Monergism, Defined and Defended by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding “monergism.” What does this mean? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. Glorify God always!
This study will focus on a positive presentation of “common grace.” In fairness, there are learned Christian teachers who deny that there is such a thing as “common grace.”
“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.”*
“The teaching that God alone is the one who saves. It is opposed to synergism, which teaches that God and man work together in salvation. Cults are synergistic. Christianity is monergistic.” **
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
John Calvin’s comments are profitable to read on the Ephesians text:
8. For by grace are ye saved. This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us.
Ought we not then to be silent about free-will, and good intentions, and fancied preparations, and merits, and satisfactions? There is none of these which does not claim a share of praise in the salvation of men; so that the praise of grace would not, as Paul shews, remain undiminished. When, on the part of man, the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means, on which men are accustomed to rely, are discarded. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ. And so he adds, not of yourselves; that claiming nothing for themselves, they may acknowledge God alone as the author of their salvation. (1)
Two more passages from Scripture make clear the monergistic nature of salvation:
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Romans 9:16 get right to the heart of the issue:
God’s election is not of Jacob’s, or of any other man’s, willing or running; i.e. it is not from his good desires or deeds, his good inclinations or actions, or from the foresight thereof; but it is of God’s mere mercy and good pleasure. This text wounds Pelagianism under the fifth rib. Nec volenti, nec volanti,* was the motto of a noble personage. * Translation: Nor is it who wishes it, nor a flying (2)
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers agrees with Matthew Poole on the Romans text:
(16) Of him that runneth. – A metaphor taken from the foot-races as St. Paul may very possibly have seen them practiced at Corinth. (Comp. Romans 9:16; Galatians 2:2; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16.) The meaning is that the prize does not depend on human will or human effort, but on the grace of God. (3)
A Monergistic Testimony:
By the grace of God, confession is made to the truthfulness of what the apostle Paul teaches in the following passage of Scripture:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (l Corinthians” 15:1-4)
In another place, he declares the following concerning man’s condition “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one…that every mouth may be stopped, and the entire world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:10, 19). This was my condition. Paul goes on to say, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 6:23. I had earned the wages of death. God in his mercy gave me the gift of eternal life. The only thing that I earned and deserved was death. Eternal life came as a gift. I am certain of this; there was and is absolutely nothing in me that caused God to give me this gift. Jesus Christ gets all the glory and praise.
Being faithful to what the writer of Hebrews sets forth:
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Look to Jesus by giving him the glory. God gave me the gift of faith. Salvation is by grace and even my faith is a gift. Ephesians 2:8 says “and that not of yourselves.” What is not of yourselves? Faith! Did I choose Christ and exercise faith? If so, then why did this happen? Who gets the glory? Does Christ get the glory? Do I get the glory? Why did I choose to believe? The next passage supplies us the answer:
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:4- 5)
Was this salvation in my hands to choose or reject? If this were the case, then could I not glory in and of myself? How can that be so? If so, I would have done something, others had not done.
The following verse tells us that predestination is according to the good pleasure of his will:
“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
The doctrine of election more than any other teaching of Scripture takes salvation out of man’s hands and places it under God’s control. Men do not like God’s control. The cause of God’s choosing is in Him. If we insist that we played a part in God’s choice, then human merit is a factor. Salvation then becomes synergistic rather than monergistic. Biblical salvation is monergistic. Christ alone, by his complete and finished work, saved me.
Within a synergistic scheme, salvation becomes a cooperative effort. My work takes away from the work of Christ. How? I contributed. I played a part in my salvation. If I was not willing, then God could not save me. A synergistic scheme of salvation not only steals Christ’s glory, it limits God’s power. God can only do what I allow him to do within this type of system.
Salvation comes by the grace of God, not works from a man:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)
This is the close of my testimony:
“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen”. Romans 16:27. Heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Amen! (4)
Confessional support from The Canons of Dordt, the Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine:
Article 10: Conversion as the Work of God:
The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.
Article 11: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Conversion:
Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.
Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work:
And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man’s power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.
Comments in closing:
In contrast to monergism as defined above, synergism’s definition is that two or more causes work in tandem to produce results not obtainable by any of the causes independently. If this definition is granted, then it would be irresponsible for a Christian to say that God as one of the causes cannot accomplish His will and needs the help of other causes.
Salvation is monergistic, God is not constrained by man’s will in applying His work of salvation, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously enables and causes sinners to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. How could a sinner try to take any credit for his salvation? God gets all the glory.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Ephesians, Volume XX1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, Reprinted 1979), p. 227.
2. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Romans, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 511.
3. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Romans, vol.2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p.242.
4. Jack Kettler, The Religion that Started in a Hat, adapted from Chapter 21, “A Personal Confession of Faith,” (Maitland, Florida, MCP Books), pp.419-420.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics
*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/