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Am I A Pelagianist? (Do We Earn God's Love?)

Posted by thethousandmarch on August 17, 2014 at 5:55 PM

I was drinking from my son’s Mickey Mouse cup the other night and it prompted my daughter to tell me that she had decided for her birthday that she would have Pony (My Little Pony) cups for the girls and Mickey cups for the boys. This may seem like a trivial thing, but it’s moments like this that give me great joy. In them I see an expression, no matter how small, of my daughter’s individuality. She is expressing her desires – by expressing her choice she is exercising her freedom, and is expressing her separateness from me and the rest of the universe. Though she is in part my creation I enjoy seeing her be her own being – creating her own story. Of course this also gives me a certain amount of anxiety as I think of the things I can’t protect her from, but I would not choose safety over the beauty of freedom. Is the Creator so different that he would not receive joy in giving his creation freedom – self-determining freedom?


For Christians questions such as this can lead to a debate which boils down to who is ultimately responsible for saving the individual; God, or the individual themselves. For the classical Calvinist if the individual is capable of accepting or rejecting God’s offer of salvation then it is ultimately up to the individual to save themselves and in this they are saved by a work they have done. So even though a good Calvinist will say we have free will, they believe God chooses some people to save and gives them a special measure of grace which so changes their desires they will freely (but without exception) choose God. Those who do not receive this irresistible grace freely choose to reject God. But it’s important to understand that the chosen are not simply given the ability to have faith in God, they are given faith in God, and therefore even their faith is not a thing which is recognized as deserving of reward.


Now one of the accusations which a Calvinist will level at non-Calvinists (the rest of us are not all Armenians) is that we are Pelagianists, or at least a semi-Pelagianists. Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid. In other words human nature is good and humans who choose to do good will earn eternal life as a reward for their own good work. This means we need not rely upon the grace and mercy of God to save us from the corruption of sin and death. Semi-Pelagianism would be the belief that we need Jesus to help us, but we still have to do some of the work. And it is our will-power, boosted by the fuel of grace no doubt, which has the ability to empower that work – Jesus opens the door, but we have to walk through it. Of course most Christians don’t go running around calling themselves Pelagianists, but I’d agree with the Calvinists that most Christians are semi-Pelagianists, or dangerously close to it. It is natural to our corrupted nature. We like to think that despite the evidence most of us are basically good (certainly I am) and as long as we give it our best shot God will take care of the rest, because he owes it to us.

I believe we have a somehow self-determined choice to respond positively or negatively to the work of God’s Spirit in our lives; though I don’t believe the will has much of anything to do with this choice. I believe that freedom is one of the most important things God has built into the creation. I also believe that humans as created beings are full of God’s goodness. And I believe there are non-Christians who God counts as righteous, who will therefore live in his presence eternally. So am I a Pelagianist, or Semi-Pelagianist? No.


Humans are good, we are amazing, we are created in God’s image and we each individually bear a special worth because of this no matter how corrupted by sin we are. However we are all corrupted by the condition of sin, and as a result we will all die. Therefore we are all in need of saving. And here is where we really come to the difference between many people (who may be called Pelagianists) and myself. I’m not relying on the goodness of humans, even as good as some of us may be, to be the reason God will save any of us. I’m certainly not relying upon my goodness. I’m relying on the goodness, mercy, grace, and love of God. Yes God is also just and justice must be served; there can be no redemption without justice. But God will redeem many people and situations we think are unredeemable. So it is not faith in the goodness of humans, or our ability to earn anything from God based upon our good works that gives me hope. It is not man’s will that I think is powerful. In the Bible I see a God revealed who wants to save people and I don’t think he’s holding anything back.


Categories: Basic Christian Belief, Grace, Parenting

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