By Akin Ojumu

There are those who believe that man is inherently good and endowed with a free will to choose God or do that which is right. They teach that humanity was morally unaffected by the Fall. This view of man is a heresy that dates back to early Christianity. 

Known as Pelagianism, this heresy originated from Pelagius, a fourth century Monk and theologian. His heresy was condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418 A.D and the condemnation was summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).

Pelagius denied the imputation of Adam’s sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. He taught that man has an unimpaired moral ability to choose that which is spiritually good and possesses the free will, ability, and capacity to do that which is spiritually good. He believed that a Christian can attain sinless perfectionism in his lifetime.

This resulted in a gospel of salvation based on human works. Man could choose to follow the precepts of God and then follow those precepts because he had the power within himself to do so (Theopedia: “Pelagianism”).

In contrast, St Augustine of Hippo recognized that man did not have a free will in moral issues related to God. He asserted that the effects of the original sin were passed to the children of Adam and Eve and that mankind’s nature was thereby corrupted. Man could choose what he desired, but those desires were influenced by his sinful nature, and he was unable to refrain from sinning (Theopedia: “Pelagianism”).

“Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

“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. (Romans 3:10-12).

Man is incapable of making the choice to follow the precept of God. Man, of his own individual autonomy and free volition, does not have the power in himself to follow God’s decree. The proclivity of man is to disobey God and man’s propensity is to violate divine ordinance.

Every good deed a man does is clothed in the filthiness of his sinful nature. Isaiah recognized this and declared:

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6).

The word filthy is the Hebrew word iddah, which literally means “the bodily fluids from a woman’s menstrual cycle.” The word rags is the Hebrew word begged, meaning “a rag or garment.” Therefore, man’s “righteous acts” are considered by God as repugnant as a soiled feminine hygiene product.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Following the Fall, man became condemned to a life of total depravity. As Martin Luther once said, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has ever plagued the mind of man is that somehow he can make himself good enough to deserve to live forever with an all-holy God.” 

“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.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Man cannot do anything to save himself. Salvation comes only by God’s grace and not by man’s efforts, abilities, intelligent choices, personal characteristics, or acts of service he may perform. Man cannot earn or buy his way into God’s favor. Salvation is freely given to man by grace through faith.

Faith is not a power or a force that man can generate from within himself. God alone is the source of faith, and the faith that saves comes from Him. It is God that gives man the faith to believe unto righteousness. 

On our own, our righteousness is simply self-righteousness, and vain, hypocritical religion produces nothing more than filthy rags.


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