6. Five Mysteries of the Faith

May 2022

Because the Bible is God's Word, all we need to know for faith and life is recored there. Even so, we find there are a number of questions we have that remain unanswered. One of the conditions about being Lutheran is a willingness to live in these unanswered questions or mysteries. Here are five of the top mysteries that are core to what we believe: the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the way of salvation, Holy Communion, and Baptism.

We will not find one particular verse in the Bible that says God is Trinity. Deuteronomy 6:4 clearly declares that God is one. But when God spoke to Himself at creation, He used the plural, “Let Us make man in our image.” Then when we read the whole of the New Testament we see that the Father is God, that the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. Yet, we do not have three gods, neither are the three Persons confused with each other. That is, we don't have three Fathers or three Sons, or three Holy Spirits. It is a mystery that we have only one God but that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is also a mystery that Jesus, who is the second person of the Trinity, is fully God and fully man. We call this truth the two natures of Christ. How can a being be both completely God and completely human? We find this mystery most clearly stated the Gospel of John which begins with the declaration that the Word (the LOGOS) is both with God and is God. (The text is in the past tense, was, to indicate that this condition was true before time and continues to be true now.) Then, as we progress through the verses we have the statement, “And the Word became flesh.” He didn't stop being God, but He did become a human being. The Word who is God is also human.

The first two mysteries are universal to Christianity. How God acts to save us is also a mystery. Here we find Christians trying to understand this mystery and coming up with differing theories. It seems it is our nature to want to explain away the mystery rather than just live in it. On the one hand, then, we get the doctrines of irresistible grace and limited atonement. Essentially, that some are saved and others not saved is explained away by declaring that God chooses both who will be saved and who will be damned. On the other hand there is the belief that there is something good in us that is able to choose or reject God. Again, this is an attempt to explain away the mystery of salvation. The Bible is clear that those who are saved as saved because God has chosen them to be saved. The Bible is clear that those who are not saved are not saved because they do not believe. We don't find the tension between these two truth solved by Scripture. Instead, we find ourselves willing to live in this tension believing both to be true without trying to reconcile why some are saved and why some are lost.

A second mystery unique to being Lutheran is our understanding of Holy Communion. There are really two mysteries which we will explore in more detail in coming months. First, we believe that Jesus is truly present in the elements of bread and the fruit of the vine. No, the elements don't change their substance; but yes, when we eat the bread, we eat the body of Christ, and when we drink the wine or grape juice, we drink His blood. We believe this not because we understand it but because it is what Jesus said when He gave the bread and the cup to His disciples at the Passover. We also believe His words when He said these were give for the forgiveness of sins. This is a mystery, that our sins are forgiven in the eating and drinking. Yet, by faith we receive these words and believe them.

Baptism and what God does for us in Baptism is also a mystery. We will also explore what the Bible says about Baptism in the months to come. For now we simply confess that God saves us through baptism. Baptism is regenerational, that is, our old nature is put to death and God gives us a new nature instead. Because of the nature of Baptism, we also baptize our babies. We will also study why we believe in infant Baptism in more detail later.

While the Bible is all we need for faith and life, we realize that not all our questions are clearly answered. Five mysteries are the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the nature of salvation, God's work in Holy Communion, and God's work in Baptism. Being Lutheran means being willing to live in these mysteries.