Three Views On Man’s Condition

Written by John Samson

August 30, 2023

1. PELAGIANISM – Salvation is all of man (human monergism)


Named after the British monk Pelagius (354 – 418 A.D.)

Pelagius believed that Adam’s sin affected no one but himself. Those born since Adam have been born into the same condition Adam was in before the Fall, neutral towards sin. Human beings are able to live free from sin if they want to.

Pelagius read one of Augustine’s prayers which upset him greatly. Augustine had prayed “Lord, command what You will and grant what You command.” Pelagius thought that if God commanded something, for Him to remain just, man would need to have the ability to do what God commanded without grace. There would be no need for God to “grant” what He commanded. Augustine defended his view that although God commanded, He needs to grant grace to us so that we can be empowered to do what He commands.

Pelagianism is a humanistic, man centered teaching and while it is very positive, it limits the nature and scope of sin and flatly denies the necessity of God’s grace. Pelagius’ view was condemned as heresy by the Church, as it has no basis in Scripture. However, the view never really went away and is still very prevalent in our own day. As one man said, “we are born Pelagians at heart.” We think we can do anything God commands or achieve salvation without the need for grace.

2. SYNERGISM (through the actions of more than one – cooperation)


Observing that if man was as healthy as the optimists say, then surely war, disease, starvation, poverty and such problems we face today would have been eliminated by now. Since such problems have not been fixed, Synergists conclude that something is basically wrong with human nature. Yet, they contend that the situation is not hopeless. Its bad, perhaps even desperate, but not hopeless. We haven’t blown ourselves off the planet yet so there’s no need to call the mortician yet.

Human nature has been damaged by the Fall. The will is NOT enslaved to sin, but is capable of believing in Christ, even prior to regeneration (although not entirely apart from God’s grace). Every sinner retains the ability to choose for or against God, either cooperating with God’s Spirit unto salvation or resisting God’s grace unto damnation.

Election is conditional, determined by individual choice: the only people God has chosen are those whom He already knew would believe. The faith He foresees is not exclusively a divine gift but partly a human decision. Therefore, the ultimate cause of salvation is not God’s choice of the sinner but the sinner’s choice of God.

Under this broad heading of synergism, we have two basic schools of thought:

A. SEMI-PELAGIANISM – which teaches that man initiates, God helps.

“… Divine grace is indispensable for salvation, but it does not necessarily need to precede a free human choice, because, despite the weakness of human volition, the will takes the initiative toward God.” R. Kyle (Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

B. ARMINIANISM – which teaches that God initiates by offering grace, and that mankind either does or does not cooperate with that grace.

This belief, though quite popular in our day, would still be classed as synergistic because regeneration takes place through the cooperation of man with God’s grace.

3. AUGUSTINIANISM (Reformed) – God saves by His Divine power alone (Divine monergism)


Each of the members of the Trinity are at work in the salvation of sinners. God the Father elects a people for salvation, Jesus the Son redeems them in His atoning work on the cross, and God, the Holy Spirit, regenerates them, bringing them to life.

Lazarus, being a lifeless corpse in the tomb, did not cooperate with Christ with regard to his own resurrection. Jesus simply cried out “Lazarus come forth!” and this call was powerful and sufficient in and of itself to bring dead Lazarus back to life. Christ did not interview the dead man Lazarus and ask if he would like to be resurrected, and once he got the “all clear” went ahead with his plan, now having obtained Lazarus’ permission and assent. Nor did Lazarus, once brought back to life, immediately take Jesus to court in attempt to sue him for violating his free will – his libertarian rights as a dead man to stay dead! No, for the rest of his earthly life, Lazarus was deeply grateful for the unspeakable mercy he had received from the Master.

This is a beautiful picture of what God does in our regeneration from spiritual death. Man, once receiving this grace of regeneration, then infallibly responds in faith to the effectual call of God.

I believe this is the biblical description regarding the state of man before he is regenerated. He is “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph. 2:1).

Augustinianism is named after Saint Augustine of the 5th Century A.D.. As far as his relationship to God is concerned, man is a lifeless corpse, unable to make a single move toward God, or even respond to God, unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life. Although spiritually dead, it is a strange death since he is nevertheless up and about actively practicing sin. He is what horror stories call a zombie – dead but walking around. This is a fair description of what Paul says about human nature in its lost condition. Apart from Jesus Christ, these sinning human corpses are the living dead. Man’s will is enslaved (John 8:34).

Man has a will, most definitely, but this will never wants God (Rom. 3:11; Rom. 8:7), without the direct and gracious intervention of God. The sinner actively practices evil. He is also by nature an object of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3). BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy…. even when we were dead… made us alive (by grace you have been saved)… (Eph. 2:4, 5)

This truth is demonstrated in many passages in scripture, but perhaps the clearest is Ephesians 2:1-10.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9 not as 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 so that we would walk in them.

Colossians 2:13 also states, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him…”

Notice that both in Ephesians 2:5, and Colossians 2:13, it was when we were dead that God made us alive. Not one mention is made of our role in all this, such as, “when you were dead, you decided to cooperate with God’s grace, and He then raised you…” I don’t know how the Apostle Paul could have taught Divine monergism more clearly. It was when we were dead that God made us alive.

Augustinianism removes all ground for boasting, demolishes all human pride and exalts God’s grace as the sole efficient cause of a sinner’s salvation. As Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Therefore the glory for it goes to God, and to God alone.

“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” – Rom. 9:16

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