Saved by Works

By Jaime Nava

I had the crazy awesome privilege to baptize my daughter recently. I love baptisms in general. When it is my own kid, I’m over the moon. We had a number of visitors from both sides of the family to witness. It was awesome. Some of the members of the family come from different denominational backgrounds. Some are Roman Catholic. Others are Non-Denominational. I think there may be a Pentecostal in there somewhere.

The sermon strongly emphasized Baptism. While preparing to preach the sermon I was thinking about the response some people from a non-Lutheran background might have. Roman Catholics are cool with infant baptism. Many other denominations aren’t so much.

With the clear verses that support baptism’s salvific work (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:4-7) I find it somewhat boggling to think that it would be refused to a baby. The Bible says make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). It teaches that Baptism is circumcision, not of the flesh, but rather by and in Christ (Colossians 2:11-12). Sadly the clear passages are given short shrift while the unclear things take the forefront (e.g. Left Behind series as evangelical tool). So what’s the process behind rejecting Baptism (all Sacraments for that matter)?

It begins on the right track then goes off the rails. Only Jesus saves (although even this is more mouthed than believed where decision theology thrives, i.e. most churches in America). Since only Jesus saves, all works are bad. This tends to translate into something like this: If it looks Roman Catholic it must be bad because we all know Roman Catholics are the modern day Pharisees, right? …Right? The sad part is, once you throw out the Sacraments (and God’s clear Word) you also throw out the means of knowing you are saved. In order to find comfort the Evangelical mystic is left with only what’s inside. I need to be moved to know the Spirit was present (Translation: I need to feel emotional about something). I need to show the world I follow Jesus by an outward sign of an inward change. It becomes about me, what I feel and what I do to make God happy. It’s sadly ironic.


That being said, it’s important to understand that we are saved by works. Baptism is a work. Confession and Absolution is a work. The Lord’s Supper is a work. That’s the case for the Sacraments. They are all works and they all save. There is one important key to all of this, they are works, yes, but they are God’s works. They are commanded in scripture and they also provide eternal goods. They are God’s Word connected to a physical thing that provide forgiveness of sins because that what God said they provide. That’s the basic definition of a Sacrament. They are a holy work of God Himself where He promises all the good and eternal things that you can in fact take with you.

Without being saved by these works we are left to our own devices. We determine who is in the Church by who speaks gibberish. We determine who is in the Church based on how good they have been, how much beer they’ve abstained from, how gay they stopped being, or some other thing that isn’t really a proper measure of salvation. Without God’s works we’re left with our own. We are in fact saved by works but they belong to God. They are commanded in His Word. They provide comfort for terrified souls. They give hope in the midst of loss. They are Jesus actually in our midst, miraculous and life-giving. Without these things, we are left with our own works and those are no measure for salvation. No, we are saved by Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and The Lord’s Supper. We are saved by works, God’s work.