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What is synergism in relationship to salvation?

translate synergism and salvation

Synergism comes from a combination of the Greek terms for “cooperating” and “energy.” Put together, they mean “a combined force.” When applied to salvation, the term synergism implies that salvation is accomplished through the combined act of God and man. This contrasts with the term monergism, which comes from Greek terms for “one” and “energy” and means “a single force.” Monergism suggests God is entirely, completely, and solely responsible for any person’s salvation.

Synergism is sometimes inferred from certain passages in Scripture. Of particular importance are Matthew 23:37, where Jesus laments that Jerusalem was “not willing” to come to Him; and John 5:40, where Jesus indicts the Jewish leaders by saying, “You refuse to come to me to have life.” These statements are indications that, in some sense, a person can be held responsible for resisting the Holy Spirit or refusing salvation. Looking at these verses—and only these verses—it would seem that salvation is accomplished by a combined force: a syn-ergon. God and man must work together in order for one to be saved.

Likewise, 1 Timothy 2:3–4 and 2 Peter 3:9 would seem to indicate that God at least “allows” some to be lost, despite His desire that “all” be saved. The idea of salvation being an invitation—something to be accepted or rejected—is prevalent in the New Testament. See also Revelation 22:17, John 4:10, John 6:44, 1 Peter 2:7, and Matthew 22:1–14.

So, given these Scriptures, the idea of human culpability in salvation cannot be entirely dismissed. God does not save anyone apart from faith in Christ, so an individual must “cooperate” by exercising faith. The question then becomes, where does the faith come from?

A strict form of monergism says that faith is entirely the gift of God, part of the grace He bestows on us (see Ephesians 2:8 –9). God chooses us, regenerates us, gives us the faith to believe in Christ, and seals us. A looser form of monergism suggests that faith depends on the will of man, but man is incapable of exercising faith until he is granted grace from God. Theologians call this “prevenient grace,” which frees the will of a depraved sinner to choose whether (or not) to place his faith in Christ. Because the faith is enabled by God, it is not a meritorious work on man’s part. Faith receives grace, but faith is not causal. Taking this view, some forms of Arminianism can still claim to be monergistic.

Any form of synergism, which says that God does part of the work of salvation while mankind does the rest, is false. If a person must muster faith, be baptized, join a church, continue in good works, etc., then that is synergism and is clearly unbiblical. No human work or merit can be added to God’s grace without destroying grace (Romans 11:6).

Pelgianism and semi-Pelagianism are forms of synergism. Pelagianism views mankind as basically good and emphasizes human freedom and willpower over the grace of God. According to Pelagianism, we all possess an inherent power to choose holiness for ourselves, without any intervention of God’s grace. Semi-Pelagianism allows that we are sinful, but not totally. In the view of semi-Pelagianism, we are only tainted by sin, and we can still cooperate with God’s grace and choose to seek Christ on our own. The Bible refutes Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism: before receiving the grace of God that saves us, we are “dead” in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Apart from grace, we are hopeless.

Synergism is unbiblical because it starts with a person who has at least a spark of spiritual life; Scripture says we are dead in sin (Colossians 2:13). Synergism says we are able to take a step toward God apart from grace; Scripture says that “there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Synergism says we can meet God in the middle; Scripture pictures us as sheep that need gathering, prisoners who need freedom, and blind people who need a miracle (Matthew 9:36; Luke 4:18).

So much as a single idea can attempt to describe salvation, monergism is the only biblically viable option. Salvation is God’s work, pure and simple. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3:8, ESV; cf. Jonah 2:9; Revelation 7:10). Synergism denies the grace of God and attempts to give mankind some credit.

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This page last updated: July 31, 2023