Tag Archives: Pelagianism

Video: R.C. Sproul on the Pelagian Captivity of the Church

In the video below, Dr. Sproul gives a brief overview of the danger of Charles Finney’s (19th Century) teaching and how it has lead to the infusion of the heresy Pelagianism into today’s church, which we touched on in yesterday’s post.  Dr. Sproul also gives a brief treatment to Finney and Pelagius’ unbiblical view of regeneration.  This video is a good follow up to the post from yesterday.

The Sinners Conversion: Regeneration

If you’ve been following along here the last couple of weeks, we’ve discussed The Sinners Prayer and subsequently how God works His plan of salvation in men.  We began that series with The Sinners Conversion: The Chosen, followed by The Gospel Call.  Today, we’re going to answer the questions that we left off with in that post.  There we asked, “Faith is necessary and being born of the Spirit is necessary, but which comes first?”  and “Does faith trigger rebirth or does being born again instill faith?” 

With this in mind, let’s return to our passage from Ezekiel 36 where in our first point we looked at God choosing his elect.  Next we see, in Ezekiel 36:25 God’s cleansing of the sinner, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” As the old hymn says God “cleansed my soul from sin’s corruption.”  What’s being described here in Ezekiel is the first part of regeneration by the Holy Spirit that we looked at in The Sinner Neither Willing nor Able.  There we saw how this passage corresponds with Titus 3:4-5, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  Ephesians 3:5 states that “we were dead in our trespasses”, so God begins His work by retrieving the sinner from their spiritually dead, rotten corpse-like state and cleanses them. 

Next in the passage from Ezekiel our LORD moves to renewing the heart and spirit, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  It wouldn’t be necessary to remove the heart of stone if each of us hadn’t been born with a heart of stone.  This is an oft-neglected truth, but critical to understanding how it is entirely impossible for man to ever make the first move towards God.  Not only is the sinner dead in their sin, but as we’ve seen, the sinner’s heart is both unwilling and unable to choose God.  In fact, as we read in Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”   Similarly in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Jesus speaking in Matthew 15:19 says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  Those passages alone should be enough to convince the most ardent supporter of man’s free will in salvation that given his natural state man cannot and will not choose God.  This is precisely what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  Which brings us back to the Gospel Call.  If the natural man is unable to understand the things of God, how can he respond to the Gospel when he hears it? 

Remember last time we learned that hearing the Gospel preached is necessary for salvation.  God is working His plan of redemption through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Gospel going out to the nations.  The Spirit is moving like the wind (John 3), everywhere the Gospel is preached faithfully, drawing men unto Christ.  Puritan great John Owen adds,

“…According to Pelagianism, the preaching of God’s word [apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit] is quite sufficient as an outward means to bring a person to repentance and faith. The revelation made of God and his mind is quite sufficient to teach men all they need to believe and do, that they may be converted to God and begin to obey him. [in the Pelagian view] …regeneration is the result of responding to the Word preached.  Yes the Word of God is powerfully persuasive in itself, but until born again, unregenerate men cannot and will not be persuaded by it. The unregenerate must be persuaded that these are not ‘cunningly devised fables’ (2 Pet 1:16). Things in Scripture are not just truths, but divine truths. These are things that ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken’. And only when a person is born again will he believe that.”

The Pelagian heresy taught men to believe that simply hearing God’s Word preached was enough to enact repentance and faith in the sinner and subsequently bring about rebirth.  This later laid the foundation for preacher’s attempts to merely convince the hearer of God’s Word, through eloquent speaking or an entertaining delivery, that they were saved, apart from any supernatural regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  This is precisely the category that the Sinner’s Prayer falls into.  In the quote above, Owen is alluding to exactly what we discussed in The Gospel Call, where we saw how God uses the preaching of His Word as the necessary instrument in salvation, but it must be the Holy Spirit that takes the Word and applies it internally in the unbelieving sinner as He cleanses then renews the heart and spirit. 

We read more about this internal call of God in Romans 8:30 “And those who He predestined He also called, and those whom He called, He also justified, and those who He justified He also glorified.”  The “Golden Chain of Redemption” proceeds from foreknew (Romans 8:29, a loving relationship established by God with His elect before the foundation of the world), predestined (God’s elect, predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image, Romans 8:29 and to adoption as sons Ephesians 1:5), called (externally by the Gospel and internally by the Spirit),  justified (by way of Christ’s death and imputed righteousness, believers are legally in good standing with God; i.e. salvation), and glorified (eternity with Christ).  Additionally we see this calling or drawing by God in John 6:44 as Jesus states plainly, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day.”  In this verse Jesus is reiterating what He has just stated in verse 37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.”  In this same chapter of John, Jesus offers a summary statement, “But there are some of you who do not believe. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, ’This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” John 6:64-65 The idea that Jesus is conveying here is that it is God who draws/calls men unto Himself and not everyone believes because not everyone is called.  In John 15:26 we read of the role of the 3rd member of the Trinity that we alluded to earlier, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”  Summarizing our passages here, God the Father draws men to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, Who Himself bears witness to Christ.  This is just a brief look into the Trinitarian nature of salvation, but what we have just walked through describes the ‘inward call’, drawing, or ‘effectual call’ of God’s elect, by the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Gospel.

Quite frankly this is a lot for our minds to digest, especially since God’s sovereign work in salvation is largely ignored in the Western Church.  Our key points for this lesson were that 1) The Holy Spirit cleanses and renews the elect of God upon their hearing of the Gospel, which is called regeneration. 2) Prior to regeneration the sinner is dead in their trespasses and sins both unable and unwilling to seek God.  3) The sinner’s heart of stone is continually bent towards sin and requires a supernatural work of God to replace it with a heart of flesh, which is then inclined to understand and pursue the things of God. 4) The internal call or drawing by God of the sinner occurs simultaneously with the general Gospel call.

We will build upon this next time when we look at The Sinners Conversion: The Response – Repent and Believe

“To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.” – John Owen

The Sinners Conversion: The Chosen

In the last several posts here we have looked at the dangers of The Sinner’s Prayer.  From there we looked at how the formulas of man circumvent the work of the Holy Spirit, known as regeneration, in the hearts of sinners.  We learned how regeneration is clearly defined in John 3 and Titus 3 and how it involves not only cleansing from sin, but a spiritual rebirth.  Today, we’re going to begin part 1 of a series on the sinner’s conversion, beginning with a look at those whom God has chosen. 

The main passage for this series will be Ezekiel 36:24-26 where we get insight into the prophecy of the new covenant (see also Jeremiah 31) that God established with His people through His Son Jesus.  “24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  Note in this passage that God is doing all of the action.  First, we see God is gathering His people from the nations and all countries.  This is a striking statement considering until this announcement His chosen people had come from only 1 nation, Israel.  Thus, our first glimpse at the inclusive nature of those whom God has chosen. 

In the post A Chosen People, we looked at God’s selection of Israel as a people unto Himself.  Our passage from that study came from Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. ”

In that passage we focused on how God set His love on Israel, choosing them for His “treasured possession” not because they were of any greater number, not because of anything they had done or could do, because in fact they were the “fewest” of all people.  Instead it was because God loved them.  What was the condition that Israel met in order to receive God’s love?  Nothing.  He did so out of His own good pleasure.  Remember in that post we asked was this fair of God?  He didn’t set His love on the Canaanites.  He didn’t choose the Amorites.  God didn’t choose the Philistines, the Hittites, the Amalekites, or the Egyptians.  Instead He consecrated a nation unto Himself beginning with Abraham.  And as we read to them belonged “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises…the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all.” (Romans 9:4-5)  So, was it fair of God, was He just in making a selection?  Absolutely!  He is after all, God and does whatever “His hand has predestined.”     

What fascinates me is that with a “controversial” subject such as God’s sovereign election of people, it is without dispute that God chose Israel as a physical nation and blessed them as we just read in Romans 9:4-5.  In fact, one would have to deny the truths of the entire Bible if they argued that Israel was not God’s chosen people.  It is through them that He brought King David and established the throne that would be the lineage of Christ, the Messiah.  God had a purpose in His selection and it was to work His own plan of redemption.

But this isn’t the end of the story, because we have the New Testament that sheds even greater light on God’s sovereign choice of Israel.  In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s not actually those who are Abraham’s physical offspring, i.e. children of the flesh, that God has chosen, but it’s actually, as Galatians 3:7 says “those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”  We also read of this in Romans “…For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as offspring.” Romans 9:6-8 Paul reemphasizes his argument later in this same chapter as he ties back to the Old Testament, “even us who He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles  25 As indeed He says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’  26 ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Romans 9:24-26 The Apostle Paul’s statement regarding the inclusion of not only the Jews, but likewise Gentiles as those whom God has chosen for salvation is a common theme throughout most of the New Testament, but specifically we see the continuity of God’s elective choice again in Ephesians 1:4-5 “even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love, 5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”   We should note here that the Church at Ephesus was composed largely of Gentiles, so Paul, a Jew, uses “us” and “we” to represent both collectively.

The Word of God is clear.  God chose Israel as a physical people, a nation unto Himself that would bring forth the Messiah.  But just as Paul quotes Isaiah, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,” (Romans 9:27 & Isaiah 10:22) within that physical nation of Israel are those whom God has saved, a spiritual people unto Himself.  As we’ve shown, God extended His salvation to the gentiles within whom there is also a group whom God has saved.  Those whom God has elected, both Jews and Gentiles, are collectively the adopted sons of God and as we’ll study next time this is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men.  “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.  His praise is not from man but from God.” Romans 2:28-29

The parallels of God’s redemptive plan in the Old Testament and the New are not only consistent, but they are a fascinating display of God’s sovereignty.  Just as I’m amazed that those who argue against election have little if any problem with God’s election of Israel as a physical people unto Himself, I am equally amazed that men have developed arguments against God’s election of people for salvation.  This argument was one that Jesus faced, as recorded in the Gospel of John and one that the Apostle Paul anticipated in Romans 9.  From there this argument persisted in the early Church as Augustine faced opposition from Pelagius.  Like a bad penny that kept turning up, arguments against God’s ability to choose for Himself arose again for Martin Luther as he faced the Roman Catholic Church and Erasmus.  For supporters of John Calvin, they countered the attacks of Arminius and the Puritans held ground against their contemporaries The Remonstrants.  We see it even extending to the early years of America as pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, or arminianism as it became known was spread by men like Charles Finney.  It should be noted that from the Apostle Paul’s opponents to Pelagius to Finney, the opposition to the doctrine of election was considered a heresy, because it was a direct assault on the sovereignty of God. 

It was only in the 1800’s, specifically through revivalism and faithful ministers such as John and Charles Wesley that these contrary beliefs grabbed a foothold.  Though rebuked mightily, and publically, by his good friend George Whitfield, John Wesley promoted the free will of man and the free grace of God.  Despite preaching efforts of men like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, who were vocal critics of man’s free will in salvation, the people loved that they could choose a god for themselves.  This created the chasm that we have today between the man-centered gospel of free will and the God-centered Gospel of His sovereignty and it is the primary reason why most if not all of us who are saved at one time believed in a  man-centered salvation (and a large majority still do).  It is only through growing in the “knowledge and grace” of our Lord Jesus Christ that God’s sovereignty is revealed.  No doubt some of you will receive this post with great difficulty, but I ask that you be Berean-like and search the Scriptures for yourself.  Ask God to reveal Himself and His redemptive plan to you.  When He does, realize that your salvation was absolutely nothing of yourself, but all of God, and be humbled by His mighty, amazing grace.

Lord willing we will continue our series next time with, The Sinner’s Conversion: The Gospel Call.