Salvation is yours by faith in Jesus Christ alone
By Rev. Bill Baldwin, Prairie Community Church UCC, Lester Prairie
As an infant, I was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith. I received my first Holy Communion in second grade, and was confirmed by the Bishop in fifth grade.
I did all of the things the church of my youth had as requirements for church membership. Still, something was missing.
Several experiences in high school and college helped fill in the missing pieces. First, I had a friend who went to a church where neither baptism nor confirmation had any special significance.
I learned that only by truly believing that Jesus was God's Son, that he lived a life without sin and died a horrible death for the forgiveness of my sins, and by my admission that I am a sinner needing salvation, would I be welcomed into heaven.
A little later, I was approached at a local shopping mall by a father and son who were handing out religious tracts. They asked me if I knew for sure that if I died today, I would go to heaven and live with God forever.
I think I said something like, "I'll be darned if I know," because I hadn't really thought about it.
They asked if they could pray for me, which they did, and they gave me a little tract to bring home and read. It said that I could know with certainty that I am a Christian, and have equal certainty that I am going to heaven with God forever.
I thought and thought about it. The more I thought, the more I really wanted to have that peace and certainty.
I prayed the prayer suggested; and I mark that as the time that my heart stopped belonging to me and became the property of Jesus Christ.
Mind you, I didn't experience any dramatic changes. I still had my struggles. I still screwed up. I still sinned. But I knew things were different and I knew that I was called to work on letting my life be transformed more and more into the image of my Savior.
No matter what the ups and downs of life have been, I have always felt that I know where my spiritual "true north" is with Jesus Christ as my Savior.
Am I overly religious, even as a pastor? No, not really, but I do seek to be faithful with what God has given me and to seek God's will in all areas of life. I seek to be a real, ordinary person saved by God's grace through faith in God's Son.
Are you bargaining your eternity on your infant baptism? Are you gambling that being confirmed as a young teenager bought you a spot in heaven, even if you have only been to church for your wedding or child's baptism since then?
Do you have in mind that because your great-great-grandfather founded the church in your town and, by default, you are a member of a particular church, it makes any difference in the eyes of God?
I wouldn't count on it. The Bible never says that baptism brings salvation. Baptism is a visible, public proclaiming of a decision to follow Christ that has already been made.
Confirmation is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, though it has a long history in Christian tradition. A child could make a sincere faith commitment through a confirmation program, but I wouldn't count on it in most cases.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No matter how good and virtuous your life, if you are human, you have sinned and remain separated from close fellowship with God. This is not a statement of judgment, just common fact.
So, are you ready to know with certainty that if you died today or tomorrow, you would be welcomed home to heaven with Jesus as Lord? If yes, all you need to do is ask in your own way.
Something like this will do the trick: "Jesus, I believe that you are God's Son and I place my faith in you today as my Savior. I am a sinner as are all humans, and I also confess that I have personally committed specific sins against you in my life for which I am truly sorry.
"By your grace and mercy, forgive my sins and make my life brand new. Give me the certainty that today and every new day to the end of my life I will belong to you and have my sins wiped away and my slate made clean. Help me to live according to the way of holiness that you showed us in the Gospel stories.
"I look forward to the day I leave the cares of this world and enter into the endless joy of eternity with you. Thank you, God, for loving me enough to provide a way for me to live in peace with you forever. May your will be done in my life now and always. Amen."