The Death of RBG, What is Sin, and Pelagianism
September 25, 2020 Speaker: Josh DeGroote
Topic: Biblical Justice Passage: Genesis 18:25–18:25, Hebrews 9:27–9:27, 1 John 3:4–3:4
EPISODE SIXTEEN - Introduction
Welcome to the living by faith podcast, my name is Josh DeGroote and this is episode number fifteen. Thanks for listening. This is a podcast where I take a look at some news items, theology, and history from the perspective of the Christian’s life of faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s jump in.
2020 is the year that just keeps on giving. On Friday, September 18, the news came that 87 year old RBG died. ied after serving 27 years on the court. What has happened, this was her fourth battle with cancer which finally took her life. Shortly after her death, it came out that she had apparently communicated to her family that her dying wish was that she did not want to be replaced by the current President, Donald Trump. Apparently - in 2016 RBG wanted to be replaced by Hillary. But of course her dying wish has no bearing on the constitutional process of replacing a judge. Zero. It is completely irrelevant! This sets up an epic battle for her replacement. You thought the Senate process was ugly for Brent Kavanaugh. It is hard to imagine it getting any worse, but it’s 2020 and an election year, so I am sure that it will. Precedent and difference from 2016 situation (president and Senate same/different parties). So the Republicans in the Senate have the responsibility to confirm a judge to replace RBG who will faithfully interpret the constitution.
And this highlights one of the significant differences in judicial philosophy between the Republicans and Democrats (generally) in terms of their appointees. Republicans (or conservatives) typically look for a jurist who will interpret the constitution in an originalist way. In other words, they look for judges who try to interpret the constitution in a way that is consistent with its original intent, applying it today, but not looking for something that isn’t there - like creating new rights which the government cannot do. The Democrats (leftists) tend to appoint judges who interpret the constitution as a living document, ever changing to meet the changing times in which we live. And so there is much more latitude to let personal opinion and the ever-changing public opinion bear upon the meaning of the text of the constitution.
For some time now, the Democratic Party by and large have seen the Supreme Court as a sort of super legislature to help push their liberal agenda forward; and let’s face it, the Supreme Court has done just that - Ruth Bader Ginsberg being the tip of the spear for the last 27 years.
Without question RBG has some admirable qualities - she was brilliant (in school, as a professor, ACLU, appellate judge, and supreme court - she showed this). She was determined. She didn’t let artificial barriers stop her from achieving her goals and aspirations. These are all qualities to admire and we should.
However, the removal of her influence from the Supreme Court is a good thing given her approach in handling the constitution and her extreme left views on issues like abortion (no restrictions and taxpayer funded), the whole range of LGBTQ+ issues, and religious liberty.
As Christians, we should be reminded that death is the enemy of us all. And when someone in the public light dies in such a public manner, we should take time to remember that death will come for us at some point. Furthermore, we need to reflect on the sober reality taught in the scriptures that each person upon death will meet God. Hebrews 9:27 tells us “It is appointed unto man to die once and then comes judgment.” RBG, who has been a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years has met the eternal and Supreme Judge of all the earth. She has met her Maker. And by all accounts she has met her Maker not covered by the blood of Jesus, which is the only hope for all of us.
Therefore, the death of RBG is no cause for us to gleefully rejoice. God says in Ezekiel 33, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and we should not either. But we can be assured of one thing as we look to the immediate future and the long term future. Abraham asked the following rhetorical question in Genesis 18: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Yes, he will.
The next section is the catechesis section. For centuries Christians gave themselves to the practice of learning the doctrines of the Christian faith by way of a catechism. Catechesis simply means to teach orally or instruct by word of mouth. This is a practice that is sorely missed in our day and I think we would benefit tremendously by taking it up again, and so I want to do my part to promote the practice of catechesis.
So I’m making my way through a modern catechism called New City Catechism. It takes the form of 52 questions and answers with scripture - so one for each week. You can buy the book online or you can download the app on your phone for free. So we are on question 16 this week:
Question 16: What is sin?
Answer 16: Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.
This definition is really important. Sin is outright the rejecting of God or [seemingly] more benign ignoring of God. Perhaps you have heard of the sins of commission and the sins of omission. Sins of commission are sins that we commit in an active way. Sins of omission is where we simply omit or ignore what we should do.
The definition goes on to say that sin is rebelling against God. Sin is rebellion. Let that sink in. Sin is not just making a bad choice. It is a revolt against the authority of God. One thing is certain. If we have a small and low view of sin it will impact our view of God, his gospel, and our lives as Christians.
It will impact our view of God - who is holy and majestic. We will inevitably adopt a low view of God - in fact, he probably will look a lot like us. We will also have a weakened view of the gospel. The good news will just become just ordinary news. And without a proper view of sin, we will inevitably have a paltry understanding of the life of holiness we are called to live.
Ignorance is never bliss. It is good for us to have a biblical definition of sin. Which leads to our text for question 16:
1 John 3:4 - Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
In this episode’s history section, I want to touch on another ancient heresy. BB Warfield once said that there are fundamentally two teachings of salvation: one is that salvation is from God and the other is that salvation is from man or that we basically save ourselves. The ancient heresy of Pelagianism is the teaching that Jesus is a good example and if we follow him we can basically save ourselves. He believed that human beings are born innocent like Adam and Eve were before they sinned.
If you have ever heard someone teach, “People are basically good” or “people are born good and innocent” it is a distant cousin or direct descendent of Pelagianism.
So who was Pelagius? Pelagius was a monk who lived in the fourth and early fifth century. At a certain point in time he made his way to Rome and while there was troubled by the moral laxity among the Christians. So he began to promote a strict life that included ascetic practices (harsh treatment of his body), inspired largely because of the moral indifference he saw among the Christians.
His austere and strict lifestyle and trust in human goodness and willpower brought him into conflict with St. Augustine. It is said that he heard a quote from Augustine’s Confessions in which he said, “Command what you will and give what you command”. He thought that teaching was false and actually blamed that kind of teaching for the moral laxity he saw all around him.
Now Augustine was simply following the pattern of scripture and that is we are saved by grace and that we continue in faith and obedience by grace. But Pelagius believed that if the bible commanded us to do something then we MUST have the power in ourselves to do it. How could God command us to do what we had not the power to carry out.
The fundamental problem of Pelagius was that he denied and utterly rejected original sin - that we are born with a sinful nature because of Adam’s sin. He saw Adam as a bad example, not as the head of the human race who plunged all that followed him into the corruption of his sin. The truth is we sin because we are sinners by nature. Pelagius would say we are sinners because we sin. As a consequence, Pelagius viewed Jesus not primarily as a Savior and Redeemer, but as an example. Albeit a good one, one to follow and emulate.
And therefore salvation for Pelagius, was a matter of following the example of Jesus rather than trusting in the finished work of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, being made a new creation, and given the free gift of his righteousness. I think it is fair to say that Pelagianism is a religion of fallen, sinful, natural man trying to save himself. Christianity is about God graciously and powerfully saving sinners through Jesus Christ. I’m reminded of the great old Hymn Jesus Paid It All which communicates this truth so beautifully when it says:And when before the throne, I stand in Him complete. Jesus died my soul to save. My lips shall still repeat: Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed me white as snow. Amen!
Thanks again for listening to the living by faith podcast. If you found it helpful, please subscribe, like, and share. Until next time, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you all.”