Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 11
Question 29. Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, a Savior?
Answer. Because He saveth us, and delivereth us from our sins; and likewise, because we ought not to seek, neither can find salvation in any other.
Question 30. Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?
Answer. They do not; for though they boast of Him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Savior; for one of these two things must be true, either that Jesus is not a complete Savior; or that they who by a true faith receive this Savior must find all things in Him necessary to their salvation.
If there is one thing that is plain from the Bible, it is this, that there is only one way of salvation for sinners. That way is through Jesus the Savior. Man is in a hopeless situation before a just God, who punishes sin with eternal death, and his only hope is that God provides the way of salvation. This is what God has done in sending His Son into the world.
The Name Jesus
In Matthew 1:21, concerning the child in Mary’s womb, Joseph is told, “Thou shalt call his name, JESUS; for he shall save his people from their sins.” This verse includes in it all the elements of the gospel of salvation through Jesus alone.
First, God provides the way of salvation. God has the right to name Mary’s child, because He is the Fa-ther of that child. The child conceived in Mary’s womb is God’s creation and God’s provision to man. What was impossible for man, God made possible in sending His Son into our flesh (Luke 1:37).
Second, in the name He gives this child, He shows that salvation is all His work. JESUS means literally, “Jehovah saves.” Jesus, our Savior, is Jehovah Himself, the eternal and Savior
Third, this name shows what kind of Savior Jesus is. Many, including the Jews in Jesus’ day, look for a savior from political oppression, poverty, sickness, war, etc. But Jesus comes to save “his people from their sins.” He does not come to deal with symptoms of sin, but with the cause of all man’s woes, sin itself. He saves us from what sin deserves—eternal punishment in hell; from the effects of sin in our lives—guilt and misery; and from the power of sin over us—temptation. Not only does He save us from sin, but He brings us into a relationship of peace and friendship with God that will last to eternity in heaven (Rom. 5:1).
Fourth, this verse shows us that Jesus actually accomplishes what He came to do. It uses very definite language, He “shall” save His people. He did not come merely to make salvation a possibility for sinners, now leaving it to their choice as to whether they would be saved or not, but He came to secure salvation for them. In His death He actually paid for the sins of His sheep; He dealt a decisive blow to Satan, which broke his power forever; and He defeated the curse of death, liberating His people from the eternal punishment of hell and the curse of sin. There is power in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:7, 10, 12).
Fifth, this verse shows that Jesus’ salvation was for a definite group of people. It was not universal in its scope, but He came to save “His people” from their sins. These people are called elsewhere in Scripture the elect, His sheep, those given to Him of the Father, many, the true seed of Abraham, those who would believe, etc. He did not come to save all men (John 10:11, 26).
Sixth, this verse shows us how beautiful is the name “Jesus.” There is no other name like it, no other one in whom we can put our trust. Sin is horrible. Sin angers God. Sin brings man under the sense of God’s judgment. Sin brings shame and disgrace. Sin is destructive to human life. Sin has many awful consequences. Sin is so powerful and overwhelming. Sin brings death to people. Sin brings people to hell. Sin is inescapable for man. But Jesus comes to save His people from their sins.
The Only and Complete Savior
That Jesus is the only Savior means that no one else can do what He does as Savior. No sacrifices or religious service can save a person from the consequences of sin. No creature can make the payment that our sins deserve. No one can conquer the grave or overcome Satan but Him. As Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
That Jesus is the complete Savior means that He is responsible for all of our salvation, every step along the way. From forgiveness, to new life, to faith, to repentance, to holy living, salvation is entirely His work.
He is the Savior for us, in the sacrifice He made on the cross as payment for our sins. This was entirely His work. He did not come into this world at our request, or as the result of human cooperation. He suffered alone on the cross, despised and forsaken of men, yes also of those for whom He died.
He is also Savior in us by His coming, in the Spirit, and taking up His abode in us. Because of the Spirit, who works the power of grace in us, we have new life, we see the kingdom of heaven, we understand eternal and spiritual realities, we desire to be right with God, and we put our faith in the sacrifice of Christ alone for salvation (John 3:3; I Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:8; Acts 18:27).
He is also Savior through us. Every work that we do that is pleasing to God, that is a demonstration of the fact that we are saved, is a fruit of His saving work. The salvation He has worked in us, He brings to light through what we do. He works both the willing and the doing (Phil. 2:13).
Jesus is the sovereign in our salvation. We owe all thanks to Him for what we have and for who we are. Without Him, we could do nothing (John 15:5).
That Jesus is the only Savior has two important implications. The first is that this gospel needs to be preached very plainly and even boldly. It needs to be preached boldly because there is much opposition to this biblical truth, and it needs to be preached plainly because so many today have muddied the waters by making salvation a joint effort between Jesus and man, and that is not the gospel of the Scriptures.
What are we to think of those who trust—in whole or even in part—on something or someone other than Jesus for salvation? This is very common. In Jesus’ day men trusted themselves that they were righteous (Luke 18:9). People today do the same thing. They really believe that God will accept them, and that they will go to heaven, because they try to live a good life and because they have not committed any heinous crime. Or, today, people trust in others instead of, or in addition to, Jesus. Think of the thousands of people who trust in Mary or some other saint. And today this teaching is not only tolerated, but preached.
It is presented this way: “Yes, Jesus has done most of what you need for salvation. He has paid the price for the sins of all mankind. He has made salvation possible for you. But now you have to accept that. You have to make that salvation effectual to yourself by ratifying what Jesus has done. You have to do your part, on which the application of salvation hangs, by believing in Jesus. Jesus wants you to do this, but it’s up to you.”
What should we say about this? Well, there are two things to say.
First, anyone who teaches people to trust in something or someone other than Jesus is a false teacher. The one who preaches the gospel is a “steward of the mysteries of God” and must be “found faithful” (I Cor. 4:1-2). To preach that salvation depends on something other than on Jesus alone is to pervert the gospel and to misdirect sinners. The preacher must point sinners to Jesus as the only and complete Savior, so that in repentance they let go of everything else, and trust in Jesus alone. To tell people to trust in something else is to give them a false hope. The minister who today preaches the gospel, as presented above, is preaching that Jesus is a partial savior—who wants you to do your part, and a weak savior—who wants to save you but cannot. That is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Second, anyone who trusts in something or someone other than Jesus is trusting in something that will not save him. A person who trusts himself or something else, as well as Jesus, does not really believe in Jesus. The Bible says that it is either one or the other—not both. Of salvation, the Bible says, “if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11:6). Grace cannot be mixed with human effort. The one excludes the other.
Trusting Jesus Alone
That Jesus is the only and complete Savior has a second implication, namely, that we must rely on Him only and completely for our all our salvation.
Very quickly we use this teaching to condemn others who have their theology wrong, but we are much more reluctant to see how this applies to ourselves. The truth about ourselves is that our faith is not perfect, and that often we trust in something other than Jesus, and so in practical ways deny this truth.
Salvation does not come by our being in a particular church, or by our having a certain man as our preacher. What we know, what we have done, or where we are at theologically cannot save us or unburden our conscience of sin. Our own will-power will not help us in breaking free from the power of sin. We need to be very careful in how we view our religious heritage, our knowledge, our spiritual achievements, and our resistance to temptation. If we are not grateful for grace alone, we will soon trust ourselves.
Trusting in Jesus only and completely means I will have a constant, personal humility, in which I recognize my total unworthiness and understand that my religious achievements are nothing to present to God for His accepting of me. I don’t need me, I need Christ alone! Paul says, “I count all things [my heritage, my religious achievements, my personal zeal] but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, …and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, …but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:8-9). A manifestation of true faith is not just the knowledge of sin, but it is the personal confession of one’s own sin, and then a living humbly and gratefully for salvation from them.
This true faith, which trusts in Jesus alone, means also that I will be continually dependent on Jesus to save me. I need not only what He has done for me, but I need Him to continue working in me and through me. So I will pray, I will depend on the Word, I will seek the fellowship of other believers, I will use all the means Christ has given to continue working by His Spirit in me.
Trusting in Jesus I will also live out of Him, so that the holiness, power, and grace of His life shine through me. Because He is our Savior, we are saints. Because He is Christ, we are Christians. Because He is Lord, we are servants.
May God help us to trust in Him only and completely!
Questions for Discussion
1. Prove from the Bible that there is only one way of salvation.
2. What does the name “Jesus” mean? In what ways does Matthew 1:21 help us understand this name?
3. What are some things that people will trust in, in addition to, or instead of, Jesus?
4. Why do people so easily trust in themselves or others rather than in God?
5. As Savior, what did Jesus do for us? Give some Scripture references to demonstrate your answer.
6. As Savior, what does Jesus do in us? Give some Scripture references to demonstrate your answer.
7. As Savior, what does Jesus do through us? Give some Scripture references to demonstrate your answer.
8. What can we say of those who teach people to trust in something or someone other than Jesus for salvation?
9. If you were born into a Christian home, were well instructed in biblical knowledge, and are now a member in a solid Reformed church, does this give you something to boast in as foundation for your salvation? (See Phil. 3:4-11). What advantage are these things? But, also, what is the only foundation for your salvation?
10. Do you trust in Jesus only and completely for salvation? How will this be evident in your heart and life?