Audio: (< 4 min.)
We'll read Luther's explanation:
"I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort 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 kept me in true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this christian church, day after day, He fully forgives my sins, and the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true."
The third article of the Apostle's Creed as Luther looks at it, and interprets it, gets to the heart, in some ways, of the reformation understanding of the gospel. With this alarming beginning he makes, he really gets to the heart of the matter.
He starts by saying, "I believe, that I can't believe." What Luther is advocating, and what the reformers were advocating in this third article was that there is absolutely nothing that we can do to gain faith in God. And the word is... NOTHING.
The objections that are raised, of course, by the old sinner in us are union, and manifold, and all over the place: "Well God has offered Christ, but we have to accept Him. God has put Christ forward, but we have to believe in Him. God has put Christ out there, He's put the parts in place, but we have to assemble it and make it our own." ... Well that of course is exactly wrong. That is not the gospel... That is the religion of the old sinner that takes the gospel and turns it to his or her own advantage.
But Luther wants to be clear... When it comes to belief, what I confess is that I can't believe this. For if it is true that there is nothing that we can do to believe, then that means that God has put an end to us. It means that God has brought us to the foot of the cross and there said, "That's it. As far as you are concerned, it's over. You can do nothing."
What was completed on the cross was the work of Christ, obliterating, destroying, demolishing, smashing, everything that had come before Him: The old way of Law, the old way of moral improvement, the old way of self justification, the old way of religion as pathway to God's acceptance ... all of that destroyed ... Now there is nothing left for us to do... But hear, and by God's grace, believe, that this is true.
If we believe at all in Christ as our savior, if we have any hope in Him, if we have any faith, that He is ours, that He is our Lord, it is not because we've sized Him up and decided He's worth the effort. It's not because we've taken the bits and pieces of the story of salvation that God has laid on the table, and managed to assemble them in such a way that now they fit for us. It's because the Holy Spirit has reached into our hearts and minds somewhere along the life we've been living and has called out of us trust and faith even against ourselves.
-- Mark Anderson