Pelagianism says that human beings are not born with a natural inclination toward sin, but the scriptures written by our apostle Paul for the Church Age tell a very different story
Many of you right now who just read the headline are likely scratching your heads and saying to yourself “what on earth is Pelagianism, and why should I care?” Well, you should care because it is a false teaching about the nature of man, the nature of sin, and what you believe to be true about it will have a huge impact on how you see and understand large portions of the Bible. So let’s take a look at false teaching of Pelagianism and where it came from.
Pelagianism is named after a Catholic monk named Pelagius who was active in the early 400’s AD. Pelagius denied original sin and taught that every person was born morally neutral: we are able to sin but also able not to sin. Pelagius said that human beings fall into sin by choosing to follow Adam’s example. People can be saved by following the example of Christ instead of that of Adam. While grace is helpful, Pelagius taught, it is not necessary for a person to attain eternal life; the exercise of one’s free will is enough. In this way, Pelagius denied the substitutionary atonement of Christ. You can read more about Pelagius and his beliefs here, but as you can see in this short biographical snippet, Pelagius was not a Bible believer and his teachings were obviously not in line with scripture.
Adam was created in the image of God as the Bible says, from original material taken from the ground. God breathed the breath of life into Adam and he became a ‘living soul’. Eve, his wife, was not taken from the ground but from a rib from Adam. These are the first two humans ever recorded, and no one since them has come into the world in the way they did. Everyone after them would be born vaginally from the womb of a woman. As we all know, Adam and Eve fell into sin, were judged and removed from the garden as punishment. Adam and Eve had lots of children, and we read about the start of their replication process in Genesis 5. And it is here in Genesis 5, that the key understanding our sin nature is found.
“This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters:” Genesis 5:1-4 (KJV)
Do you see the problem? I have underlined and bolded it for you to make it crystal clear. Everyone since Genesis 5:3 has been born not in the image of God, but in the image of fallen Adam. From the day you exited your mother and opened your eyes, you were born in a sin-cursed body provided you by Adam, you are his child and you are in his image. We are the “sons and daughter” who were born in the image of Adam.
Now let’s time travel all the way to the New Testament and listen as Jesus says something to Nicodemus that will blow his mind. Listen as Jesus tells Nicodemus that his first birth is no good.
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:1-3 (KJV)
For those of you who have read this amazing third chapter of the gospel of John, you are well aware of Nicodemus’ struggle to wrap his head around this strange, new teaching of needing to become ‘born again’. And what was Nicodemus reply? He says “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Great question! As we read further though the Bible and into the writings of Paul, it is then we begin to understand the truth about these bodies we all are born in. We are born as sinners, in the image of our father Adam, who was a sinner and created children in his image. This is what the Bible teaches.
Pelagianism is the unbiblical teaching that Adam’s sin did not affect future generations of humanity. According to Pelagianism, Adam’s sin was solely his own, and Adam’s descendants did not inherit a sinful nature passed down to them. God creates every human soul directly, and therefore every human soul starts out in innocence, free from sin. We are not basically bad, says the Pelagian heresy; we are basically good.
You will notice that I am purposely not using terms like “original sin” because those words do not appear in the Bible, but the idea that we are all born in sin and all born as sinners absolutely does. The problem is not that we commit sin as we grow, the problem is that we go up as sinners who need a new birth, who need to have the ‘old man’ washed away and the ‘new man’ formed.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Titus 3:5 (KJV)
Pelagius basically said that since we have free will, which is true, all we need to do is “make better choices” and all will be well. But Jesus said nothing about making better choices, no, He told Nicodemus that he was corrupt from his birth! Choose all you like, be as good and as moral a person as you can possibly be, but you were born in the image of Adam and you need to be born again in the image of Jesus Christ. This right here, is the fundamental platform of New Testament Christianity.
Calvinists take the opposite position to Pelagius and say that since we are “dead in trepasses in sin” that we are unable and incapable of getting saved or even to be able to ask God to save us because we are “dead” and dead people cannot take any action. This is just as much heresy as what Pelagius taught, just 180 degrees on the other side. If we are incapable of asking God to save us, and that people only get saved because God forces them to become saved, then you are left with a God that creates people He has no intention of saving all the while tormenting them about their unsaved condition. That would not be God, that would be what a sadist would do, and that is not the God of the Bible who did this for us:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (KJV)
You are not a sinner because you commited sin or because you have besetting sins, or any combination thereof. You are I are sinners because we were born in the image of fallen Adam, hardcoded and hardwired, and it is not fixed by the ‘software update’ of making better choices or using your free will to be a better you. You don’t need new software, you need new hardware and new software, and that can only come by:
- Realizing that you on your best day doing great things for other people are still a Hell-bound lost sinner who cannot ‘good works’ your way out of going to the Hell you so richly deserve. You are not in this condition because you have been “bad”, but because you were born this way. You were born in the image of a sinful, fallen man named Adam, God wants you to be born again in the image of the perfect man, Jesus Christ.
- Understanding that Jesus Christ has already provided the ‘fix’ you so desperately need on the cross at Calvary, and has PAID IN FULL your sin debt, went to Hell in your place, and offers that pardon to you at no cost of any kind to you. As an added Church Age bonus, if you will accept that FREE GIFT, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit will “seal you in” until the day of redemption so you can never lose it.
- Accepting that there can be no works attached to grace for salvation. As we have said many times already, your free will can help you make better choices, absolutely, but no one can choose how they are born into this world. You cannot chose to be born male or female, you cannot choose your race or ethnicity, you can’t even chose the location of your birth, but there is One and only Only who can and did. God chose to be born into this life as a male, chose to be born as a Jew, and chose to be born in Bethlehem. We call that person Jesus the Son of God, our sinless Saviour. He came to save sinners who could not save themselves, no matter how much free will He gave them. But you can use your free will to willingly accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as your payment for your sin.
Scriptures Showing All Are Born Sinners In This Life
Pelagius was condemned as a heretic, and rightly so, by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Now you know that here at NTEB, we put very little value if any on the various councils and creeds that arose in the time period beginning from the takeover of biblical Christianity by Rome around 313 AD, and on forward as the Roman Catholic church grew in strength and power. But what we do place a very high value on is what does the Bible say about it? So here are just a smattering of verses smashing to pieces the rank heresy known as Pelagianism.
- “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Romans 5:10 (KJV)
- “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Romans 5:12 (KJV)
- “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Romans 5:18 (KJV)
- “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:19 (KJV)
Paul shows us over and over and over again that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, nothing at all. No amount of good works, good deeds, and abstaining from sinful pursuits counts towards our salvation in any way at all. But Paul shows us that our free will can be put to good use, if we use it properly and how God intended us to us it. This account is recorded for us in Acts 16, and it is just as powerful today as it was 2,000 years ago.
“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts 16:25-31 (KJV)
Paul invited the Philippian jailer to use his free will to believe on Jesus and receive the free gift of God’s grace and mercy for the pardon of his sins. The Bible records that the jailer did exactly that, and he and his whole house was saved. Are you lost? Be like the jailer and use your free will to believe on Jesus according to the scriptures in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (KJV). Are you saved? Use your free will resist the Devil and turn from your sins as you work out your sanctification as a child of God. But you cannot use your free will to live any way you want to live, be the ‘master of your fate’ and the ‘captain of your destiny’, as Pelagius taught. It is about submitting ourselves to the will of the Father, and not about making ‘better choices’.
Apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit of God, our free will is a useless trinket that cannot erase one smudge of the sin stain we were all born with. Pelagius was a heretic then, and his false teaching remains a heresy today. We will let the Bible have the last word on whether or not man is born in sin or not, and here it is:
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:5-7 (KJV)