Pelagianism and the Gospel:
Guarding the Next Generation
by Learning from History
By: R.P. Moore
July 24th 2017
The Evangelical Christian landscape is often influenced by poor theology and sometimes even heretical approaches. Leaders, teachers, prophets, televangelists, and many other such evangelical leaders seek often to recycle and repackage past teachings and even maybe unknowingly. That is why learning from the past can guard a new generation from previous error. I often feel like the writer of Ecclesiastes when he says:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
There is nothing new under the sun and that is often how it is with poor theology in Church history. We repeat our poor views and understandings of the Scriptures. One of my major callings from God, as of late, is to try to lift up the truth of the Scriptures and Orthodox Christian teachings. I believe it is a new calling from God on my life in this current Christian panorama where Moral Relativism has even taken root in the Church.
A Plumb line is an instrument that has been used in construction since at least the times of Ancient Egypt and maybe even before that. It is an instrument that ensures that whatever is being constructed is plumb or vertical. A plumb line directs the user whether the thing being constructed is “right” or vertical. In construction, the plumb line is right and everything else needs to orient itself to that standard. This is a wonderful illustration for finding what is “plumb” in regards to moral and ethical orientation. As we approach the study of Orthodoxy the question should first arise, “What will be our moral and ethical “plumb line” or standard?” The Bible often uses the plumb line as imagery in measuring Israel to the thing that is God’s righteous standard, and those things that need to correct themselves to that standard. The term “plumb line” is used five separate times in the Old Testament, and all but one of those occurrences is it used in prophetic judgement. In Amos 7:6-9 God is meting out judgement on Israel and Amos begs God to relent in a series of judgements. Then the Lord shows Amos something. God shows him a vision of a wall built with a plumb line and the Lord has the plumb line in His hand. God says that he is setting a plumb line in the midst of the people. In so doing, he is bringing swift judgement. God’s plumb line here is he himself and his word. He then pronounces judgement on the places of Isaac and the house of Jeroboam for being out of plumb or out of line with God’s standard. They had moved away from meeting that righteous standard that God had raised up.
The only four other instances where “plumb line” is used in the Bible is in prophetic judgement in Isaiah 28:16-17; 2 Kings 21:10-15; Isaiah 34:8-12; and Zechariah 4 in which Zechariah has a vision of a golden lampstand and the Lord says that Zerubbabel has laid the foundation of this house and you shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. According to Matthew Henry:
Christ is our Zerubbabel; mountains of difficulty were in the way of his undertaking, but before him they are all levelled; nothing it too hard for his grace to do...his hands shall also finish it; herein he is a type of Christ, who is both the author and the finisher of our faith; and his being the author of it is an assurance to us that he will be the finisher, for, as for God, his work is perfect; has he begun and shall he not make an end?
Later on, Zechariah sees in his vision Zerubbabel holding the plumb line in his hand. He has laid the foundation with the plumb line and his hands shall also complete it. As Matthew Henry points out Zerubbabel is a type of Christ, and in a sense, comes to lay the foundation, and build the house of God. “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” He himself comes as did Zerubbabel holding the plumb line in his hands. He not only holds the plumb line, but he himself is the plumb line. He is plumb, and everything else is a lie. He is building God’s house upon the cornerstone of himself. Christ uses the standard of his plumb line, which is he himself and his word. The eternal Christ is truth incarnate! Everything He said, did, and continues to do, was and is totally, absolutely, and irrefutably true forever and always. He is, “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”
In these passages, we see that God’s plumb line of righteousness reveals Israel’s failure. God also in these few passages promises to rebuild Israel and they will be built to God’s plumb righteous standard. As Christians, righteousness, justice, and Christ himself ought to define what plumb is. Christian Orthodoxy has sought to bring the Church back to plumb over the years through councils and creeds. These Orthodox teachings over the centuries have sought to bring Christ the true plumb into clearer definition.
When we look at orthodoxy once again, by looking to Christ as our plumb standard, it will center us in truth. We will not so easily be tossed around by every wave of doctrine, but rather we will have a steady anchor, namely Christ and his word. What is orthodoxy anyway? The word “orthodoxy” is derived from two Greek words meaning “right” and “honor.” Orthodoxy are those doctrines that honor God by characterizing him correctly. For example, when we build our theologies on the creeds, and statements of the early Church Councils, we can be sure that we have relied on a foundation that has stood the test of time. A rather important part of Christian Orthodoxy is that it claims that it is the only religion to be absolutely true, and to provide the only way to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; John 3:36; 1 Timothy 2:5). Christian theological orthodoxy represents the message, identity, and mission of the Church throughout the millennia. It is the core of the gospel. It does not vary with the tides of change, the whims of philosophy, or the shifting shadows of time. The timelessness and unchanging substance of orthodoxy is similar to what James says about our eternal God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17 ESV).” The constancy of orthodoxy just reflects the unchanging nature of God. The unity of Christian Orthodoxy is not about being right or being wrong. Orthodoxy enables Christians throughout the centuries to have a credible, consistent, and veracious witness to the gospel of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Christian Orthodoxy has given us the perspective and interpretation of the saints from thousands of years of Christian history. It is a solid framework for understanding the teachings of the Bible. Furthermore, it undergirds our faith as Christians. One might have a hard time understanding the gospel if not for our heritage of orthodox underpinnings. Why is orthodoxy so pertinent and imperative to Christianity? It is because the faith of individual Christians, and the teaching toward that faith is at stake. The diatribe of heresy and orthodoxy has frequently been used to create an atmosphere of intolerance, persecution, or hate. For that reason, many do not like to relate in such terminology and jargon. However, that cannot frighten us away from Orthodox Christianity, because the life and faith of Christianity hangs in the balance. When right doctrines and orthodox teachings are propagated, in a spirit of love, it means that the lives of individual Christians and churches are founded upon the proper fundament, namely the belief and faith in the right savior, Jesus of Nazareth, Lord of all creation.
An indication that Orthodox Christian theology is correct, and not just whim, or fancy, or even the reaction of a few angry theologians at major councils, is that heresy and these improper views of Christ persisted. These same theological heresies appear often in separate ages and totally diverse cultures throughout history. These errors and misrepresentations of the person and work of Christ resurface repeatedly from the early councils until about one thousand six hundred years after Christ. That does not mean however, that they stopped appearing after the Reformation, but rather they continue to resurface in different forms to this day. The reason the faithful councils clearly defined orthodoxy with their creeds and statements is because the message of Christ is the cornerstone to Christianity. Without a proper belief and knowledge of the person and work of Jesus, Christianity is relegated to the status of any other world religion which is based on works (i.e. trying to make ourselves right with God).
Orthodoxy can seem like an insurmountable problem for pastors, theologians and the average Christian. You may ask, why should it affect my everyday life? How does it affect my Christian walk? The fundamental way we live our Christian lives has been based on orthodoxy, whether we know it or not. Theological orthodoxy is not overwhelming. I want to propose rather that it is quite an easy chore. When we re-discover, and refer to the creeds and Ecumenical Councils of antiquity our minds become illuminated and orthodoxy becomes clear. Many assume or argue that Christian Orthodoxy is made up of an oppressively long list of doctrines used to suppress people. However, history confirms that Christian Orthodoxy is most often expressed in magnificent, concise, and beautifully penned short lists of beliefs that describe the Holy Trinity, salvation offered in Jesus Christ, his person, and the meaning of the eternal gospel. The true everlasting gospel of grace is powerful for transformation. On the other hand, the false gospel can and has been used as a weapon of destruction.
One of those Un-Orthodox teachings from Christendom that seems to continue to resurface is Pelagianism. Safeguarding a generation from theological error is a challenge that I have taken up. I remember studying Pelagianism in Bible college and seminary. I remember even saying to myself, “I don’t need to study this stuff. It is totally irrelevant in ministry.” I was a bit naïve. Now much older and wiser, I see the tenants of Pelagianism creeping into current theological and ministry thought. So many years later I see this teaching sneaking up in the evangelical landscape. I will not take much time in this paper to describe exactly where I see its effects, but rather describe what Pelagianism actually is and some of the dangerous implications for its implementation into our current theological and ministry thinking.
Pelagius was a monk (although there is some question about that) who lived from ca. 354 - (after) 418. Jerome says he was born in Ireland. These details are vague probably because of the vigorous stand that Augustine took against him, which essentially smeared him so much that the records of his existence became more and more infrequent. At the very least it is thought that he was born in Britain. He moved to Rome to teach, but upon the invasion of Alaric he fled from Italy to Carthage, North Africa. Subsequently, Pelagius and Augustine because of their proximity to one another had quite a strong clash. It was almost a forgone conclusion that Pelagius intersected with the teaching of Augustine.
Pelagianism has come to be known as the teaching that denies original sin, holds that justifying grace is not given freely, but according to merit, and the assertion that sinless perfection is possible for the Christian. I do understand what motivated Pelagius. He was an ascetic moralist who cared for people to live holy and decent lives. He was quite put out by the lives of Christians that he witnessed in Rome. He began to see at that time the emphasis on sovereignty and heaviness of the teaching of human depravity that seemed to work itself out in eliminating motivation to live a holy good life. I do appreciate his motivation for people to live a holy life and to look like Christ. However, his conclusions swung the pendulum to the improper polar extreme. In regards to human will he emphasized free will and that man is free from any corruption of the fall, that man’s spirit is individually created by God, and therefore individually free from any guilt. He held that man had Adam’s sin not imputed to him, but that his sin was rather only a bad example. So, Adam was not our “Federal Head,” but rather some sort of poor example.
Furthermore, Pelagius rejected anything remotely resembling predestination as taught be Augustine. For these many reasons Augustine took him on and pressed hard for him to be condemned as a heretic. To be fair to Pelagius, ‘Pelagianism,’ as it is named, is a broader theological divergence which he could not have uniformly united under himself. What is today known as Pelagianism is too multifaceted and thorough of an aberration for Pelagius to have facilitated in his lifetime. Pelagianism has developed over the years to encompass way more than what he originally taught. His theological inspiration could not and would not have succeeded in his lifetime to unite and place, what we now know as Pelagianism, into one whole theological branch.
Despite the lack of unity under the banner of Pelagianism, Pelagius was however, the seed that planted these divergences into the theological conscience of the church. He is credited with all theological aberrations that falls under “Pelagianism” although he did not espouse all theological streams of “Pelagian” thought. It lasts to this day in modified and tailored views such as Semi-Pelagianism which can be seen in streams of modern holiness movements. A friend recently brought up the idea that is often presented in Evangelicalism that “God is a gentleman” as possibly a form of Semi-Pelagian thought. In saying that God is a gentleman people mean that God will not “force” you to believe in him or “coerce” someone that does not want God. This would seem at first glance to go against most Augustinian, reformed thought. The Carthaginian Council (418) and even maybe the Ephesian Council (431) also seem to countermand the idea of God as gentleman. To clarify and sharpen focus, “The label ‘Pelagian’ is often loosely invoked to damn any doctrine felt to threaten the primacy of grace, faith and spiritual regeneration over human ability, good works and moral endeavour (emphasis mine).” As you might clearly deduce from what has been explained of Pelagius’ view, a salvation by works likewise appears quite feasible.
In opposition to Pelagius, Augustine held that, “man since the fall is in a state of spiritual death, utterly disabled and opposite to all good,” and “his restoration to spiritual life was an act of God’s almighty power; and being an act of omnipotence was instantaneous, immediate, and irresistible.” I am not going to argue further on the topic of infant baptism, but this was also a hot debate within the whole Pelagian controversy. I want to in this paper focus on the Soteriological elements. I would like to take the main tenants of Pelagianism and address them biblically.
The first teaching that is accredited to Pelagius is the denial of original sin. In fairness, Pelagius did not deny that Adam sinned in the Garden, but rather he denied that man had inherited a sin nature from him. He said that man had no ‘imputed’ or ‘inherited’ sin from Adam. So, what is our biblical/theological answer to this position? It seems trivial to talk about Adam in the garden and what happened, but one major continual sign of the fall is the curse that man continues to live under as a result of that sin. Because of one man’s sin, God cursed them both. Adam and Eve’s curse included for Adam, “toil by the sweat of his brow.” In other words, man is cursed with the labor to bring forth fruit from the ground. And the descendants of Eve will have pain in childbirth. These things still exist today as a reminder that we are still under the curse of sin. We also see death is the result of breaking the command of God. God said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” One of the other main scriptures that we refer to in understanding specifically what happened when Adam fell is found in Romans 5:12-21. It reads:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (emphasis mine).
I do not aim to exegete this passage thoroughly, but rather to point out a few phrases that point to sin nature that is inherited from Adam. Sin came into the world through one man, and for the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation. We also read further in the passage, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, and for as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners. These few phrases and others that I have highlighted in this passage clearly show that sin is an inheritance from Adam for man and confirmed “because all sinned.” This passage clearly verifies that we have a sin nature, not received when we commit our first sin, but rather is confirmed when we commit our first sin.
Other scriptures that detail our sin nature are Psalm 51:5, which shows that we are born into sin. Ephesians 2:2-3 states that we are by nature “children of wrath,” and “sons of disobedience.” Furthermore, the Bible speaks of humans as sinners from infancy. Genesis 8:21 says that the “intentions of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The Proverbs also comments on the wicked intentions of the heart of children when he says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” Folly is understood by the writer of Proverbs as sin, wickedness, disobedience, and the like. The red thread that flows throughout the scriptures is that man is sinful, not that when he sinned he became sinful, but rather his sin confirms the reality that he is already sinful, for what man has not sinned? Or in other words we sin because we are sinners, not we sin then become sinners. Sin belongs to the human condition because as seen before “Sin came into the world through one man.” Sin is a property of humanity, and in that same vain we can consider Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
As we see here, the situation is dire, in which Paul casts all men, when he says, “even as the rest.” We (before Christ) were dead in trespasses, and we were “sons of disobedience.” In that sinful nature, we were “children of wrath.” That was our position, nature, condition, and situation.
Isaiah also displays the state of our natures in describing us like sheep who have gone astray, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” It is obvious from the context here that the writer is talking about sin because he lays the iniquity of us all on Christ. Romans 3:10-18; 21 also describes in vivid detail what that sin nature looks like:
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
It is clear to see from this passage Paul puts us all in the same situation no one is righteous, we all fall short of God’s glorious standard, and no one pleases God. The writer of Hebrews confirms this holy standard. When we have sinned once we are guilty of breaking the whole law. One might assume that we are just evil, vile, wicked people. It is not the case that we are as wicked as we could be, but that we are thoroughly affected by our sin nature. James, the brother of Jesus writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” As James writes you might not have committed adultery, but you might have murdered, or committed some other sin. When you have committed one, then you are a lawbreaker, and thus a sinner. You are not necessarily as completely sinful (in deed) as you could be, but you are however, a comprehensive lawbreaker. Put this way, we are all thoroughly lost in our sin.
Jeremiah 17:9 also assumes original sin when he writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Most evangelical theologians confirm the theology of inherited sin. A good representative or cross-section of Evangelical Theology would be Wayne Grudem. He confirms the theology of original or inherited sin when he says that, “all members of the human race were represented by Adam in the time of testing in the Garden of Eden. As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us guilty as well as Adam.” Grudem also bases his entire argument in Romans 5. He also displays how Romans 5 indicates that from Adam to Moses there was no law, nonetheless, people still died as a result of their sin. The fact that people from Adam to Moses died, demonstrates that God reckoned man guilty because of Adam’s sin.
My wife brought the question to my attention, “We did not choose to sin, how can God apply Adam’s guilt to us?” at this point you might be also asking the same question. “Hey, wait that is not fair? Is God acting justly by crediting us with Adam’s guilt?” Firstly, none of us can claim in that question sinlessness. We have all confirmed that we are Adam’s children by following in his footsteps. These sins will stand as the sole case against us in the courtroom of his final judgment, apart from the intervention of a Holy God with a propitiatory sacrifice in our stead. We will all be judged individually, “according to his works.” Although a weak argument some argue we would have also sinned had we been Adam. I do not like to try to help people’s sense of unfairness and justice with “should have, could have, would have.” But in all likelihood, we would have chosen Adam’s path also.
Grudem presents the most compelling argument against protests of unfairness for Adam being our Federal Head. He says, “if we think it is unfair for us to be represented by Adam, then we should also think it is unfair for us to be represented by Christ and to have his righteousness imputed to us by God.” If it was unfair that Adam is our Federal Head, then it is by that same logic unfair for Christ to represent us on the cross. Is it fair for “him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We are by birthright credited with Adam’s sin, and we received his guilt, and Christ obeyed God flawlessly and God has credited us with Christ’s record of perfect righteousness. How is that fair? That is the somewhat upside down mercy and grace of God. We get what we do not deserve! When we reject Adam’s headship, in some sense it is also a rejection of Christ’s headship. Jesus represents us as the second Adam, if we reject the first Adam do we also reject the second Adam?
Because in Adam we are legally and effectively guilty we therefore need a legal and efficacious substitute that stands outside the legal imputation of that guilt. Thus, Christ is our second Adam. That second Adam must have been free from the corruption of that nature. We needed one that had no inherited sin nature. Man needs a reparation from one who stands outside and had no connections to Adam as Federal Head, and thus free from Adam’s curse of unrighteousness. These requirements are all met in Christ! His perfect life, his perfect obedience, his freedom from Adam’s imputed guilt, his penal substitutionary death, his victory over death, and current reign in heaven, all establish him as our perfect Federal Head by faith.
The next teaching that Pelagianism espouses is that justifying grace is not given freely, but according to merit. The very first scripture that comes to mind that soundly rebuts this idea is Titus 3:4-7. In it Paul writes:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (emphasis mine).
This text is rather clear that justification, and regeneration, is a work of God not because of works (merit) done by us but rather a grace of God. Another classic text that speaks against human merit is Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (emphasis mine).”
Grudem comments on grace verses merit by saying:
Grace is clearly put in contrast to works or merit as the reason why God is willing to justify us. God did not have any obligation to impute our sin to Christ or to impute Christ’s righteousness to us; it is only because of his unmerited favor that he did this.
The reformers (Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli) fought to bring to the forefront the “Five Solas” of the Reformation. They were Sola Scriptura; The Bible alone is our highest authority. Sola Fide; which means that we are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Sola Gratia; which means we are saved by the grace of God alone. Solus Christus; which means Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King. And lastly, Soli Deo Gloria; which means we live for the glory of God alone. One of the great Solas of the reformation is Sola Gratia in which the reformers sought to distinguish themselves from the Catholic Church of that time that taught we are justified by God’s grace plus some merit of our own. As Tullian Tchividjian explained in his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything that we cannot add merit or anything to our hopes of salvation. Throughout the book of Galatians Paul expounds on the idea that the law (i.e. works or merit) cannot justify us. He rather builds the case that we are justified completely by faith. At the beginning of his epistle to the Galatians he says that if anyone should preach another gospel than a gospel of justification by faith, then they are cursed. The gospel is a gospel of justification by faith through grace. This cannot be any clearer throughout the entirety of the New Testament.
The Pelagian error, Jesus plus our own merit, was carried on from Pelagius’ time until the Reformation. The Catholic church of the Reformation had interspersed Pelagius thought throughout its teaching and catechisms. This common theme compelled the reformers to react, namely the thought that we make ourselves fit to receive the grace of God in justification by growing in good works. Much of the book of Romans (especially 4 and 5) is a defense of justification by faith not by works. Likewise, Galatians is a treatise on the deficiency of the law to justify. Paul argues for the efficacy of the cross and faith to justify the sinner. James which is often used as a defense of works is rather the opposite. James is describing the outcome of an effectual faith. When man has no faith, he will not have works as a result. The question is what precedes what? James’ argument is that faith precedes works, but that works of righteousness must accompany faith, or it is not repentant faith at all. We must also not think that faith somehow earns favor with God. The Bible never allows for that. His favor and salvation is bestowed upon us out of his grace and goodness. The merit for our salvation lies squarely on the shoulders of the magnificent savior on the cross. He met every righteous requirement at Calvary, and faith is the means of which his merit is transmitted to us.
I asked myself at this point why faith? Why not some other attitude? Why would God only allow faith to be our means of justification before him. Grudem answers this masterfully:
It is apparently because faith is the one attitude of heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. When we come to Christ in faith we essentially say, “I give up! I will not depend on myself or my own good works any longer. I know that I can never make myself righteous before God. Therefore, Jesus, I trust you and depend on you completely to give me righteous standing before God.”
That made perfect sense to me. The attitude of faith is the perfect answer to a salvation that cannot be earned. These Pelagian ideas creep up often in the church. I have, in my many years of ministry, seen this in evangelism. I would present Christ to people, and people would often respond with some sort of response like, “I am not ready.” I would ask, “why?” and they would respond with something like, “I need to clean my life up before I come to Jesus (or often Church).” This Pelagian thought is that somehow I must merit Christ’s offer of salvation. That is why I wanted to write this to correct those errors that we need to do something before we come to Christ. Either in cleaning ourselves up, or adding our own merit to his offer of salvation.
The other error I see is that of the emphasis on good works after turning to Christ. Colossians 2:6 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” How have we received Jesus? By grace through faith! So why do we seek to please God by works? New movements that seek to take root in Evangelical Christianity place a heavy emphasis on works, and pleasing God through doing great things for him. The “signs and wonders” camp often leans toward a heavy emphasis on works. We are not saved by works so why should we seek to please God through them? There is an imbalance growing. We must not neglect one for the other, because as James clarifies “faith without works is dead,” but a healthy balance is necessary. When we start to seek to please God by works we have wandered away from the way in which we have received Christ Jesus.
The next Pelagian thought that I want to address is that sinless perfection is possible for the Christian. This is challenging to rebut because the New Testament only alludes to it in a few places. One of the easiest references to cite is 1 John 1:8-10
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
I believe that this passage speaks for the sin natures of the pre-converted and the converted. The reason that we can know this is from what we have previously established that the “all have sinned.” The pre-Christian is sinful that has been plainly established. The reason that we know that this passage is also talking about the converted is the context. In the previous verse, we read, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” This is describing a person who has received forgiveness of sins and walks in the light of Christ. I have often heard it said recently that the roots of sin have been removed once we trusted Christ. Popular teacher and pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, Bill Johnson has written such in his book When Heaven Invades Earth, “Doesn’t it seem strange that our whole Christian life should be focused on overcoming something that has already been defeated? Sin and its nature have been yanked out by the roots.” This sounds suspiciously like he means we have no more sin nature. The question then arises, have we become sinlessly perfect? This idea that the roots of our sin nature was removed at our conversion is as old as Pelagius himself. But is that true? Can we become sinlessly perfect?
While I was in Bible college, a rather well known guest professor, while teaching on sanctification, said that he had not committed a sin of “commission” against God in thirty years. He later amended his statement. However, that stood out to me as a perfect example of the view that sinless perfection is possible. One thing that strikes me in this view is a certain elitism that there is a specific class of Christian that can achieve sinless perfection, over and against the carnal Christian that cannot. Similarly, two mistakes might also occur within the delusion that sinless perfection is possible. First, man overestimates his moral performance, and second, that man underestimates the standards of God’s law. For instance, the standards of the 10 commandments alone would be impossible to achieve perfectly in this life. Even loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself seems a far cry to obey constantly. Jesus point this out to the rich man who goes away sad. Jesus actually showed that the man who had obeyed the law from birth had not. In this instance Jesus with one question showed that the man had a greater love than God and it was money. Romans 7 is the quintessential counterpunch to any theological system that claims sinless perfection. Many would argue that Paul in Romans 7 is talking about his life before Christ. But one must do some impressive exegetical calisthenics to arrive at the place where Paul is not referring to himself in the present tense. I want to be clear, there is a tension in the New Testament in which the Christian now has the ability to live in consistent victory over sin. However, sinless perfection would be an impossibility in this life, as seen in the previous passages. The tension between me being a complete wretch of a worm and my sinless perfection is a challenging tension. I think we could all as evangelicals agree that this Pelagian thought that we could attain sinless perfection is a theological deviation and not in line with biblical Christianity.
The next Pelagius view is that man has free will and that man is free from any corruption of the fall, that man’s spirit is individually created by God, and therefore individually free from any guilt. It is not necessarily my purpose to examine free will vs. predestination, but rather to deal with guilt and man’s state before God. To this point, man’s guilt has been thoroughly established, in that we as Adam’s children stand guilty before a holy God. We are not individually free from any guilt, rather we are individually and corporately guilty before a holy and perfect God. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This classic passage of scripture clearly depicts the corporate and individual guilt and responsibility that man has before God.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate my purpose of challenging any current evangelical streams of thought that stand in opposition to salvation by grace, through faith, or that emboldens human ability, good works and moral endeavor in the achievement of spiritual regeneration. Man’s condition is sinful before God, and can only be justified by faith through the magnificent grace of God, and not through our own achievement. Man is hopeless to achieve salvation on his own. This is the glorious gospel. We have done everything worthy of eternal judgement and should receive the punishment that our sins deserve. However, Christ has done everything worthy of eternal praise and glory, lived the sinlessly perfect life in our stead, died a noble death, and was raised from death by the power of God. Through faith we are credited with his perfect record of righteousness, his righteousness is imputed to us and our sin is placed upon him. We do nothing, he does everything. We could not lift ourselves out of the pit of despair, so he took on our despair. My hope and prayer is that this paper will help you exalt, cherish, and maybe even receive Jesus by faith for the first time. He who is our substitute, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
 Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 (ESV)
 Henry, Matthew. (2000). Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Genesis to Revelation. U.S.: Hendrickson Pub. 1574
 Ephesians 2:20-22 (ESV)
 Schaff, Philip, and David S. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983).
Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Creeds. (New York: D. McKay Co., 1972), 215-216.
Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Creeds. (New York: D. McKay Co., 1972), 215-216.
 Erickson, Millard J. (1983). Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Print. 632-633.
 Ferguson, John. (1956). Pelagius. Cambridge: W. Heffer. Print. 40
 Erickson, Millard J. (1983). Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Print. 632.
 Ibid, 633.
 Pelagius and any followers of Pelagius’ teaching were condemned as heretics at the Council of Carthage (418) and later confirmed under pressure by Pope Zosimus. Furthermore, the council of Ephesus (431) condemned any who shared the views of Celestius, an associate and theological partner of Pelagius.
 Ferguson, Sinclair B., James Innell Packer, and David F. Wright. 2008. New Dictionary of Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic. 499
 Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, pp. 711). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Soteriology is the study of salvation and all the elements and beliefs surrounding how man is saved
 Genesis 2:17 (ESV)
 Romans 5:12-21 (ESV)
 Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
 Isaiah 53:6 (ESV)
 Romans 3:10-18; 23
 James 2:10-11
 Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)
 Grudem, Wayne A. 2000. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 495.
 Ibid, 494.
 Romans 2:6 (ESV).
 Grudem, Wayne A. 2000. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 495.
 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV).
 Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)
 Grudem, Wayne A. 2000. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 729
 Ibid, 730.
 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)
 1 John 1:7 (ESV)
 Johnson, Bill. When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2003. Print. 110.
 Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)
 John 1:29 (ESV)