Thursday, November 1, 2007

Who takes the first step in salvation?

The question has been raised in several venues recently whether when a person comes to church, if they are taking the first step in coming to God. Similarly, it has been asked that if God is taking the first step, then is He not working outside of the Means of Grace? Since Lutherans teach that God has only promised to work salvation through the Means of Grace, and by grace alone, the interplay of answers to these two questions becomes complex.

1. Does God work apart from the Word and Sacrament? Certainly He does, but only according to His Law! According to His grace, He has only promised to work through Word and Sacrament, but according to His Law, he is at work in all things. This is why they're called the "Means of Grace." God has only given specific promises regarding how he will work according to grace, not according to Law. Look at the Old Testament. God is given the credit for numerous events in the history of Israel and the world without doing so through Word and Sacrament, but He is not doing any of it according to His grace. It is much like natural and special revelation. Can we see that there is a god through nature and that he is powerful? Yes, but we cannot know anything about His identity or His grace apart from the Scriptures. Similarly, God is certainly present everywhere and in control over all things, but only present to work according to His Grace through the Word and Sacraments.

2. In addition to being driven by Law to a church through tragic events or through realizing his sinfulness, a person would not know to go to the church unless he had heard some word of Gospel, no matter how simple, or else why would He look to the church? Certainly this is not saving faith, for that cannot be unless the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross is articulated, but certainly whatever promise or hope the man heard from his neighbor, even if only a vague summary, such as that the Church has the answers to his problems or the fulfillment of his needs, is drawing Him to the Church to hear the preaching of Christ. If he will be saved, He must then hear of the forgiveness of sins through the Word of the Gospel and receive that Word made visible in Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

In all things, God gets credit for salvation. He works according to His Law to drive men away from security in their sin and toward Himself, and He works according to His Grace through the Word and Sacraments to forgive sins and give eternal life and salvation.