Author: Ron Graham
Forgiveness and the Lord’s Supper
—Do we come to the Lord’s table for forgiveness?
In this lesson we look at the relationship between forgiveness and the Lord’s Supper. Our main concern is whether the Lord’s Supper is for the forgiveness of sins.
1 Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
When we first come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, we enter into his death through baptism which is a symbol of his death, burial, and resurrection. "All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death... buried with him by baptism into death... to walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:1-6).
The Lord’s Supper is also a symbol of Christ's death, so it occurs to some minds that the Lord’s Supper continues to do week by week what baptism did at the beginning —allow access to the grace of God and forgiveness of sins.
The idea is that we are baptized "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38, 22:16) so that the blood of Jesus can remove all past sins, then we partake of the Lord’s Supper each week so that any sins we we commit after our conversion can be also taken away by Christ’s blood.
So baptism and the Lord’s Supper are viewed as two "sacraments" for the forgiveness of sins, one for initial forgiveness, and the other for ongoing forgiveness.
One can understand the reasoning behind this idea, especially since both acts are symbolic of the death of Christ. However, the idea is wrong. The Lord’s Supper is never said in scripture to be "for the forgiveness of sins" whilst the scriptures do say this of baptism (Acts 2:38). Let us look into this in some detail...
2 The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
The purpose of the Lord’s Supper was stated by Jesus when he instituted its observance. As he took each emblem, the bread and the cup, he said in both cases, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1Corinthians 11:23-25).
Each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we "proclaim the Lord’s death" (1Corinthians 11:26).
So we see the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. It is observed as a memorial of Christ, a proclamation of his death. As we said in our introduction to this lesson, the Lord’s Supper is never said in scripture to be "for the forgiveness of sins."
Jesus did say that his blood was shed "for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). But he did not say that drinking from the cup was for forgiveness of sins.
3 How Is Ongoing Forgiveness Obtained?
The scriptures show us how the problem of sins committed after conversion are to be dealt with, compared to sins committed before conversion...
- Before conversion to Christ, sinners who asked, "What must we do?" were told to "Repent and be baptized..." (Acts 2:37-38).
- After conversion to Christ a sinner was told to "Repent... and pray to God" (Acts 8:13,18-22).
Someone has called these "the first and second laws of pardon". Christ takes away the burden of past sins when by faith we turn to him in repentance and baptism. He takes away our ongoing sins when by faith we turn to him in repentance and prayer.
Christ Our High Priest
Christ is our sympathetic high priest (Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 10:22) He is at the right hand of God where he "intercedes for us" (Romans 8:34). We have continuing forgiveness through him because of his sacrificial death on the cross and his continuing intercession on our behalf. On our part, he requires us to have...
- Continuing obedience of faith
(Romans 1:5, Romans 16:25-26, Colossians 1:22-23).
- Continuing repentance
- Continuing prayer
- Continuing confession of sin
While attendance at the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week is certainly part of our ongoing obedience of faith, it is done to remember Jesus Christ, not to receive forgiveness of sins.
The action we take to receive ongoing forgiveness is to take our sins to Christ in prayer, confessing them and repenting of them. We can do this at any moment, not just at the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
3 Why the Lord’s Supper Is Not For Forgiveness
Let us conclude this lesson by briefly thinking about why the Lord’s Supper is unsuitable as a means of receiving forgiveness of sins...
- The Lord’s Supper is not immediate. If we committed sin on Monday morning, surely that would be our "time of need" (Hebrews 4:16) and we should not have to wait a week to seek forgiveness. Prayer is immediate. We can "repent... and pray" at any time (Acts 8:22).
- The Lord’s Supper is not private. Jesus tells us, "When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your heavenly Father in secret" (Matthew 5:6). Common sense tells us that this is a much more appropriate and opportune way of seeking forgiveness than at a public meeting.
- The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice. The sacrifice for sins was the flesh and blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19,20). The bread and the fruit of the vine are emblems, not the actual body and blood. The emblems are not the sacrifice. The sacrifice was what the emblems represent. The Lord’s Supper helps us to remember and proclaim the sacrifice that Christ made. That sacrifice, however, was made "once for all" and Christ does not need to "offer himself often" (Hebrews 9:11-14,26).