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An Easter Message From Our CLC President —

No “I” In The Gospel

“Why are you saved?” asks the teacher. The student responds, “Because I believe.” I suspect that that is not an unusual response. With deeper probing the teacher can ascertain that the student understands that the answer is incomplete. “I am saved because I believe in Jesus.” This teacher does not accept that answer, at least without further explanation.

So then how is one saved? “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that having been justified by His grace, we should become heirs to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-6).

Notice in that verse the complete lack of personal merit. I am not saved because “I” did anything. I am saved through the love of “God our Savior” — God the Father who sent His Son; God the Son “who gave Himself” for me (v. 14); and God the Holy Spirit who has regenerated and renewed me. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Again, note the lack of any reference to “I.”

There is no “I” in the Gospel. You will, however, find “me” in the Gospel. “Me” as the object of the redemptive love of God the Savior. So then, when I say that “I am saved because Jesus has died for me, and through His resurrection has made me partaker of life,” I am giving credit where credit is due. By grace I am saved!

But is it not necessary to believe in Jesus Christ? Surely it is. But I am not saved because I believe. I believe because I am saved! Had God not sent His Son, had the Son not died and risen again, had the Holy Spirit not worked regeneration within me, working faith in my heart, I would not be saved. The fact is that the very statement “I believe because I am saved” testifies to the existence of faith.

But the whole matter is academic if Christ did not rise from the dead. “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain . . . you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14-17). But Christ is risen. And that is the message which the Church is to proclaim without deceit or qualification. What a wonderful privilege!

Words are meant to mean something. However, if they have been emptied of their meaning they are useless. Today, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus” does not necessarily mean the same thing to all who hear, or even to all who make the confession. Recently one involved in the so-called “Jesus Seminar” said he believed in the resurrection. He said, however, that it was a resurrection “within the heart” — whatever that means.

Scripture, and every true Lutheran, does not equivocate. We believe and we teach that the Lord Jesus Christ actually, physically, and bodily rose from the dead. His body is not moldering in the grave! To suggest anything else, or even to allow the possibility, means that whatever Gospel is being preached is a different Gospel than that which has come down from heaven. The Gospel is not the Gospel without the living Christ.

The tragedy is that they who have been fed another Gospel are left with nothing more than to say, “I am saved because I believe.” And even if they be pressed to say, “I believe in Jesus,” they yet believe in vain if the Jesus in whom they believe is not risen from the dead. In the first statement one emphasizes “I.” That is work righteousness. In the second instance, they are worshiping a corpse. The dead cannot save the dead!

So the question again. Am I saved? Yes, because Jesus Christ, God’s Son “has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that I should be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness; even as He is risen from death, lives and reigns to all eternity . . .

As I write this I think of how elementary and simplistic this message must sound to many in Christendom today. Surely the president of a church body should have a more profound statement for the Church, or at least lay out an agenda for the church as it moves toward the 21st century. Surely he should have a message for the world. Ah, but he does, and we do! You have read it. “I have not saved me. Christ has saved me.” Blessed are they who so believe.

And if any are looking for a commitment of this church, it is simply this, that we shall continue to preach and teach the Gospel without an “I.” “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8).

May each who reads this find joy in Christ, and confidence unto salvation in the resurrection of Him who said “Because I live, you shall live also” (Jn. 14:19).

–Daniel Fleischer