I visited a senior man at his home the other day. I'll refer to him as “Jim.” Jim had recently returned home from the hospital after recovering from a fall. The back-and-forth from hospital to home had become his rhythm of life, and, because of that rhythm, he had been unable to attend worship. I went to his house that day to pray with him and his wife and give them the Lord's Supper.
I asked Jim how he was feeling. “Terrible,” he replied (the actual word he used rhymes with “gritty”). I appreciated his honesty. He had no energy for anything but the truth, and it certainly was the truth. His body was constantly in pain. A rare form of Parkinson's had taken its toll on him. On top of the physical pain, the Parkinson's had also deeply affected his brain. As his wife put it, “his mind just isn't what it used to be.” Before becoming homebound, Jim faithfully attended a weekly Bible Study at our church. Ever since I met him, I knew he struggled to understand the material. His wife said it had only been getting worse.
I sat with Jim and his wife in their living room that day and, after catching up a bit, I began a brief service of Holy Communion. I read passages from God's Word and did my best to communicate to Jim that, in his suffering, Jesus was with him and for him. I declared to him that his sins were forgiven and that a new, resurrected life, free of hospital visits and Parkinson's awaited him.
I tried, but the words just weren't "clicking" for him. His wife, almost apologetically, reminded me again that "his mind just isn't what it used to be." I told her, "It's OK. We'll let the Supper do the talking." "Yes," she replied and nodded in agreement.
Jesus was there that day, as promised, in and with the bread and wine, to forgive Jim's sins. The Holy Spirit was there, as promised, to strengthen him in the one true faith until life everlasting. It didn't matter how well he understood what I was saying or how well he comprehended the mysteries of God's grace in Christ. God's saving and sustaining work that day did not depend on Jim. It never did.
Isn't that what we believe about our salvation too? We confess that the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel and the Sacraments to bring us to faith in Jesus and keep us in that faith by the same. The entirety of salvation is God's work. Think about baptism. When an infant is presented to be baptized, does God's saving work in that washing depend on the infant's ability to comprehend what's going on? Of course not. God gives what He requires.
The Book of Hebrews describes Jesus as "the founder and the perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). God begins the good work of faith in us, and He sees it to completion. Our life of faith in Jesus for our salvation has never depended on how well we comprehend it or how much we consent to the facts. It wasn't our reason or strength that brought us to Jesus, and it won't be our reason or strength that will keep us in Jesus.
On the day I visited Jim, Jesus was there to forgive his sins and strengthened the faith that had been given to him in his baptism. Today, Jim no longer needs faith. He sees Jesus face-to-face. His faith has been turned to sight. His fight with Parkinson's is over. His suffering has ended. And I can say with complete confidence that he is in the presence of his Savior in paradise because his salvation was never in his own hands. It was in the nail-pierced hands of the founder and perfecter of his faith.
Our life of faith doesn't look like Jesus giving us a rucksack with a few essential tools, setting us in the middle of a thick forest, patting us on the back and saying, "Good luck. Hope you make it out." It looks more like Jesus picking us up and putting us in the back seat of his car, securing our seatbelt, and driving us to our eternal destination. All along the way He talks to us and reassures us. He even gives us true food for the journey.
Your salvation is not in your hands. God brought you to faith in Jesus, and He will keep you in that faith until life everlasting. It never depended on you. Rest in that comfort. "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Jake serves as the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Williston Park, NY. He received his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 2011. His passions include exploring the depths of God's grace, playing guitar, good coffee, White Castle burgers, and old school video games. Jake and his lovely wife, Christina, have one adorable little son named Roman.