By His Word, God gives salvation. In Baptism, God regenerates us. Through Holy Communion, we receive Christ’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins. The means of Grace, however, do not in and of themselves do these works. Not all who hear the Word have salvation. Not all who are baptized live in the new nature. Not all who taste the bread and drink the fruit of the vine are forgiven. For God’s promises to be effective in our lives, we must live by faith. To fully grasp this truth, we need to understand the nature of faith, the reality of death, and the obedience that comes by faith.
There are two kinds of nouns. Concrete nouns are the things with which our senses can interact. We can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch concrete nouns. Abstract nouns are the ideas and harder to define intangibles inside us. Such is faith. A primary point of our relationship with God is that “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17 NASB). We define faith first as something God gives to us. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). We also define faith by its synonyms. The Bible writers used one word where we can use three. Faith is belief. Faith is also trust. To have faith is to believe God’s promises are true. To have faith is to trust that what God says is trustworthy. Faith is necessary if we are going to live in God’s declaration of the forgiveness of our sins. We use God’s gift of faith to trust that His promises are true.
There are branches of Christianity that teach one cannot lose salvation. While we understand how this conclusion may be reached, as Lutherans we respectfully disagree. Jesus warned, “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matthew 24:10). The Apostle Paul also warned, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). You may have heard someone suggest that they are saved because they were baptized even though they are living a life of deliberate sin. We do believe the baptized are saved, but we also believe that when “the evil one comes and snatches away” or when “affliction or persecution arises,” or when “the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word” the saved can lose salvation (Matthew 13:18-23). In order for the promises God gives in the Word and Sacraments to be real of us, we must continue to live in faith.
So there is a tension. We have faith only because God gives it to us as a gift. We need to live in faith if God’s promises are effective in our lives. We need to be obedient to the transformation faith creates in us while at the same time understanding that we are not saved by our obedience. We can lose our salvation if we fall into unbelief, but we don’t have to be afraid of falling away as long as we believe. We were set free from our slavery to sin and death when we were invited to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus through baptism. Our old nature was put to death, and a new nature was raised to life in its place. So, we are also encouraged to live in the new nature so as not to place ourselves back into slavery to sin and death by being deliberately sinful (Romans 6:12-16). We live, then, in the tension and can conclude with the Apostle Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
“But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4b). The gift of faith makes it possible to trust God’s promises. The gift of faith is the gift of life. The gift of faith leads us in living what is right. Faith is a necessary part of our relationship with God.