Libertas Peccatorum - Man's State of Sin After the Fall

Libertas Peccatorum - Man's State of Sin After the Fall
A Contrast of the Reformed and Evangelical Arminian Perspectives

Robert J. Olson
Reformed Theological Seminary


Man's libertas naturae is found in four distinct states: libertas Adami, the pre-Fall state of Adam where man was able not to sin; libertas peccatorum, the post-Fall state where unregenerate man is unable not to sin;
libertas fidelium, the state regenerate man is both able to sin and able to do good works pleasing to God;
and libertas gloriae, the state of regenerate man in glory where he is unable to sin.

Of these four states, libertas peccatorum is the most misunderstood and disputed in modern Evangelical Christianity.  This paper will attempt to present the Reformed view of man in the state of libertas peccatorum and contrast it with the Evangelical Arminian view so prevalent today.  It will be shown that the Evangelical Arminian view has no Scriptural foundation, leaves fundamental questions unanswered and replaces the glory of God with the glory of man.


The following definitions will be employed in this paper:

libertas naturae - (freedom of nature); "the liberty that is proper to a being given its particular nature."  (Muller 176).  The four states of libertas naturae are as follows:

a.     libertas Adami - (freedom of Adam); "before the fall - this is the ability or power not to sin." (Muller 176).

b.    libertas peccatorum - (freedom of sinners); a freedom that is proper to and confined within the limits of         fallen nature and is therefore an absolute inability to do good or to act for the good with the sinner described as  not able not to sin."  (Muller 176).

c.     libertas fidelium - (freedom of the faithful); "a freedom of those regenerated by the Holy Spirit that is proper to the regenerate nature and is characterized by the  ability to sin and to do good." (Muller 176).

d.     libertas gloriae - (freedom of glory); "a freedom proper to the fully redeemed nature of [the blessed in heaven], who, as residents of the heavenly kingdom  are now characterized by the inability to sin." (Muller 176).

Evangelical Arminian(ism) - the school of theology grown out from the theology of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) which maintains a high view of man's will in the state of libertas peccatorum and, as such, holds that "man's will is free not bound and cooperates with God's grace rather than being vivified by it."  (Ferguson 45).  This view is possibly the prevailing view in contemporary American Evangelicalism and is seen in both congregational and mainstream denominational churches.

peccatum originale - (original sin); All men after the Fall are, by virtue of their connection with Adam, born in a sinful state and condition.  "It contains two elements:

a.      Original Guilt. This means that the guilt of Adam's sin is imputed to us. Since he sinned as our representative, we are guilty in him.

b.      Original Pollution.  The descendants of Adam  also inherit from him moral pollution.  They are not only deprived of inherent positive righteousness, but also have an inherent positive disposition toward sin." (Berkhof, Manual 145).

liberum arbitrium - (free will); "the rational power to determine [one's] course in the direction of the highest good, in harmony with the original moral constitution of [one's] nature."  (Berkhof, Systematic Theology 248).


Reformed theology begins with the position that when Adam sinned, he sinned as federal head of all mankind. Thereafter, man was born spiritually stillborn under peccatum originale (with original guilt and original pollution) and suffers from a radical corruption.  The Reformed doctrine of radical corruption holds that sin is at man's very core and has extended to every part of his being - his personality, thinking, emotions, and will.  Scriptural supports for this view include I Corinthians 15:21,22, Romans 7:18 and Ephesians 4:18.  As stated by the Westminster Confession:

6.1          Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit.  This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

6.2           By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.

6.3           They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.

6.4           From this original corruption we are utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.  (Westminster Confession 38-40).

It should be noted that this condition does not preclude the unregenerate from doing what the Reformers referred to as "civil virtue", deeds that conform outwardly to the law of God, rather, it precludes the unregenerate from doing any good deed out of love for God and for his glory.  The Westminster Confession continues:

16.7      Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God. (Westminster Confession 78).

The federal sin of Adam polluted man's truly free will in the state of libertas Adami to an enslaved will in the state of libertas peccatorum. Such an enslaved will creates a radical inability to do any act which fundamentally meets with God's approval and conforms to the demand of God's holy law, nor can man even attempt to change his disposition.  Scriptural supports for this position include John 6:44, Romans 8:8 and I Corinthians. 2:14.   The Westminster Confession states:

9.2           Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

9.3           Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. (Westminster Confession 52).

Reformed theology holds then, that in a material sense man lost his liberum arbitrium in the Fall, was born dead in sin, remains in bondage to sin and lacks the ability for doing or loving any spiritual good.  


Evangelical Arminian theology holds that unregenerate man's will is not so corrupted and polluted as to prevent him from choosing to do what is right and good.  This view maintains that if man were indeed radically corrupt and dead in sin, he could not be held justly responsible for not obeying the commands of God.  George L. Bryson, director of Calvary Chapel Church Planting Mission and apologist for Evangelical Arminianism writes, "if unregenerate man cannot repent, why would God command him to do so?  Is it really possible that [God commands] them to do what He knew they were incapable of doing?"  (Bryson 78).  This question is the very question the fourth century monk Pelagius raised concerning Augustine's famous prayer, "Grant what thou commandest, and command what thou dost desire."  Both Pelagius then and Bryson today hold that moral responsibility naturally requires moral ability; that is, if God requires moral perfection then He must give man the ability to achieve it in and of himself. 

Along this line of understanding, man is better viewed as mostly corrupt but not radically corrupt, sick in sin but not dead in sin, and in need of facilitating grace from God but not necessarily effectual grace from God.  In summary, the Evangelical Arminian doctrine holds that man still enjoys liberum arbitrium, either in the same extent or close to the same extent as Adam did in the state of libertas Adami.  As such, when God calls man to obedience, man has the moral nature and moral ability to obey, otherwise God would not require such obedience. Scriptural supports for this view include Acts 17:30 and II Thessalonians 2:10.


The Reformed view of libertas pecccatorum is that unregenerate man, because of his radical corruption and spiritual inability, is unable not to sin. The Evangelical Arminian view of libertas pecccatorum is that unregenerate man, by maintaining a free will, is both able to do good and able to sin.  These two positions are mutually exclusive and cannot both be true.  Either man is spiritually dead or he is spiritually alive (even if spiritually ill).  Either his will is enslaved or is free.  This is the crux of the problem.


The Evangelical Arminian view is in error.  First, it cannot answer numerous Biblical statements addressing unregenerate man's state in libertas peccatorum.  Second, it significantly distorts the Biblical revelation of God's reasons and means of redemption throughout history.  Third, it is unable to answer why one person comes to faith while another does not.  Fourth, it usurps God's authority and places man in the position of sovereign.  These four critiques are here further explored.

Biblical statements - The Evangelical Arminian view cannot answer numerous Biblical statements concerning unregenerate man's state of radical corruption.  The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1-5 speaks directly of our state of libertas peccatorum prior to being made alive:

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)."

Paul paints a bleak picture of unregenerate man - one of death in trespasses and sin, as members of the family of disobedience and wrath, and in helpless need of a savior.  The Evangelical Arminian cannot honestly say Scripture presents man's condition as merely spiritual sickness.  The Reformed position is the only one that takes the Scripture at face value.

Evangelical Arminianism is also unable to address Christ's declaration of man's radical inability when he spoke to the Jews in John 6:44 saying "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him"  This statement by Christ is a universal negative (no one), specifically addressing man's inability (can), is a command of obedience (come to me), and provides the only conditional mean for obedience (unless the Father who sent Me draws him).  If, as the Evangelical Arminian holds, man possesses the moral ability to obey God's commands, Christ could not make such a statement.  Again, the Reformed position is the only one that takes Christ's declaration at face value.

Redemptive history - The Evangelical Arminian view disregards the state of those God redeems throughout history as revealed in Scripture through various soteriological types.  For example, God saved and clothed Adam and Eve when they were helpless in their sin.  God redeemed the children of Israel from their state of bondage under Pharaoh.  David sought out and adopted Mephibosheth despite his membership in the rival dynastic family.  Jesus raised Lazarus from the state of physical death by making him alive.  These and many other types point to man's spiritual state of corruption and inability and illustrate the profound beauty of God's grace.  The Evangelical Arminian position that man has the ability to save himself through faith in Christ stands in stark contrast to these types.

Why some come to faith - Evangelical Arminianism cannot explain, if mankind has a moral nature and is morally able to obey God's commands, why one person comes to faith while another does not.  It is obvious to say that no one on either side of the debate would declare they came to faith because they were more intelligent, spiritual or righteous than those who do not come to faith.  Nevertheless, the Evangelical Arminian might say that he came to faith because he pursued spiritual matters or because he opened his eyes to the things of God.  But this begs the question, "why?"  Why did he pursue spiritual matters or open his eyes to the things of God?  Is it because he is more intelligent, spiritual or more righteous?  This brings us back to the first question for which the Evangelical Arminian has no solid answer.

The Evangelical Arminian might also say that he came to faith because God graciously caused him to open his eyes to the things of God and that he was then able to respond to God's commands.  This begs another question: "if man is truly able to respond to God's commands in his natural state of libertas peccatorum, then why would God have to graciously causes a person to open his eyes to himself and why does he not do that for everyone?"  The Evangelical Arminian is unable to provide an answer to these questions.  It is only the Reformed position that can answer these questions with the Gospel of unmerited grace. 

Sovereignty - The Evangelical Arminian view places unregenerate man in a position where he does not belong; namely, as sovereign - able to accept or reject God's commands according to his own free will.  Chuck Missler, a popular Evangelical Arminian author and speaker, in his book titled, "The Sovereignty of Man" holds that man's love for God "must emerge from our sovereign will."  (Missler 8).  Missler further explains how man's will functions and states, "Yet even the lot is in the lap of the Lord.  He is in ultimate control where our sovereignty is not the issue."  (Missler 8, italics mine).  Missler is perhaps the most honest and forthright of the Evangelical Arminian proponents.  Instead of attempting to explain in a convoluted way how God's holy commands, man's liberum arbitrium and peccatum originale interplay, he simply places man in the position of sovereign.  Reformed theology, on the other hand, is grounded in the doctrine of God as absolute sovereign over all his creation.  R.C. Sproul explains it clearly:

"To say that God's sovereignty is limited by man's freedom is to make man sovereign.  To be sure, the statement that God's sovereignty is limited by human freedom may simply express the idea that God does not in fact violate human freedom.  But of course this is a different matter.  If God never violates human freedom, it is not because of any limit of his sovereignty.  It is because he sovereignly decrees not to.  Any limit here is not a limit imposed on God by us, but a limit God sovereignly imposes on himself.  In Reformed theology, if God is not sovereign over the entire created order, then he is not sovereign at all If he is not sovereign, then he is not God."  (Sproul 27).

Man has rebelled against God and remains in a state of rebellion.  Holding the position that man has the moral condition and ability to choose the things of God places him in control not only of his own world, but the whole entire world.  Such a view places God at man's disposal and has God waiting upon the decisions of man.  This is not the God of Scripture who acts how and when he pleases.


There can be no tertium quid concerning man's state in libertas peccatorum.  He is either dead in sin or he is alive in Christ.  He is in bondage to sin or he is in bondage to Christ.  He is a child of wrath or he is a child of God.

Scripture plainly reveals man in his state of libertas peccatorum as one who is guilty and polluted by original sin - both radically corrupt and unable to do any spiritual good.  It is only through God's sovereign grace that man may be saved to good works.  Evangelical Arminianism's attempts to reconcile God's commanding obedience from fallen creatures only ends up neglecting clear Biblical teaching, leaving key questions unanswered and placing God in a subordinate position to man. 


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