Some theologians believe Arminians to be Pelagian. A Pelagian is someone who follows after the views of Pelagius, the heretic. Pelagius believed the only impact Adam’s sin had on the rest of mankind is that it served as a bad example. Every person is morally neutral or good according to Pelagius. As a result of that, all we need in order to have fellowship with God is to obey the law.
Contrary to what the perception of some might be, Free Will Baptists have doctrine that holds to original sin and the depravity of all people. Because of that, we don’t need good examples in order to make ourselves right before God, we need a sin-bearing Savior. I haven’t met a FWB who doesn’t believe this.
But I wonder if, based on the way our teaching and preaching goes, if we’re not functionally Pelagian.
What would you say is the percentage of sermons or lessons you have heard that basically end by saying, “Now go stop doing _____ and start doing ______”? Or “Go live like Joseph did and forgive those who wrong you.” Or even, “Go live like Jesus did.” It’s not that we shouldn’t do these things. It’s that apart from the power of God given to us through the good news of Jesus, we are not able to do these things.
Do we really believe that apart from the Spirit of God working through the message of the gospel, people cannot and will not live their lives for God? Or do we deep down inside believe that people are generally good and what they need is a good example? If all we need is a good example, then Jesus is not much different than Mother Theresa.
No, friends. We are dead in our sins. We need the power of God to be made alive in Him and to live for Him. And this comes through the message of the gospel.
This is not to say the good news does not lead to any imperatives. God’s power in the gospel does not leave someone unchanged. Repentance of sin is needed. After Jesus forgave the sins of the adulterous woman in John 8, He did say “go and sin no more.” But “repentance” apart from faith in Christ is nothing more than moralism. There is no power in that. It leaves people either defeated (because they won’t be able to do it) or pharisaical (because although some might manage it, they can never do it with the right heart). Preaching and teaching moral truths must be done in light of the gospel and in the power of the gospel.
At the Together for the Gospel conference I recently attended, Kevin DeYoung preached a sermon titled “Gospel-Driven, Spirit-Powered, Faith-Fueled Effort” (watch here). I recommend it highly. It is about sanctification and how there is effort involved in our growth in Christ. We FWB folk who went to T4G were talking afterward when I thought out loud, “You know, FWBs have no problem with the idea there is effort involved in sanctification. We don’t need to hear that. We need to hear that we can’t do it apart from the Spirit’s work in us.”
I want to gently prod us to consider whether or not the preaching and teaching that occurs in our churches would be any different if Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead. While I know the faithful people who have preached and taught me God’s Word in the 27 years I’ve been a FWB are not Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, I wonder if, functionally, we might be.