What is decision theology?
Decision theology is the teaching that a person is saved and born-again when he makes a decision to accept Jesus Christ. To come to faith, a moment of decision must be made by the individual sinner. In this way, they are contributing to their own salvation. You may hear invitations such as:
What are the problems with decision theology?
By teaching that someone comes to faith by making their own decision, decision theology denies the effects of original sin. The fall of Adam and Eve into sin has left our minds so clouded that we don't know what God's will is or desire to do what is pleasing to God. The effects of original sin are so severe that Paul says, "you were dead in your transgressions and sin" (Eph 2:1). Not only are we unable to do anything pleasing to God, but we are enemies of God. "The sinful mind is hostile to God" (Rom. 8:7). How, then, could we make a decision for Christ?
Another problem with decision theology is that it gives human beings part of the credit for their conversion. God does His part, and we do ours, by deciding to accept His gift of salvation. The Bible tells us that we are saved by grace alone. Even faith is a gift from God. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9).
How, then, are we brought to faith?
We are not brought to faith by our own free will. Instead, we are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). God chooses us, not the other way around. As Jesus says, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:16). Conversion is God's work. "No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1Corinthians 12:3).
How are we born again?
Jesus tells us that this rebirth occurs through the Holy Spirit's work in Holy Baptism. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). In Holy Baptism, we are brought to faith and God's gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation become ours. All of this is ours by God's grace! We are saved, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).
Lutherans joyfully confess the truth that although we are unable to make a decision for Jesus because of our sinful nature, God has chosen us and brought us to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. In the words of Luther's explanation to the Apostles' Creed, "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."