Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Extent of Man’s Sin (Ephesians 2)

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

One of the most hotly debated subjects in Christian history has been the extent of man’s sinfulness. The reason for the fervor is that the doctrine has direct bearing on salvation. If sin has not totally corrupted your nature, then you do not need God’s grace in salvation, or at least you are not solely dependent upon God’s grace to put your faith in Christ.

Throughout this historical debate, there have been three views: Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. Pelagianism, named after the fourth-century monk Pelagius, says man has the natural ability to be righteous. Pelagius unabashedly argued that man can obey God perfectly without divine help. He rejected Augustine’s view that original sin has so corrupted man that he is unable to be righteous by his own effort. Because Pelagianism undermines the work of Christ in salvation it has always been considered an heretical doctrine.

In opposition to Pelagius, Augustine maintained the biblical doctrine of total depravity. “No one is good, not even one.” According to the Scriptures, man is so fallen, so darkened in his heart, mind, and will by sin, that he is unable to turn from sin and embrace the truth of the Gospel and obey God’s commandments. Only by God’s grace, only by divine intervention in changing the nature of man’s fallen soul, is a person able to put his faith in Christ and set his mind on what the Spirit desires. According to Augustinianism, salvation is all of grace from beginning to end. God initiates our salvation, not fallen man, and even our faith is a gift from God.

The final school of thought is called semi-Pelagianism. Those who hold to this doctrine maintain that man needs God’s grace to be saved, but that man has the ability within himself to accept or reject that grace. According to semi-Pelagianism, mankind is not dead in its sin, only sick. Fallen man still has a remnant of virtue hidden in his soul whereby he can accept God’s offer of salvation; or he can reject it. This view makes salvation, not totally dependent upon God’s grace as does Augustinianism, but ultimately on man’s own choice. It elevates man’s responsibility above God’s sovereignty in redemption.

If you still have questions about the extent of man’s sinfulness, begin a biblical study of the doctrine with the verses below. Next, find some books or pamphlets that deal with the total depravity of man such as Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther.