Pelagianism teaches that man’s free will is unimpaired. There is no influence that shackles or dominates man’s choice between good and evil. Man has all the power he ever had, or needs to have, to will and to do what is spiritually good. This teaching is contrary to the concept of Adam’s fall being the cause of man’s being born a sinner. Pelagianism argues that the consequences of Adam’s sins were restricted to him and were not transmitted to his posterity. Pelagianism argues that man enters the world with as pure a nature as Adam had possessed in innocence. This belief requires turning the Gospels into a remedial scheme rather than a plan to recover man from original sin by grace. This is in direct contrast to Paul and Augustine’s teaching that humanity was completely helpless in Adam’s sin and in desperate need of grace. Augustine did not deny that man had a will and that he could make choices. He simply recognized that man did not have a free will in moral issues related to God. Augustine recognized that the Scriptures taught that the effects of original sin were passed to the children of Adam and Eve and therefore, mankind’s nature was corrupted. Man could choose what he desired, but those desires are influenced by his sinful nature and thus, he sins.
Pelagius, a British monk, is considered to be the father of this heresy. It was condemned by more church councils than any other heresy in history. Pelagianism may have been condemned, but it was certainly the most popular and widespread tendency among the masses. This is no surprise, since thinking highly of ourselves and the possibilities for personal self-improvement are part of our sinful condition. We are all Pelagians by nature. Pelagianism is a gospel of works.
The Bible teaches:
“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 ESV)
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 ESV)
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6 ESV)