If I Can, I Ought

In the fourth century, there lived a monk famous for his arguments with Augustine, particularly about whether or not human nature is corrupted as a result of the fall. His name was Pelagius, and his philosophy ended up saying that mankind is able and responsible to acheive salvation on his own. The philosophy can be summed up with the statement, "If I ought, I can." In other words, if we are supposed to do something (behave perfectly), God has given us the complete ability to do it. 

Well, Augustine pretty much proved that Pelagius was a goof ball. In reality though, Pelagius just got it backward. "If I ought, I can" is not a true statement. But "If I can, I ought" is. 

Last week, I switched from Dish Network to AT&T U-Verse as a result of a year of poor customer service from Dish Network (Here's an example if you're interested... it only got worse from there).

When I called Dish Network to inform them that the camel's back was broken, they put me on the line with a "Customer Loss Prevention Specialist." She was the nicest lady in the world who offered to come out and fix our current problems, give us extra programming, beat AT&T's price, and refund the money they charged me to drive out to my house to fix their faulty equipment. I was one promise away from giving that lady a piece of my mind that I really don't need to part with at this point. 

Dish Network - if you can, you ought. If you had the ability to offer good customer service, lower prices, and better technical support, the time to do that would have been before I switched to your competitor. Because you were passive throughout our relationship, I'm going to do some positive advertising for your competitor, and some bad publicity for you. 

Unfortunately, it's not just Dish Network. Maybe I recognize it in Dish Network because it's an easy trap for me to fall into as well. I let problems go by that I have the ability to deal with because they're not the most urgent issue. I sit on issues because they're not convenient to deal with, or because they aren't pressing, and wait until they become pressing and it's too late. 

If you have the ability to do something about an issue today, you probably ought to deal with it today. It will cost you a lot less energy and time, and everyone will be happy in the long run. 


chloeadele said...

How about 2 Peter 1:3-11? I read that last week, and it seems like it could support Pelagius' view.

not arguing. just curious. :)

Chris Freeland said...

Pelagius was arguing that a person who is not a believer can do all those things to save himself. Peter was writing to people who "have received a faith of the same kind as ours..." (1:1).

When the Holy Spirit is inside of you, and you've been granted with everything we need for life and godliness, you are empowered to do the things God has called you to do because you do it with His strength. Pelagius argued that God expected us to do things on our own...

chloeadele said...

thanks for that distinction.

so are those verses talking about living a sin-less life? is it possible to not sin while still in our flesh-driven bodies and while here in this fallen world?

Chris Freeland said...

I think the verses are telling us to strive for a sinless life.

Although some people believe you can reach sinlessness on this earth (John Wesley), John the apostle says that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.

We can certainly have periods in our life where we aren't sinning - so long as we're rightly related to God through Christ - and the goal of the Christian life is to go for longer and longer periods of time where that's the case as we await an ultimate time when we'll be saved from the presence of sin altogether.