Saved by grace?
Ask a Pastor
In the short time that I’ve been a Lutheran, I keep hearing that we are saved by grace through faith. But what does that mean? Our denomination isn’t labeled evangelical, but we have the word in our name. So do we have to say a special prayer or just believe? Have a relationship with God? I’m really confused. — Cory, a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Romeoville, Ill.
Ron: Dear Cory, I’m glad you keep hearing “that we are saved by grace through faith.” Those words come right out of Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” So, if we go with the idea of a gift, then it is all about receiving and acknowledging the gift. The gift was given to you because someone — in this case the Holy One — loves you and cares for you. Your part in all of this is to “live” in the giftedness of God’s love for you. Now, what does that mean? It means that life is a process of celebrating God’s “Yes” to you as you let your light shine by saying “Yes” to God. The word “evangelical” means good news. What better news is there than that one who was lost has now been found? That one who was blind now sees? The good news, or gospel, tells us “what has been done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.” The bad news, or law, tells us “what we have to do.” Grace is Jesus saying to us, like he said to Zaccheus, “I want to come and have dinner with you at your house today.”
Anne: Great questions, Cory! The word “evangelical” is an important part of who we are and how we live out our faith as Lutheran Christians. It means that we are messengers of the gospel, called to share the good news of Jesus with our words, our actions, everything we do. An essential part of that good news is that we are “saved by grace through faith apart from works.” We tend to repeat that formula a lot, maybe too often without explanation of what it means.
The first thing to know is that we are “saved.” Being saved means being forgiven of all our sins, being loved unconditionally by God, and being freed from sin and death so that we can forgive and love everyone around us. It’s not just about where we’re going after death; it’s a promise and a love that is central to this life, too.
When other Christians ask, “Are you saved?” you can answer a confident, “Yes.” But being “saved” might mean something very different to you as a Lutheran than it does to the person who is asking you the question. They might be thinking that being saved means you’ve done something: You’ve had a conversion experience where you decided to believe in Jesus, for example.
We believe that we are saved because of what God has done, not because of what we do. That’s what the “by grace through faith apart from works” part of the formula means. We are saved because Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again. That’s grace; it’s a gift from God, given completely freely and without us having to do anything on our own to earn it or deserve it. Our “works” — the good stuff we do — would never be enough to make up for our sin and to earn God’s love. But because of Jesus, that love is ours, no matter what. Faith itself is a gift from God, so even that isn’t something we do or something we earn, it’s something we’re given through the Holy Spirit.
For Lutherans, being evangelical means we are called to share this message with everyone: God loves you (and all creation) unconditionally, just as you are. Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and rose again to free you and to free the whole world from sin and death. Now that you know you are free, and loved and forgiven, you are called to be evangelical, too. Go out and share the good news, serve God, and serve all people.
Monica: Dear Cory, you ask such great questions, and I imagine many others are wondering the same things. Let me start with “grace through faith.” Martin Luther (after whom the Lutheran tradition is named) interpreted the Bible, specifically Romans 3:28, to say that God makes sinners righteous through their faith in Jesus Christ. Rather than earning salvation by doing good works and rituals, salvation is a free gift to anyone who believes. This, my friend, is grace. Thus, having a relationship with Jesus is important to experiencing God’s grace. Without Jesus there is no promise of resurrection and eternal life. In the deeply hurting world that we live, this good news is greatly needed. When we share Jesus’ love and grace, then we live into our Lutheran and evangelical identities.
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