The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel

The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel February 26, 2009

THE SMALL CATECHISM on the Holy Spirit:


I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins; and at the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

Here we see Luther’s brand of monergism and how we are “called” into faith and into the church. (The beginning of the doctrine of vocation.)

A Reformed friend tried to tease me with some crack that assumed the Lutherans don’t emphasize the Holy Spirit, but I didn’t get it and didn’t understand the charge. It seems to me that Lutherans emphasize the Holy Spirit all the time. I think the difference is that Lutherans tend to think of the Holy Spirit as functioning from the outside in; as being in the objective realm, being present in the Word of God, and coming into our hearts through that means. Other churches present the Holy Spirit more from the inside out; as an inner presence–even a still, small voice–who flows out into our lives with various gifts.

Here too we see the Holy Spirit’s role in the church, which I think is often neglected.

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  • Van

    Coming from an Episcopal (at birth), Presbyterian, Baptist and then Lutheran background (in that order) I guess I’ve been exposed to a lot of the teachings about the Holy Spirt. I’ve never thought about this point.
    I was baptized shortly after birth. At 5 I “asked Christ in to my heart” and sincerely believed he lived in me. At about 14 I began reading and taking in scripture on my own. So I’ve been learning for about 40 years. If you had asked me yesterday if I believed the Holy Spirit was “in” me I would have said yes. But now that you made this point I would have to say that I think I normally think of the Holy Spirit as working outside me…to me…for me. I ask him to teach me and fill me for Christ’s sake.
    Also, I think of me being more “in” him (and the Father, and the son, and other believers) than him being in me. Think of John 13-17 and Christ’s prayers in the Garden and how he prays about those of us who are one. We were joined to Christ, not the other way around.
    Not a theologian though.

  • Veith

    “outside me…to me…for me. ” That’s a beautiful way to put it, Van.

  • FW

    van, your writings always betray a profound sensibility that can only be had by living in the shadow of the cross. thanks dear friend!

  • womanofthehouse

    I’m a new Lutheran (and first time commenter here). My family began attending a Lutheran church in January after a few decades first in broad evangelicalism and then in the Reformed world. The only church we’ve attended that talked about the Holy Spirit more than our current Lutheran church was the pentecostal/charismatic one which was always urging people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues. In my limited experience, the Lutherans talk about Him a lot more than the Reformed folks I know. I was surprised, Dr. Veith, to read your Reformed friend’s comment. It sure doesn’t fit my experience.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

  • Van

    Woman of the House,
    I am a female (always clarify that because Van is usually a male’s name.) Sounds like you came to Lutheranism from a path like me, except pentecostal….although Baptists share similarities. I’d love to chat back and forth via e-mail if you’d like.
    I’m at

  • Larry

    Speaking as a Reformed friend — at least I hope you’ll regard me as a friend and brother in Christ — AMEN to that 3rd article! While there were surely differences, we shouldn’t overlook that there was also a great deal of agreement between Luther and Calvin in their emphasis on “Word AND Spirit” over against Roman Catholicism on the one side and anabaptism on the other. Blessings!

  • Gulliver

    It is interesting to see that the First Article had numerous comments, the Second Article has no comments, and there are a few for the Third article. Perhaps Ash Wednesday had something to do with that. However, There is no reason to speak about the Holy Spirit unless Christ, the Son of God and son of Mary, “purchased and won me from all sin and from the power of the devil.”
    A most important part of the Third Article is the first phrase: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” This is true because of the Bible teaching that those born from Adam (except Jesus) are born in sin (Ps 51) and are unable to know the truth (1Cor2:14). Faith in Jesus is a work of the Holy Spirit, as He works through His word (Rom. 10:17) and the Sacraments (Titus 3:5).

  • Rev. Tom Fast

    As one theologian put it, the Holy Spirit is the “shy” member of the Holy Trinity.

    It should come as no surprise to those who have read Jesus’ own words in John 14-16, that where the Spirit is active, there Jesus is the one being glorified.

    Is it possible that where the Spirit is spoken of the most, there the Spirit is the least active? What an irony that would be!

  • kerner


    I think the reason that nobody commented on the 2nd article is that it is (among Christians) the least controversial. I mean just look at it! Who’s going to argue with that?

    The 3rd Article is a little more interesting theologically in that it incorporates the Lutheran doctrine of election. The Small Catechism is intended to be kind of a family devotion book that the head of the family was supposed to use to teach his wife and children so that CHristian families would know the basics of the Faith. I therefore find it remarkable that the doctrine of election finds its way into the catechism at all, but I think that I’m just being a product of my times. In my experience, most American Christians are reluctant to discuss election, especially at the basic level.

    (Calvinists reading this may have a different experience)

    Dr. Veith: Is it possible to modify the format of this blog so that the comments are numbered again? I liked to be able to resopnd to a comment by nember. It enabled us to carry on several conversations at once coherently, even when there were 80 comments or more.

  • Philip

    I married a woman from a Reformed background, she was terrified that her Baptism wasn’t valid because she hadn’t fulfilled all of God’s requirements for salvation. She was convinced from the lesson that she was His child during the Pastor’s class on Baptism .

    She laughed, she cried, she got angry over unnecessary torment. She knows that the Holy Spirit sought her out out and did all the work in connecting her to Jesus.

    I choke up when we read the third article of the creed.

  • Here is one of the finest sermons I have ever heard on the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed.

  • Gulliver

    What is interesting is that the Explanation to the Third Article does not say anything explicit about election. It says everything about how the Holy Spirit creates faith in one who is unable to have faith by his or her own power.
    If election were to be inserted, it would look like this: “but the Holy Ghost has ELECTED ME FROM ETERNITY, AND AS A RESULT HE HAS called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith;…”
    Luther may have kept election out of the explanation because he wanted to emphasize the grace of God as the Spirit acts through the Gospel and the visible Gospel (sacraments).
    It is also interesting that Luther used the word “Gospel” instead of “God’s Word.” For the Gospel alone is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The law can only condemn and has no power to help people keep it.

  • James

    I tried commenting on the Third Article (twice!) but it wouldn’t take! I thought, “Maybe they’re screening comments now….” 🙂

  • James

    I tried commenting on the Third Article (twice!) but it wouldn’t take! My comments wouldn’t show up there.

  • Van

    Thinking more about this…we are his temple now, right? WE being The Church. Is this right? Or are our individual bodies his temple? There is a difference isn’t there?