Audio Version Available LISTEN AUDIO VERSION

Message # 3 | November 20, 2016 | Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-7

Purpose. The deeper the valley of our sin, the more glorious is the mountain of God’s grace.

Historical Overview

Augustine and Pelagius

Our historical overview begins nearly 1,000 years prior to the Reformation with Augustine (354-430 AD), the bishop of Hippo. He is considered to be one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity.  One of Augustine’s primary debates throughout his life was against the theology being taught by a British or Irish monk by the name of Pelagius.  Pelagius had come to Rome during the time of Augustine. He was shocked by the moral depravity he observed going on and began to teach a rigid moralism. He emphasized the inherent ability of man to attain salvation. At the core of his theology was the idea that if God commanded something, man can accomplish it within himself. Pelagius strongly reacted to Augustine’s teaching, “Strengthen me so that I can; grant what Thou dost command, and command what Thou wilt.”[1] Pelagius didn’t mind the second part, but despised the first part, “grant what thou dost command.”

Augustine was praying that God would grace him with the will, ability, and desire to obey the commands that He had commanded. Pelagius reacted by saying that God would never command anything that we don’t have the ability to obey – separate from His grace. “Man should not have to ask for grace in order to be obedient.”[2]

The debate didn’t end there. Pelagius took it a step further and taught that all men were born in a state of righteousness, that Adam’s sin didn’t affect any of his offspring. The New Testament and the Law were offered as guideposts. Once they were learned it was left to the individual to put them into practice. There was no need for God’s help (His grace) along the way in order to be saved.

Pelagius was not opposed to grace, only to the idea that grace was necessary for obedience. He maintained that grace facilitates obedience but is not a necessary prerequisite for obedience. There is no transfer of guilt from Adam to his progeny nor any change in human nature as a [consequence] of the fall. The only negative impact Adam had on his progeny was that of setting a bad example, and if those who follow in the pathway of Adam imitate his disobedience, they will share in his guilt. . . [3]

Augustine, on the other hand, taught that while Adam and Eve enjoyed a free will before the fall, after the fall human beings continued to possess the ability to choose what they wanted to choose; but their choices and will are deeply influenced by their inherent sinfulness.  They are in bondage to sin and their will is corrupted by their sinfulness.

Romans 5:12 (ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

It’s likely that Pelagius didn’t come to Rome with the intentions of causing such a stir or undermining the doctrine of grace, but he continued to teach that man is inherently good and can merit salvation. This resulted in a lot of trouble for him, and his teachings were eventually condemned as heretical in the Council of Carthage in 418.  Pelagius was exiled to Constantinople.

Martin Luther and Erasmus

As we jump ahead 1,000 years, we come to the rather severe debate between Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus. Up to this point, for the most part, the church held to Augustine’s view of the necessity of grace in salvation.

Erasmus, under the encouragement of the church, chooses to confront the teachings of Luther in his book, The Freedom of the Will. Erasmus begins by defining free will asa power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from them.”[4]  Erasmus didn’t take his doctrine as far as Pelagius did, but he did still see the inherent ability in man to do works that would merit righteousness – therefore making salvation not solely of grace. He acknowledged that man’s will was “puny” but it could not be powerless even though it did require the assistance of grace. It requires grace to assist it?

Martin Luther’s response to Erasmus was probably one of the harshest responses of all his writings. With that said, Luther considered this response to be one of his only writings worth keeping. He titled his response, The Bondage of the Will.  Erasmus probably never expected Luther to react so strongly, but for Luther this discussion cut to the core of the central issue to the Christian faith. What does God do in salvation, and what does man do? Luther was very clear in his response. “We are by nature children of wrath, slaves to sin and to Satan, so that if we are to be saved it must be by grace alone.”[5]

This means that they do not have any ability to do what is good in God’s sight. The idea that unregenerate human beings have the freedom to do what is good is a myth, explains Luther, for all people are slaves to sin (Romans 6). Slavery to sin does not mean that people are forced to sin against their wills. Neither God nor the devil puts a gun to our heads and says, “you must sin!” The slavery to sin which characterizes humanity expresses itself in a willing servitude to sin. When human beings sin, they simply carry out the desires in their hearts. Righteousness cannot be obtained by works of law because all human beings are born into the world as slaves of sin, condemned in Adam. They can never secure righteousness by performing good works, for they do not and cannot carry out the requisite works. As Paul said in Rom. 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (RSV). The idea that human beings can obtain righteousness by works is the highest folly since we are totally dominated by sin and cannot perform the works required for justification.[6]

John Calvin and Albertus Pighius

We often pit John Calvin against Jacob Arminius. Many of us may not want to get embroiled into the theological quagmire of Calvinism and Arminianism, but it is likely that nearly all of us have heard of the controversy. It could be likened to a theological version of the Hatfields and McCoys. While to some degree this is fair, the reality is that Arminius wasn’t born until near the end of John Calvin’s life. Arminus argued against Calvin’s theology, not the man himself.  The man that was pitted against John Calvin during his life was a Dutch Roman Catholic scholar by the name of Albertus Pighius.

PIGHIUS. man’s will is in no way determined but that man has the self-power to will good or evil toward God (what is today titled libertarian freedom), so that by his own strength he can equally will either.[7]

In similar fashion to Luther, John Calvin as well wrote a book with nearly the same title, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defense of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice Against Pighius. While not the words of John Calvin, the theology he espoused is well stated in the Canon of Dort.

CANON OF DORT. Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.[8]

Biblical Evidence

The Desperate Condition of Man

Ephesians 2:1–3 (ESV)  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We once were dead. (1) Death made us unable to come to God.  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44 ESV). The only way for us to come to the point of acknowledging Christ was by the work of the Holy Spirit.  We were unable to accept Christ on our own. (2) Not only were we unable to come to God, we did not desire to come to God. In Ephesians 2:3 we find that we “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” Prior to our conversion, we were compelled by our desires.

John 8:44 (ESV) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Proverbs 21:10 (ESV) The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.

Romans 3:10–11 (ESV) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

We once were energized by the World and Satan. Consider the natural man as a factory in which the philosophy and desires of the world are being manufactured or produced.  We once were sin factories. We lived in Michigan for some time and became a little more aquainted with the car industry. I learned that a plant can’t produce anything but what it’s set up for. Often a car plant will have a few of their cars sitting out front of the plant to show passers-by what is produced in that plant.  No one would expect toys to come from a car plant.  No one would expect a boat to come from a car plant.  In fact, there are molds that companies use, and they only make vehicles that fit those specific molds and qualifications. Car companies can’t produce toys and they don’t want to produce toys. They produce cars, and specific cars at that.

In similar fashion, prior to our salvation we could be likened to a factory. The world and its philosophy are employed in manufacturing a product.  That product is sin.  That is it.  You can’t expect that sin factory to produce anything other than sin. This lines up with Romans 3:12. “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” No one produces good, not even one. The product of our lives, prior to our salvation, reflects those who control it.

And the manager of the factory? We once were energized by Satan. If the world and it’s philosophies are the employees, this verse would establish the primary owner and administration of the factory to be Satan.  Prior to our salvation, Satan ruled and reigned producing sin.

Ephesians 2:2 (ESV) in which you once walked . . . following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

We once lived in the lusts of our flesh. (1) Desires of the Flesh. What is the flesh? The flesh is   our sinful and sensual power bent on sinning and opposed to the Spirit’s working.  The flesh is life apart from the Spirit of God and controlled by sin.

Ephesians 2:3 (ESV) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind . . .

Romans 7:5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.

We once were children of wrath.  In this context, wrath is the “divine reaction against evil, bringing judgment and punishment.”  This is a position in which we found ourselves from the point of our conception. The Psalmist mourns over our condition, “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh” (Psalm 90:9 ESV). Jesus acknowledged the position of those who do not believe. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).

AUGUSTINE. He does not say it “will come” but it “rests” upon him, for everyone is born with it. And that is why the apostle says, “We were by nature children of wrath even as the rest.” Since people were lying under this wrath because of original sin—sin still more heavy and destructive in proportion as the sins added on it were great or numerous—there was the need for a mediator, that is, a reconciler, who would placate this wrath by the offering of one sacrifice, of which all the sacrifices under the law and the prophets were foreshadowings. Enchiridion 10.33.[9]

SPURGEON. without any very great change in the order of God’s providence before our conversion, we might have been there. We were sick with the fever, and if only the disease had taken an unfavourable turn, we should have been there. We were shipwrecked; and if only the waves had washed us out to sea instead of washing us up upon a rock, we should have been there. . . . Some of us have been in many accidents; if one of them had been fatal before we knew the Lord, we should have been there. All of us are in jeopardy every day and every hour; we are constantly being reminded of the frailty of human life; yet God spared us by his grace, and did not cut us off, as so many others were, while we were unrepentant and unregenerated. Had he done so, we should indeed have been “the children of wrath” in the most terrible of all senses, for we should even now have been enduring the wrath of God on account of our sin.[10]

The Glorious Grace of God

Ephesians 2:4–10 (ESV) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 3:3–7 (ESV) For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I think it’s important for us to draw on what we’ve learned so far today. God’s grace is not experienced and revealed through his acceptance of those who willingly chose to come to him due their own free will. Instead, he actively drew those who were hostile to him and rejecting him, and he revealed himself to them in a manner by which they embraced who he was and the truths he revealed.

The passage in Ephesians reveals that in God’s grace, He raised us up and seated us with Christ in heavenly places. He uses us as eternal reminders of his immense grace, and we become the recipients of his eternal grace. As well, in Titus we see similar benefits. We are regenerated through the work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We are justified by God; those who are unquestionably sinful are graciously gifted the righteousness of Christ (Titus 3:7). We are as well adopted into His family (Titus 3:7).

Contemporary Significance

God’s grace is followed up by transformation of its recipients. In Ephesians we read that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  This is spelled out a bit more in Titus.

Titus 3:7–8 (ESV) 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

Titus 3, which is a discussion on our position and the reality of God’s grace, is the motivation for the holy living being commanded in chapter 2. Chapter 2 and the first few verses in chapter 3 outline a few areas in which we are to live holy lives.  (1) The first ten verses of Titus 3 outline the conduct of believers within the church family. (2) Verses 11-14 outline how God transforms the individual so that they live holy lives. (3) The first couple verses of chapter 3 discuss how we are to live in the secular communities in which we find ourselves. All of this is followed by the gar (for) clause of verse 3. This Greek word introduces “the reason or cause of what precedes.”[11] All our holy living, all our righteous deeds are to be motivated by the fact that we once were dead in our sins, but Christ made us alive by His grace.

Reformation today. As we look at the society in which we live, we all want reform. To often we think reform will come by the placing of particular people in particular offices. “Vote Trump! He’ll make America great again.” Yet, reform during the time of the Reformation or during our days is not based on restoring our nation and the people back to some golden age, whether that golden age was the age of the apostles, the age of the Reformers, or the good old days of the 20th century.

Surely if Luther’s insistence on grace alone even against a potentially powerful ally like Erasmus shows us anything, it is that reform is not simply about getting the right men onto the right committees, or changing the ethos of a denomination, but recovering and preaching the gospel.[12]

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

Additional Quotes

AUGUSTINE. A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly. Now, in order that such a course may engage our affections, God’s “love is shed abroad in our hearts,” not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but “through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.”[13]

SPURGEON. I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.”[14]

LUTHER IN RESPONSE TO ERASMUS. Wherefore Augustine also, Book ii., against Julian, calls “Free-will” ‘under bondage,’ rather than ‘free.’—But you make the power of “Free-will” equal in both respects: that it can, by its own power, without grace, both apply itself unto good, and turn itself from evil.[15]

SPROUL. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that grace is necessary to achieve righteousness, but that this grace is not imparted to the sinner unilaterally or sovereignly as is maintained by Reformed theology. Rather, the semi-Pelagian argues that the individual makes the initial step of faith before that saving grace is given. Thus, God imparts the grace of faith in conjunction with the sinner’s work in seeking God.[16]

SPURGEON. You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer—for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free will: there is no room for it. Fancy him praying, “Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.”[17]

AUGUSTINE.  And so the human race was held fast in a just condemnation, and all people were children of wrath—of that wrath of which it is written, “All our days are spent; and in your wrath we have fainted away. Our years shall be considered as a spider.” Or as Job says of this same wrath, “Man, born of a woman, living for a short time, is full of wrath.” And of this wrath the Lord Jesus also speaks: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; he who does not believe in the Son does not have life, but the wrath of God rests on him.” He does not say it “will come” but it “rests” upon him, for everyone is born with it. And that is why the apostle says, “We were by nature children of wrath even as the rest.” Since people were lying under this wrath because of original sin—sin still more heavy and destructive in proportion as the sins added on it were great or numerous—there was the need for a mediator, that is, a reconciler, who would placate this wrath by the offering of one sacrifice, of which all the sacrifices under the law and the prophets were foreshadowings. Enchiridion 10.33.[18]

_________________________________

[1] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Vernon J. Bourke, vol. 21, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 303–304.

[2] R. C. Sproul, The Pelagian Controversy, (Ligonier Ministries). Accessed November 17, 2016. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/pelagian-controversy/

[3] R. C. Sproul, The Pelagian Controversy, (Ligonier Ministries). Accessed November 17, 2016. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/pelagian-controversy/

[4] Lee Gatiss, The Manifesto of the Reformation, (Churchmen Articles, Vol 123 Iss 3, 2009), 205. Accessed November 17, 2016. http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_123_3_Gatiss.pdf

[5] Lee Gatiss, The Manifesto of the Reformation, (Churchmen Articles, Vol 123 Iss 3, 2009), 216. Accessed November 17, 2016. http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_123_3_Gatiss.pdf

[6] Thomas Schreiner, Was Luther Right?, (Ligonier Minstries). Accessed November 17, 2016. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/was-luther-right/

[7] Matthew Barrett, Did John Calvin Believe in Free Will? (Gospel Coalition Blog, September 12, 2014). Accessed November 18, 2016. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/did-john-calvin-believe-in-free-will

[8] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 588.

[9] Quentin F. Wesselschmidt, ed., Psalms 51–150, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 8 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 167–168.

[10] C. H. Spurgeon, “What Christians Were and Are,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 56 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1910), 243.

[11] Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 338.

[12] Lee Gatiss, The Manifesto of the Reformation, (Churchmen Articles, Vol 123 Iss 3, 2009), 217. Accessed November 17, 2016. http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_123_3_Gatiss.pdf

[13] Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 84–85.

[14] C. H. Spurgeon, “Free-Will—A Slave,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 395.

[15] Luther, Martin. THE LIFE AND WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER [35-in-1] (Kindle Locations 14325-14327).  Kindle Edition.

[16] R. C. Sproul, The Pelagian Controversy, (Ligonier Ministries). Accessed November 17, 2016. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/pelagian-controversy/

[17] C. H. Spurgeon, “Free-Will—A Slave,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 401.

[18] Quentin F. Wesselschmidt, ed., Psalms 51–150, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 8 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 167–168.

Social Media Options:

Go Ahead, Leave A Comment

Name *: Mail *: won´t be published Website
Comment*:

*

COPYRIGHT © 2013 Cornerstone Church. All Rights Reserved.