Can Christians choose to believe God’s word? Unfortunately, this question is controversial in the WELS. The standard answer seems to be that Christians can choose to believe God’s word because Christians can choose to do good works. It is true that Christians can choose to do good works. But are not faith and works two different things? Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this [grace & faith] is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV1984).
Faith is the gift of God, not just to unbelievers, but also to believers. When we waver in doubt, do we fortify and shore up our own faith, or does the word of God not only create but also strengthen faith? Do we tell those whose faith is flickering to “believe harder,” or do we read to them the word of God and assure them with His promises?
What is the word of God? Is God’s word a collection of mere opinion? Or is God’s word a statement of facts? Does God’s word say that Jesus should have risen from the dead, or does it say that he did rise from the dead? The word of God is not a collection of mere opinion, but rather the word of God is a statement of facts. God made those promises, and God did those deeds.
Yes, regarding facts, people can lie and delude themselves. Anyone can create and follow a lie, but the truth is external to us. Only God’s word creates and reveals the truth. We can fall away and reject the truth, but only God can save.
Anyone can choose their opinions, but no one can choose their facts, not even Christians. We are all bound by reality, and no amount of wishing or wanting or lying can change reality. Do we believe the facts because we want them to be true, or because they are true? And if they are true, then where is the choice?
From beginning to end, faith is a gift that comes from the word of the Lord. This is my confession:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
— Luther’s Small Catechism, The Third Article.