It’s Not About Knowledge – Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog


When we exclaim, “If only I knew what God wants me to do, I would do it!” we are not often serious. Books on the search for God’s will are legion. But it’s not about knowing, the real fight is Next God’s will.

We already know far more of what is required of us than we could ever begin to act. As we learned in the last blog, God is more eager to reveal his will to us than we are to receive it. And God’s will for your life is mostly moral.

The problem may be that we don’t want to be moral. Or are we just not power to be moral?

Our moral life would be much easier if we could say with theological conviction, “I just couldn’t help it.

There is a fine line between the inevitability of sin in our lives (which we box say with conviction), and a fatalism that dismisses failure in the blink of an eye.

One of the greatest theological debates in the history of Christianity concerned this distinction. It was between a British monk teaching in Rome named Pelagius and the church father Augustine.

Pelagius was a moralist living in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. He was deeply concerned about people leading good and moral lives. He viewed the concepts of total depravity (the inherent corruption of fallen humanity) and the inevitability of sin as counterproductive. If people are told that they cannot help sinning, how can that encourage a moral life?

Pelagius therefore emphasized that we do not enter the world with a bias for evil and that through human freedom we have the ability to choose the good and moral life. Pursuing his thought to its logical end, Pelagius taught that humans could earn salvation on their own by perfectly fulfilling God’s commandments without sinning.

While agreeing with Pelagius that the image of God in human beings was not entirely lost with the fall of Adam and Eve, Augustine, a bishop of the Church and a contemporary of Pelagius, argued that we had lost the ability not to fish. Augustine saw the history of the human will in three stages to which he gave succinct Latin titles:

  1. Before the Fall we were posse no peccari and mori (able not to sin and die). It was the age of innocence.
  2. After the Fall, we became no posse no peccari and mori (unable not to sin and die). This is the age of responsibility.
  3. In paradise we will be non posse pecari and mori (unable to sin and die). This will be the age of achievement.

One of Augustine’s famous analogies was that of a set of scales, or weighing scales, representing good and evil. When properly balanced, one could weigh the merits of doing good versus evil and make a choice. However, following the fall of mankind, although the scales work, they are seriously out of balance. They lean resolutely towards evil, and human beings are prone to wrongdoing.

The teachings of Pelagius were condemned as heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Although dismissed, Pelagius forced thinkers like Augustine (and through them, the Church) to refine their understanding of the tension between our orientation towards sin and our call to obey the will of God.

Augustin sympathized with Pelaguis’ concern for the struggle to obey God’s will, but he had long since seen Grace as the liberating force that would free the human will from its slavery to sin. Grace tips the scales back and allows a person to choose what is moral and good.

Augustine thus maintained that this grace is considerate, that is to say, it “precedes” or precedes our conversion and our sanctification, preparing in us a will to choose the good. Grace is also operative, which means that he “works” on us for the purpose of salvation, regardless of anything we do. Finally, it’s cooperativewhich means that once we become a Christian, we are able to cooperate with grace to grow in holiness.

That is, if we want to cooperate.

The reality of life as a follower of Christ is that we are torn between our inherently sinful nature and our ability to pursue God’s will through cooperative grace.

Author Brennan Manning summed it up nicely:

“When I’m honest, I admit I’m a bunch of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel Guilty for not feeling guilty I’m confident and suspicious I’m honest and I still play games Aristotle said I’m a rational animal I say I’m an angel with an incredible capacity for beer

And U.S. too.

James Emery White


Adapted from the author Wrestling with God. Get the eBook HERE at Church & Culture.

For a useful introduction to Augustine’s theology, see the two Library of Christian Classic editions of his works, Augustine: Earlier Writings and Augustine: Later Works.

On the debate between Augustine and Pelagius, see Jaroslav Pelikan, The emergence of the Catholic tradition.

Brenan Manning, The Gospel of Ragamuffin.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

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