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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Free Will

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1 Corinthians 2:14-16

From the Confessions: The Chief Articles of Faith in the Augsburg Confession

Free Will

Concerning free will, Lutherans teach that people have liberty to choose civil righteousness and those things subject to general reason. But without the Holy Spirit, one has no power to achieve the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness, since “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:14) This righteousness happens in the heart when the Holy Spirit is received through the Word. These things are said in as many words by Augustine in his Hypognosticon, Book III: “We grant that all men have a free will, free, inasmuch as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good or evil. 'Good' I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn diverse useful arts, or whatsoever good pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being. 'Evil' I call such works as willing to worship an idol, to commit murder, etc.”

Lutherans reject the Pelagians and others who teach that we are able to love God above all things and keep his commandments by the power of human nature alone, without the grace of the Holy Spirit. Although our nature is able to do the outward work, (to keep the hands from theft and murder,) it cannot initiate the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.

Pulling It Together: Suppose a person decided to look for a new job today. Does he have the freedom of will to choose this pursuit? Yes, he does. With natural, human reason he is able to discern that he is not happy with his current occupation and choose one that is better suited to him. But suppose that someone decided that today is the day he will become righteous. Is he able to choose the righteousness of God without the aid of the Spirit? No, he is not. He cannot, for this is not something within the realm of human reason. He does not comprehend that he needs a righteousness outside of himself. Logic will never bring him to this conclusion. This righteousness is comprehended “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom 3:22) Even this faith is “a gift from God.” (Eph 2:8) A person is incapable of bestowing the gift of faith upon oneself. We cannot choose this ultimate good of faith and the righteousness of God that comes by faith alone.

This is precisely why we are determined to make a case for our being good without the aid of God. The Pelagians teach this, saying that when people are born that they are without sin. They further instruct that if folks just work hard enough, have strong enough wills, that they can continue through life without sin. To make matters even worse, they say that this can be accomplished without the help of God. Lutherans reject such ideas, noting that our works are so much rubbish, unable to attain to the righteousness of God. (Phil 3:8)

Instead, Lutherans confess that they are entirely dependent upon God's grace from start to finish. We love and fear God by the activity of God's Spirit, not because we choose to do so. We are made right with God by his grace, not by our decisions or efforts. We may be good citizens of earth, but will never be fit for the kingdom of God until we become people of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (1Cor 2:14-15)

Prayer: Holy Spirit, help me believe and do those things which bring you glory. Amen. 

Speaking for Christ: Everyday Evangelism through the Promise of Forgiveness is a Bible study on what it means to share the message of Jesus in our everyday life. It approaches the subject by focusing on how God uses us to be his ambassadors and drives to the heart of the reason Jesus came into the world, to reconcile the world to himself through the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

The study spotlights Scripture passages related to what Lutherans call "The Office of the Keys" — that is, the power Jesus gave his disciples to announce the forgiveness of sins in his name. This is a calling and authority Christ has granted to the whole church and it is foundational to the saving message of the Gospel itself.

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