Though she had watched many years go by in her long journey of life, she possessed a gentle and joyous spirit. The wrinkles and creases of age in her face framed normally sparkling eyes and a quick laugh. She was one of the saints. She exhibited the “fruits of the Spirit” Paul talked about (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23) as naturally as anyone I knew. Yet, in this visit, she appeared troubled. When I asked why, she looked at me and asked, with great sincerity, “Pastor, am I saved? I mean, will God let me into heaven?” I answered, “Without a doubt. God loves you.”
In my mind, I was thinking that if this woman was on the outs with God, we were all in trouble. I was also curious – and a little furious – that something or someone had brought doubt into this woman’s life. I learned that some friend or relative (I don’t recall now) had told her that at her advanced age she better be sure she “was right with God,” that “she was saved,” and had “accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior.” She was told that her baptism as a child did not count, and hell awaited her if she did not act. I was now more furious than curious.
Perhaps you have had encounters of this kind. People, using language that is a little foreign to you, question your faith. They imply that they have the “keys to the kingdom” and that you have to have a relationship with God just like theirs or you’re sunk. My answer to all this is “Nonsense!” (Actually, my answer is more from the barnyard and a little crass…)
Long ago, people in Corinth started arguing over whose baptism was better, Paul, Apollos, or some other teacher. Paul put a quick end to the argument saying, “So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
Even more to the point, to assert that you must believe in a certain way, be baptized in a certain way, etc., is to, once again, trust not the gospel, but the law. We love to make laws (rules) that allow us to live under the illusion that we are in control of our relationship with God. The very core of our faith in the gospel is, again following Paul, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” (Romans 3:27-28) It is not about what you do, but about what God has done and is doing that makes us right with God. Grace is what saves, not your decisions. Thank God!
Perhaps the clearest announcement of grace and God’s love is John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Now some will point to this verse and say, “Aha! You must believe or God will not save you.” Then they will manufacture all sorts of rules and laws that define belief. More nonsense. To believe is to trust. That is faith. And even this faith is not something we can “accomplish.” Luther clearly tells us in the Small Catechism: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…”
I too have been asked if I am saved. The answer is, “Of course.” Some follow up with the questions, “When were you saved?” One answer is, “Every day.” Another I borrow from another pastor who used to respond to this question by saying, “I was saved on a hill outside Jerusalem in about the year 33 AD when my Lord died for all of us.” That I believe and trust more than anything else in this world because the Holy Spirit has granted me faith to recognize grace when it comes.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor