What is monergism in relationship to salvation?

monergism and salvation
Question: "What is monergism in relationship to salvation?"

Answer:
The word monergism comes from a combination of the Greek terms for “one” and “energy.” Combined, they mean “a single force.” When applied to salvation, monergism implies that God is entirely, completely, and solely responsible for any person’s salvation. This view contrasts with synergism (“a combined force”). Synergism suggests salvation is accomplished through a cooperative act of God and man.

As commonly understood, monergism is a more accurate description of salvation than synergism. However, that does not mean either should be carelessly accepted, rejected, or applied.

In studying any theological idea, including monergism, we must remember that God is God, and we are not—so no human idea can ever claim to perfectly describe the reality of the Creator (see Isaiah 55:8–9). Some ideas are closer to the truth than others. What’s important is to recognize the value in an idea and its truthful aspects, without carrying it further than it’s meant to go. For monergism, this means noting how Scripture supports it, while also acknowledging its limitations.

The primary passages of Scripture used to demonstrate monergism are Ephesians 1:4–5 and Romans 9:16. These passages indicate that God chose certain people for salvation prior even to the creation of the universe, wholly independent of their merits or abilities. In other words, these verses suggest salvation is the result of a “single force”: a mono-ergon. That single force is God, the one and only person responsible for salvation.

Other passages of Scripture also lean heavily toward the idea that God and God alone can be credited with human salvation. Notable examples are Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 2:8–9. Proponents of monergism often point to the example of Lazarus, who—being dead—could not have “cooperated” with Jesus in his own resurrection (John 11:43–44). Using this example, monergists can interpret verses such as 1 John 3:14 (“we have passed from death to life”) in much the same way—that is to say, God and God alone was acting in our salvation.

For these reasons and others, monergism would appear to be closer to the truth than synergism.

At the same time, the Bible also speaks of human choice—even in matters of salvation—in ways that don’t seem to perfectly fit monergism. Examples of this are Matthew 23:37 and John 5:39–40. In both, Jesus speaks of resistance against the Holy Spirit. Oft-debated passages such as 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:3–4 strongly suggest a sense in which God “desires” the salvation of all, despite the fact that not “all,” in practice, will be saved. The Bible routinely presents salvation with “invitation” terminology, implying that there is some sense in which a person needs to respond in order to be saved (Revelation 22:17). Even verses such as Matthew 22:1–14, John 4:10, John 6:44 and 1 Peter 2:7 speak of ideas such as God’s “drawing” in contrast to humanity’s “rejecting.”

Those moderating verses should do just that: moderate one’s view of monergism. Scripture is absolutely clear that God is entirely sovereign in election and solely responsible for salvation. Insofar as those ideas are concerned, monergism is the only biblically viable option. Yet the same Bible also lays culpability on mankind for their negative response to the gospel; so, while synergism may not be as “accurate” as monergism, it may not be entirely devoid of truth.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter's Freedom by James White

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