Several years ago I had the privilege of calling on a dying man. The doctors had told him he had three days to live. He had four. He was not a member of the church but his wife was. She called me and asked me if I would come to the hospital and visit him. I said sure.
When I arrived it was obvious that he was a very troubled man. He was not sure about his salvation. I quoted some Gospel Bible verses to him Jn 3:16, Eph 2:8-9, etc and also “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
(1 Jn 2:2). I said, Ted (not his real name) that means that all of your sins are forgiven too. Every, last one of your sins have been paid for by Jesus. He squeezed my hand (which we were already holding) and with a smile on his face and tears running down said: “Thank you pastor, thank you pastor…about 6 times or more.” I read some more Gospel passages and he did the same thing again.
As Lutherans we believe Scripture teaches that we are not saved by a decision to accept Jesus into our hearts. The Gospel is what brings us to faith and saves us. The Bible says: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom 10:17). And St Peter: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”
(1 Pet 1:23). We believe what Luther said in his Explanation to the 3rd Article: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”
This is not some kind of “pie in the sky” doctrine that only theologians talk about in their ivory towers but has no practical value. For Ted it was also very practical. For him the Gospel was the “means of grace” the transportation vehicle that transported him into the Holy Christian Church. The Gospel was not just information for him to say either yes or no to, to either accept or reject. For him the Gospel was both information and transportation. The Gospel gave Ted the faith to believe the self-same message that it proclaimed.
But Ted showed Christian Doctrine practical in another way too. He began to do good works. They were not done out of coercion or reluctantly. His works were done spontaneously and flowed from his heart. I’m sure Ted did not even realize he was doing good works.
When I read those Gospel passages to him he began to love God, the first table of the Law. As he thought about his loving and forgiving God he began to weep out of love for Him. For as St John writes: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). And he loved his neighbor too, the second table of Law. He showed his love for me when he squeezed my hand repeatedly and said “thank you Pastor”.
The Gospel made Ted into a fruitful Christian. He began to bear the fruits of the Spirit that St Paul speaks of in Gal: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22, 23). His heart was filled with joy. His face was beaming and he looked at me and the others and smiled several times. Turmoil described Ted when I first walked in but what change now. Now he was calm and peaceful. He began to talk about other things and even cracked a couple jokes. He was at peace with God because now he knew and believed that all sins were forgiven in the Lord Jesus. The fear of death was gone now and replaced by love for God and his neighbor. As the Apostle John writes in his first letter: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 Jn 4:18).
Ted showed that Lutheran doctrine is not only Scriptural but also practical. He died four days later. He never became a member of the church. We didn’t have time for all that. But I did his funeral and I am sure that Ted is in heaven today because he believed that all his sins are forgiven in Christ.Rev Ron Pederson is pastor of First Lutheran Church, Suttons Bay, Michigan