Monday, September 25, 2023

The Extent of Sin (Ephesians 2)

"For by grace you have been saved through faith …" (Eph. 2:8).

Our final lesson on the fallen condition of man deals with the extent of our fallenness. Throughout Christian history, churchmen have generally agreed that sin has corrupted humanity. But they have disagreed, sometimes to the point of violence, about the extent of that corruption. Three schools of thought have dominated the discussion throughout church history.

The first was developed by a fourth century man named Pelagius. He claimed that man has the ability on his own to conform to the perfect standard of God’s law. He rejected the notion that man needed God’s grace to become holy and to obey His will. Pelagius believed that through commitment, the sacraments, and hard work man could be holy even as God is holy. Pelagianism can be found in liberalism, existentialism, and process theology.

Augustine staunchly rejected Pelagius’s non-Christian position, asserting instead that the extent of sin in fallen man is total, that sin has corrupted every aspect of his being. Man is thus totally dependent upon God’s grace for redemption and for the ability to conform to His law. Augustine followed Paul who said that man is dead in his transgressions, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He emphasized Jesus’s teaching that we must be born again by the Spirit because that which is natural has no power to merit heaven. Augustinianism is the theology of the Protestant Reformation and is manifest today in Reformed theology or “Calvinism.”

The final school of thought is called semi-Pelagianism. Those who hold to this line of belief maintain that man needs God’s grace to be saved, but he has the ability within himself to accept or reject that grace. According to semi-Pelagianism, mankind is not dead in his sins, but only sick. Fallen man still has a remnant of virtue hidden in his soul either to accept God’s offer of grace or reject it. Semi-Pelagianism makes salvation, not totally dependent upon God’s grace as does Augustinianism, but dependent on man’s own choice. It elevates man’s responsibility above God’s sovereignty in redemption. This school of thought can be found in the theology of most churches today—Evangelical, Liberal, and Roman Catholic.

Read Ephesians 2:1–10. What is Paul’s emphasis in this passage? How does this passage contradict the Pelagian view? How does it support the Augustinian view? Focus on Ephesians 2:8–9. How do these verses oppose the semi-Pelagian view that the initial act of faith is of ourselves? Give God the glory today for His sovereign grace.