Luther on the Holy Spirit creates faith


 Martin Luther by hallaw4“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times.  This knowledge and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith” (LW 35:370-71).

“I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth. . . . In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ” (Small Catechism, BC, Tappert 345).

“The Holy Spirit is no skeptic, and it is not doubts and opinions that he has written on our hearts but assertions more sure and certain than life itself and all experience” (LW 33:24).

“In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammed.  Accordingly, we should and must maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil” (Smalcald Articles III/VIII/9-10; BC Tappert 313).


    This is a sermon that carries on with those quotes from Luther:

 >>> Luther’s-explanation-of-the-3rd-article-of-The-Apostle’s-Creed


I put a link to this sermon in a comment I made last week on The Gospel Coalition’s site, and the blog stats show that it was very popular. Not that that matters..

The angels in Heaven rejoice over just ONE who hears, and believes.


Thanks be to God! 

And that is not to say that the good folks over there (The Gospel Coalition) don’t already have faith. I’m sure they do.

Shoot, there may even be some in the congregation where I worship who have it also!






Thanks to CrossAlone Lutheran District, for the quotes.

Thanks to Pastor Mark for the sermon.

And thanks to flickr and hallaw4, for the photo.






10 Responses

  1. Hey Steve,
    A question as it relates to the Holy Spirit creating faith: If the HS creates faith (and I certainly believe that) then I’m to assume that ‘faith’ is something we are not born with. I’ve seen several postings on your blog site that speak ill of ‘limited atonement’. You may have to explain the line of Lutheran reasoning on this. It would seem the issue of faith being created by the HS in the believer and not in the unbeliever would inherently make the atonement limited… at least in its application to believers. I’m slowly working through Luther’s Bondage of the Will (what a great work too) and it seems he understood the 2 ideas to be linked unless I’m not far enough through the book yet. At this point I can’t see a ‘great chasm’ between Luther and Calvin in how they saw the issue (for any Lutheran who is exercised beyond what he can bear I apologize for this comment). Anyway I look forward to your response.

  2. Hi Mitchell,

    I will be interested in Steve’s response to your question, but I wanted to also add a few thoughts having once been a Calvinist who held to limited atonement and now being an orthodox Lutheran pastor.

    The difference between Luther’s theology and Calvin’s theology is that Luther didn’t try to reconcile seemingly conflicting truths in the Word of God, while Calvin sometimes did at the expense of other clear Scriptural truths. Luther understood the priority of child-like faith over human reason, taking every thought captive to the Word of God. He understood that God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than our own, and thus let seemingly paradoxical truths stand.

    Luther clearly taught that no man can of himself and of his own efforts believe in Christ and His promises, but that this faith is wholly a gracious gift of the Holy Ghost. So if a man believes, it is totally credited to the work of God. However (and this is where Luther and Calvin part ways), God withholds faith from no man. If a person does not believe then the fault lies entirely in that person. If a man is saved, it is all of God’s grace, but if a man is lost, it is solely his own fault. Reason will balk at this, but faith gladly embraces these truths knowing that they are spoken by a God who cannot lie and knows better than we do.

    Limited atonement is a different issue. Luther held to the true universal atonement of Christ because the Scriptures clearly teach it (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Heb. 2:9; 1 Jo. 2:2; etc.). He also held to the doctrine of election, again because the Scriptures teach it. He didn’t try to reconcile these doctrines (as Calvinists mistakenly do) because he saw that both were plainly taught in the Word of God and both were important and necessary to our salvation. For if Christ had not died for all, no one could know with certainty that He died for his own sins. And if God did not elect and choose us before the world was, then God would not be the first cause and there would be room for boasting.

    Here is a link to a debate that I once had with a leading 5-pt Calvinist connected with John MacArthur of Grace Community Church. I believe it fairly deals with the major points in this issue of the extent of Christ’s atoning work and has many quotes from Luther. The link takes you to the end of the debate, but you can always follow it backwards to the beginning.

    God’s blessings,


    • Stuart,
      Thank you for your response. I must admit it is hard to bring to terms. So for Luther the atonement is universal. How does one interpret “you do not believe because you are not my sheep?” I’m not trying to be argumentative at all but it seems Christ is saying this with respect to there needing to be the precondition of the ‘already in Him before the foundation of the world’ in order to believe. Sorry for the debate Stuart I’m extremely new to the reformation understanding of the Gospel and soteriology etc. I love it though!

  3. Hi Mitchell,

    Stuart has it exactly right.

    Christ died for everyone. We actually believe what the Bible tells us on that score, while the Calvinists do not.

    If we are saved, God gets ALL the credit.

    If we are lost, we get ALL the blame.

    Christ forgave (forgives) ALL..but not all believe it.

    Why some come to faith, and others do not, is the question. No one down here on earth can answer that one.

  4. Thanks, Stuart for answerinf Mitchell, and thanks for that link!

    Look forward to looking at that.

  5. Hi Mitchell,

    It is best to see the kingdom of God like a fortified golden city that only has one gate of access from the outside. That one and only gate is the holy Gospel, how that “Christ died for OUR sins” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). As we approach the city (as lost and condemned sinners, as those in Adam), it is necessary that the gate be presented to us as universal (all-inclusive) so that we (who know nothing at this point of our election) might know with certainty that Christ’s atoning work was wrought for us, even us as we are as part of the natural race of fallen men. If the door read “Christ died for the elect only”, how would that make us lowly sinners feel? How could we, as condemned sinners, believe with confidence that Christ suffered and died for us? And where would we ever find this knowledge of our election on the outside of the city so that we might know we could lawfully and rightly go through the gate? So, you see, it is absolutely necessary to our faith that the atoning work of Christ be presented to us as universal and thoroughly and truthfully be inclusive.

    Incidentally, once we go through the gate (and are on the inside of the city), we see written above the same gate “do not think you have chosen me, but I have chosen you, etc.” There is our election. This knowledge is meant for those who are in Christ, not those who are still in Adam. Consider Paul’s order of presentation in the Epistle to the Romans – The knowledge of the Gospel first (Rom. 1-8), then the knowledge of election (Rom. 9).


    • Stuart,
      Great explanation. I guess I assumed Calvin to hold the position that no one would believe the Gospel were it not for the intervention of the Holy Spirit… that if one believes you are simply numbered among the elect in Christ. My next question is this: Is there such a person who believes their sins are forgiven through Christ’s work alone who really aren’t saved and still lost? Am I creating a straw man of some sort?

  6. Hi Mitchell,

    The key question in one’s salvation is not “do they believe?”, but “What do they believe?” It is the content of one’s faith that saves, not the faith itself. Imagine faith being like a valve. That valve can be directed and opened to something that is not true, and it will only bring in polluted water. Or it can be opened to something that is true but not saving (i.e. doctrine of creation, angels, etc.) and it will bring clean water, but not saving water. Or it can be opened to the one and only true Gospel (the power of God unto salvation) and it will bring the living water which indeed saves the soul. So again, in answer to your question, a person may say they believe in Christ and not be saved. To be saved, one must believe the Gospel of Christ, how that Christ suffered and died on the cross of Calvary for one’s own sins. And this knowledge of the Gospel must be derived from the Word of God, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Any faith in the Gospel that is derived from one’s own external experiences, internal sensibilities, or any other presumptions, will not do. And this is why the universal Gospel is so important, for it is only by the knowledge that Christ suffered and died for all that I can know Biblically that He died for me. If I were to believe that He died only for the elect, then I must know my election BEFORE I can believe He died for me (the Gospel), and this knowledge of my election has not been specifically recorded in Holy Writ. Thus I am forced to look to my own experiences and perceptions for a ground of standing, and such a ground will surely prove to be sinking sand.


  7. Stuart,
    I never have thought of it that way. Thanks much for responding.

  8. Baptism, for a Lutheran , is an essential part of any discussion on Election. Baptism is what a Lutheran looks to confirm that he is one of God’s Elect. It is right there that we find the answer to the question : “am I one of God’s Elect?” The only answer Holy Baptism knows to give is “Yes, the Name of the Blessed Holy Trinity was placed upon you there!”

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