Q: Why do we say we can find forgiveness of sins and salvation in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? In Hebrews chapter eleven we are told that the Old Testament people appropriated God’s free gift of salvation by faith. They had the Word but not Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to depend on. I do not believe that God is a changing God in that he saves some people one way and others another way.”
A: Both Old and New Testament people were/are saved in one way: through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The words of the Apostle Paul clarify this: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (a description here of the entire Old Testament). This righteousness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference (such as, between Jews of either Old or New Testament times and the Gentiles at the present time), for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).
But in the New Testament God has instituted certain means we call “sacraments” as further ways he continues to bring Christ’s forgiveness to people. We say “further” because God already has placed this kind of power in the written and spoken Word of the Gospel. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not set up in opposition to the Gospel, but are “visible ways” God’s Gospel is applied. The power of regeneration in Baptism and the power of confirming faith as found in both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper come only because of the GOSPEL being connected with the outward elements. That Gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
We should not think this “mode of operation” is so foreign to the Old Testament. By the institution of circumcision and the celebration of the Passover in the Old Testament, God connected the message of his forgiveness of sins through the promised Messiah to these visible rites he intended the people to use. One also thinks of the account of Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah chapter six, where an angel touched his mouth with a live coal. In this “visible procedure” God’s forgiveness was said to be conveyed to tje newly commissioned prophet.
But more to the point: The reason we teach that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper convey forgiveness is because the Bible says so. You also should be convinced that God truly offers his forgiveness to you through your own baptism and through the partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in the Supper. There is no question that both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have this unique aspect about them. With regard to Baptism we read: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38). In Mark’s Gospel we are told that John came “baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). With regard to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said: “Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27, 28).
To the same degree that Christ’s cross is elevated in our hearts and minds concerning our eternal redemption so also the Means of Grace (the Word and the Sacraments) should be elevated. Why? There is for our souls no other connection to Christ’s cross than through God’s Word and Sacrament. This is where his forgiveness to you and me is found.
A statement from our Lutheran Confessions also addresses itself to your question: “Just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same. . .” (Ap, Art. XIII, 4).