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In contrast to the Reformed tradition, it it the best of my understating, that Lutherans hold in election unto salvation for all who all in Christ, yet also hold that individuals, because of their own fault and will, can turn away fro the faith and lose their salvation. This being the reason for all the warnings and admonitions in the Bible.

One example would be John 15, where Jesus says that anyone who does not abide in his word, will be cut off.

Given all that, what does apostasy mean in Lutheranism? Is it someone who utterly rejects Christ, or is it anyone caught up in habitual sin, like for example adultery or gambling, etc.

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To add to what has already been stated the interpretive key to the Lutheran Confessions, in answer to this question, is how Martin Luther once wrote in a letter to Melanchthon:

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy... It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. (Letter 99, August 1st, 1521)

Jesus has more forgiveness than one can possibly have, even with so-called "intentional" sins. There is no magic level of good works that one needs to achieve to prove before God that one's saving faith is genuine. It is simply a matter of the heart believing (Romans 10:8-12). "If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One." (1 John 2:1)


To be sure, in Lutheran theology certain practices of sinful behavior (e.g. open sin, as Smalcald Article III:III, 43-45 points out) can lead to the "filling of the Holy Spirit" departing from people and effective intercessory oriented faith can shrivel away. King David writes about his heart relationship with God: "Do not banish me from your presence, and don't take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you." (Psalm 51:11)

At the end of the day, it is only having an incorrect understanding/application (i.e. a works righteousness view) of the work of the Holy Spirit & trust in the Divinity of Jesus that can drive away saving faith. Jesus said, "unless you believe who I AM you will die in your sins."

Observing "open" and unacknowledged sin in the life of those who profess saving faith is not an infallible sign that they are apostates and no longer have saving faith. Through the righteousness of Christ by faith there is an imputation that takes place. Christ is our righteousness effectively because he justifies us and our faith rests in him. And he is our righteousness formally in that his righteousness is imputed to us.

While not "essential" for saving faith, good works do indeed "necessarily" follow faith. But these works are not to be looked at like a litmus test to determine saving faith.

The Lutheran theologian, Martin Chemnitz, once wrote the following:



...in the case of our justification, which is the full and perfect acceptance of the believer unto eternal life, certain effects in our life, such as the new obedience, follow rather slowly because of the weakness of our flesh... (Loci)

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  • You make quite an egregious straw man by saying “ There is no magic level of good works that one needs to achieve to prove before God that one's saving faith is genuine.” What church teaches that there is a “magic number of good works” which proves genuine faith?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Mar 25 at 12:22
  • Well, to begin with, how about church attendance? Is there a point in which one can say that another person lacks saving faith because they don't go to church? Martin Luther even wrote: "You have to worry that whoever does not desire or receive the sacrament at the very least around four times a year despises the sacrament and is no Christian..." On a positive note, the Alpha Course gets around this question by saying that some folks can have a pilot like faith. A full burning (passionate) faith results from being filled with the Spirit and singing Psalms, Hymns and Songs with others.
    – Jess
    Commented Mar 25 at 18:16
  • you didn't answer my question. I asked what church teaches that there is a "magic number of good works" that prove genuine faith?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Mar 25 at 23:45
  • Luke, the question is not what churches believe, but what Lutherans believe about good works. If you read the Lutheran Confessions, they condemn a teaching called "Majorism." It's a belief that a progressive form of sanctification must take place of justification to be secure - i.e. one must keep doing good works to stay saved and if you persist in sin, you’ll necessarily lose your salvation.
    – Jess
    Commented Mar 26 at 1:40
  • I’m not offering commentary on the question, I’m asking a question relating to your answer.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Mar 26 at 14:45
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The standard, official documents of the Lutheran church are contained in the book of Concord (https://bookofconcord.org/solid-declaration/election/).

In Article XI, on Election, in the opening paragraphs, the authors labor to show that God's choosing is in one direction: God chooses people to go to heaven purely out his grace (undeserved love). I'm writing this to confirm what you've already stated. In the paragraphs which follow the authors answer your question (¶75-85). I highly recommend reading through that entire article in detail.

Now, having shared with you that vital resource and summarizing it, let's look at some of what they write:

Are they speaking about someone who "utterly rejects Christ? Yes. Are they speaking about someone who is caught up in a habitual sin that eventually destroys their faith in Jesus? Yes. As a sample of the context consider this quote:

The reason why not all who hear the Word believe it (and thus receive the greater damnation) is not that God has not allowed them to be saved. Instead, it is their own fault, for they heard the Word not so that they might learn from it but only to despise, revile, and ridicule it; and they resisted the Holy Spirit, who wanted to work in them through the Word, as happened at Christ’s time with the Pharisees and their adherents [Matt. 23:26–36; Luke 11:37–54; John 7:48; 8:13; 9:16, 41; 12:42].

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 653.

The result of the rejection of Jesus is apostasy. In fact, for the sake of the article, the two words are synonymous. Rejection is to thow something back and away. Apostasy (from ⲁⲫⲓⲥⲧⲏⲙⲓ) means to stand away from [Jesus].

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