Heresies all Around us – Pelagianism

Heresies all Around us – Pelagianism

Part 6 – Pelagianism

I came to Christ around 1994. In my testimony I often say that I chose to be saved by Jesus. I think you can even hear me saying that in my online testimony.i But, does that mean that I was capable of deciding all one my own?


Well, it might surprise you, but the idea of man being able to search for God on his own, is a heresy called Pelagianism.

Pelagius (c. 355 – c. 420 AD) believed that individuals could follow God’s commands by using their own free will, without relying on God’s grace. Essentially, a person’s freedom to choose allows them to decide whether to follow God and engage in good or bad actions, without needing Divine intervention.

Pelagius also believed that God would never ask his followers to do something that was impossible, which meant that it was definitely possible to fulfil all of God’s commandments. He also believed that it was unfair to punish someone for the sins of another, so he believed that babies were born without blame. Pelagius didn’t make any exceptions for sinful behaviour and believed that all Christians, no matter their social status, should strive to live a life free from sin.

What’s the Problem?

The problem here is that the concept of ‘free will’ is taken to a complete new level. By claiming that humans can reason themselves into God’s Kingdom, they are neglecting many Bible verses which say the opposite.

Nobody starts looking for God by him or herself.

Romans 3:10-11

as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God.

Human-beings are sinful and have no desire by themselves to be with God.

Ephesians 2:3-5

among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

We are all affected by Adam’s sin.

Romans 5:12

Wherefore, as by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned


Needless to say, but Pelagianism has been condemned by several councils and during other occasions. You can see a list of these occasions, which I found on a website called ‘the Heidelblog,’ in the transcript on my website.ii

  • Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418 AD.)
    • Coelestius was condemned at Carthage in 412 AD. Pelagianism was condemned also in 416 and 418.
  • Council of Ephesus (431 AD.)
    • Pelagianism was anathematized at the Third Ecumenical (universal) council, on 22 July in Ephesus.
  • The Council of Orange (529 AD.)
    • The 2nd Council of Orange (Aurausio, France) in 529 AD. upheld Augustine’s view of grace and condemned Pelagianism unequivocally.
  • Council of Trent (Sessio Quinta)
    • On 17 June, 1546, the Roman Council of Trent condemned Pelagius in five chapters.
  • Protestant Synods and Confessions
  • Pelagianism was condemned universally by the Protestants. Some notable examples.
    • 2nd Helvetic (1561/66) 8-9. (Swiss-German Reformed)
    • Augsburg Confession (1530) Art. 9, 18 (Lutheran)
    • Gallican Confession (1559) Art. 10 (French Reformed)
    • Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 15 (Lowlands, French/Dutch/German Reformed)
    • The Anglican Articles (1571), 9. (English)
    • Canons of Dort (1618-9), 3/4.2 (Dutch/German/French Reformed)


So, how about our free will? When I said yes to God, did I do that out of my own free will, or was it God who basically moved my lips? Well, I know I need to be very careful of how I am going to formulate this. After all, I do not want to fall in the trap of Semi-Pelagianism.

Semi-Pelagianism is a watered down form of Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism asserts that righteousness can only be attained with the help of grace, but it differs from Reformed theology in the way this grace is received.

According to semi-Pelagianism, the individual takes the first step of faith before receiving the saving grace. In this view, God grants the grace of faith while the sinner actively seeks God. In other words, God responds to the first move of a human. The person is thus the one who can take the first step and that means that God’s grace is not absolutely necessary to maintain faith. Apparently, in the thinking of Semi-Pelagianists, man already has a certain amount of faith to start off in the first place.

Anyway, Semi-Pelagianism was also condemned at the Council of Orange in 529 AD.

Free Will

But where does this leave us and our free will? Okay, this again is a tricky subject. So, I’ll share my idea on this and how I think it does justice to Scripture.

God gave us a free will, that which means we have the freedom to determine what to say and what to do independent of external causes. Also, I believe a choice can only be free if it is coherent with the person’s own nature and longings or desires. However, our free will is bound by our own sinful nature.

Now, if free will is restricted to our sinful nature, we can actually only choose what our sinful nature allows us to choose. This, as we have seen earlier in Romans 3:10-11, means that nobody is going to look for God. Our sinful nature is not the least concerned with God’s will and therefore no one can decide to go to God by his own free will.

1 Corinthians 2:14

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

In the spiritual sense, everyone is either a slave to sin, which is our natural state, or a slave to Christ. When sin controls us, we cannot resist it. However, through the grace of Christ, we can overcome that.

Romans 6:16-18

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

When Can You Choose?

Okay, that’s nice an all, but if we naturally do not choose to seek God, how than was I able to decide to follow Jesus?

In this, I think the ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius, who lived from 1560-1609 AD, offers a good explanation. Arminianism states that, due to the fall, humans have received a tainted and wicked nature. But the Holy Spirit gives the grace, or enlightenment if you like, to everyone. This empowers individuals to answer God’s invitation to be saved. I believe that every human will receive this grace from the Holy Spirit somewhere during his or her life.

On the other hand Arminianism also says that, even though God is sovereign, He has purposely limited His control in correspondence with man’s freedom and response. In other words, humans can reject God’s grace, even when the Holy Spirit enables them to see the truth. So, like Luther, Arminius believed that we can resist God’s grace.

By citing Arminianistic ideas, I probably risk people pointing out that Arminianism has been accused of Semi-Pelagianism as well. This is because many the later Arminians, also called Remonstrants, moved towards Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Also, Arminianism has been condemned as a heresy in the Synod of Dordt, in the Netherlands from 1618 to 1619 AD. This synod was specially organised to counter Arminianism, and was mostly a political move. The Arminians were accused of spreading false teachings and perceived as ready to compromise with the Spanish, whereas the Dutch Calvinists were not. The only Arminians present during the Synod were not even full participants, but defendants. Most delegates to the Synod where actually already against this teaching. How about that for an easy win!

In any case, I wouldn’t consider myself an Arminianist. But as I have said time and again, many of the so-called great names of around the Reformation period, Like Calvin, Zwingli, Luther, and Arminius, to name a few, had some awesome teachings and also some less-awesome teachings. That leaves us to determine right from wrong, as Paul tells us to do in

1 Thessalonians 5:21

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

God gave us a brain to think, and in His word He seems to warn us not to throw away the baby with the bathwater.


Christ died for everyone. The Saviour’s atoning death provided the means of salvation for the entire human race. Christ’s atonement, however, is effective only for those who believe. Let’s finish this with the text from

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.

Let me Hear Your Ideas!

In any case, let me know what you think in the comments. Maybe you disagree on certain things? Just leave a comment. Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel. You’ll find a link to that channel in the description of this video or on my website. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to receive a notification every time I upload a new video!

I very much appreciate your prayers and support! Please take a look in the description of this video to find out how you can help me. Also, I’ll place a link there to both the Dutch and English transcripts of this video.

God bless you, thank you for watching, and, Lord willing, we’ll see each other in the next video!


i About me, Jurgen Hofmann, [internet], accessed on 24-01-2024.

ii Clark, R. Scott, Pelagianism, [internet], September 3, 2012, accessed on 25-01-2024.

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