Augsburg Confession, Article 18: Free Will

Free will (610x351)AC XVIII: Freedom of the Human Will

Our churches teach that a person has some freedom to choose civil righteousness and to do things subject to reason. However, it does not have the power to produce the righteousness of God or spiritual righteousness without the Holy Spirit. For the “unbeliever doesn’t accept what comes from God’s Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This righteousness is worked in the heart when the Holy Spirit is received through the Word [Galatians 3:2-6].

Augustine says this in his Hypognosticon, Book III:

We grant that all people have a free will, which is free as far as it has the judgments of reason. However, this does not enable them, without God, either to begin–or much less complete–anything that has to do with God. It is free only to perform the good or evil deeds of this life. By “good” I mean works that arise from the good in nature, such as the will to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to wear clothes, to build a house, to marry, to raise cattle, to learn various useful skills, or to do whatever good applies to this life. For all of these depend on the providence of God. They are from Him and exist through Him. On the other hand, by “evil” I mean the will to worship an idol, will to commit murder, and so forth.


Rome’s Response:

. . . We receive and approve this confession. For it is proper for [Roman] Catholics to pursue the middle way, so as not, with the Pelagians, to ascribe too much to the free will, nor, with the godless Manichaeans, to deny it all freedom; for both are not without fault. . . .


  • Pelagians believed that original, inherited sin did not taint our human nature. Thus, the human will can choose good or evil without God’s help. In other words, Pelagians taught that a human can choose to be a Christian by his own effort and will.
  • Manicheans believed in a cosmic struggle between a good (the spiritual world of light) and an evil (the material world of darkness). Through an ongoing process taking place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light from which it came. Humans didn’t have free will but were simply pawns in this cosmic struggle between good and evil.


The main point of this article is to confess that we do have a free will when it comes to matters of our earthly life. You can decide whether you want to rob a bank or to donate food to a food pantry. But, apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in and for us, when it comes to spiritual matters, we have no freedom.



James 4:13-15: Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, conduct business, and make money.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. What is life? For you are like smoke that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

  • How does this passage show that even our free will in civil righteousness is limited in some way?


Romans 7:18-19: For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but instead I do the very evil that I don’t want to do!

  • How does St. Paul lament his “free” will?


1 Corinthians 2:14: The unbeliever doesn’t accept what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him. He can’t understand it because it is comprehended only through the Spirit.

  • What does the unbeliever not have the power to do?


  • How then can one ever be brought to faith?


Read Romans 8:5-8

  • How does St. Paul describe the mind-set we have since the fall into sin?


  • What does this say to those who think that they can “find” or “decide” for God through their own abilities?


  • What does this say about the freedom of our fallen will when it comes to God?


1 Corinthians 12:3: So I [the Apostle Paul] want you to know that no one speaking by God’s Spirit can say, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

  • Who is responsible for converting us from unbelief to belief in Christ as our Lord?


A Deeper Look

Scripture calls the mind and will of the unregenerated person as:

  • Darkness (Ephesians 5:8; John 1:5; 3:19; Acts 26:18)
  • Not simply sick, but dead (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13)
  • Lacking the power for spiritual impulses (1 Corinthians 1:20-21, 2:14, 4:7; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Matthew 11:27, 16:17; Romans 1:21, 7:18, 11:17-24; and John 6:44, 15:5)


Scripture speaks–not only about the defect of our fallen will–but shows that in place of what we lost in the fall, an evil condition and a corruption exists in our mind, will, and heart, as far as spiritual impulses and actions are concerned.   We have:

  • a “hardness and [an] unrepentant heart” (Romans 2:5)
  • a “heart of stone” (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26)
  • an “iron neck, brass forehead, and iron sinew” (Isaiah 48:4)
  • a “heart more deceitful than anything else” (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • as the Ethiopian is not able “to change his skin or the leopard his spots” (Jeremiah 13:23)
  • see also Romans 7:14-25, 8:7; Genesis 6:5, 8:21; Matthew 12:34; 1 Corinthians 2:14; and John 8:34

Scripture describes our salvation as, not as just being declared and made righteous, but also:

  • liberation from the slavery of sin,
  • healing,
  • illumination,
  • restoration, and
  • renewal of the mind and will.

See Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26; John 1:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5, 4:6; Deuteronomy 29:2-4; Matthew 13:11, 16:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Psalm 51:10; John 1:12, 6:44; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:13; James 1:17; Luke 24:45; and Acts 16:14


Excursus on Decision Theology

Revelation 3:20

With so much biblical “evidence” against having the ability to choose or “decide for” Jesus when still unregenerated, how do those who hold such a view support their theology from Scripture?

Perhaps, the most-used Bible passage to support such a theology comes from Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I [Jesus] stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” To understand this verse properly, we need to read what the Apostle John saw given to him about the church at Laodicea.

Read Revelation 3:14-22

  • To whom is this passage addressed, Christians or non-Christians?


  • How “on fire” were the Christians at Laodecia?


  • What does Jesus tell the Christians to do in verse 19?


  • In what way is repentance linked to “opening the door” for Jesus?


  • How does one eat with Christ?


Romans 10:8-9

Another passage used to support decision theology is Romans 10:8-9: “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Again, to make sense of this passage, we need to read it in its context.

Read Romans 10:1-10

  • At the beginning of this passage, what is Paul’s wish for the Jews?


  • Paul then contrasts the righteousness based on the law with the righteousness based on faith. Why does a righteousness based on faith NOT say, “Who will ascend … to bring Christ down” or “Who will descend … to bring Christ up”?


  • Instead faith says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” Thus, if one has the righteousness of faith, what does he already have in His mouth and heart?


  • Who is the “you” in verse 9, the Christians in Rome or the unbelieving Jews Paul mentioned earlier?


  • What salvation is Paul then referring to? (Hint: Jesus being raised from the dead means what for the Christian?)


  • When will the salvation to which Paul mentioned take place?


Note: We know Paul was addressing Christians when he said, “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” For in Romans 10:14, Paul then referred to the Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. He referred to them as “they.” If Paul was referring to unbelievers in verses 8-9, he would have used “they.”

To understand Paul’s view of salvation, we need to realize that Paul saw salvation as a past event, a present-tense event, and a future event. Thus, someone who was already saved was still being saved and would also be saved in the future.

  • Salvation as a past event: Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is a gift of God, not from works, so no one can boast.
  • Salvation as a present-tense event: 1 Corinthians 1:18: For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
  • Salvation as a future event: Romans 5:9: Since we have been made righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God.

The Christians whom Paul addressed in Roman 10:8-9 “will be saved” on the Last Day. As God raised Jesus from the dead, so also will Christians be raised from the dead and have new, perfect, and sinless bodies reunited to their souls. It is then that Christians will have the fullness of their salvation that Jesus won for them by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

  • If salvation is also a present-tense event, why does the Christian come to Church?



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