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.
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 is 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 with monergism. Examples of this are Matthew 23:37 and John 5:39–40. In both, Jesus speaks of human 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.”
Some theologians explain the Bible’s commands to believe by taking a more moderate view of monergism, teaching that human faith must be present to receive God’s grace. These same theologians are careful to point out that faith itself is not meritorious. Faith receives grace, but it does not initiate grace. The faith required to receive divine grace is simply a response to God’s prevenient grace. God graciously opens our hearts to be able to exercise faith, and then we choose to attach that faith to Christ. God still does the work of salvation, even though an act of human will (enabled by God) is a necessary requirement to receive it.