Bible Study – Formula of Concord II: Free Will

This is for another Bible study. I’ve borrowed this from Formula of Concord II from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. There are a couple paraphrases and edits on my part for clarity.

II. FREE WILL

1. THE ISSUE

After the fall and before receiving the Holy Spirit, what powers in spiritual matters does a person have? Can a person by his own powers—prior to and before his regeneration by God’s Spirit—get ready and prepare himself for God’s grace? Can a person accept or reject the grace offered through the Holy Spirit in the Word and holy Sacraments?

2. WHAT WE BELIEVE

This is our teaching, faith, and confession on this subject: in spiritual matters the understanding and reason of mankind are completely blind and by their own powers understand nothing.

  • The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

Likewise, we believe, teach, and confess that the natural will of mankind is not only turned away from God, but also has become God’s enemy. So it only has an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God.

  • The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8:21)
  • The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Rom. 8:7)

Just as a dead body cannot raise itself to bodily, earthly life, so a person who by sin is spiritually dead cannot raise himself to spiritual life.

  • Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:5)
  • Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Cor. 3:5)

God the Holy Spirit, however, does not bring about conversion without means. For this purpose He uses the preaching and hearing of God’s Word.

  • The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16)
  • Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)

It is God’s will that His Word should be heard and that a person’s ears should not be closed (Psalm 95:8). With this Word the Holy Spirit is present and opens hearts, so that people (like Lydia in Acts 16:14) pay attention to it and are converted only through the Holy Spirit’s grace and power, who alone does the work of converting a person. For without His grace, and if He does not grant the increase, our willing and running, our planting, sowing, and watering (1 Corinthians 3:5–7)—are all nothing. As Christ says ‹in John 15:5›, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” With these brief words the Spirit denies free will its powers and ascribes everything to God’s grace, in order that no one may boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:29; [2 Corinthians 12:5; Jeremiah 9:23]).

3. WHAT WE DON’T BELIEVE

The idea that everything that happens must so happen and cannot happen otherwise; everything that a person does, even in outward things, he does by compulsion; he is forced to do evil works and deeds, such as inchastity, robbery, murder, theft, etc.

That a person by his own powers, without the Holy Spirit’s grace, can turn himself to God, believe the Gospel, be obedient from the heart to God’s Law, and so merit the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We also reject that a person can begin his conversion even if he can’t complete it without the Holy Spirit’s grace.

There are some that agree that a person is too weak to begin his conversion and that he cannot turn himself to God by his own powers. But, they still say that, if the Holy Spirit starts it through preaching and has offered His grace, then a person’s will can add something. Though weak and feeble, man’s will can still cooperate with God in salvation.

Some have taught that a person—after he has been born again—can perfectly observe and completely fulfill God’s Law, and that this fulfilling is our righteousness before God, by which we merit eternal life.

We also reject those who imagine that God without means, without the hearing of God’s Word, and also without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws people to Himself and enlightens, justifies, and saves them.

Some teach that in conversion and regeneration God entirely exterminates the Old Adam totally and in baptism creates a new soul.

4. Summary

Martin Luther has written that a person’s will in his conversion is purely passive, that is, that it does nothing at all. This is to be understood with respect to divine grace in the kindling of the new movements, that is, when God’s Spirit, through the heard Word or the use of the holy Sacraments, lays hold of a person’s will and works in him the new birth and conversion. When ‹after› the Holy Spirit has worked and accomplished this, and a person’s will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of that person is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Spirit. So that person not only accepts grace, but he also cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.

There are only two efficient causes for a person’s conversion: (1) the Holy Spirit and (2) God’s Word, as the instrument of the Holy Spirit, by which He works conversion. A person must hear this Word. However, it is not by that person’s own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Spirit that he trusts the Word and receives it.

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