“SALVATION IS OF THE LORD” MONERGISM VS. SYNERGISM
A Research Paper Submitted to Dr. John Mahony
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Course Doctrine of Salvation (TH 5750)
Deryl Williams December 21, 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................................................1
MONERGISM IN SCRIPTURE .......................................................................................................................6 AN INSURMOUNTABLE WALL ...........................................................................................................................6 DEAD IN SIN .......................................................................................................................................................9 JESUS’ VIEW OF HUMAN ABILITY ...................................................................................................................11 ADDITIONAL REFERENCES ..............................................................................................................................14 SYNERGISM’S REBUTTAL ..........................................................................................................................15
Introduction Jonah 2:9 tells us that “Salvation is from the LORD” (NASB), but what does this mean? James R. White correctly observed, “The most fundamental difference between the God-centered Gospel of the Apostles and of the Reformers and all other viewpoints is summed up in these few words” (2000, 50). In order to understand where we stand on the subject, a few questions must be asked: (1) What is man's part and God's part in the work of the new birth? (2) Why is it that one unregenerate person believes the gospel and not another? Does one make better use of God's grace? (3) Apart from the grace of God, is there any fallen person who is naturally willing to submit in faith to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? (4) In light of God's word, is our new birth in Christ an unconditional work of God's mercy alone or does man cooperate in some way with God in the work of regeneration (making it conditional)? The purpose of this paper is to defend the biblical Gospel, by demonstrating from Scripture that faith is the result of regeneration, not the cause of it. A corresponding aim is to show that the opposite view, that faith precedes regeneration, is both unscriptural and harmful to our understanding of the Gospel. It is, in fact, a different gospel, and must be exposed and defended against. As the Apostle Paul said, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel; which is really not another; only
2 there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, his is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:6-9). The Protestant Reformation was a renunciation of the works-based salvation of the Roman Catholic Church, and a return to the biblical understanding of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. When we look at the five pillars of the Reformation— sola Scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria,—it is clear that the reformers were convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that the doctrine of solo fide, justification by faith alone, is established by the prior commitment to sola gratia, justification by grace alone. It is a historical fact that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, and all of the first generation of leading Protestant theologians held firmly to this view of regeneration. “On other points they had their differences. In asserting the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace, they were entirely at one. To all of them these doctrines were the very lifeblood of the Christian faith” (Sproul 2001, 2). In the Fleming H. Revell edition of Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, translators J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston wrote a brilliantly thought-provoking historical and theological introduction to the book itself. Regarding the importance of understanding man’s utter helplessness, and God’s free, unconditional, and invincible grace, they penned the following words: Here was the crucial issue: whether God is the author, not merely of justification, but also of faith; whether, in the last analysis, Christianity is a religion of utter reliance on God for salvation and all things necessary to it, or of self-reliance and self-effort. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of
3 justification which is left to man to fulfil (sic)? Is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it man’s own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semiPelgianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformers’ thought) (Luther 1957, 59). Synergism Before defining monergism, it will be helpful to begin by explaining synergism, the view taught in the majority of churches today. Synergism (From Greek sunergos, working together: sun “together” + ergon “work”) is the doctrine that the act of being born again is achieved through a combination of human will and divine grace is the view of “Arminians” and “semi-Pelagians.” The Century Dictionary defines synergism as “the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives.” In other words, synergists believe that faith is something the natural man must add or contribute toward the price of his salvation. Unregenerate man, in this scheme, is left to his freewill and natural ability to believe or reject God. Renowned Christian apologist, Norman Geisler, stated: God’s grace works synergistically on free will. That is, it must be received to be effective. There are no conditions for giving grace, but there is one condition for receiving it—faith. Put in other terms, God’s justifying grace works cooperatively, not operatively. Faith is a precondition for receiving God’s gift of salvation. . . . Faith is logically prior to regeneration, since
4 we are saved “through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9) and “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1 NASB) (Geisler 2001, 242-43). This point of view says that God's grace takes us part of the way to salvation but that the depraved, rebellious will of unregenerate man must determine the final outcome. “Man is never to wait for God’s working. If he is ever regenerated, it must be in and through a movement of his own will, in which he turns to God as unconstrainedly and with as little consciousness of God’s operation upon him as if no such operation of God were involved in the change” (Bancroft 1976). However, the Scriptures are abundantly clear that in his natural state, man hates God and has not even the desire to come to God. In the synergistic system, then, grace is only an offer of salvation, but does not actually do anything to change man’s depraved nature or replace his heart of stone with a heart of flesh. John Hendryx properly concluded: This means that God will only look favorably upon and reward those natural men who are able to produce or contribute faith, independent of God's inward gracious call or spiritual renewal. This is a subtle, but serious, error that is plaguing the church of the 21st century. It is a misapprehension of the biblical teaching concerning the depth of our fallen nature and the radical grace needed to restore us (2003). Horton appropriately wrote, “Why do we insist on having something to do with God’s gift? Why can’t we just say, ‘To God alone be glory’—and really mean it? Any reference to ‘our part’ immediately tends to make for a salvation by works, not grace” (Horton 2002, 132). It has been said that we all, by nature, are Arminians. Our sinful human nature desperately wants to maintain an island of righteousness, a last bastion of pride in
5 thinking that we can still contribute something, be it ever so small, to our own salvation. It would involve great humility on our part to admit this. Monergism Monergism (from the Greek mono, “one”, “single”, or “alone” + ergon “work”), literally, “the work of one,” is the belief that God alone works in salvation without any contribution from man. The Century Dictionary defines monergism: “In theology, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration - that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.” That is, as it relates to conversion, regeneration is “that work of the Holy Spirit whereby he initially brings persons into living union with Christ, changing their hearts so that they who were spiritually dead become spiritually alive, now able and willing to repent of sin, believe the gospel, and serve the Lord” (Hoekema 1989, 94). This position holds that salvation is completely and unconditionally by grace through faith, and that even faith itself is a gift of God (Eph 2:8; John 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:25; Phil. 1:29; Heb. 12:2; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27). Faith does not produce regeneration, but rather is produced by it; it is the witness of God's regenerative grace having worked faith in the inner man. C. H. Spurgeon observed Coming to Christ is the very first effect of regeneration. No sooner is the soul quickened than it at once discovers its lost estate, is horrified thereat, looks out for a refuge, and believing Christ to be a suitable one, flies to him and reposes in him. Where there is not this coming to Christ, it is certain that there is as yet no quickening; where there is no quickening, the soul is dead in trespasses and sins, and being dead it cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (Spurgeon 1858). This gracious act of God was based on nothing meritorious in the individual, but rather, entirely on God's sovereign good pleasure (Eph. 1:5). God’s election is not based
6 on His knowledge of which persons would believe in Him of their own free will, because there are no such persons. Apart from the grace of God, unregenerate man has neither the desire nor inclination to seek God (Romans 3:10-11; John 6:44, 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3-4). And since those dead in sin will not seek God, regenerative grace necessarily precedes justifying faith. God must, in effect, raise them from the dead (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13). That is not to say that faith and repentance are not necessary for salvation, but that they must be preceded by regeneration. Hoekema explained, The relationship between regeneration and, let us say, faith is like that between turning on the light switch and flooding a room with light—the two actions are simultaneous. Similarly, when a person receives new spiritual life, he or she immediately begins to believe. Perhaps the best way to put it is to affirm that regeneration has causal priority over the other aspects of the process of salvation: faith, repentance, sanctification, and the like (1989, 14). For example, when Luke describes the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16:14, he says, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Here faith (responding to the gospel message) follows immediately upon regeneration (the opening of her heart by the Lord). Monergism in Scripture An Insurmountable Wall There is perhaps no better place to begin a discussion of God’s sovereignty in salvation than the ninth chapter of Romans. This remarkable passage of Scripture is so clear, so strong, and so compelling, that it truly speaks for itself. For those who desire a more in-depth discussion of this passage, John Piper’s The Justification of God is an excellent resource.
7 The Apostle Paul labors diligently to ensure that his readers understand the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, and His righteous prerogative to act according to His will. Paul is filled with grief that his own people, Israel, who are the recipients of God’s saving promise are cut-off from Christ (vv. 1-5). He then explains that this does not show that God is unfaithful, but that God’s promise is not to ethnic Israel, but to spiritual Israel, as is demonstrated in His calling of select individuals apart from anything within them(vv. 6-33). Piper noted: First, with the use of the preposition ejx Paul makes explicit that God’s decision to treat Esau and Jacob differently is not merely prior to their good or evil deeds, but is also completely independent of them. God’s electing purpose (Rom 9:11c) and his concrete prediction (9:12c) are in no way based on the distinctives Esau and Jacob have by birth or by action. This rules out the notion . . . that election is based on God’s foreknowledge of men’s good works. Second, Rom 9:12b enlarges on 9:11b by going beyond the negation of human distinctives as the ground for God’s predestining of Esau and Jacob. It makes the positive affirmation that the true ground of this election is God himself, “the one who calls.” The intended force of the phrase “not from works but from the one who calls” is felt most strongly when one contrasts it with the similar Pauline phrase “not from works but from faith.” In Paul’s thinking the latter even describes the event of justification (Rom 9:32; Gal:2:16), never the event of election or predestination. Paul never grounds the “electing purpose of God” in man’s faith. The counterpart to works in conjunction with election (as opposed to justification) is always God’s own call (Rom 9:12b) or his own grace (Rom 11:6). The predestination and call of God precede justification (Rom 8:29f) and have no ground in any human act, not even faith. That is why Paul explicitly says in Rom 9:16 that God’s bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is based neither on human willing (which would include faith) nor on human running (which would include all activity) (1993, 52-53). If salvation is due totally to God’s will (which is emphatically asserted twice in verse 15 and twice more in verse 18), and if we are unable to successfully resist His will (which we do not, and indeed could not), “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (v. 19). Paul clearly understood that this argument
8 would be raised, and his response is both swift and devastating. Reminiscent of God’s reply to Job, Paul answers that human beings have no right to question the sovereignty of God. On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory (Rom. 9:19-23) If the synergist’s claim that God and man cooperate in salvation, Paul’s answer here would be utterly meaningless. The question of verse 19 emerges because it is understood that the destiny of human beings is attributed to the will of God. Paul does nothing to correct this understanding. He does not say that God blames us because we are ultimately in control of our destiny. In fact, Paul does just the opposite by focusing on the absolute sovereignty of God. “He is the potter who exercises complete authority over the clay. Any attempt to carve out ultimate human self-determination in these verses is eisegesis (Schreiner 1998, 514-15). Paul’s emphasis in this paragraph is that the potter has the absolute right to shape his clay into vessels for different purposes. This does not imply that human beings are inert lumps of clay who are completely controlled by their Creator, but that God has the right to deal with fallen humanity according to both His wrath and mercy, as was argued in verses 10-18. Stott, pointed out, “‘In the sovereignty here asserted,’ writes Hodge, ‘it is God as moral governor, and not God as creator, who is brought to view.’ It is nowhere suggested that God has the right to ‘create sinful beings in order to punish them’, but
9 rather that he has the right to ‘deal with sinful beings according to his good pleasure’, either to pardon or to punish them” (1994, 271-72). Dead in Sin White astutely stated, “Two divine truths necessitate the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. First is the solitary and sovereign grace of God. The second is the state of man in sin, specifically, the biblically revealed truth that man is dead in sin, separated from God, outside the realm of spiritual life, incapable of doing good in and of himself” (White 2001, 57). This truth is what so greatly offends those who believe the lie that people are basically good and only need instruction. Paul clearly demonstrates the complete inability of man through the use of the phrase “dead in sin.” Consider his words to the Ephesians: 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 the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph. 2:1-3, NASB). The hopeless condition described here by Paul includes everyone, including Christians prior to God’s gracious act of regeneration. Everyone who is born of the flesh is at enmity with God (Rom. 3:10-18; Ps. 53:1-3); and are “by nature children of wrath.” “Every ‘gospel’ that departs from the apostolic gospel will in some fashion weaken this proclamation and will make room for some level of boasting on the part of man, refusing to say man is dead in sin but instead seeing him as weakened, sick, but still in some fashion capable of doing good and contributing to his own salvation” (White 2001, 58).
10 Just to make sure we grasp the significance of what Paul is saying, he reiterates the point in another passage. And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions (Col. 2:13, NET). In both Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2, “dead in sin” refers to the human inability to do anything that is spiritually good or pleasing in God’s sight. The only remedy to this condition must necessarily come from outside the individual. In both cases it is God who acts, independent and contrary to the state of the individual, to bring them to life. “But God . . . made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4,5). “He nevertheless made you alive with Him” (Col. 2:13). White wrote that irresistible grace is resurrection power. It “is simply the assertion that God’s grace, expressed in the sovereignly free act of regeneration, is irresistible. When God chooses to raise one of His elect to life He can do so without asking the permission of the dead creature” (White 2000, 284). This can be clearly seen in the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-44. Like Lazarus in the grave, the unregenerate who are “dead in sin” are completely bound and incapable of changing their condition. Nobody would dare suggest that Jesus should have first asked Lazarus’ permission to raise him to life, especially since the dead are incapable of hearing the voice of the Lord. No, something had to happen first—Jesus had to change Lazarus’ condition before he could respond to the voice of his Lord to “Come forth!” Contrary to the synergist’s assertion that monergism teaches “irresistible grace on the unwilling,” resurrection is not an action of force against will: it is the bringing of new
11 life to the dead. R. C. Sproul corrected this common misunderstanding of the Reformed view in his book Willing to Believe: Augustine’s view is frequently said to be that God saves people who are unwilling to be saved, or that his grace operates against their will, forcing them to choose and bringing them into the kingdom “kicking and screaming against their will.” This is a gross distortion of Augustine’s view. The grace of God operates on the heart in such a way as to make the formerly unwilling sinner willing. The redeemed person chooses Christ because he wants to choose Christ. The person now wills Christ because God has created a new spirit within the person. God makes the will righteous by removing the hardness of the heart and converting an opposing will. “. . . if God were not able to remove from the human heart even its obstinacy and hardness,” Augustine writes, “He would not say, through the prophet, ‘I will take from them their heart of stone, and will give them a heart of flesh;’ ” [Ezek. 11:19] (1997, 65-66). Jesus’ View of Human Ability For those who insist that the belief that man is dead in sin and incapable of coming to Christ on his own is only found in the teaching of men such as Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, we will now look at what Jesus had to say. Where the teachings of men can, and should be questioned, the teachings of Jesus are incontrovertible. “For the Christian, the teaching of Jesus is another matter. For us, and for anybody else as well if indeed Jesus is the Son of God, the teaching of Jesus must bind our consciousness. His teaching on the question of man’s moral ability is definitive” (Sproul 1986, 67). Many people are shocked to learn that some of the strongest teachings on monergistic regeneration are found in the teachings of Jesus Himself. Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. . . . Now this is the will of the one who sent me – that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. . . . . No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:37, 39, 44, NET).
12 A few verses later, when the crowds began to leave Jesus because of His teaching, He reiterated, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65, NASB). In a sermon on verse 44, renowned Baptist minister, C. H. Spurgeon, observed: We have before us now an announcement very startling, some say very obnoxious. Coming to Christ, though described by some people as being the very easiest thing in all the world, is in our text declared to be a thing utterly and entirely impossible to any man, unless the Father shall draw him to Christ. It shall be our business, then, to enlarge upon this declaration. We doubt not that it will always be offensive to carnal nature, but, nevertheless, the offending of human nature is sometimes the first step towards bringing it to bow itself before God. And if this be the effect of a painful process, we can forget the pain and rejoice in the glorious consequences (Spurgeon 1858). John Calvin, who is admitted, even by his opponents, as being a remarkable exegete of Scripture, made the following comment on the phrase “unless the Father draws him” in verse 44: To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him (Calvin 1847). In both verses 44 and 65, Jesus says, “No one can come to Me.” Young’s Literal Translation renders it, “No one is able to come unto Me.” These are words of complete
13 incapacity and they are placed in a universal context. All men have one thing in common: they lack the ability to come to Christ in and of themselves. This universal helplessness is due to our shared fallen nature. This is Paul’s “dead in sin” (Eph. 2:1) and “unable to please God” (Rom. 8:8). This is the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. Had Jesus stopped with these words, all would be lost. Humanity would be without hope. However, Jesus does not stop there. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him,” and “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” The good news, literally, the Gospel is, that there is an “unless” in John 6:44 and 6:65, just as there is a “But God” in Ephesians 2:4. “In both instances it is not the free will of man that comes to the rescue, but the free will of God. All men would be left in the hopeless position of ‘unable to come’ unless God acts, and He does this by drawing men unto Christ” (White 2000, 160). As a side note, it should also be observed that in this one passage alone, we find Jesus teaching at least four of the so-called “five points of Calvinism” including: 1) Total Depravity – no man is able to come unless he is drawn (v. 44); 2) Unconditional Election – the Father gives believers to the Son (v. 37); 3) Irresistible Grace – All that the Father gives the Son will come (v. 37); and 4) Perseverance of the Saints – Jesus will not lose one person given to Him, but will raise them up on the last day (v. 39). Later, in John 10:14-30, Jesus engages in a very revealing dialogue with the unbelieving Jews in which He explains the nature of His relationship, as the Great Shepherd, with His “sheep.” Of decisive importance here, is the order in which Jesus iterates His rebuke in verse 26. Why does Jesus say the Jews don't believe? The answer is
14 because they are not His sheep. Synergism reverses this order. According to their system, someone's not being numbered among the sheep is due to their unbelief. Jesus turns this view on its head by making it clear that in order to believe in the first place, you must be among His sheep whom the Father has given Him (v. 29). Additional References Due to limitations of this paper, there is not adequate space to exegete adequately all of the biblical texts supporting monergistic regeneration. The following list of verses, although by no means exhaustive, is offered for the consideration of the reader. A plain reading of these texts immediately destroys any synergistic requirement of faith preceding the saving grace of God [all emphases are mine]. Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29) In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures (James 1:18). You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain (John 15:16) A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics a worshipper of God, was listening and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matt. 11:27). Even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life (John 17:2) The Lordâ€™s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are
15 in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:7-8). But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised.(1 Cor. 2:14). Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jer. 13:23, NIV). A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit (Matt. 7:18). And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48). In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace (Rom. 11:5-6). Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, . . . also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:4-5, 11-12). Synergism’s Rebuttal When backed in a corner by the overwhelming weight and diversity of Scriptural references against them, synergists usually punt to passages that command or invite belief in an attempt to prove that man has the ability to believe prior to regeneration. However, it must be noted that all of these commands such as “If you are willing” (Is. 1:19), “whoever believes” (John 3:16; 1 Jn. 5:1), “choose life” (Deut. 30:19), and “choose for yourselves” (Joshua 24:15) are in the subjunctive mood, meaning that they are
16 conditional statements. A conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively. Note that God also calls humanity to keep the 10 commandments, and to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but it does not therefore, necessarily follow that man has the power to keep the commandments. In fact, man is completely unable to obey these commands. A command does not imply the ability to fulfill it. Rather, the commands of God are meant to bring us to knowledge of our inability and helplessness. With striking clarity, Paul teaches that this indeed is the intent of God’s commands (Rom. 3:20; 5:20; Gal 3:19,24). God cures man’s pride by the giving of the Law. God commands us to believe and obey not with the expectation that we can do so, but for the purpose of bringing us to utter despair so that we will recognize our complete inability to do so, and thereby driving us to Christ’s mercy. When man recognizes that even humility itself is a gift of grace then and only then it is evident that God is truly working grace in a man. The law was never designed to confer any power, but to strip us of our own, enabling us to recognize that salvation is a work of God and God alone. So if someone were to ask how one might be saved, the clear answer is “to believe in Christ,” with the understanding that the opening of our understanding and desire to believe is itself God's gracious gift. Conclusion The Reformed doctrine of monergistic regeneration should not repel us. It should humble us and make us ever more grateful to God for both effecting and securing our salvation; for doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. The saying “God helps those who help themselves” is thought by many Christians to be biblical reference, when it is anything but. This oft-quoted “bible verse” is actually from Ben Franklin’s Almanac.
17 The truth is that when it comes to salvation, God does not help those who help themselves. In fact, it is people who try to in some way contribute to their salvation against whom God swore in His wrath, “They shall not enter My rest” (Heb. 3:11; 4:3). Why? “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). Those whom God allows to enter His rest are those who have stopped trying to get there on their own. God accepts those whom He makes acceptable in Christ. When we try to add our own concoctions to God’s already perfect remedy, and assist Christ in His perfect and completed work, we ruin the whole thing and incur His wrath. Consider the straightforward illumination of Michael Horton: Grace is the Gospel. The extent to which we are unclear about who does what in salvation is the degree to which we will obscure the gospel. At a time when moralism, self-righteousness, and self-help religion dominate in much of evangelical preaching, publishing, and broadcasting, we desperately need a return to this message of grace. We need to emphasize once again Paul’s inspired commentary, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16) (2002, 23). Evangelical Christians today desperately need to return to the core values of the Reformation and discover anew what Scripture teaches about salvation. In the eyes of the Reformers, Arminianism’s synergistic view of salvation was a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favor of New Testament Judaism; “for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as unChristian and anti-Christian as the other” (Luther 1957, 59). Packer and Johnston rightly concluded: These things need to be pondered by Protestants to-day. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognised by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they
18 believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism today become more Erasmian than Lutheran? . . . Have we not grown used to an Erasmian brand of teaching from our pulpits—a message that rests on the same shallow synergistic conceptions which Luther refuted, picturing God and man approaching each other almost on equal terms, each having his own contribution to make to man’s salvation and each depending on the dutiful co-operation of the other for the attainment of that end?—as is God exists for man’s convenience, rather than man for God’s glory? Is it not true, conversely, that it is rare to-day to hear proclaimed the diagnosis of our predicament which Luther—and Scripture—put forward: that man is hopeless and helpless in sin, fast bound in Satan’s slavery, at enmity with God, blind and dead to the things of the Spirit? And hence, how rarely do we hear faith spoken of as Scripture depicts it—as it is expressed in the cry of self-committal with which the contrite heart, humbled to see its need and made conscious of its own utter helplessness even to trust, casts itself in the God-given confidence of self-despair upon the mercy of Christ Jesus—‘Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!’ Can we deny the essential rightness of Luther’s exegesis of the texts? And if not, dare we ignore the implications of his expositions? (Luther 1957, 59-60). Sola gratia Sola fide SOLI DEO GLORIA
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