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  • Chad Werkhoven

Titus 3:3-7 - The Well Intentioned Heretic

Meet Pelagius, a really nice heretic with good intentions.


Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 15: The Doctrine of Original Sin

We believe

that by the disobedience of Adam

original sin has been spread

through the whole human race.

It is a corruption of all nature—

an inherited depravity which even infects small infants

in their mother’s womb,

and the root which produces in man

every sort of sin.

It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight

that it is enough to condemn the human race,

and it is not abolished

or wholly uprooted

even by baptism,

seeing that sin constantly boils forth

as though from a contaminated spring.


it is not imputed to God’s children

for their condemnation

but is forgiven

by his grace and mercy—

not to put them to sleep (alternate translation: This does not mean that the believers may sleep peacefully in their sin)

but so that the awareness of this corruption

might often make believers groan

as they long to be set free

from the “body of this death.”

Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians

who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.



Enslaved. That's what Paul says that at one time we all were (v3). If most of us are honest, that's a tough to identify with, since we've had the blessing of knowing Jesus our whole lives. But even those who came to know the Lord later in life likely wouldn't describe their life prior to Christ as living "in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another."

Thankfully, God restrains people's sinful natures so that most people don't fully experience a life filled with total malice and hatred (a doctrine we call common grace). Yet Paul here accurately describes what life is like apart from God's grace.

So if God has brought us to new life through the Holy Spirit, and He even holds in check the behavior of those who haven't been regenerated, why is it so important to continually remind ourselves of this ugliness? The answer comes in the very next verse. If you don't realize the effect that original sin has had on you - that it's sapped you of any ability to do any sort of good on your own - you'll end up chalking the good relationship you currently have with God to the righteous things you've done, as if God owes you salvation because you're such a good person (or at least better than most).

Paul here corrects this sinful instinct, writing that Christ "saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (v5)."

Dig Deeper

Pelagius was a British monk, and a really nice guy. He moved to Rome around the end of the 4th century. He was appalled by the moral laxity of society and advocated for more personal responsibility in the Christian life. This sounds like a good thing, so it might be surprising to find out Pelagius' efforts sparked one of the biggest theological controversies of all times and ended with him branded as a heretic.

Pelagius' teachings revolved around the idea that human beings were created with the inherent capacity to choose good or evil without the necessity of divine grace. He argued that the essential nature of humanity was not corrupted by original sin, and therefore, each person was born morally neutral with the ability to live a sinless life by their own efforts.

In other words, people are not born in sin, but end up sinning simply by imitating those who came before them. So the key to defeating sin is to just stop imitating it. Through sheer willpower, people can set themselves on the straight and narrow. God's grace was only necessary to forgive past sins, but wasn't necessary for a person to repent in the first place or even live Godly lives moving forward. Those things can and must be done by us independently.

This may sound really good, and even freeing! It's easy to see why it's attractive to think that the Church has been holding humanity under its thumb by telling them that on their own they're totally depraved, and how much better everything would be to escape that dependence.

But not only does this never work out in reality, it flies in the face of all that God has told us is true as we've read what the Bible says about original sin these last couple of weeks (and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg!). But worst of all, and the reason that Pelagianism is deemed a heresy, is because it points people away from their need of Christ and leaves them clinging to nothing but their corrupted, sinful selves.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who saved us because of His unfailing covenant love;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you will live righteously as an expression of gratitude - not the rationale for - the grace you've already been given;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Matthew 27


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