How are we saved?

"The Pastor's Windshield" for Sunday, June 19, 2022

[Note: As the title for my pastoral articles, I’ve chosen “The Pastor’s Windshield.” As you know, windshields are much larger and more important than rear-view mirrors. Together, we’re going to look forward “through the windshield” to everything that the Lord has in store for us. I’ll use these articles to teach about the Bible and to share more about our ministry and direction for the future as a congregation. Thank you for reading!]

How are we saved? Hopefully a group of Lutherans can offer a solid, biblical answer to that question. However, before we explore the answer, let’s take a step back. A member asked me this week about a line in the Athanasian Creed which we confessed on Trinity Sunday. Near the end of the creed we confess, “At [Jesus’] coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds. And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”

There are some serious statements in this section of the creed. We don’t like to think about having to give an account of our deeds. And what about the part about those who have done good and those who have done evil? Are we saved by doing good and avoiding evil?

That’s exactly what many people believe. They hope that their supposed goodness is sufficient to earn them a place in God’s kingdom. Comparing themselves to others, they claim that they haven’t lived such bad lives and that they’re mostly good people. But again, is that how we’re saved? By trying hard to be good, at least most of the time?

The Bible does contain some statements that sound as if this is the case, but it’s also important that we read these within the wider context of Scripture. For example, Jesus says in John 5:28-29, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Jesus’ words are the basis for the statement in question from the Athanasian Creed. What, then, does Jesus mean by doing good? Some followers asked Jesus a similar question: “‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” (John 6:28-29) Then Jesus offers more Good News: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

God’s Word makes it clear that we cannot be saved by our own efforts. We are saved by believing in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life! Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it this way: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Passages like this one say repeatedly that we cannot save ourselves. We are saved by God’s free grace through faith in Christ. We are saved by His great gifts toward us of forgiveness and faith, but ultimately, we are saved by God’s gift of His only Son, our Savior Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the greatest good. The greatest good that we can do is not actually our work but the Holy Spirit’s. It’s believing in the One whom God has sent for us (John 6:29). The book of Hebrews tells us, “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith in God’s beloved Son is what God most desires to see in your heart and life. And because God poured out His Holy Spirit upon you in Holy Baptism, He does see that faith in you. Of course, faith in Jesus is not stagnant but living and active, for God has created us as His workmanship to produce good works – not to earn salvation but because of our salvation! 

God grant that your heart and life be filled with saving faith in Christ alone and with the fruits of that faith shown forth through what you think and say and do. 

Peace in Christ,

                  Pastor Kory Janneke