A local church’s lawn sign states: “What Do I Have To Do To Be Saved? – Nothing”.
Really – nothing?!!!!
That was a Facebook post by a friend and parishioner that showed up in my feed and kicked off a Reformation Day discussion on Facebook about, what else, salvation and grace and faith. I couldn’t help but respond, and after the conversation had gone on for a few posts I asked for permission to reproduce it on my blog, because it really does get at the basics of Lutheran theology and some of the questions that it raises. So on this day when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door, here are the 7 Posts on Facebook (my posts are in italics, hers are in bold) . . .
Yes! That is the Good News on this Reformation Day. It is only when we stop trying to save ourselves, stop trying to earn God’s love and salvation, that we can realize that Christ did EVERYTHING needed for our salvation on the Cross. We don’t have to DO anything to be saved because it’s all been done for us! You could argue that to stop trying and to surrender is doing something, I guess. but it really is more “doing nothing” to be saved . . . That of course does not mean there aren’t things we should do (and not do) as saved people of God, but anything we do is in response to what God has already done for us, and adds nothing to our salvation (our good deeds are “filthy rags” – Isaiah 64:6 – when it comes to earning anything from God). Faith – and repentance – are not things we do, but rather things God creates in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Luther reminded us, we are saved not by works but totally by Grace through Faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thanks be to God! Happy Reformation Day!
Pastor Dave do we not have to follow Christ to be saved? Otherwise are atheists also saved?
We can only “follow Christ” after we have been saved. Our human nature is to rebel and reject God; it is through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are turned around. Again, not something we do or decide, but something God does in us. It is because we believe that salvation is all God’s work that we baptize infants. (Obviously Baptists and similar denominations would disagree with Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc. on this.) Saying that we must follow Christ to “achieve” salvation is like saying we have to obey the Ten Commandments to be saved – then no one gets saved because we will all fall short. Yes, we should follow Christ, yes, we should obey the Ten Commandments, but BECAUSE God has saved us, not to earn salvation.
I truly want to understand what you are trying to tell me. In order to be saved me must allow Christ in our hearts. Correct? Using again the example of the atheist, are atheists able to be saved? My understanding is no. My point is that we must do something in order to be saved which is to allow Christ into our lives. John 3:16
When infants are baptized, do they “allow Christ into their hearts?” Of course not, they’re passive participants. But does God impart faith and life through Baptism? Yes! (Again, Baptists, etc. would disagree.) Lutherans are very suspicious of “decision theology,” because if we have to “make a decision for Christ” or something similar then we are saying that Jesus didn’t accomplish everything needed for my salvation, there is still something I have to do. (That’s why you rarely see an “altar call” in a Lutheran church.) Luther would say it is our human nature – “the Old Adam” – that insists on taking credit for some part of our salvation. Like I said in my first post, you can argue that surrendering – that to stop resisting – is something we do . . . but it really is when we realize there is nothing we CAN do that we can apprehend that God has done it all for us. And that apprehending is not something we do, but rather a gift of the Holy Spirit. As for atheists, of course atheists can be saved! I was one once, and by the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, I realized (certainly I did not decide to believe – I really didn’t want to believe because then I would have to change, or more exactly God would change me) what Jesus had done for me. Can atheists who never realize that be saved? I don’t believe the Bible teaches universal salvation, but I also never say that God can’t do something. If we get to heaven and atheists are there, I’m going to rejoice with them! But . . . because I believe what Jesus said about being THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, I’m going to keep preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ because I believe it is the only sure way not just to eternal salvation, but to new life right now. And that Gospel – that Good News – is that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (not even a teensy bit!). —- This is an awesome discussion to have on Reformation Day, because it gets at the heart of Luther’s theology.
Pastor Dave Simpson thanks again for your input. I believe we are saying the same thing we are saved through our faith.
Yes! We definitely agree on the centrality of faith. Thanks be to God! Where there is a shade of difference, I think, is how much “input” we have on that faith. And various ideas about that are certainly present in Lutheran, and Christian in general, theology. So we can both be “right.” No one can totally understand how salvation “works” any more than we can understand how communion or baptism “work.” All we can do is trust God and God’s promises . . . in other words, have faith!
(NOTE: The title of this post is not meant to infer that my responses are what Luther would have written. For one thing he might have used more “earthy” language. What I mean is that Luther most certainly would have made use of Social Media if it had been available as he did the “new” technology of the printing press in his day.)
I had a message left on my answering machine about this one too. Lots of good discussion in our congregation. Glad you fielded this one also!
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