“Distressed by the apathy he found among Christians in Rome (he himself was said to have sold all his possessions), Pelagius contended that they were encouraged in his by Augustine’s view of divine grace, which asserted man’s inability to earn salvation. Pelagius particularly disliked the prayer of Augustine in his Confessions, ‘Give what Thou commandest—and command what Thou wilt’ ” (Who’s Who in Christian History 546).
Pelagius propagated the ideas that man was free to choose whether to sin or to believe. “He argued that [Augustine’s] doctrine, that humans went to hell for doing what they could not avoid (sin), was tantamount to the Manichean belief in fatalism and predestination, and took away all of mankind’s free will” (“Pelagius“). But he erred in his doctrine. His main problems can be summarized in “three points: the denial of original sin; the view that justifying grace is not given freely, but according to merit; and the assertion that after baptism sinless perfection is possible” (Who’s Who 546). His teaching was condemed during two African councils in AD 416 and he was excommunicated by the following year.
Similar to this error is the teaching of semi-Pelagianism which “is a softer form of Pelagianism, which taught that man has the capacity to seek God in and of himself apart from any movement of God’s Word or the Holy Spirit. According to semi-Pelagianism, man doesn’t have a complete capacity, but man and God could cooperate to a certain degree in this salvation effort: man can (unaided by grace) make the first move toward God, and God then completes the salvation process” (“Semi-Pelagianism“).
After studying the inability of man, can either of these doctrines be true? I do not believe so. As the prophet Jonah wisely concluded: “salvation is of the Lord” (2:9). Without his working, salvation cannot take place. The following statements should explain what the Scriptures say about the matter.
God must intervene (John 6:44).
One of the ideas expressed today is that people have the ability to respond to the gospel by themselves. Is this really the case? Our Lord Jesus taught something different. In this passage, he taught his followers that nobody can come to him without the drawing of the Father. In other words, “no one can come to Jesus or believe on Him without divine help. People are so ensnared in the quicksand of sin and unbelief that unless God draws them they are hopeless” (BKC, 296).
When you attend a funeral service, you quickly note that the body in the coffin is unable to respond to you. No matter how loud you speak, the person will not respond. He is dead without any ability to respond. This is how it is with the lost men and women to whom we preach the gospel. They are spiritually dead without any ability to respond unless God intervenes. The good news is that he does intervene. And as he draws them to himself, they will come to Jesus and be saved.
God requires faith and repentance (Acts 20:21).
Our great God is sovereign over salvation. Without him it would be impossible. And yet we read many times in Scripture where lost men are called upon to repent and believe. John the Baptist (Mark 1:4), the Lord Jesus (Luke 5:32), and Peter (Acts 2:38) all preached repentance. In our passage, we find that Paul had made a habit of preaching “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” A lost man must have a change of mind about his sin. He must realize that it his sin is rebellion against God. When he comes to that realization, he must forsake it and turn to Christ as his only hope for salvation. This is clear from the Scriptures.
But how can a dead man respond in this fashion? If he is spiritually dead, how can he respond at all? This is where God comes in. As the Father draws a man to himself and the Holy Spirit convicts him of his sinfulness and need of the Savior, God miraculously enables that man to respond even giving him the faith to believe (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29). What an amazing truth! We are definitely indebted to God for our salvation as it is all of him.
God grants eternal life through Jesus (John 3:16).
A young British preacher kept asking D. L. Moody for a chance to speak for him in Chicago. Moody wasn’t interested at first, but seeing the earnestness in his request, he finally consented. During his visit, the man used one text of Scripture every night for the entire series. His text was John 3:16 and his topic was the great salvation offered by the Lord.
But after memorizing that classic verse, we often forget the explanation given by our Lord in the preceding verses. Jesus likened his death on the cross to the brass serpent raised by Moses in the wilderness (Num. 21:4-9). Because of their sin, the Israelites were judged with poisonour snake bites. But in his mercy, God provided a means of salvation. He commanded Moses to place a brass serpent on a tall pole for the people to see. Those who looked at the brass serpent were healed of their sickness. In the same way, sinful mankind must look to Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
At this point, if the Hoy Spirit of God is convicting you of your sinfulness, and need of the Savior, you should respond to him. Today is the day of salvation! As God enables you, turn from your sin to the Savior and be saved!
God gives assurance through growth (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
A poll in fundamental Christianity would doubtless show that many professing Christians have doubted their salvation at one time or another. One of the reasons for that is a faulty understanding of salvation. Some new believers have been given “assurance” by writing the date and time of their experience in the inside cover of their Bible. Others know they are saved because they “walked an aisle.” Neither of these is evidence of salvation.
God gives assurance of salvation through his work in a believer’s life. Peter points that out in this passage. He says that the sure proof that we are one of the elect is the change in our lives (10). As the preceding qualities are evidenced in your life, you will be assured that God has changed you and is at work in your life. If you have been struggling with the assurance of your salvation, it may be that you have neglected these characteristics. If you want true assurance, you will need to follow God’s plan as described in these verses.
God will one day take believers home (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
What do you do when things are not going well? Many people become so attached to this life that present struggles are all that they can think about. But that shouldn’t be our focus. Every believer has been given a special promise that should keep a smile on our faces.
Paul reminded the believers in Thessalonica that living and deceased believers will one day be reunited by Jesus in heaven. Some day (and it could be today!) our Lord Jesus could return and take us to heaven. When that takes place nothing on earth will matter any more. We will be reunited with the one who loved us from before the foundation of the world! And we will spend eternity with him. What a blessed hope!
As we conclude our study of salvation, we ought to be overjoyed at what God has accomplished for us. Our salvation is not something we deserved. We have not earned what we have today. It is a gift from him—every part of it. That is an amazing truth. Why would God love me and give me so great a salvation as this? I don’t know, but I recognize what he has accomplished in my life and desire that many more would be drawn to him so they can experience it as well.