Augsburg Confession – Article 18 – Free Will

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 17, click here.)

Regarding free will, this is what we teach: Humans have a free will to a certain extent. They have the ability to live an outwardly honorable life and can make choices among those things that pertain to reason.1 But without the grace, help, and working of the Holy Spirit they are not capable of becoming pleasing to God, of fearing or believing God from the heart, or of expelling the innate, evil inclinations from their hearts. This rather takes place through the Holy Spirit, who is given through God’s word. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “The natural man understands nothing from the Spirit of God.”2

And so that it may be recognized that we are not teaching anything new and strange, we include here the clear words of Augustine on free will, from the third book of his Hypognosticon:3

We concede that there is a free will in all people, for all of them have natural, innate understanding and reason. We are not saying that they are capable of dealing with God in some respect, such as loving and fearing God from the heart; only in the outward works of this life do they have freedom to choose good or evil. By “good” I mean what their nature is capable of, such as working in the field or not, eating or drinking, going to see a friend or not, putting on or taking off a piece of clothing, taking a wife, pursuing a trade, and doing something useful and good of that sort. Of course without God none of these exists or continues; everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, man can also undertake something evil by his own choice, such as bowing down to an idol, committing a murder, etc.

(To continue to Article 19, click here.)


1 Some examples of such choices are provided in the quote at the end of the article. Cf. also Wade Johnston, An Uncompromising Gospel (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2016), pp. 13-14: “[In his Heidelberg Disputation] Luther…addressed the problem of free will—the existence, or lack of existence, of free will in matters of salvation. Here Americans bristle, but we must remember that Luther isn’t talking about whether or not we can choose Big Macs or Whoppers, vanilla or chocolate custard, but whether or not we can decide to be saved, whether we can choose to do what is necessary for us to be righteous.”

2 For more proof passages, see Genesis 6:5 (before the Flood); 8:21 (after the Flood); John 3:5,6; 8:31-36; 15:16; Romans 8:6-8.

3 Like the quote from Ambrose in Article 6 (see Note 2 there), this quote from Augustine is not actually from Augustine. It is usually attributed to Pseudo-Augustine, a title that can apply to a number of as-yet unidentified authors. However, the work is ancient; it was already being falsely attributed to Augustine in the 800s AD, and it was obviously preserved because it was thought to be of value. The work is usually called Hypognosticon or Hypomnesticon contra Pelagianos et Coelestianos, which means An Instructive Letter Against the Pelagians and Coelestians. The original Latin quote can be found in col. 1623 (Book 3, Chapter 4, par. 5) here.

Here is a supporting quote actually taken from Augustine: “A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth… God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 3, par. 5; original Latin quote in col. 203 here).


Augsburg Confession – Article 17 – Christ’s Return to Judgment

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 16, click here.)

We also teach that our Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge on the Last Day. He will awaken all the dead, giving eternal life and eternal joy to the believers and elect, but condemning the godless1 and the devil to hell and eternal punishment.

We therefore reject the Anabaptists, who teach that the devil and those who are condemned will not experience eternal pain and torment.2

Likewise, we also reject here certain Jewish teachings that are also surfacing at the present time, which claim that before the resurrection of the dead, just the saints and pious will have a worldly kingdom and will annihilate all the godless.3

(To continue to Article 18, click here.)


1 Note that Melanchthon provides the synonym elect for believers, but no corresponding synonym such as non-elect for the unbelievers or godless, since the Bible only uses the concept of the elect to describe those who will inherit eternal life (Psalm 106:4,5; Matthew 22:14; Romans 8:33; Ephesians 1:4-6,11,12; 1 Peter 2:9). Two passages often cited in support of the damned also being elect – that is, elect or predestined for damnation – are Romans 9:22-24 and 1 Peter 2:8. But in Romans 9, two different Greek verbs are used to describe the saved and the damned, and only the verb describing the saved has a προ- prefix on it (that is, the choosing was done “in advance” or from eternity only for them). That an eternal election is not the case with the damned is even clearer in 1 Peter 2:8, since Peter immediately goes on to say in the next verse, “But you [believers] are an elect kind [i.e. class of creatures]…” – namely, as opposed to the condemned unbelievers he was just talking about. In both verses, the destining (not predestination) of unbelievers to hell is spoken of in the sense of consequence, in view of their wrongdoing and unbelief. It would certainly seem logical and reasonable to say that if God did not choose certain people to inherit salvation, then ipso facto he has chosen them for damnation. However, God’s word contradicts that logic. The saved are such only by the eternal, gracious selection of God in view of his own plan of salvation through the person and work of his Son, a selection which is then put into effect through his own gift of faith in Christ worked by the Holy Spirit using Word and sacrament, while the damned are such only by their own choice, unbelief, and wickedness. So we simply keep silent before the mystery and let God’s logic take precedence over our own.

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5, 12 & 16. In addition to the Anabaptists mentioned there, Melchior Rink and his followers also held this view, known today as universalism or universal salvation. The view is still current, being the express position of such church bodies like the Unitarian Universalist Church and the unofficial position of many within mainline Protestant church bodies. The particular position described here is not an outright rejection of hell, but a rejection of the everlasting nature of its punishment; hell becomes more like a purgatory or reformatory for everyone who goes there. Cp. Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:47,48; Luke 16:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.

3 The Latin version of this paragraph reads: “They [our teachers] also condemn the others who are now spreading Jewish opinions, namely that before the resurrection of the dead the pious are going to occupy the kingdom of the world, with the impious being suppressed everywhere.”

Today such teachings are usually referred to as millennialistic or chiliastic (not to be confused with millennial as a generational classification), from the Latin words mille, “a thousand,” and annum, “year,” and the Greek word χιλιάς (chilias), “a thousand.” Melanchthon labeled them “Jewish teachings” and “Jewish opinions” due to the tendency of the Jews in Jesus’ day – including, at times, Jesus’ own disciples – to view the Messiah as an earthly king (see e.g. John 6:15,26,27; Acts 1:6; cp. John 18:36), the view also at the heart of millennialism. (This false view of the Messiah also prevails in orthodox Judaism today.) Millennialism is the teaching that there will be a literal 1000-year period of peace, prosperity, and blessedness on earth immediately before Judgment Day, though there are many variations of it. (There are some millennialists who do not understand it to be a literal 1000-year period, but still believe that things will get better on earth immediately before Judgment Day; cp. Matthew 24:4-31.) Premillennialism, the teaching that Christ will return at the start of this 1000-year period to set up a kingdom on earth, could well be the predominant teaching among Protestants (non-Roman Catholic Christians), statistically speaking. There is also postmillennialism and dispensationalism, and within dispensationalism there is the teaching of a seven-year tribulation or period of great difficulty on earth before the millennium, which includes the rapture, or sudden snatching up of believers to heaven, either before, during, or after that seven-year period, with the adherents of each position calling themselves pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib, respectively. All of this confusion and clutter can be easily dispelled by:

  1. a recognition that the concept of a millennium, in the sense that the millennialists use it, only explicitly appears in one place in the entire Bible – Revelation 20:1-6, and
  2. a careful reading of that section, without any presuppositions, paying close attention both to its immediate context (including the fact that Revelation is an apocalyptic book with a lot of symbolism, including a lot of symbolic use of numbers) and its wider, biblical context, which always mentions the second coming of Christ in connection with Judgment Day and eternal life or death (see Matthew 25:31-33,46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:27,28).

For a thorough treatment of Revelation 20:1-6 on the basis of the Greek text, see Siegbert W. Becker, Revelation: The Distant Triumph Song (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985), pp. 296-315. For a thorough treatment of millennialism at a much easier reading level, see Thomas P. Nass, End Times: Jesus Is Coming Soon (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2011), pp. 239-344.

Notable millennialists in Melanchthon’s day included Augustin Bader (c. 1495-1530) and the already-mentioned Melchior Rink.

Also note how simply the Nicene Creed dismissed the millennialism already cropping up in its own day: “and his [Jesus’] kingdom will have no end” (see Luke 1:33). This statement would not be true if Jesus first enjoyed a 1000-year rule on earth before taking up his rule over his heavenly kingdom.

Augsburg Confession – Article 16 – Polity and Secular Government

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 15, click here.)

Regarding polity and secular government, we teach that every authority in the world and all duly organized governments and duly established laws are a good arrangement, created and instituted by God, and that Christians may without sin occupy positions of authority and serve as princes or judges, render verdicts and pass sentences according imperial and other prevailing laws, punish evildoers with the sword, wage just wars,1 serve as soldiers, buy and sell, take required oaths, possess property, get married, etc.

Here the Anabaptists are condemned, who teach that none of the things cited above is Christian.2

Also condemned are those who teach that it is Christian perfection to physically forsake house and home, wife and child, and to renounce the activities already touched upon,3 even though true perfection consists only of true fear of God and true faith in God. For the gospel does not teach an external, temporal existence and righteousness, but an internal, eternal existence and righteousness of the heart, and it does not overthrow secular government, polity, and marriage, but rather wants people to uphold all of these as true arrangements of God and to demonstrate Christian love and actual good works in these stations, each according to his calling.4 Therefore Christians are obligated to be submissive to the authorities and obedient to their commands and laws in everything that may be done without sin. For if the authority’s command may not be carried out without sinning, then we should be more obedient to God than to men (Acts 5).5

(To continue to Article 17, click here.)


1 The concept of a “just war” has been grappled with by Christians of every age. A list of the characteristics of a just war will generally follow these guidelines:

  • Waged by a legal authority
  • Waged for a just cause (e.g. in response to an unprovoked attack vs. mere aversion to another country and its policies)
  • Waged as a last resort
  • Waged with a reasonable probability of success
  • Waged with proportionate means
  • Waged with due regard for the innocent

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5 & 12.

3 Melanchthon is primarily referring to the monastic movement.

4 This article touches on the Christian doctrine of vocation, which Luther brought back to the fore – the fact that, when we are converted, Christ sanctifies whatever current callings we have and fills them with eternal purpose and turns them into opportunities for us to glorify him and to love and serve our neighbor. (An inherently sinful occupation, such as prostitution, would of course not qualify as a divine calling.) To summarize the practical value of this doctrine, sometimes an apocryphal Luther quote is cited: God doesn’t want a Christian shoemaker to stitch crosses on the shoes he makes so much as he wants him to make good, quality shoes.

4 For proof passages for this article, see e.g. Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14; John 19:11; Romans 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 7:17,24; 10:31; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Augsburg Confession – Article 15 – Church Rites

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 14, click here.)

Regarding church rites established by humans, we teach people to observe those that may be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church, as is the case with certain celebrations, festivals, and the like. Yet at the same time we instruct people that their consciences should not be burdened with such things as if they were necessary for salvation. Moreover we teach that all regulations and traditions established by humans for the purpose of appeasing God and meriting grace are opposed to the gospel and the doctrine of faith in Christ. Therefore monastic vows and other traditions concerning the distinction of foods, special days, etc., through which people mistakenly imagine that they can merit grace and make satisfaction for sin, are useless and contrary to the gospel.

(To continue to Article 16, click here.)


For proof passages, see e.g. Acts 15:7-11; Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40; Ephesians 2:8,9; Colossians 2:16.

Augsburg Confession – Article 14 – Church Authority

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 13, click here.)

Regarding authority in the church, we teach that no one should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a call issued in a regular and orderly way.

(To continue to Article 15, click here.)


Many Roman theologians accused the Lutherans of rejecting the public ministry and all order and authority in the church because of works such as Luther’s Concerning the Ministry (1523; Luther’s Works [AE] 40:3ff), in which Luther taught the priesthood of all believers. Melanchthon could not have answered that false accusation more clearly or concisely than he does here. For proof passages, see Jeremiah 23:21; Ephesians 4:10-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 14:29,36-40; Titus 1:5.

The modern practice that could probably use the most guidance from this article is the practice of so-called lay-led Bible studies (that are officially sanctioned and promoted by Christians congregations) – a concept which, taken at face value, this article, on the basis of Scripture, explicitly rejects. The only lay-led Bible studies should be those led by fathers in their homes (or mothers, in cases where the father is an unbeliever or grossly derelict in his duty) and those that Christians may find the opportunity to lead with non-Christians or false-believing Christians. In many cases, such church-sanctioned Bible studies do in fact meet the criteria of this article in substance; that is, the people leading the Bible studies have in fact been called by the congregation in a regular and orderly way. But in those cases the Bible studies should not be called “lay-led,” because that label is both false and misleading. Those leading the Bible studies in those cases are in fact doing so as public ministers of the gospel, albeit with a much narrower scope of ministry than the parish pastor. However, even before such a call is issued, it must be established that calling a layperson without any formal theological training to such a position is approved by both the congregation in question and the church body at large to which the congregation belongs – which is a significant part of “in a regular and orderly way.”

Augsburg Confession – Article 13 – Use of the Sacraments

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 12, click here.)

Regarding the use of the sacraments, we teach that the sacraments have been instituted not just to serve as signs whereby Christians might be outwardly recognized as such,1 but to serve as signs and testimonies of God’s disposition toward us for awakening and strengthening our faith. For this reason they also require faith and are rightly used when people receive them in faith2 and when their faith is strengthened thereby.3

(To continue to Article 14, click here.)


1 This was the teaching of Ulrich Zwingli (see e.g. pp. 535ff here [page numbers in the right margin]; pp. 243ff here; and pp. 392ff here).

2 An additional sentence in Melanchthon’s so-called editio princeps (first edition) of the Augsburg Confession, published in 1531, shows that here the Lutherans were seeking to distance themselves from scholastic teaching within the Roman Church: “We therefore reject those who teach that the sacraments make a person righteous ex opere operato [by the mere performance of the work] apart from faith, and who do not teach that there also needs to be faith that forgiveness of sins is being offered there, which is obtained through faith, not through the work.” The concept of the sacraments benefitting a person ex opere operato had been promoted since the 13th century.

3 The final sentence in the Latin version reads: “And so the sacraments should be used in such a way that faith is also there to believe the promises that are held out and showcased through the sacraments.” In the case of infant baptism, the requisite faith, through which baptism’s promises and blessings are received, is also given through those same promises and blessings. (While we cannot dogmatically assert that such faith is given in every single case, we proceed under the assumption that it is due to the power of the gospel [Romans 1:16; 1 Peter 3:21], God’s general desire to save [1 Timothy 2:3,4], his express desire to save the children of believers through baptism [Acts 2:38,39], and his own statement about the faith of babies and little children [Luke 18:15-17].)

Augsburg Confession – Article 12 – Repentance

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 11, click here.)

Regarding repentance, we teach that those who have sinned after baptism, at whatever time they come to repentance, obtain forgiveness of sins, and absolution should not be denied them by the church. Now true and genuine repentance, properly speaking, is nothing other than having contrition and sorrow or dread over sin, and yet at the same time believing in the gospel and absolution, namely that the sin has been forgiven and that grace has been secured through Christ, and this faith comforts the heart and puts it back at ease.1 After that, changing one’s life for the better and desisting from sin should also follow, for these are supposed to be the fruits of repentance, as John says in Matthew 3, “Produce the genuine fruit of repentance.”

Here we reject those who teach that once a person becomes pious, he is unable to fall away again.2

On the other side, we also condemn the Novatians, who denied absolution to those who had sinned after baptism.3

We also reject those who teach that people obtain forgiveness of sins through their own satisfaction, instead of through faith.4

(To continue to Article 13, click here.)


1 Compare this simple, biblical definition (Mark 1:14,15; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; 2 Timothy 2:25) to the supposed 4 (or 8) “Rs of Repentance” in Mormonism and popular Evangelical theology – recognition, remorse, resolution, (recitation, reformation,) restitution(, release, and reception) – where the fruits of repentance get mixed up with repentance itself, and the essence of repentance, namely trust in forgiveness through Christ, gets lost entirely.

2 Included among those who taught that you could not fall away if you had actually already become a believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11,12) were the Anabaptists like Hans Denck. (The Latin version actually condemns the Anabaptists by name, and it also condemns those who teach that it is possible for a person to attain to such a state of perfection in this life that he or she no longer sins.) Caspar Schwenckfeld also spoke of the regenerate as “essentially righteous.”

3 The Novatians were a heretical group of rigorists in Rome in the middle of the 3rd century AD, named after Novatian (c. 200–258), who refused to take back into the church those who had denied the faith during persecution. Eventually they also refused readmission to those who committed adultery or fornication or who were guilty of murder.

4 This last condemned group really consisted of prominent Roman Catholic theologians, including Johann Eck, who was the Lutherans’ primary opponent at the Diet of Augsburg. Still today, official Roman Catholic doctrine includes satisfaction as an essential part of repentance or penance (see e.g. par. 1431, 1434ff, & 1450 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).