Home > God, man > Free Man or a Sovereign God?

Free Man or a Sovereign God?

In order to approach this topic it is necessary to first define freedom. Freedom is the “exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.” When it comes to man’s freedom in relation to God power and sovereignty, we have the right to choose our actions with the knowledge that God will allow us to carry out our desires. The writer uses the term ‘allow’ because God is in control of everything.

Proverbs 16:9 says that “the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
Although God has the power to control our actions He gives us the ability to act on our own behalf or choose to have Him be our guide. These two ideas, man’s free will and God’s sovereignty, are not opposing viewpoints. They are meant to work together. God proclaims that He can use a bad situation created by man and convert it into something that glorifies Him. This action is seen repeatedly throughout Scripture.

Pelagius and Augustine approach the topics of original sin, freedom of choice, and other issues from competing points of view. Let’s look at these issues in the chart below to gain some clarity and discuss if they line up with Scripture.

Pelagius

Augustine

Creation of Adam:

Adam was created free of sin, in a mortal body, and having a free will.

Creation of Adam:
Adam was created free of sin, in an immortal body, and having a free will.

The Fall of Man:
When Adam fell it affected him and no one else. It brought spiritual death not physical.

The Fall of Man:
When Adam fell it brought physical and spiritual death to all.

The Birth of All Men Who Follow Adam:
Men come in like Adam before the Fall (innocent, mortal, free will)
They enter into sin by free choice

The Birth of All Men Who Follow Adam:
We are like Adam after the Fall. No longer innocent, become mortal, and with a corrupt nature. We don’t have a choice but to sin. Our sin begins at conception.

Scripture seems to agree with Augustine in the areas of the Creation of Adam and the Fall of Man. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Man then had the choice of following after God or doing whatever pleased them. This remains true even to this day. There was no sin in the Garden of Eden until Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit. It appears that it was God’s intention for man to live forever because there was a tree in the Garden that gave eternal life. He gave them permission to eat of every tree, but eventually bans them from the Garden so that they could not access this tree. This supports Augstine’s view of man’s immortal body, without sin, and having a free will.

The wages of sin is death. Once sin was committed it changed everything in the world that God designed. Man would now have to work instead of God providing for them. Man would now die because they did not access the tree of life. Man would now experience pain and suffering. Man would also be affected by their own sin and the sins of others. Man would also experience war and violence even though God created us to live in peace with one another. These among many other reasons are how sin has caused us to have a disconnected relationship with God. Two questions still remain: How does man become holy? At what point does our sin affect our relationship with God?

In reference to the two above questions, Pelagius and Augustine both understood part of the truth. Man is born innocent with a bent towards sin. This means that initially we do not sin because we do not have the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. We conduct ourselves according to the rules and regulations that we have been taught. Depending on the culture we come from our actions can vary significantly. There is a point, however, when we have the ability to choose to do either the right or wrong thing. When we purposely choose to do what is wrong instead of what is right we then take on the sin of Adam. “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” The Scripture seems to support Pelagius’ view that we sin by free choice, but as Augustine thought, we have a corrupt nature. These two views are not necessarily exclusive of each other.

The thoughts of Pelagius and Augustine are still debated today. Regardless of which one you tend to follow it is important to remember that no one has the ability to be holy without the love of our Father God, the death of Jesus on the cross, and the active work of the Holy Spirit in our lives everyday.

freedom. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/freedom (accessed: February 13, 2008).

2 Romans 8:28.

3 Genesis 1:31.

4 Genesis 3:22
5 Romans 6:23.

6 I John 3:4

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