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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Free Will part 1

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1 Corinthians 2:9–10

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Free Will 

Our opponents accept the Eighteenth Article, “Concerning Free Will,” although they add some references not at all relevant to this case. They also declare that not too much should be granted to the free will as with the Pelagians, nor should all freedom be denied as with the Manicheans. Very well; but what difference is there between the Pelagians and our opponents? Both think that without the Holy Spirit people can love God and keep God’s commandments with respect to the substance of the acts, and can merit grace and justification through works which reason performs on its own. How many absurdities follow from these Pelagian opinions that are taught with great authority in the schools! Augustine, whose judgment, based on Paul, we recounted above in the article “Concerning Justification,” decidedly refutes these opinions.

Pulling It Together

Manichaeism, in the simplest understanding, holds that people are flawed and incapable of receiving the redemption that God offers in Christ. Pelagianism, on the other hand, claims that original sin has no effect on us (that we are not flawed), so that we are able to be righteous without God’s assistance. Both Manichaeism and Pelagianism are basic heresies of the Christian faith. Melancthon, the writer of the Apology, found it ironic that the Confutation of their adversaries accepted the Lutheran position on free will when they were themselves Pelagian in practice. The opponents of the Lutheran Confessions claimed that people are able to believe and do works of righteousness apart from the Holy Spirit. Further, they claimed that people can earn righteousness, justification, and salvation under their own natural power.

“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” (Article 18, Augsburg Confession). The eighteenth article of the Augsburg Confession states, “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 was not condemned in the opponents’ Confutation.

Prayer: Reveal yourself to me, Lord, and help me understand, through the power of your Spirit. Amen.

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