By Jarrod Belcher
“As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Romans 3:10, 11. One of the distinctives of the Christians religion—and there are many—is in the area of the nature of man. For the first several hundred years in Christianity it was taught that man was corrupt at the core and would not seek after God on his own. But then a British monk named Pelagius changed the theological landscape forever when he rejected the teachings of predestination and advocated a radical doctrine of the total and complete free will of man. Pelagius did not agree with the church doctrine that sin was inherent in every person. He believed that each person started out morally neutral and had within themselves the ability to fully obey God’s moral law. The great theologian Augustine opposed him and the stage was set for yet another battle within the church concerning theological and doctrinal issues.
This was an incredibly important battle to be fought and Augustine would emerge victorious ultimately because he had Scripture on his side. He pointed out the overwhelming Biblical evidence of the inherent weakness of man, his inability to meet moral standards, his natural rebellion against God, and of course the fact that sin is a curse that is passed down from Adam and Eve to every person who has ever lived. This theological concept is known today as Total Depravity. Consequently as the Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God.” Augustine affirmed the early church fathers when he said that the implication of this doctrine is that God himself must reach down to save man. We will never desire God or come to him all on our own out of some inner goodness or light that dwells within us because there is no such thing. The full and true understanding of salvation by grace alone hinges on a right understanding of the depravity of man. Although Augustine shaped church doctrine for several centuries after this, Pelagianism didn’t die. A form of it has always existed within the church even if it has dropped many of the heresies of its founding father by trying to merge free will with an understanding of Total Depravity.