It’s hard for me to comprehend that any words of Christ should be dismissed as being of no importance with such a trite mantra. Yet, these are the words I so often hear when discussing what Jesus has to say about the sacraments. Christ is our salvation, His word is truth. Anything Jesus Christ has said or done, which then the apostles deemed necessary to record, has something to do with salvation. For it was on behalf of our salvation that Jesus became man, lived and taught among us in this world, instructed His disciples and trained His apostles and for which He finally died on the cross so that He could be raised for our justification. So if you think there is something Christ said that has nothing to do with salvation perhaps you need to re-examine your position.
I mean, I suppose there were a few times where Christ asked Bartholomew to build a campfire, or gave Philip a shopping list to take to town and those words had nothing to do with salvation and so they weren’t recorded. Because if the other apostles didn’t state it as explicitly as John, they still all wrote with the same Spirit in Whom he writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31)."
If we are saved by faith, if it is by faith that we have life in His name, what do the sacraments have to do with it? The answer is: everything.
It is by faith that we not only believe in Jesus, but also believe Jesus when He says things like “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16) It is in faith that we believe the word of God when the disciples of Jesus say that in baptism we were buried into death so that just as Christ has been raised to the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:4).” Or that “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
It is with faith that we hear the words of Jesus on the night He was betrayed and receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. And then we are reminded of Luther’s words in the Small Catechism, “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
That is, far from having nothing to do with salvation, these works of God, these gifts of Jesus to the church, to all sheep everywhere who hear the voice of their Shepherd and listen to Him, have everything to do with salvation.
This isn’t to say that a person who has not had a chance to be baptized or receive the Lord’s Supper before he dies, and yet has somehow come to faith through the hearing of the Gospel cannot be saved. But a person has to ask himself what kind of faith is it that would reject the words of Christ? If a mother standing in the crowds of Pentecost was to hear the words of Peter that the gift of baptism was for her and her children, what kind of faith would it be that would then not baptize her children? (Acts 2:38-39) What kind of faith would it be that would say, “Yeah, I believe but I don’t want to receive your promise?” Or “I believe, but I don’t want to share this great gift of salvation with my children just yet?” Christian faith believes the words and promises of Christ in His word.
Sure, the Lord could and can save apart from baptism. He could and can create and sustain faith apart from the sacraments. Yet, He promises throughout the New Testament to work through these means of grace, and it is foolhardy of anyone to say that they don’t need them. It is as foolhardy as it was for Naaman to think he knew better how to wash away his leprosy than did God and His prophet Elisha. (2 Kings 5) It isn’t a matter of what God could do, or can do. It is a matter of what God says He will do, and how He promises to do it. We need the word of Jesus given to us in baptism and the Lord’s Supper just as much as we need the words of John 3:16! (Which coincidently are given in the context of a discussion on the necessity of baptism.)