This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(29) Q. Why is the Son of God called “Jesus,” meaning “Savior”?
A. Because he saves us from our sins; and because salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else.
(30) Q. Do those who look for their salvation and security in saints, in themselves, or elsewhere
really believe in the only Savior Jesus?
A. No. Although they boast of being his, by their actions they deny the only Savior, Jesus. Either Jesus is not a perfect Savior, or those who in true faith accept this Savior have in him all they need for their salvation.
God is a Trinity, one divine being in three distinct persons. So basic is this truth that the Apostles’ Creed uses the Trinity to organize its summary of the Christian faith. We worship God the Father as our Creator and Provider, and the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier. In the center of the creed we learn to worship as our Deliverer “Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.”
To worship God’s Son we must know him. First, we can know him through his names: Jesus (Lord’s Day (LD) 11), Christ (LD 12), God’s only begotten Son, our Lord (LD 13). Second, we can know him through his works, in both his states of humiliation (LD 14–16) and exaltation (LD 17–19). If this approach sounds overly scientific, don’t worry. We impulsively get to know others—even those closest to us—in a similar way; love requires knowledge. So we identify words that describe others and take interest in the things they do. But there is a difference. Studying the names of others usually won’t help us know them better; our names aren’t descriptive. For example, my name (William) means “resolute protector,” but I’m no more a “resolute protector” than many people I know whose names aren’t William. By contrast, names in Scripture—and especially God’s names—reveal his nature and character.
The Son of God is called Jesus because God wants us to know, first of all, that he is a Savior of sinners. We can get to know the Savior Jesus better by answering two questions.
Who Is the Second Person of the Trinity?
Jesus’ place in the divine Trinity can be viewed from two angles.
First, Jesus is the Son of God. Confidence of this truth protects us from a sentimental knowledge of the child born in a stable. We don’t start knowing Jesus in Bethlehem, when he was given his precious name. Jesus isn’t simply an innocent baby or an honorable man. Notwithstanding his lowly birth, his troubled earthly life, or his agonizing death, Jesus is the uncreated, eternal Son of God. With the Father and the Spirit the Son created heaven and earth and still upholds them as by his hand. The angel promised that the child whom Mary would name Jesus “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). In studying Jesus as the kind and gentle Savior of sinners we must never forget that he is “Mighty God” (Is. 9:6).
Second, the Son of God is Jesus. The eternal Word of God (John 1:1) is intimately made known to us in familiar flesh. Every way in which God reveals himself is important. But Jesus is special because it is the personal name of the only being with both a divine and human nature. “The whole message of Scripture is compressed in the name ‘Jesus.’”[i] It is the Old Testament covenant name of God, Yahweh, combined with the word for salvation. Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” This is why Peter could preach that “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus isn’t merely a prophet who spoke about the revelation of God; he is the revelation of God. He isn’t one of the many priests who offered up sacrifices for themselves and others (Heb. 7:27); he is the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He isn’t one of Israel’s many judges or kings who offered temporary political relief; he alone completely saves us from our sins.
So the question follows: Can one truly trust in Jesus who looks “for salvation and security in saints, themselves, or elsewhere”?
Is Jesus “All or Nothing”?
The question about saints is heavily influenced by its sixteenth century context; when it was written the reformation was less than 50 years old. For centuries the Catholic church had taught the faithful to find help in saints. But the question isn’t irrelevant today. Rome still teaches people to appeal to saints for “help in obtaining from God through his Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, our only Redeemer and Savior, the benefits we need.” Rome still sees Mary as “the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.” [ii] So how should we relate to saints? The Bible’s answer is unlike both the official Roman Catholic answer and the common evangelical impulse.
We truly believe in the communion of the saints. And we actually commune with everyone who is eternally united with Christ. In worship we gather with “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). We worship with Mary, Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Watts, Graham, parents and grandparents who have already passed into glory, and a billion others. But we don’t look to them for salvation and security. Surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses we “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1–2). “When we look on the lives of those women and men who have faithfully followed Christ we are inspired anew to seek the city which is to come.”[iii] They have left us an example which we should imitate (Phil. 3:17).[iv] But they teach us to live by true faith in the Savior in whom we have all we need for salvation.
Sadly, we aren’t only tempted to trust in saints. We might seek “salvation and security in … [ourselves], or elsewhere.” The need for Jesus as a complete Savior is always challenged by a denial of the severity of sin and a groundless optimism in human ability. The gospel invites us to see the inadequacy of whatever advantages we think we have outside of Christ. Paul once found confidence in his ethnicity, his educational credentials, and his zealous obedience. When God opened his eyes he realized that what he had counted as gain was actually loss—rubbish (Phil. 3:4–8). Paul told the Galatians that if they trusted in circumcision—and Jesus—“Christ will be of no advantage to you … you are severed from Christ” (Gal. 5:2, 4).
Are good things in your life competing with Jesus for your “salvation and security?” Genuine believers recognize these conflicts, confess their unbelief, and ask God to lock their eyes of faith more fully on Jesus (Mark 9:24). Jesus is a perfect Savior. If you do not trust Christ alone, you are 100% lost. If you do trust him alone, you have all you need for salvation.
[i] Klooster, Our Only Comfort, 1.327.
[ii] Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: The Basic Sixteen Documents (Northport, NY.: Costello Publishing, 1996), 76, 83.
[iii] Flannery, Vatican Council II, 76.
[iv] Regarding deceased saints, the Lutheran Augsburg Confession acknowledges that “we may follow their faith and good works according to our calling” (art. 21). In Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, with A History and Critical Notes, vol. 3, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877), 26.