Questions on Salvation
What does the Bible tell us about those with dementia or Alzheimer's? Will we see them in heaven? How do we know if they still believe in God's saving grace?
The Bible says nothing directly or explicitly about dementia and Alzheimer’s. Ironically, the strong majority of references to the aged, a frequent target of these diseases, view old age as a blessed time of life. The subject of the loss of mental capabilities through diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s does not surface in the Scriptures. I have heard the words of Jesus to Peter in John 21:18 applied to people suffering from this kind of malady, but in context the words refer to physical martyrdom, not disease or a loss of physical or mental capabilities.
Your primary concern is the really important one: do these diseases rob a believer of saving faith in Jesus Christ or give us cause for concern about their faith-life until death? Here we happily report that saving faith is not at all the same as mental knowledge, or the ability to memorize and articulate information about the Savior, or even the power to memorize and repeat truths about Jesus to other people. Faith is ultimately the product of the Holy Spirit who creates and maintains reliance on Jesus Christ in a person’s heart.
Usually this work of the God involves the accompanying use of a person’s mental and emotional abilities, as in the study and learning of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses the written and spoken gospel to give and sustain saving faith. But he is also fully able to work saving faith in infants and small children through the instrument of Baptism; and this divine, gracious working is beyond our ability to comprehend. It is also beyond our ability to discern or recognize with our senses. But because God promises that infants and little children can indeed be brought to saving faith (see Matthew 18:6,10 and Acts 2:38-39) we take him as his word and entrust the little ones to his care. Similarly, we do the same with those who have been rendered unable to express themselves or articulate their Christian faith as they once could.
Our convictions and comfort rest on divine promises rather than empirical evidences that this is so. God is faithful and will not abandon his people despite the ravages of disease.
A distinction needs to be made in answering your question. “Homosexuals” can refer to Christians who struggle with temptation to engage in same-sex sins. These individuals recognize the sinfulness of thoughts and actions that run contrary to God’s word that spells out that sexual relations are for men and women in marriage (Hebrews 13:4). They fight against those temptations. They confess their sins when they fall into temptation. They look to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of their sins and strength to fight temptation better in the future.
In contrast to these individuals are “homosexuals” who deny, ignore and rationalize their same-sex sins. They see no need to confess sins in this regard. It is people with this impenitent attitude that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). You notice that it is not a particular sin that characterizes people as “wicked” and bars them from the kingdom of God. It is impenitence.
Are Christians supposed to love homosexuals? Yes. Christians are to love people no matter what their characterizing sin might be. Why? Because it is pretty loveless to recognize the spiritual danger people are in by their sins and impenitence, and say nothing. If we love people, we will have every reason to point them to God’s law so they can recognize and confess their sins, and point them to God’s gospel so they can enjoy forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus who came into the world “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
As I understand, the Lutheran view is Faith=Salvation and Salvation brings about Good Works. The Roman Catholic view is that Faith + Good Works = Salvation. In both cases, you have Faith, Works, and Salvation. Why is the difference so important? I know Luther was concerned that he could not do enough good works, but that is not everyone's concern. I realize that this is a huge Lutheran/Catholic division, but it seems like a very small point. Why is the distinction so important, since we end up at the same point (with Salvation, Faith, and Works) in both cases? Thank you.
What an important question! You are correct in understanding that works enter into the teachings of both churches, but the motivation for doing those works is entirely different.
The teaching of the Bible is that we are saved only by God’s grace through God-given faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by God’s works, not ours (Titus 3:4-6). More than that, the Bible emphasizes that we can lose out on salvation by trying to add anything to Jesus’ saving work.
The book of Galatians addresses that very situation. A group called the Judaizers was telling the Galatians that faith alone was not enough for salvation, and that their obedience of certain parts of God’s law was also necessary for their salvation. The apostle Paul addressed that situation by condemning the teaching of the Judaizers and warning the Galatians that they were jeopardizing their salvation by thinking they could contribute to their salvation by their obedience of the law. Rather than pointing out specific passages from Galatians, I would encourage you to read the epistle’s six chapters to see how strongly Paul condemned the teaching of the Judaizers and pointed the Galatians to look to Christ alone for salvation.
Motivation for keeping God’s law, again, is the key to understanding the differences between official Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran Church teachings on the subject of salvation. The difference in motivation can be illustrated by asking: am I trying to keep the Ten Commandments to try to get something from God (forgiveness of sins, salvation) or give something to God (praise, gratitude)? If I’m trying to get something from God (as in contributing to my salvation), I will realize like Luther that I can never do enough. The law of God demands perfection, and all of us fall woefully short of that standard. If I’m trying to give something to God through my obedience to his law (giving him my praise and gratitude for his gift of salvation), then I understand the role of good works. Those works flow from saving faith and comprise a big “thank you” to God (Colossians 3:17). Thank you for your question.
What is the relationship between faith and good works? Are good works necessary for salvation, even if it's only indirectly?
Article IV of the Formula of Concord takes up your question in great detail. When Scripture says that God saves people who “do not work” (Romans 4:5), and that he saves us “not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9), “apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28), “no longer by works” (Romans 11:6), and “not because of righteous things we had done” (Titus 3:5), etc., the answer becomes clear. Our good works are not “necessary for salvation” in any way, shape, or form—directly or indirectly, wholly or in part, before or after we are saved, etc.
But this doesn’t make good works “optional” for a Christian. One reason is that God still commands them. The Bible’s teaching of justification by faith alone does not turn the 10 Commandments into the 10 Suggestions. Through our good works, we worship and glorify our Savior God (Romans 12:1-3). We show that our faith is alive and well in front of others, who can’t see our faith but can see the actions that faith produces (Matthew 5:16). And through our good works we love and serve other people.
As Lutherans like to say, God doesn’t need our works, but our neighbor does. “Good works are necessary for salvation” would be a false statement. “Good works are necessary” is true–not for salvation, but for plenty of other reasons.
I am currently working my way through the Book of Concord. As I read through the Creed of Athanasius I questioned the last part about giving account of our deeds and that those who have done good deeds will have eternal life and those who have done evil will go into eternal fire. Isn't this contrary to the basis of Christian faith of salvation through grace in Jesus Christ?
What a wonderful and worthwhile reading project you have! Your question is one that many people ask when they read the Athanasian Creed. Your question also demonstrates the value of providing an explanation—in the service folder or by way of verbal announcement—when congregations use the Athanasian Creed in a worship service.
The section of the creed you cited reflects the language of Scripture regarding God’s judgment of humanity (Matthew 16:27; John 5:28-29; Romans 2:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). God certainly judges what is in the heart. It is faith in Jesus Christ alone that saves, and it is unbelief that condemns (Mark 16:16). Salvation is entirely God’s doing; we do not contribute to our salvation in any way (Romans 3:28; Galatians 3:11; Ephesians 2:8-9).
What Scripture does explain is that saving faith and condemning unbelief manifest themselves in people’s lives. And so on the last day, the Lord will point out the good works that Christians have done and the sins that unbelievers have committed (Matthew 25:31-46). Those good works of Christians were not the payment for their salvation; the good works were the evidence of Spirit-worked saving faith in Jesus who paid the penalty for their sins. The sins of unbelievers will be singled out because they rejected the only means of forgiveness for their sins.
What the parable of the sheep and the goats illustrates is that God will demonstrate how fair a judge he is. He judges what is in the heart. A person cannot see into the heart of another as God can, so God will provide the evidence for the judgment of the heart that he made.
Once again, that parable shows us that on the last day no sins of believers will be brought up. That is because there are no sins to bring up; Christians enjoy complete forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. On the other hand, the sins of unbelievers will be mentioned because they cannot do good works (Romans 14:23) and, because they have rejected the only means of forgiveness, their sins condemn them.
We could think of the section in the Athanasian Creed (“Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.”) this way: “Those who believed in Jesus as their Savior—and saving faith always produces visible fruit—will enter eternal life, but those who rejected Jesus—such people cannot perform good works, nor do they enjoy forgiveness of sins—will go into eternal fire.”
Keep up your reading and study!
You are asking a question that is often asked and that fills us all with strong emotions. And perhaps the reason why it is so often asked is that the Bible does not explicitly give us an answer, and we then end up emotionally dissatisfied. We rejoice at every mention of people being baptized and receiving the promises of faith and forgiveness and hearing the gospel and being brought to trust Jesus and becoming citizens of heaven. We also grieve because so many in this world do not enjoy these blessings and feel particularly bad when we could not apply the gospel to some people like miscarried or stillborn children.
Regarding miscarried children we must affirm that they, like everyone else, were conceived in an inherited sinful condition and need forgiveness to be saved. We also affirm that Christ is the only revealed Savior for all mankind, regardless of the specific circumstances that prevail from person to person. On the basis of clear Scripture, then, we understand that they need faith in Christ and that faith in Christ is given by God through the Gospel. In saying this we do not wish to be understood as saying God could not create faith in people’s hearts aside from the gospel (recall the amazing work of the Holy Spirit with John the Baptist when he was still a fetus, Luke 1:41-44), or could not have devised other ways and means for doing it if he had seen fit to do so. We merely report that God throughout Scripture reveals that he works through the gospel to create faith and that this faith is necessary for personal salvation.
It would be presumptuous for us to assume that miscarried children are nevertheless headed for heaven. This idea is not based on Scripture. It is quite popular and emotionally pleasing, of course, and we fully understand the motives in adopting such a position. However, we bind ourselves to Scripture alone for doctrine and simply say that there are things we do not fully understand and cannot fully explain — and this subject is one of those. To say it bluntly, here we are in the realm of the unsearchable judgments of God. That is where we should leave this kind of speculation.
We are given the assurance that God is a compassionate God, whose judgments are fair. “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. . . . He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him” (Psalm 103:8-11). We make this the basis of our convictions about what is fair or not fair; whatever God does is fair and right, and good. What “seems fair” to our limited minds and emotions is not to be made the standard of truth.
The way a person seeks to respond to a question like yours tells us a lot about how that person does theology. If we limit ourselves to Scripture alone, we do not have a lot to say. We will stress what God has graciously revealed to us and admit our limitations. And we will recommit ourselves to witnessing and the support of mission work. But if we are willing to manufacture other answers that strike us as reasonable or emotionally satisfying, lots of ideas are possible. I sincerely pray that we never take that route, but commend these issues to the gracious Lord who will answer our questions when we get to glory. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
Hi there. I am inquiring into the WELS Lutheran faith. I know that different denominations have different meanings for saving faith. The Catholic Church's teaching is believing everything the Catholic Church teaches. Baptists say it is the sinner's prayer asking Jesus into your heart. Others teach having a one on one personal relationship with Jesus. But I know the Lutheran Church teaching is faith in Christ. Could you describe what saving faith actually entails? I want to become a Christian right now. I have never been to church a day in my life. Thank you so much!
Saving faith is a complete reliance upon Jesus Christ for salvation. When the panic-stricken jailer in Philippi asked, “What must I do to be saved?” he received the answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your whole household” (Acts 16:30-31).
Faith in Jesus Christ saves because that faith is attached to the One who lived a holy life in our place and who suffered the punishment our sins deserved. Jesus lived up to his name, which means “Savior.”
While saving faith consists of knowledge and one’s assent to that knowledge as being true, the most significant and important component of saving faith is trust and reliance on Jesus Christ alone for salvation and not on our works of the law.
God works Christian faith in people through his powerful gospel; Christian faith is a gift of God (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:8). No one decides to become a Christian.
Christian faith, finally, is living and active, on display in everyday Christian living (cf. James).
If you are looking for a WELS church in your area, the WELS Locator tool can help. When you visit a church, please speak to the pastor. He will be glad to let you know about the church’s Bible classes and worship schedule. God bless you!
How can one be a Christian and believe in Christ but still have problems with sin, sinful habits, and doubt? I know Scripture says that we become new creatures in Christ, but what if one does not feel like a new creature in Christ because of sin and spiritual doubts? Does this mean one is not meant to be saved or was never truly a Christian?
As you rightly say, the Bible affirms that believers are indeed “new creatures” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 2:10 use this kind of language. The Bible also affirms, as does our experience in living as believers, that we remain sinners with a sinful nature, weakness of faith, and spiritual challenges when we’re tempted to sin or doubt God’s promises. Passages like Romans 7:15-25 and Hebrews 12:1-12 testify to this ongoing reality.
You ask “how” this can be, and you seem to be making a logical deduction that if someone is “truly” saved or “truly a Christian,” then a kind of sinless perfection should immediately result in our thought patterns and lifestyles. That may be logical, but it is not biblical or true. It is a false conclusion to be cast aside. The Christian life is one of warfare against sin and Satan and against our own sinful nature that opposes God’s will and is indeed a terrific cross to bear this side of glory. This struggle is also used by God for disciplinary purposes to further our progress in Christian character and endurance when coupled with an active use of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Historically, some have emphasized the passages about our being “new creations” to the exclusion of those passages that speak of our continuing sinfulness (despite our being justified or forgiven in Christ) and have taught a kind of so-called “perfectionism” or “complete sanctification” set of ideas. We believe that is false. Instead, we teach that ALL Bible truths are to be received and embraced rather than adopting some while denying or distorting others. We heartily invite you to accept the same understanding.
Above all else, focusing on your final words, we urge you to stop thinking you are not a true believer simply because you still contend with weaknesses and sins on a daily basis. Continue to focus on Christ’s perfect work on your behalf, rejoice in the unconditional declaration that you are 100% forgiven for his sake, and do not see your sins as clear evidences of unbelief. A focus on Christ and the unconditional good news of his saving work will also strengthen you in your daily battles against sin. We do not expect perfection this side of heaven, but we do expect and may enjoy progress and growth in godliness.
We have friends and family members who believe that homosexuality, abortion, living together without marriage, being a Christian Scientist and other things against God's word is fine. My husband believes that as long as they believe that Jesus died for their sins, their salvation is fine. (Neither of us grew up WELS but have been members for 17 years.) I know it is by grace we have been saved through faith, but don't we need to live a Christian life to the best of our ability and believe God's word and all of his commandments? Do unrepentant sinners who have been led down these wrong paths of belief go to heaven?
Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). He did not say that part of God’s word or some of God’s word or most of God’s word is truth. He said all of God’s word is truth. For people to say otherwise is more than presumptuous; it is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). No word of Scripture can be dismissed as false; every word of Scripture is true because it is God’s word (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:14-16). Christian faith takes God at his word and believes what he says because he does not lie (Numbers 23:19).
False teachings and beliefs are always dangerous and threatening to saving faith, which looks to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. While we recognize that impenitent sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), we leave the judgment of people’s hearts to God (1 Samuel 16:7).
Your questions are a good reminder that you and I have reason to keep testifying to others of the truth of God’s word and praying that God will change their hearts. God help you do just that.
Hi! I am a high school student and lately I have been struggling with my faith. I do go to a WELS high school and went to a WELS grade school as well. However, I have been questioning my beliefs and whether or not Christianity is the true religion. I get scared whenever these thoughts form in my head, because I know that if I don't believe in Jesus as my Savior I will not receive eternal salvation. I wonder if God really exists sometimes. I am just struggling with my faith and would like some advice to get my firm faith in God back.
Through your elementary and high school education in WELS schools, you have received and are receiving a wonderful instruction in God’s word. Through classes and worship services the Holy Spirit has had numerous opportunities to work through the gospel to strengthen your faith. The result is that you do recognize that there is salvation only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Still, questions about the faith can arise. In one regard, questions about the faith are good and appropriate. Scripture provides this instruction: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). What we don’t want to do is take our faith for granted or take an approach that sees faith as hereditary: “My parents are Christians. I’m a Christian. They believe certain things, and I just believe what they believe.” We are to be Berean Christians (Acts 17:11), examining the Scriptures and seeing for ourselves what our faith is all about.
So, questioning faith in that context is good and appropriate. Questioning faith, as in doubting, is not good. You and I will want to recognize that the source of doubt is the ungodly trio of the devil, the sinful world and our sinful flesh. Those spiritual enemies want us to doubt the Christian faith and abandon the Christian faith.
What do we do? We turn to Jesus who came into the world to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah. One of those prophecies was: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). The Messiah was to be a person who would be compassionate toward the weak and the doubting, and bolster their faith. You can be confident that is Jesus’ attitude toward you. He wants you to be sure and confident about the Christian faith.
To achieve that end, God holds out his gospel in word and sacrament for you to use. So, especially now, dive into God’s word and be a frequent guest at the Lord’s Supper. Do recognize that doubts will decrease and faith will increase as God works in your heart through the gospel (Romans 10:17).
Finally, there is a practical matter to consider. I wonder if you are able to identify the times and sources when your doubts about Christianity arise. Is there a pattern? Are there triggers for doubt and uncertainty? Answering those questions might help you form a strategy in your journey through life as a Christian.
I’m glad you asked this question and I hope you received helpful information. Do speak with your pastor or high school adviser. They will not consider your situation unusual by any means. Rather, they will understand the struggles Christians of all ages experience, and do what they can to help. God bless you.
Even though I've attended a WELS church for 44 years, I have no peace that I will be saved. I see the horrific things being done to people around the world and then I see me and how easy I have it. I think of it kind of like survivor's guilt. Surely they will all be saved for having had to suffer in this lifetime, while I will suffer in hell when I die because I had it so easy. Help! I believe Satan is completely crushing my faith. How should my thinking be?
Trying to find a correlation between people’s earthly sufferings and salvation can lead a person to go in two directions. You went in one direction. Asaph went the other direction in Psalm 73. He looked around at the cozy, comfy lives of unbelievers and saw a huge contrast with his life of suffering as a child of God. He was confused until he recognized that people’s earthly circumstances are neither a sure indicator of their relationship with God nor a precursor of eternal conditions (Psalm 73:17).
If we are going to find a connection between earthly suffering and salvation, the person we need to look to is Jesus Christ. He is the one who suffered in the place of guilty sinners (Isaiah 53:4-6). That is the focus of our worship during this season of Lent. Jesus’ suffering, along with his active obedience in obeying the law of God in our place, is our focus throughout life. What we suffer or do not suffer does not contribute to our salvation.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but could it be that God in his wisdom and love has earthly suffering planned for you in the future? That is a possibility. But whether or not that suffering takes place, you can be at peace about your salvation. Why? Because you have the sure words and promises of God. Words and promises like: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist” (Isaiah 44:22). “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)
Look to Jesus. Stay connected to him through the Bible and the Lord’s Supper. Remember your baptism (Titus 3:4-7). It is through the gospel that God convinces us all the more of our salvation and equips us in the daily skirmishes with Satan (Ephesians 6:10-17). God bless you.
We state our position on this in This We Believe (IV, 9): “We reject the teaching that believers can never fall from faith (‘once saved, always saved’), because the Bible says it is possible for believers to fall from faith (1 Corinthians 10:12).”
In addition to the Bible verse listed, we could add Luke 8:13; Galatians 5:4; 1 Timothy 1:19; and, 2 Peter 3:17-18.
Those verses warn against self-confidence and the possibility of falling away from faith. We take those verses seriously. At the same time we cling to our God’s promise that he will guard and protect our faith to the end (John 10:28).