Minister Speaks: The fruits of faith through the means of grace
Sometime back, as I was preparing to pay for some items at the counter of a convenience store, I met a man who came in to pay for gas and purchase a lottery ticket. As he was leaving the counter, he winked at me and said, “You’ve just ‘gotta’ believe.”
Well, I don’t know exactly what it was that he believed… I suspect what he was calling belief wasn’t much more than wishful thinking. The lottery no doubt had him thinking more about “the good life” than eternal life, but- had he been talking about eternal life- I would have agreed with him 100 percent.
You’ve just “gotta” believe. For we all have it on the best authority, if you want to be saved from sin, death and the power of the devil, faith is a prerequisite…you DO “gotta” believe. St. Paul said as much in his letter to the Church of Rome, “…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Yes it is true that “faith saves.” Remember the story in Luke about Jesus being invited to eat at the Pharisees house, when a woman of the city, aka a “sinner” who had brought an alabaster jar of fragrant ointment to the dinner, began to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, dry them with her hair and then anoint them with the oil she had brought? The Pharisee who invited him was aghast that Jesus would let the lady do what she was doing, but Jesus justified his actions to the Pharisee with this story:
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain money lender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii to one, and fifty to the other. When they could not pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
He said to Simon, “You have judged rightly.”
Then, turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Then those who were at table with him, began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:41-50)
There it is again…if you want “saved,” You “gotta” believe! However, that raises two important questions. First, what exactly is it that you are supposed to believe, and where does that faith or belief come from?
In the third chapter of John, the Apostle tells us we’re to believe in Jesus Christ, saying, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (14-18)
The author of the book of Hebrews confirms John’s pronouncement when speaking of Jesus. He says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (4:12)
Where does the faith to believe in Him come from?
St. Paul succinctly told the Church of Rome, “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Not only is the Word of Christ the source of faith, it is also the object of it, as we see in the prologue to John’s Gospel when he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Yes, faith comes from the Word of God, whether that word is written, preached, proclaimed through absolution or offered with visual elements in the divine sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In His Word, Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit, who creates within us the faith required to trust in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior. Saint Paul confirms that saving faith is a gift of God when he says, “(For) by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Dear friends, as I said, the faith that saves us comes to us through the Lord’s Word and Sacraments, otherwise known as His Means of Grace. These are the conduits through which He has chosen to bring us the faith that saves us. Although some people wrongly contend that the Word of God, as delivered through the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper, is not efficacious but merely symbolic. Early Church theologians such as Chrysostom, Mopsuestia, Ambrose and Augustine disagree. They collectively point out that systematic sacramental theology sees the sacraments as outward visible signs marking the presence of an invisible, but nonetheless, genuine grace.
To understand the mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, one must study them with the eye of faith, attending to what the Lord promises rather than what human senses perceive. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the indication, by means of signs and symbols, of invisible and ineffable realities.
Thus, in Baptism water washes the body while the soul is cleansed by the Spirit. While in the Eucharist, what is perceived after the consecration is only a sign of what is actually there. Augustine places particular stress on this contrast when he declares, “The sacrament itself is one thing, and the power of the sacrament another.”
Elsewhere he writes, “They are called sacraments because one thing is seen in them, another understood. What is seen has a bodily appearance, but what is understood has spiritual fruit. In Baptism the water serves as the sacrament of the grace imparted, but the grace itself is invisibly operated by the Holy Spirit.”
In view of all that, let us leave the means by which God delivers His gifts to mankind, and enjoy the fruits of faith per His instruction.
Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Take eat, take drink, this is the body, this is the blood, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins. So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. To God be the Glory. Amen.
In His Service, and Yours, Pastor Mike