On Augustine’s Freedom: sin and grace (Grade Recieved: 92.5%)

Augustine describes to us some basic, yet powerful precepts regarding the freedom of our Christian faith. None of us have become what we are apart from the primary enabling grace of God. He contends this to be true both in salvation and our subsequent actions. To truly and purely do good is a inward power and honor from God, yet we have the voluntary freewill to misuse our thoughts, deeds, and speech. God and his Word cause the eyes of our hearts and souls to open as he shows us the striking reality of our own depravity and the essence of evil. This new nature evokes real freedom without being deceived or blinded by all that is within our own selves or our present. Conversely, it appears to be the belief of humanists like Pelagius that it is our own emboldened will and innate Godly makeup that enables us to choose to live in resistance to sin and adherence to the law. It seems certain that Augustine would disagree with the idea that grace is simply an addition that merely helps and would rather say it is necessary and the bases of God’s covenant relationship with his people. Many without God can posses Godly qualities but are still spiritually dead. By conceding and choosing to cooperate with the grace of God the Christian is empowered to a brand new level of existence. They can be freed from sin consciousness, dead to the law and alive to the righteousness of Christ due to the new spiritual disposition provided by the grace of God.

In the Garden of Eden, our freedom was a created faculty to not sin. However, in the final analysis, there will be a new freedom defined by an unyielding joy and total capacity to persist, rather than just an aptitude to endure. Grace offers freedom from a self-centered and prideful soul that focuses on and advances toward evil and sin. This new freedom from a sin nature is needed. Adam had a sinless nature and therefore he so freely chose to sin that the consequences were far-reaching and dire, universally effecting the spiritual aptness of his seed and our bloodline. Due to the introduction of this previously foreign element, we and our inclinations are apart of that happenstance even with no voluntary action, yet we can receive the grace provided by Christ. The enemy seeks to pervert and use our nature to sin or our desire to do good or do evil against us. Our souls are born of spirit and not of physical matter only, but that sinful soul of the first man still was transmitted or transfused to all. This is nullified by the regeneration offered by Christ. We are still able to sin by way of our mind, will, and emotions, and still have a body and soul nature that can chose to walk in the flesh. However, our born again Spirit nature is separate from and even dead to sin in the same way we were previously separated from God. Just as we were sinners because of the first Adam so we are find righteous by the last Adam who is Christ. We can now walk in our new nature provided by grace through Jesus. In our Spirit man this is a completed work and sin is no longer the core of our being. Sin cannot penetrate are Spirit, but there is still a battle with the unregenerate mind. This old man is left behind after being born again and can continue as previously programmed. Living out the newness of life in mind and action depends on our increasing revelation of the person of Christ and renewing our mind by way of the Word, thus realizing our newly provided freedom and resting in the finished work of Christ. That old man and inclinations have been crucified, condemn ed, and judged in the body of Christ.

Augustine explains that from the first sin, our free will was not lost but our freedom was. Therefore we are in need of grace to make our free will a slave to righteousness and not to sin. It is our free will that either chooses evil or chooses the enabling grace toward righteousness. If Adam had continued in grace, enjoying God’s life and favor rather than wanted to know good and evil, he would have remained good. Augustine speaks of the second grace given by Jesus as much more than the first possessed by Adam. He states “for it ensures that he should will, and will so ardently, as to give the spirit the victory over the will of the flesh which lust against the spirit” (Augustine, 205). Through God’s convent we can walk in the spirit. This grace did more than bring remedy for human ruin by way of freedom, or by giving us only the opportunity to continue doing good, but it warranted that we should will to do so from within. We are now able to persevere and cannot help but do so, as it is who we are and are becoming. It is our concerning pursuit and desire. The Lord has chosen us to cohesive partnership with him, and when yielded to the Lord, we are prepositioned in him. This grace changes our heart and subsequent actions. Accepting this grace through faith restores our soul and allows for a truer freedom to love righteousness. Similarly to the function of the law, grace exposes the inadequacy and emptiness of one’s choice absent from a Godly motive given by grace.

For Augustine all peoples, no matter their calling, destiny, or realization of freedom, are under the sovereignty of God. None are separate from the same condemnation of the first Adam and it is through the blood of Jesus, not their works, that they may be justified. It is the grace of God that has chosen us even though we are the ones who needed him. Certainly, God desires all to be saved, but Augustine believes “all” to mean all those predestined to encounter God’s grace. For what event could be outside the knowing of God? Further, he contends God can harden or softens hearts as he wills, as events show in scripture. God must and does influence the soul and will and we are persuaded to accept and possess. For better or worse, Augustine dismisses further questions regarding who or why a particular person is persuaded while another is not is differed to the preexisting knowledge, the absolute vision, and the total sovereignty of God.

In large part it is very difficult to disagree with Augustine’s wisdom and rhetoric on the subject matter. He does well in describing human nature from birth and our corresponding freedom. He also is right in combating Pelagius’ idea that we possess no congenital evil. Clearly this is not so after the fall. A sin nature is evident, as one does not have to try to sin or teach someone to be ungodly. There is some inward feeling to do good, but how often has that truly been predominate or exercised apart from selfish motives? These good qualities certainly do not win outright regarding our inward parts or in private matters. Within this context Augustine illuminates a major pillar that distinguishes a Christian worldview from the secular or humanistic ideologies of many social views and constructs. Paramount to this is the generation of creation, degeneration of the fall, and regeneration through Christ. It is quite difficult to see the logic in Pelagius’ view that there is no inward transformation, or ultimate Savior for that matter, needed. This seems unnervingly close to the foundational views held by many modern and ungodly movements and governments. The origins of current false presupposed assumptions can often be traced throughout history. Further, the importance and focus on the vast and fueling grace of God was refreshing compared to some of the exhaustive, works intensive measures we see in beliefs today even within the church itself.

Augustine gives an appropriate and inspiring vision of the new grace given through Christ. Although free will remains, this grace enables a conscious choice to persevere when we so will to consent and work in collaboration and move in sync with our spiritual man and spiritual source. Christians often neglect the possibility or purpose of being conformed to Christ to such a degree, perhaps because it requires a heart kept and set on the things of God and not various flesh inducing medias, or are simply too focused on their own righteousness rather than God’. Grace must be the greatest gift ever offered, as this freedom from hopelessness is offered to both the friends and the enemies of Christianity. Our free choice for good is only a byproduct of the realization of God’s grace and love through Jesus. Without this we are simply boasting in our own strength and works.

Augustine does fairly well in balancing the idea of predestination and free will. We accept or reject, yet God knows those who are called will not parish. Predestination can be taken to potentially dangerous and harmful extremes among individuals if not placed in a right or responsible perspective. Therefore, special mention should be given to idea that we do not know the predestined and our evangelistic efforts must not be altered or decrease. For the most part, Augustine does this to a satisfactory degree. Although the case is made that God foreknows all, we cannot even pretend to know what God knows, particularly regarding the earthly happenings and interactions of freedom, sin, and grace. This is well and good, yet Augustine also implies that some are simply not granted the grace to believe. One could ponder if this is contradictory regarding freewill and the vary character of God. Is grace implanted like an organ? It does not seem unreasonable to instead say that many will harden their hearts and choose to reject the grace that is offered and available to all. One may offer some disagreements with extreme sovereignty, arguing that God will not violate His integrity and authority He gave to man and that we are chosen in Christ and not by coercion.

Augustine’s desire for the baptism of infants seems contradictory to previous views, as what human free will or God’s grace is there in this act? Yes, we are born with the sin nature from Adam, yet how can this unconscious act cleanse? That child will not be washed from guilt until he or she encounters Christ after an age of actualized free will. Are we freed and saved by Christ or by baptism? It seems strange to imply that an infant needs baptism to remove the sin for salvation, or that it has anything to do with what parent’s begat this new being. Rather the intelligent grace of God is present and in place before that age of freely rebelling against God. Infants may not be guilty of specific sin but do receive the sin nature from Adam. Some would suggest that it is not a Church sacrament that is needed, but simply when the will is so able or moved, to then accept Christ’s final work. It was also unclear the basis for the scriptural confidence Augustine possessed regarding infant baptism. Water was often used as a metaphor for the Word or the Spirit. One such example states, “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word“ (Eph. 5:26-27). Also Paul said “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Augustine seems to possess a grasp of the primary sovereignty of God within his other theological themes, so why not here?

Every blessing we have comes from the cross and until we have experienced Jesus, whatever we believe is a fabricated faith and invalidates salvation by grace. We may want to make the spiritual birth into something tangible that we can see or expound upon a human need for some system of control concerning such issues as infant death. However, when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus regarding how one could be born again, he stated “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Baptism can certainly be a legitimist symbol of new birth or obedience to God, but one struggles to believe that is save the soul. Hebrews states “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb. 9:22). Although it may not be altogether clear if he entirely acknowledges that Jesus plus nothing equals salvation, Augustine does make some profound and truthful statements regarding freedom, grace, sin, and the human need for redemption and it is difficult to attempt to discredit him.

Reference: The Later Christian Fathers: Augustine of Hippo by Henry Bettenson. New York, Oxford Univeristy Press, 1920

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