Augsburg Confession XVIII and XIX: “Free Will,” and “The Cause of Sin”

In our study of the Augsburg Confession last month we covered a few articles that were a little lighter than some others. For the most part, these were articles that – properly understood – aren’t necessary to salvation. Christians may legitimately have differences of opinion over involvement in political offices or over the return of Christ. Our articles this month bring us back into territory that is really important. In short: after the fall into sin, what are humans capable of salvation-wise? In other words, are we able to cooperate in our own salvation and, if so, to what extent? The article on free will is one that separates us from the Roman Catholic Church on the one side and nearly all Protestants on the other. Article XVIII on Free Will:

1 Our churches teach that a person’s will has some freedom to choose civil righteousness and to do things subject to reason. 2 It has no power, without the Holy Spirit, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness. For “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). 3 This righteousness is worked in the heart when the Holy Spirit is received through the Word [Galatians 3:2–6].

4 This is what Augustine says in his Hypognosticon, Book III:

We grant that all people have a free will. It is free as far as it has the judgment of reason. This does not mean that it is able, without God, either to begin, or at least to complete, anything that has to do with God. It is free only in works of this life, whether good or evil. 5 Good I call those works that 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 various useful arts, or whatsoever good applies to this life. 6 For all of these things depend on the providence of God. They are from Him and exist through Him. 7 Works that are willing to worship an idol, to commit murder, and so forth, I call evil.

8 Our churches condemn the Pelagians and others who teach that without the Holy Spirit, by natural power alone, we are able to love God above all things and do God’s commandments according to the letter. 9 Although nature is able in a certain way to do the outward work (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder), yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, and so on.[1]

The real meat of this article is the question of what a person can contribute to salvation. The answer is nothing. We covered that already in Article IV (“People cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.”) Those opposed to the reformers charged them with saying that humans have no free will at all. That isn’t what we’re saying. What we are saying is that, while we’re free to do some things, there are some things that we are incapable of doing by our own free will.

Now, we are talking about humans as we exist now – after the fall into sin. Taking that into account, we believe that we are free to choose and do things that are civilly righteous. We can be good neighbors, pay our taxes, be good lawyers and judges. These things all proceed from natural reason. However, we are unable, after the fall, to choose to do things that are righteous in God’s eyes. One can only do works pleasing to God after the Holy Spirit creates faith through the preaching of the Word. How does this affect the regular person? This means that we cannot make ourselves Christians. After the fall, we are incapable of choosing to believe in God. Nor are the good works that people do apart from faith actually good works, according to God. The Holy Spirit makes that happen through the Word and Sacraments.

On the flip side, we reject the idea that one can, naturally, choose to believe in God and do what He commands. This is a heresy called Pelagianism, which was condemned by the Church catholic over 1,500 years ago. However, that idea still floats around in various church bodies. We agree that it is possible to do things that, on the surface, seem pleasing to God. We can not murder people and refrain from stealing. In reality, those things are only pleasing to God when they proceed from faith. Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no faith and thus, no pleasing God. Since the fall into sin, humans are incapable, apart from the Holy Spirit, of choosing to believe in God or do what He desires.

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Article XIX is another short one that shouldn’t cause us to pause too long. Basically, it confesses where sin comes from – not God. In the above article, we said that humans are incapable of choosing to believe in God or do what He desires. Humans are free only to sin. Now, God makes humans. We all agree on that. Does that make God the author of sin? That’s what the Lutherans were accused of saying. But, it isn’t what we say. Here is article XIX on the cause of sin:

Our churches teach that although God creates and preserves nature, the cause of sin is located in the will of the wicked, that is, the devil and ungodly people. Without God’s help, this will turns itself away from God, as Christ says, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character” (John 8:44).[2]

In the Lutheran church, we believe that God created mankind. He formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. In His mercy, He continues to form each and every person in their mother’s womb. However, God does not make sin. God originally made both the angels and mankind with free will, the ability to freely choose between good and evil. Both mankind and some angels chose evil. The angels who chose evil were forever cast out of heaven. Man, was cast of out Eden. The fall into sin introduced a corruption to human nature. Whereby, before man was perfect, after the fall the human nature is corrupted by sin. This includes our will – which is where sin comes from.

By His mercy, God continues to create and preserve human nature, even in its corrupted form. The cause of sin is the devil and the evil will of wicked people. In the Catechism, we learned it like this, “the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.” Without the help of God, without the gift of faith created by the Spirit through Word and Sacrament, the human will only turns away from God. This is where sin comes from, not God. The bigger question is: why does God allow this to be? For the answer to that, we will have to wait until the Resurrection. Next month we’ll cover only one article, a big one, Good Works. See you then!


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 40–41.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 41.

On Civil Government and the Return of Christ

Welcome back to our congregational study of the Augsburg Confession! In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we’ve been working our way through the AC, article-by-article. It’s been fairly difficult at times, and I congratulate you for reading so far. This month we’re going to look at a couple articles that sometimes slip by us: whether Christians can hold political office and what we believe about the return of Christ. Here’s Article XVI: Civil Government –

Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to take oaths when required by the magistrates, for a man to marry a wife, or a woman to be given in marriage [Romans 13; 1 Corinthians 7:2].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these political offices to Christians.  They also condemn those who do not locate evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but place it in forsaking political offices. For the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart (Romans 10:10). At the same time, it does not require the destruction of the civil state or the family. The Gospel very much requires that they be preserved as God’s ordinances and that love be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws. The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

As we’ve encountered already, this article is broken up into 2 parts: what we believe and what we reject, more or less. First, what do we believe? We believe that, “lawful civil regulations are good works of God.” That means that, when we keep civil laws – such as, not murdering or stealing – we’re actually doing things that are pleasing to God. That’s because not murdering and not stealing are things God has told us in Scripture. Also, since we learn in Scripture (Rom. 13) that civil government started as God’s idea, it is perfectly fine for a Christian to hold office, be a judge or police office, be a politician, buy or sell in the marketplace, swear before a judge, etc.

You might know that the Lutheran Reformation wasn’t the only one happening in the 1500’s. Another group around at this time was called the Anabaptists. They believed that the civil realm was absolutely sinful; therefore, a Christian could not hold a political office. If you were a Christian who did – then you weren’t a true Christian. We, of course, disagree with that for the reasons above. Instead, we would say the Gospel encourages us to continue in our vocations, including serving in a civil office or aspiring to one. We also believe that it is a Christian’s duty to obey their rulers and laws. “The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men.”

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Now for Article XVII: The Return of Christ for Judgment –

Our churches teach that at the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:2]. He will give the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but He will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end [Matthew 25:31–46].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

Our churches also condemn those who are spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Again, this article is broken into a couple parts – what we believe and what we don’t. With the majority of the Church catholic (universal), we believe that at the end of the world Christ will return and raise the dead. At His return, He will also render His eternal judgment against sin. Those who, by grace, received His Word in faith for the forgiveness of their sins will enter eternal life. However, those who rejected Christ and His Word will be condemned to eternal separation from God’s love in hell.

The same group we mentioned earlier, the Anabaptists, come up here. They taught, and some still do, that there is an end to the condemnation of hell. In a nutshell, they taught that one could leave hell and enter heaven. The second thing we reject may be a more familiar idea, since it is part of the premise of the Left Behind series that was popular a little while back. We reject that – before Christ returns – all evil will be destroyed and Christians will be the rulers of this world. Though they aren’t mentioned here, we also don’t hold to the ideas of the Rapture or Tribulation. None of these are actually Christian ideas, originally. We simply believe that the end of the world will be when Christ returns. Those who received Him in faith will enter the new creation, those who rejected Him will be condemned.

I hate to end of kind of a bummer of a sentence. I guess, I encourage all Christians to give thanks for the grace they’ve received and pray that the number of God’s people would be increased. Next month we’ll return to a couple articles that hit on the core of the faith. We’ll study the articles on free will and the cause of sin. See you next month!

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Arise, shine, for your light has come,” says the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, where the Incarnation of Jesus was made known to the world. Again, Isaiah speaks, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Over the last twelve days we’ve heard the story of our Lord’s birth. We’ve heard the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah that John would be born to prepare the way of the Messiah. We’ve heard the announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, and she shall conceive and bear a son. We’ve heard the account of our Savior’s birth; and now today, Christmas is given to the world.

The Epiphany itself, is an ancient holiday. From its beginning, it was a holiday commemorating both the birth and Baptism of Jesus. It moves from Christmas, where God is revealed as man, to the time where the man, Jesus, is revealed as the God of all creation to creation. In our calendar today we celebrate an entire season, beginning with the arrival of the wise men where Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles. We also see His Baptism, where the Spirit rests on Jesus’ shoulder and the Father speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We learn of His first miracle, the first sign that He is the Messiah, the changing of water into wine. Finally, the season ends with the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appear in glory to speak with Jesus concerning His exodus – His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

But it all begins today. Today these words are fulfilled,

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord in a time of turmoil and suffering. The chosen people of God were fractured into two nations, with many enemies designing even further destruction. The faithful continued to hope and pray for the Messiah, longing for the Son of God to come and forgive their sins, but all they saw around themselves was thick darkness. As Isaiah said, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” As the darkness of fear surrounded God’s people, so the darkness of sin covers the whole world. Each person goes his own way, ignoring and disregarding God’s will, striving after the wind and even hiding from the Light of the Lord.

We also are included in the darkness of sin. St. Paul says that, apart from faith in Christ, we are by nature children of wrath. St. John also says that those who walk apart from faith walk in darkness and do not practice the truth. But arise, and shine, for your Light has come. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. The Light of the world has been revealed to the nations. As the wise men were led to worship Jesus through His Word, so is Christ revealed to us in the preaching of the Gospel. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us, and the Light of Jesus scatters the darkness of our hearts.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. At our Lord’s birth, the Light of the World was worshipped by Angels and shepherds, but now He is been manifested to the world. Soon, we will celebrate His Baptism and Transfiguration, where it is revealed that Light of the World has also come to suffer death for the life of the world.

November Newsletter and Announcements

Happy Saturday Everyone!

The e-mail with the newsletter is going out right now, but there are some indications it might not work as planned. I’ve attached it lower in the post. Here are just a few things I want to call to your attention in the weeks ahead:

  • 14th (Next Saturday!) will be our fall vendor show at St. John. It will be 10:00-3:00 at the high school. Help is needed to set up on Friday.
  • 15th (Next Sunday!) Deaconess Caitlin Worden will be with us. After church at St. John we will be having a potluck lunch and gather for a presentation on her work in Peru. Trinity will also be having a potluck later in the afternoon.
  • 18th will be our annual joint-parish meeting. Voters and members of both congregations are invited to join us at 7:30 p.m. at St. John.
  • 22nd will be the annual meatball dinner at St. John. To facilitate that, St. John and Trinity will be switching service times. (St. John at 8:30, Trinity at 10:30)
  • Thanksgiving services will be Nov. 25th and 26th. St. John will have theirs Wednesday evening at 7; Trinity will be 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
  • The next regularly scheduled voters’ meeting at St. John will be December 9th after the Advent midweek service.

Please let us know if you have any questions, or if we missed anything. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we’ll see you tomorrow for the Lord’s Day!

Pastor Swenson

November 2015 Newsletter