grace we need to seek.
We must simply grow in the grace God has already supplied to those that believe.
Our Means of Grace
Our means of grace is not eating a cracker or being dunked in water. (To religions this is sacrilege – making profane what is sacred – to them, water and oil.)
Instead, our means of grace is the cross of Christ, and here is what Paul says about it:
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” – Gal 6:14
There is nothing to glory from in religious sacraments. Nothing to glory from in your works (Titus 3:5; Eph 2:8-9).
The sacred things in this dispensation are the words of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his work on the cross. All of these things are received by faith not by a ceremony or work.
True sacrilege in this dispensation is hiding the unspeakable gift of God’s grace behind the symbolism, shadows, and rituals of works based ceremonies, confessions, and commitments when it is freely available to all in Christ without works.