Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil-
Jesus saves sinners. This is one of the central tenets of our Christian faith. When this statement is spoken, though, it has a lot of unspoken assumptions about our understanding of these three words: Jesus, saves, sinners.
Sinners: The word Sinners is, first, not a description of a behavior or something that is done. Instead, it describes a fundamental state of being that is caused by a broken relationship with God. From this state of being—called sin—comes sinful behaviors that cause hurt and brokenness all around us. But it is important to note that it is not the behaviors first that are considered sin, but the sinful condition caused by a broken relationship with God from which those behaviors come. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that if I’m a good person who doesn’t do anything “bad,” then there is nothing wrong with me. For any one of us, we can see how this doesn’t work. Jesus reminded us that sinful actions come from thoughts, words, and deeds, not just what we do but what we ponder upon and what we say as well. But while we may try to reign in our thoughts, words, and actions, it is still that sinful condition, that broken relationship with God, that we cannot fix on our own. Our sinful condition is so bad that the Bible teaches us that we are spiritually dead apart from God. We need God to bring us back to life.
Saves: The theological term for this word is Justification. Scripture teaches that we cannot be justified before God by our own strength, merits, or works. We are instead justified by what God has done for us through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It makes sense that we cannot save ourselves because we both have a spiritual condition that is not fixed by doing things, but also because, apart from the source of all life, we are spiritually dead and will stay spiritually dead unless we are brought back to spiritual life in Jesus. Being brought back to life spiritually is what Jesus does for us—that is what being saved means. The core of Justification is what the Christian church rises and falls upon. We are saved by Jesus; we do not save ourselves.
Jesus: There can be only one Jesus. Jesus is God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, who is called in the Holy Scriptures the Word of God. Jesus assumed our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, divine and human, inseparably joined in the one person Jesus Christ, both true God and true man. Jesus must be true God because humanity is dead in sin, but also true man to be one of us who is able to save all of us. Faith is simply trusting that this is true—that Jesus is who He says He is and that our salvation is found through him.
This the core and central belief of the Christian faith. That we are sinners, spiritually dead apart from God. We are saved by God, through the work of His Son Jesus, our Savior. Jesus takes us dead sinners and brings us back to life, that is—back in a right relationship with God. Jesus is both true God and true man whose death on the cross has bought us life eternal.
Jesus saves sinners.
Why go through all of this detail and explanation? First, if we don’t know what we’re talking about, then how can we know what we believe and what we don’t believe? If we don’t understand the core tenets of our Christian faith, how can we know when someone is sharing with us good things or hurtful things? We need to be able to say for ourselves what it is that we believe so we can also say what it is that we don’t believe. Because, as I’ve taught before, it may seem like there are many different religions and belief systems out there, so many that it feels like no can know what is right or wrong. However, all of those belief systems break down into basic questions. Is there a god and how do can I know or be in relationship with this God? Every other belief system out there says, if there is a god, we have to somehow get to that God either by being good, sacrificing, appeasing, or somehow becoming god. Christianity is the only belief system that admits we can’t get to God, but God comes to us and does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Jesus saves sinners.
Secondly, we have to say these things so we can understand who we rightly are in this situation. We are sinners. What does that mean? It means we are dead in our sins and lost eternally without the saving grace of God through Jesus. Because we are sinners, all of the behaviors that come with that sinful condition occur—sinful thoughts, words, and actions. It is important for each of us personally to come to terms with our sinful condition. If there are any false notions in our heads that we can somehow just be a good person, I’m not so bad really, I can get to heaven on my own, we are deceiving ourselves. If we deceive ourselves, we can start to believe that we aren’t sinners and maybe that we are something else, something slightly better. If that is your belief, then you have left the true Christian faith and have joined any of those other belief systems out there that, even though they have different names, all believe the same thing, that you can get to or be god on your own. If you’re not a sinner, then Jesus’ salvation isn’t for you and you are lost in your sinful condition, because Jesus saves sinners.
But if you confess you are a sinner and that you need Jesus, then the Good News of Salvation is for you, because Jesus saves sinners. Because you are a sinner then, in faith, Jesus’ salvation is also for you. In faith in Jesus, you have become something new, what we call both Saint and Sinner. You are both saved by God’s grace in Jesus, are spiritually alive and in a right relationship with God; and you are also still a sinner in this life with all of the sinful thoughts, words, and actions that come with it.
As both a Saint and Sinner in Jesus, you live in a community of faith, called the Church, where you are gathered around God’s good gifts in His Word and Sacraments that strengthen and encourage you to live the life you are called to live as God’s Saints, here and now. You live in a community with other Saints and Sinners, who are all still struggling with the same sinful condition that you have, and who also have the same salvation in Jesus. Together we live in patience and love towards each other, recognizing how each of us struggle with our sinful condition, but also celebrating together the salvation we have in Jesus.
Together, we encourage each other with these words, Jesus saves sinners and I am a sinner.