“Salvation” also refers to the here and now and to the fullness of life that Christ (John 10:10) came to bring. Salvation is about wellness, balance and wholeness of life. It is about the healing of the whole person and the whole of creation. This was the result of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
As Christians of the Lutheran tradition we confess that baptism is necessary for our salvation (Augsburg Confession IX). What does that mean though?
First, we confess that God loved the world by simply creating it. In fact, we were created in God’s image to be in relationship with God and to live life with God. We were created good (Genesis 1), whole, well and balanced.
Second, we recognize that as human beings we wanted more than this. Like children, we wanted to be our own bosses, to be in control. We were dissatisfied with playing second fiddle. So we rebelled (Genesis 3) against our Creator. We separated ourselves from the Source of life and in the process found ourselves on a path leading to ongoing destruction and death (Genesis 4). As a result, all creation is in bondage to sin, death and the power of the devil and without ability to radically change our course so as to be saved from this.
Third, we confess that God’s love for his creation led him to work for our salvation, that is, the restoration of relationship with God and the fullness of life with him. The story of the Old and New Testaments is the unfolding of God’s salvation: the reconciliation and renewal of all creation.
This salvation plan came to fruition is Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Through Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh (John 1), God made us right while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). What we could not do through our efforts, God graciously did through Christ. This is what we call the “good news” or gospel.
This good news in Jesus Christ is the gift of God’s love to the world. It is the Voice inviting us back into relationship and back into life with God: our salvation – all that is good and whole and well.
This gift is announced to us through the Word. This Word of salvation through Christ Jesus comes to us in the Scriptures, in preaching, in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism and even as Christians share this Word in their day to day living.
This gift of God’s salvation in Christ is used by the Holy Spirit to bring about a change of heart, perspective and direction in a person’s life (John 3). In the midst of our bondage to sin, death and the power of the devil, the Holy Spirit works to set us free. However, this freedom requires that we let go and renounce (repent) the ways of evil and through the gift of faith trust God to lead us in the opposite direction, towards God and his kingdom.
Why accept this offer and others do not is the real mystery of faith and life. So many do not respond to God’s invitation and find themselves like addicts, more comfortable living in the happy highs of the brokenness, destruction and death of their rebellious existence.
To those, however, who respond in faith to this good news, the Holy Spirit calls and gathers them into the community of God’s people where God has promised to be present and promises to restore life. The celebration of God’s salvation – God’s finding the lost and reclaiming another part of his creation is what we call “baptism.”
In baptism God cleans up the lost (forgives – Acts 2:38), adopts them (Galatians 4:4-7) into his family, promises life everlasting (Romans 6:4) and sets them on a path of unfolding salvation: well-being, wholeness and life (Titus 3:5).
As Lutheran Christians we consider baptism as an integral part of our salvation. Jesus commanded it (Matthew 28:19-20) and promises salvation through it. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16…see also Titus 3:5).
It is not the water that saves us, but the water that carries God’s Word of promise and the gift of faith trusting in God’s promise in Christ Jesus.
Most certainly we can reject God’s promises either verbally or by walking in the opposite direction that God is calling us to. As Mark 16:16 points out, baptism apart from a life of faith is nothing, but with faith baptism becomes the life we live: Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3-4).