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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

25 June 2006

Getting Saved

Q: What steps do I have to take to be saved? I started going back to church about two months ago. I go every Wednesday and Sunday and I am learning more and more about God. I want to give my self to the Lord and would like to know what I can do to free myself of all past sins and get God’s forgiveness.

Philippian JailerA: While only few of instances are recorded in Scripture, Jesus and his disciples likely were regularly asked variations of your question.

We know that after hearing the message at Pentecost, many “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37)” Likewise, the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved? (16:30)”

Without exception, the answer was something along the lines of, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, (16:31)” or, “Repent and be baptized. (2:38)” If you are already baptized and if you believe in Jesus as your Savior, you not only are saved, but you also have saving faith and, in Baptism, have God’s holy Name placed on you and His claim staked on you.

The only people upon whom the Lord imposed the doing of works as a condition of salvation were those who truly thought they could save themselves. For example, the rich young man of Matthew 19:16-30 thought he was living a good life, yet valued his possessions more than a full faith relationship. Therefore, Christ added the burden of the full weight of God’s Law: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ (v. 21)” This crushed the young man and “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (v. 22)”

Similarly, in Luke 10:25-37, a “lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ (v. 25)” The Lord asked him what Scripture said and the man replied that wholehearted love for God and loving neighbor as self were what the Law demanded. Interestingly, Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live. (v. 28)”

Good SamaritanHowever, Christ knew that perfect obedience was impossible and obviously anticipated the lawyer’s next move: The man, “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ (v. 29)” Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, stretching the lawyer’s concept of love for neighbor far beyond anything he’d ever imagined and concluding by telling him, “You, go and do likewise. (v. 37)” So it is for us — whenever we think we can justify ourselves or earn an inheritance, we discover God’s perfect Law always demanding more than we can do in order to achieve the perfection necessary for eternal life.

Therefore, I hesitate saying that you “must” believe or even that you “must” be baptized, since Baptism and saving faith are both gifts from God. Your very desire to be more completely in harmony with the will of God testifies to the faith the Holy Spirit has created in you through the Gospel of forgiveness. Wanting to “give” yourself to Christ indicates that He has already “taken” you through His Word and Spirit.

Likewise, you are already free of past sins which you’ve confessed to God, for all sins which He forgives He also forgets. If your sins are already placed upon Jesus, they no longer exist. Often, Christians prove themselves much better at forgetting the good and remembering the bad much better than is God. We recall sins that God has completely forgotten.

However, if you’re not sure whether your sinful past is forgiven, one simple task remains. Give God all your sins and trust in His word of forgiveness for Christ’s sake.

This is where those churches and pastors who practice and encourage individual confession might benefit the Christian. Instead of merely voicing our sins and trusting God to answer, we hear His words of forgiveness spoken by the pastor He has called to feed His flock and to forgive their sins. As Jesus said to His disciples, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld. (John 20:23)” He also told those called to preach the Gospel, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me. (Luke 10:16)”

The rest, as they say, is mere detail. As you realize more fully that you are saved and (re-)discover the magnitude of God’s love for you in Christ, you will be moved even more to reply in worship and in life. This is not you “doing” your salvation, but is the heartfelt response of a formerly lost sheep whom the Shepherd has already found and saved.

So let’s return to your initial question: “What steps do I have to take to be saved?” The simple answer is, “Not one.” Christ has taken all the steps, coming down from heaven, assuming human flesh, living a perfect life, dying a sacrificial death, rising again from the grave, forgiving all your sins, and calling you to be His own. As you remain God’s redeemed child, He will create and sustain in you the desire to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.... For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)”

This confession doesn’t save us in and of itself but rather testifies that we possess saving faith So worry not that you haven’t done enough or said enough. The apostle continues his encouragement by reminding us that “Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ ... For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (vv. 11, 13)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting saved ... my friend as a child of God, a brother of mine, we are already saved. Jesus saved us the day he died for our sins and then gave us Salvation. My friend, you are already saved and now you need to say a big thank-you to Jesus, confess all you have to him, be faithful upon his word, act in faith and be baptized in His spirit. Each night, before you lay down to sleep, kneel before God and from your faith in Jesus Christ delcare Him your Lord and Savior and when the day comes you will be saved.

14 January, 2007 23:18  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

Anonymous: "Jesus saved us the day he died for our sins...."

I believe I said that a couple paragraphs before the end of this post. And as a believer, I have, since infancy, been "baptized in His Spirit" and I'm less concerned with how I confess Him before going to bed than I am out in the world when I'm wide awake.

14 January, 2007 23:37  

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