Lutheranism 101

Session Four: Salvation


God’s written word contains two primary “messages” – we call these Law and Gospel. Law tells us the wisdom and requirements of God – what we must do. The Gospel tells us the love and heart of God – what He did/does for us. It’s important to not confuse them.

The law serves to condemn us – proving that we “fall short” and can’t “fix” ourselves – we desperately need God’s love, forgiveness and salvation. The Gospel refreshes us and shows us that God DOES love, forgive and save us in Jesus Christ – and promises all His blessings; not because we are worthy but because we are loved! We CANNOT come to Him so He came to us in the person and work of Jesus. (Note that the Law has another purpose as well -: to show us how to live, for even if we CANNOT do so to God’s standard, nonetheless, our efforts make for a better life for others, ourselves and society. We’ll speak of this second use in our next session).

The Law

“You must be morally perfect just as your Father in heaven is morally perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

“You must be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 20:26).

“For all people sin and fall short of God’s requirements” (Romans 3:23).

“There is no one that does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12).

“By our efforts will no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“If salvation were through our keeping of the law then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21).

The Law reveals that we are fallen sinners, and that our own efforts – no matter how valiant – are not going to make us “right” with God. Indeed, even if we could suddenly be absolutely PERFECT – we’d just be doing our duty and it wouldn’t make up for all the times past when we were not.

Sin is anything short or variant to the Law (will) of God. We speak of “sins of commission” or doing what we should not (Galatians 5:19-21) and “sins of omission” or NOT doing what we should (Romans 3:12). Sins may be by our thoughts (Matthew 5:28), words (Matthew 12:36) or by deeds – again done or left undone. They may be intentional (Romans 1:32) or unintentional (Numbers 15:22-24) – it’s all still sin. While some make a distinction (mortal and venial, for example) the bottom line is the same: it’s sin. We are separated from God and we can’t “fix” it!

We also speak of “original sin.” This biblical concept (Psalm 51:5, John 3:6, Romans 5:12, Ephesians 4:22, Genesis 8:21) is that our “fallen” nature includes a “natural” inclination to self-centeredness and sin; there is now in our nature as certain “twistedness” or “spiritual illness” that is ours by virtual of our fallen nature. It’s “inherited” only in the sense that it is a part of our nature after the Fall (it’s in our “DNA” but not in a biological sense). If a man shoots his neighbor (an “actual” or “actualized” sin), that doesn’t just spring from nothing. There is a whole chain of “stuff” that led up to that act – going back to an ability to hate in his heart. In a sense, the “disease” is the original sin and the “symptom” is the actualization of that – rather like a cold is the disease and the cough is the symptom.

The Gospel

“God is love!” (1 John 1:8),

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life!” (John 3:16),

“God shows His love for us in that while we were enemies, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

“God saved us not because of deeds done by us but in virtue of His own mercy, that we might be saved by His grace” (Titus 3:5),

“For our sake God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing but it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

“Everyone that believes in Christ receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43)

“Sirs, what must we do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Acts 16:30-31

Our salvation is the result of GOD’S heart, will and work – not our own. Nor is this a mixture of our works and His works (synergism) so that Jesus is PARTLY the Savior and we are PARTLY the Savior, no, Jesus IS the Savior. We are to keep our hearts and faith focused squarely and only on Jesus who ALONE is THE Savior.

Ask yourself: “Who is the Savior?” If it’s Jesus, then it’s not you. And that’s good news! My salvation is not dependent on MY feeble, lacking, errant efforts but on the perfect Jesus – His life, His death, His resurrection.

JESUS (and He alone, there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved)
IS (really, actually)
THE (one and only, all sufficient)
SAVIOR (not just possibility maker or offer or helper)
We are saved by His grace and mercy, by His life and death and resurrection! Our faith, our rest, our certainty are in Christ! Our peace, our confidence, our certainty are in Christ!

It’s not a case of Jesus did His part (the part that actually saves no one) and we do our part (the part that actually means we go to heaven) and together, the job gets done. It’s NOT “Jesus opened the gate to heaven but you gotta get yourself through it.” It’s not “Jesus did 99% of it, you just need to do the remaining 1%.”

Sadly, that “Jesus Plus Me” view is pretty common, OUR works added to the requirements of John 3:16 so that it reads, “For God so loved the world so that those who do “X, Y and Z” will not perish but have everlasting life.” In that case, the key factor then is not Christ but our performance of “X, Y and Z” – not His work but our work, WE become the Savior, not Christ. And we must worry if we’ve done “X, Y and Z” well enough, if we’ve done enough, if we’ve done well enough, if we’ve been sufficient. IF we answer “NO” the result is a “terror of the conscience” so that we never know if we are forgiven or saved or heaven-bound or not. IF we answer “YES” the result is often a prideful, self-righteous, condemning modern-day Pharisee. We must not mix our works with Christ’s works, the cause of salvation with the fruit of salvation. The result is the “peace that passes all understanding” and love that isn’t selfish and self-serving but truly of God.

A word about faith…

“For by grace you have been saved through faith in Christ, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8 “We are justified by faith” Romans 5:1 “God justifies he who has faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 3:26 The word “faith” means to rely, to trust. In its use here, it means to rely on Christ for Salvation (and beyond). It is the means by which we embrace the promise and the work of Christ. Faith is not our doing, it is the ‘gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is not just (or even primarily) a cognitive or mental thing. Faith means to place our trust, our life in another – to rely. When we ride in an airplane, we may not understand how the plane flies – but we can board the plane and literally entrust our very lives to it. We may submit to surgery and to a surgeon whom we don’t even know and have no idea what will happen – literally entrusting our very life to him/her. Trust is a key factor in lives (to not trust is to be paranoid). For a Christian, we trust our soul and much of our life to God. In salvation, we trust in His works rather than in our own, we look to HIS perfect life rather than our sinful one, to His death rather than the one we deserve. We are placing our lives in His loving hands. While God can give faith “immediately” (as He did to John the Baptist before he was even born), NORMALLY He works through means. We call these “The Means of Grace,” “Tools in the hands of the Carpenter.” While in the broadest sense, these could be anything, we usually group them into “Word” and “Sacrament.” God working through the proclamation of the Gospel (“Word”) and through Baptism. Because MEANS are involved, we are involved by applying those (with love). Thus the Great Commission: (You) GO and make disciples of everyone, baptizing them… teaching them.”

Even in the 101 class, you need to know some Latin…

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, see also Romans 6:23, Titus 3:5, etc.). This places emphasis that our salvation flows from God’s heart – not ours. Grace is God’s unmerited, unconditional love. Grace means “getting what we don’t deserve.” It is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”

Solus Christus (Christ Alone). “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved” (Acts 4:12). “No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). Christ IS our Savior and our salvation. It’s CHRIST’s perfect live, CHRIST’s perfect sacrifice, CHRIST’s triumphant resurrection! Christ is the object of our faith. It is not how much we believe or how good we believe but in Whom we believe; our focus is on the quality of Christ’s work rather than on the quality of our faith; HE is our certainty.

Sola Fide (Faith Alone). “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:30-31. Also see John 3:16, Acts 10:43, etc.). This proclaims that His grace and salvation are embraced by God’s gift of faith. Faith means to trust or rely upon. It means to have active confidence or reliance especially upon something “unseen” or “unproven.”

Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone be the glory). This simply proclaims that God gets ALL the credit for my salvation. His works, not mine. He is the Savior, not me.

“For God so loved the world (Sola Gratia) that He gave His only begotten Son (Solus Christus) that whosoever believes in Him (Sola Fide) will not perish but has everlasting life!” Soli Deo Gloria!

A word about our works…

Salvation is not the result of OUR works but rather JESUS’ works. He is the Savior; we are not. Because JESUS is the Savior, it is His works that bring about our salvation – not ours (or else, we’d be the Savior!).

On the other hand, Scripture is clear that faith is never alone (James 2:17, Galatians 5:25, John 13:34, Philippians 2:13, Philippians 3:12-14). OUR works do not save us, but they result from our being saved – they are the result of our justification and not the cause of it. We love not so that God will love us, rather we love because God first loved us (Galatians 5:25, John 13:34, Hebrews 11:6). OUR works are not the cause of salvation but the result of salvation, and as such, are to accompany our lives as Christians.

We are saved by faith but faith is never alone.