This conflict is based on the place of grace in the salvation of man as well as the doctrine of the ‘original sin’. Augustine believed that grace played a vital and central role in keeping man from sinning. Pelagius believed that man’s free will was adequate to keep him from sinning, and that the emphasis on grace was essentially allowing man to sin. (Pelagius – New World Encyclopedia)
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Augustine strongly believed that man was inherently evil. He attributed this to the fall of Adam after eating the forbidden fruit (The NIV study Bible, New International Version, Rom. 5.12-20). Augustine taught that man’s desire to obey God was crippled by sin and man experienced a spiritual death. He taught that man was born into sin because of the original sin. This was why he insisted on infant baptism as well as the partaking of sacrament. Augustine’s perception was significantly influenced by the personal struggle he faced with sin. He finally acknowledged that it was only by grace that he could refrain from sinning (Farley).
Man could not by his volition be holy. He required grace to be able to comply with the commands of God. He even wrote in his confessions, “Command what you will: Give what you command”. It was his contribution that no holy Act could be performed without grace. This brought contention as to the role of man’s free will in a situation where he cannot decide on his own not to sin. He qualified this by stating that the grace God gave to man did not violate his free will.
Pelagius’ theory focused on man’s acts and free will to ensure salvation and his compliance with God’s commands. Pelagius was alarmed by the laxity in morality amongst Christians in Rome. He blamed the teachings on the essentiality of grace in ensuring that man follows God’s will. He was appalled by the confession written by Augustine that alleged that man needed God’s help to follow that which he had been commanded to do. He saw this as something that could be used by man as an excuse to sin (Barker, p. 18).
Pelagius believed that the original sin did not bind the whole human race and as such men were not evil. He taught that man’s free will could actually allow man to live a sinless life. According to his teachings, grace does not play an essential role in directing man’s actions. He based his teaching on 1st John 5.3 which states ‘For our love for God means we obey our God’s commands. His commands are not too hard for us’.
Pelagius practiced this teaching by dedicating his life to God through various practices that demonstrated high moral standards. These rituals include, self denial, fasting and high standards of outward morality. Unlike Augustine, Pelagius never led a sinful life prior to his salvation. It is therefore unlikely that he could understand the concept of grace as he had not experienced it firsthand (Pelagius – New World Encyclopedia).
With all this in mind, I support Augustine’s teachings on the existence of an original sin and deliverance through God’s grace. The Bible states that we are not saved by works but by God’s grace (Eph. 2.8). We cannot achieve holiness through our actions. One’s actions may be noble, but it is only through having a relationship with God that one can enter heaven. Although Pelagius had a point in requiring that man takes moral responsibility for his actions, it is God who makes man holy.
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- Barker, Kenneth L., and Donald W. Burdick. The NIV study Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, Mich., U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985. Print.
- Farley, William P.. “Enrichment Journal.” Enrichment Journal. N.p., n.d. 2011.
- Pelagius – New World Encyclopedia. Info:Main Page – New World Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. 2011.