Who Really Gets Saved?

The following is written in response to an ELCA article in “The Lutheran” entitled “Who Gets Saved” which taught universalism.  You can find it here.  This article is written by Pastor Paul Fries of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  The original of this article can be found here.

A recent article from another church’s official magazine implies that everyone in the world will go to Heaven, regardless of their beliefs. It is a sad state of affairs when a magazine representing a Christian church body allows this false teaching of universalism to be spread to its membership as a valid opinion or as a correct teaching.

The teaching of universalism is not something new, brought about by millennia of evolving thought. It is a heresy that can be traced directly to the beginning of time, to the Garden of Eden, and Satan’s tempting words, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3)

God loves the people of this world- all of them.  Jesus makes it clear that His Father takes care of His whole creation: For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)  And He makes it clear that He came to save all people: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s certainly true that God loves everyone.notashamed But it is equally true that not everyone will go to Heaven, that not everyone will be saved. Note in the Matthew passage the divisions: “evil and good,” “just and unjust.” And note the condition for salvation in the John passage: “whoever believes in him.” Jesus came to save all people, but not all people will be saved. Only those who believe, through the Holy Spirit working faith in their hearts, will be saved. And that belief is not faith in ourselves, or in a god or in some theistic idea we cannot define or know. It is faith in Jesus Christ alone which saves. We often forget to read beyond John 3:16. The next two verses makes things clear: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

I grew up in a Christian home and I thank God that my parents brought me to the healing waters of baptism. That baptism created faith in me. And through God’s Word, heard through many years of Sunday school, confirmation classes, sermons and Bible study, that faith has continued to grow. I don’t write this out of pride or arrogance. It is by God’s grace alone and through the working of the Holy Spirit that this faith lives in me. Knowing that I am His child by grace has caused me to want to bring His saving message to others.

I have watched, firsthand, Hindus praying fervently to stone idols. It is a difficult thing to watch, knowing that a false god cannot help that person. I have talked with Muslims, and even with members of other Christian churches who believe we must contribute, somehow, to our own salvation, knowing that they will always be left wondering if they have done enough, and knowing that they have not. And I have seen, firsthand, the joy the Gospel brings when it is preached in all its truth and beauty to a tribe who knew only a religion of warfare and of appeasing evil spirits.

The exclusive claims of Christianity are not claims created by Christians. They are the statements of God Himself, in His Word. Here are just a few:

  • “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
  • “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14)
  • “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)
  • Jesus said…  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
  • “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among menby which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

God wants everyone in Heaven with Him. He desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) In fact, because of the work of Jesus Christ, atonement for all sin has been made. This is the great news for all to believe. But, sadly, people do reject Him and are condemned to Hell. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)

Believers have the privilege of sharing the Good News of forgiveness and salvation in Christ alone! We have no need to feel guilty or ashamed. The teachings we hold to are not from us, they are the teachings of God Himself. Thank God that He continues to provide faithful pastors, teachers and theologians who stand firm on the truth of His Word, the Bible.

To learn more about the differences between the ELS and the ELCA, click here.

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-Rev. Paul Fries


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version(ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Who Really Gets Saved? — 63 Comments

  1. Rev. David Mueller :
    As to the original article–just one relatively minor exegetical critique. I wouldn’t use our Lord’s comment from Matthew (Evil and good, just and unjust) to apply to this particular discussion. To use those categories rhetorically and theologically does not necessarily imply that there is actually anyone who belongs to the “just” and the “good” categories.

    Agreed. One should be careful about applying these categories to the topic of salvation and condemnation without explanation.

    Our Lord Jesus does, however, apply such categories to this very topic in John 5:28-29 – after having made it clear in verse 25 that “doing good” in this context means to hear Him.

    In similar manner categories such as good and evil are applied in Daniel 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 and several other contexts, where living in the faith and serving God and honouring His Commandment (although, obviously, not in perfect obedience, since the Law/Gospel dichotomy is not the topic specifically addressed in these contexts) are comprised into the category of being or doing “good” as opposed to living in ungodliness and unbelief – somewhat similar to how the Old Testament will often use the category of the “righteous” as opposed to the “wicked”.

    Nevertheless, you are right. One should indeed be careful …

  2. Hi Ted,

    Thanks for the affirmation of my statements. Not long ago we had Herb Mueller speak on the Koinonia Project at the Rocky Mountain District (RMD) pastor’s conference. During the Q&A I asked him what mechanism is/would be in place to let us know when the Koinonia Project had come to its completion. I prefaced that question by noting that the Formula of Concord had a document that was either accepted or rejected by the various parties in the various disputes that were on-going at the time and that was the mechanism that signaled the end of that process. He responded that it was a good question and that he did not have an answer for it. I often point out that it took less than a year to do the entire Formula of Concord process. I believe it is without warrant that we have put a 10 year timeframe on the Koinonia Project and we do not yet even have the final draft of the proposal! Thus, the 10 year time clock has not yet even begun! Already, the KP is being used to delay any response to any theological concerns. The ACELC has submitted three official dissents (Bylaw 1.8.1; 1.8.2) to the CTCR and that was precisely the response we received from them that we had to wait until the completion of the KP before we received an answer to our submission! Thus, the message is loud and clear: The LCMS will not be resolving any theological issues that continue to divide us until the Koinonia Project is completed, the clock on the 10 year process has not yet begun, and there is no mechanism for knowing whether or not the Koinonia Project is over! God help us!

    In the meantime, false doctrine and unbiblical practice continue to work their corruption and corrosion within our Synod. The spiritual well-being of LCMS members continues to be harmed by these things and we all have to wait for a process that has not yet begun and has no way of knowing when its finished!

    Truly, the ACELC is the only viable “Koinonia Project” going on in our Synod!

  3. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #2 You have stated a sad truth, Pastor Bolland. How sad, too, that only a handful of congregations and pastors have signed their names to the Fraternal Admonition and/or become members of ACELC. We are a “synod” divided. But we still have the Concordia Plan to hold us in unity!!! 🙁

  4. All are welcome to do so. Associate membership doesn’t cost a penny. Let your voice be heard and encourage your own pastor to do the right thing and take a stand with us to correct our Synod. We are our brother’s keeper.

  5. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #2

    It never ceases to amaze me how the indolence of one organization (the LCMS) often mirrors that of the government. I suppose that’s price we have to pay for bureaucracy, eh?!

  6. Indeed, institutions of every variety are always more concerned about the viability of the institution itself rather than the preservation of those ideals, principles, and (in the case of a Synod), theology that made them strong institutions in the first place. The irony is that regardless of the institution it is the very lack of tenacity in adhering to those principles, ideals and theology that ultimately spell the death of the institution they are attempting to preserve by means of compromise and accommodation.

  7. Expressing a difference of opinion with some actions taken by the LCMS can generate healthy debate, however, it is unfair to accuse the denomination of being “indolent” or having departed from the principles and distinctives of the institution. In comparison to the post modernist and progressive churches of our day, the LCMS is still adhering to Orthodoxy. Rather than a general criticism of the LCMS, it is better and more constructive to bring up and discuss issues of specificity and address them to those in authority. Feedback is essential, because all men and women walking the earth are imperfect and sometimes misguided. Without open discussion improvements cannot be made in the direction of the LCMS.

  8. @JJFlanagan,

    Thank you for the correction, I did use the wrong term. What I wanted to say was that we’ve seem to have acquired a particular inertia(?) in getting the KP moving, so people are wondering, “what’s up?”

  9. Might I make a suggestion that some of you folks log into the ELCA site and leave (properly researched and backed-up) comments there? Just talking among ourselves does little; rebutting Mr. Marty on his own site might be more helpful.

  10. @Paul of Alexandria #9
    According to the ELCA site only “Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.” So I am afraid that unless one is either one, or intends to become either one, your suggestion is, alas, not quite as helpful as one would imagine.

    And I am not sure I agree that talking among ourselves necessarily does all that little. That would depend on whether or not worthwhile thoughts and comments come up in the course of the conversation, as may very well happen among brethren.

  11. Frankly, the ELCA (its predecessor bodies the ALC/LCA are the churches into which I was born and grew up) is quite beyond correction. It has become an apostate church body which should no longer bear the name Lutheran because it is false advertising for them to do so. The theological trajectory they are on will only take them further away from their Lutheran roots and they have absolutely no willingness to correct themselves. Leaving comments on their website is simply casting pears before the swine.

    I would like to point out as well that if you want to see specific issues addressed specifically, then go to http://www.acelc.net and under “Key Documents” you will fine precisely what you are looking for. The ACELC has submitted every last one of our concerns through the official channels of the Synod (either the CTCR or the Synodical Praesidium) and thus we have respected the appointed avenues of redress.

  12. JJFlanagan :…In comparison to the post modernist and progressive churches of our day, the LCMS is still adhering to Orthodoxy…

    That’s why I’m still here. Where is there a better place to be?

    (On the other hand, if you compare it to _______, even my ______ smells like roses.)


  13. Sounds alot like this………which is perhaps why the new ELCA Bishop Eaton is speaking about further merger with the Roman Chruch…….Law alone:

    “Therefore, we must constantly be on our guard against pious sounding opinions which in fact contract the Word of God.

    Mostly recently, Pope Francis has issued such a “pious sounding opinion” in which he asserted that “the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart; the question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience.”[3] According to the pope, you do not need to believe in God, let alone Jesus, to be saved. All that is necessary is to “obey one’s conscience.”

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this teaching when it says that those

    who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience- those too may achieve eternal salvation.[4]

    The idea that salvation exists for those who haven’t heard the Gospel is pleasing enough to the rational mind. But this teaching is problematic because it contracts Scripture, which asserts that Jesus alone is the way to the Father, apart from Whom there is no salvation; that our works count for nothing before God, and if they did, then Christ died for nothing (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:21).

    One way Satan has gotten us to lower our defenses against false doctrine is by shifting the way we speak of it. No longer do we commonly refer to those who teach false doctrine as being “bewitched” (Gal 3:1), or practitioners of the satanic arts. Instead, we have adopted language that puts false doctrine on equal footing as the truth of the Gospel.”


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