By grace alone


     Due to several recent discussions and debates I’ve had this month, I’ve again been pouring over the doctrines of election in Scripture. I once hated the Biblical idea of God’s sovereignty. I detested any theology that taught that God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Reader, I can honestly tell you that I hated such an idea more than anyone else I’ve ever met. I was wrong.

     The Council of Orange (A.D. 529) is not one of what are called the first great seven ecumenical councils of Christianity, however, its decrees are incredibly helpful. This council was chiefly convened for the purpose of addressing the numerous former heresies of a British monk named Pelagius (A.D. 354-430). Pelagius taught that Adam’s sin (AKA THE FALL) affected Adam and Adam only. He taught that men could live completely righteous lives before God apart from any gift of grace from God. In short, he denied the doctrine of original sin which teaches that all men are born completely and wholly disposed only unto evil. I’ll quote one writer who said, “The doctrine of depravity is perhaps the most hotly contested and hated doctrine against the Christian religion; it is also the most empirically verifiable.” Romans 3:9-18 is God’s anthropological view of the human race. In it there is no ambiguity about how He sees us all in our sin. There has only been one sinless Man (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19) His name is Jesus, and He is not descended from Adam like we are, Luke 1:35. Jesus was not stained or affected by original sin; God was His Father. We are from below; He is from above, John 8:23. The Pelagian denial of original sin led to a lot of dangerous teaching. Ultimately, of course, if what Pelagius taught was true, then there would be people on earth who did not need Jesus to be forgiven for any sin. They would simply saunter into heaven with death having no claim to them by the law.

     The doctrine of original sin (in a nutshell) teaches us that not only are we all born guilty of the sin of Adam, but that we ourselves, having died with him, are now ourselves wholly inclined unto evil from birth. We have a sinful nature. Adam was born free, but he died in sin; we are now not born free. Our freedom is limited to our fallen nature. Mankind now exists in an abnormal state of existence. For a great definition of your current sin problem, see the London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) article VI. Because of the overarching spiritual reality of our deadness before God, there is present among us the sin we now see praised in our movies and abhorred in our news. The reality of our deadness plays out in our lives. No one has kept the Ten Commandments. One Christian speaker said, “We are not sinners merely because we break God’s moral law; we break God’s moral law because we are sinners.” That’s very well said. To deny the root of this problem as Pelagius did, you see, would bring into question the very nature of the universal problem of sin. In the New Covenant we’re made to see clearly that even those who were made righteous before Christ came were only made so in participation with the plan of redemption being worked out in their own times that later culminated on the cross. Everyone saved today looks back to the cross; everyone saved before it looked ahead to it. Part VI of the LBCF also brings into view the sins that you and I actually commit during our cognizant lives as “actual transgressions” in the following way: “All actual transgressions proceed from this original corruption, by which we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.” Paul said we were, “…dead in trespasses…” in Ephesians 2:5. He means it. For the evidence of original sin I’ll cite just a few passages: Romans 5:12, 3:9-18; Psalm 51:5, 58:3; Mark 7:21-23; Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9. All those born of Adam are dead; all those born again in Christ are alive.

     Pelagianism evolved much later into something much more tolerable called semi-Pelagianism. This denominationally transcendent ideology lives on today. One of its beliefs is that men were affected by the fall, but not so much that all of their nature is corrupt. They’re not dead in sin, they’re only wounded. A modern day semi-Pelagian teaches that Jesus died to make salvation possible for all men if they would only make use of Him by believing. They ascribe an innate ability of men to resurrect themselves having profit in themselves by the exercise of their own God given free will. God’s grace only assists them in making themselves saved. Christ taught that nothing in us can profit us before God; they teach that the flesh actually profits everything if you do what’s right. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…” John 6:63a.

     Here’s the kicker: The views condemned at the Council of Orange are held by the majority of Evangelicals today!

     Canon III: “If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).”

     Canon IV: “If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).”

     Are you saved by grace alone? Or do you simply call your saving of yourself an act of God’s grace alone? If I asked most people in church today what they’re saved by they would without doubt nearly unanimously declare, “Oh, by God’s grace alone, sir.” A small bit of probing, however, would quickly show that they theologically maintain in themselves a boast of having taken the ball across the goal line in their own salvation. God gave them the alley-oop, but they slammed it home. This they give to God and call it grace alone. Dead men, if we’re consistent in Biblical reason, can do no such things!

     I maintain with Paul that salvation, “…Is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy,” Romans 9:16. We are so dead in sin that it takes a miracle to save us. There's nothing is us that can save us or help us to be saved. We dead people must be resurrected, born again or be made into wholly new creations. Pelagius was wrong! Semi-Pelagians are wrong in another way. Anyone today who calls free will something which saves a man, though not condemned, remains bereft of gospel wisdom. I’ll end with a quote from Orange’s conclusion and three resources: “There are innumerable passages of Holy Scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient.”  


1)   Amazing Grace. The History and Theology of Calvinism. (Purchase).


2)   R.C. Sproul. (Free).

          i.         Total Depravity (parts 1 & 2):



          ii.       Unconditional Election:


          iii.      Limited Atonement:


          iv.      Irresistible Grace:


          v.       Perseverance of the Saints:


3)   My 15 part series on predestination (messages 139-153of the audio section) complete with slides. (Free).


One response to “By grace alone”

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