This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage and dialogue with the ELCA's teaching theologians. The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.
When it comes to the Christian understanding of salvation — that we are declared right with God (justified) not by works or choices but by grace through faith on account of Christ — human beings just cannot believe their ears. It sounds too good to be true.
A former student at a Lutheran seminary, a recent Lutheran, told of how at age 15 she had confessed her sins to a priest who gave her a list of works to do. She never did them and, as a result, lived constantly with that guilt. Invited by a college friend to worship in a Lutheran congregation, she was confronted with the confession of sin at the outset of the service. All of her guilt flooded back.
But then the pastor turned around and said, "I announce to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The student blurted out for the whole congregation to hear: "Is that it?"
That's it! In the unconditional absolution, in the waters and word of baptism, in the Lord's Supper and in the sermon — as well as in all those examples of "mutual conversation and consolation" (as Martin Luther called it) where fellow Christians strengthen one another in the faith — God justifies us (makes us right with God). God does this by forgiving, encouraging and comforting us with unconditional statements of love.
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