Editor’s note: This post is part of a series, “Counseling and Communion.” This series of posts will examine the Lord’s Supper in relation to reconciliation, sanctification, and the hope of the gospel. Find the first two posts in this series below:
- Counseling and Communion — The Lord’s Supper and Reconciliation
- Counseling and Communion — The Lord’s Supper and Sanctification
We’ve seen thus far how the Lord’s Supper urges believers to pursue reconciliation and sanctification.¹ Now we’ll see how the Lord’s Supper not only incentivizes those pursuits, it also properly frames them. The Table encourages us to repent of all our personal and interpersonal sins as it encourages us to view them in light of the cross. The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly notes that repentance comes (in part) from “apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ” (Chapter 15, Article 1). For all who come with a broken heart and contrite spirit about their sin (Ps 51:17), the Lord’s Supper is for them, because the gospel is for them.
Ongoing repentance of sin befits the Lord’s Supper because it tells the truth about the gospel. The exhortation to “unleavened” celebration of the “festival” (1 Cor 5:8) is grounded upon this glorious truth: “you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (5:7). In other words, pursue righteousness because you really are counted righteous by God in Christ. Reconcile with your brother because you really are reconciled to God (and one another) in Christ.
What a joy to teach this to your counselee. “About that sin you’ve committed against God and your brother: God offers a full pardon and payment of debt. It’s true. And the Lord’s Supper invites you to believe it. Contrary to your past and present experience, that sin doesn’t have to have a stranglehold on your life. Can you believe that? Take the Lord’s Supper banking on the truth that Jesus ‘gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works’ (Titus 2:14). When you eat the bread and drink the cup, believe that this really is all true for you, just as surely as the bread and drink disappear into your body.”
Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians that communion is a “participation in the blood of Christ” and a “participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16-17). Minimally, this “participation” language means that whenever I take the elements, it represents my personal share in Christ’s death. His blood and body really do apply to me. When I take the Lord’s Supper, it’s a dramatic representation that I have already passed through the divine judgment due me for my sin. On the other side of the cross where I died with him, I now enjoy fellowship with God, a divine declaration “righteous,” real freedom from sin’s power, and am adopted as a beloved son.
Encourage your counselees to meditate on these gospel truths leading up to the Lord’s Supper. Your sin’s penalty fully paid by Christ (Col 2:13-14). Your sin’s power fully broken in Christ (Rom 6:11). Exhort them to believe these things, not on the basis of how they performed this past week (or month, or year, or decade), but solely on the basis of what God’s Word says about the poured-out blood and crushed body of Jesus. Christ came to save sinners! The Lord’s Supper can help your counselee grow to see that truth more and more as trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance (1 Tim 1:15).
When you finally get a counselee to live out of a Galatians 2:20a mindset — “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” — a Galatians 2:20b lifestyle is sure to follow: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Instructing your counselee to prepare to take the Lord’s Supper is another opportunity (a powerful one) to encourage them to believe and relish and hope in and live out of the gospel. Isn’t that the ultimate answer to everything your counselee may be struggling with?
In the end, teaching counselees to take the Lord’s Supper worthily and well admonishes them to lay aside the sins which cling so closely and run the race with endurance (hence, the recurrent nature of Lord’s Supper), looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:1-2). They’re exhorted to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). As they do that, they’ll “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God” (Heb 12:15) because they’ll be holding fast to God’s grace in Christ through ongoing faith and repentance.
Instruction in worthy participation is just another way to tell your counselee what you’ve probably been telling them all along: You just need to lay hold of your salvation in Christ. It’s another way to prescribe that same-old solution to all their common-to-man sins: Repent and believe the gospel. What Jesus did really is enough for you to be forgiven and free. Walk in it (Col 2:6).
The Lord’s Supper is a pretty good idea, isn’t it? Of course it is! The Lord himself established the Lord’s Supper and commanded its ongoing observance. He knows his own, and he knows what they need. Incorporating this instruction into your counseling ministry is part of doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way.
- We have evidence the early church probably understood Lord’s Supper preparation similarly. Consider these lines from the Didache, an early Christian writing that may have been written as early as the end of the first century: “On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who has a quarrel with a companion join you until they have been reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be defiled.” (Translation by Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 365, 367). Notice the prerequisite for “breaking bread” together with the church when she meets on the Lord’s day: repentance — “having first confessed your sins” — and reconciliation — “let no one join … until … reconciled.”
After examining the pertinent passages in 1 Corinthians, Hamilton offers this summary application: “Perhaps, then, abstention from partaking of the Lord’s Supper should be limited either to a recognition that one is unrepentant on some point, or to a situation in which one must be reconciled to a brother — something that cannot be handled before the rest of the body partakes.” Hamilton, “The Lord’s Supper in Paul,” 98.
Want content updates by email?
Visit our subscription page to select what type of content you would like to be notified about!