Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monergism for Dummies

"I prayed a prayer." "I asked Jesus into my heart." "I accepted Christ and came to the Lord." "I chose Jesus."

All of these cliche catch-phrases are ways you will occasionally hear people describe their conversion experiences. The problem is, as Paul Washer will famously point out, such phrases are neither biblical nor accurately describe regeneration, which is a supernatural act of God. Furthermore, such terminology and the easy-believism theology it promotes has never been part of evangelical doctrine until the last 50 or so years.

Being born again is not like getting a flu-shot. A one-time "decision", either based on intellectual assent or fleeting emotion, does not necessarily a true convert make.

This is not to say that an individual's conversion is on a continuum, is based upon performance, or that one can lose his or her salvation post-conversion. Once an individual is in Christ, he or she is saved indeed and is promised the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence. However, what is often overlooked in evangelical (and, increasingly, Reformed) circles is the fact that God does the drawing. (See John 6:37, 15:16; Romans 8-9). We do not "pick Jesus", notwithstanding a certain T-shirt's message. This is known as effectual calling and it means that unless God opens an individual's spiritual eyes, he is literally incapable of overcoming his natural hardness of heart and surrendering to Christ's lordship.

"But wait! Doesn't God call us to choose Him? Jesus continually invites ALL to come to Him. He gave us free will!" Yes, He did. The Bible says, "...those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." (Romans 8:30). It also says ""Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven," (Matt. 3:22), "...whoever believes in Him shall not perish..." (John 3:16), and records Christ's invitation to all who would follow Him, "Come to Me, all who are weary....".

And let's not forget the truth recorded in 2 Peter 3:9, most often used to negate the Calvinistic Doctrines of Grace: "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." How these truths work together is a mystery, but we can draw at least two conclusions from them: 1) It is God's desire that all men repent and be saved; 2) no one can repent unless the Father draws him.

Salvation is Entirely an Act of God

The problem with the evan-jargon cited above, besides the fact that it reduces salvation to a snap decision which leaves repentance out of the equation, is that it puts man in control of his own eternal destiny. "Well...wait. Don't we have that choice to make?" Sure. If you reject Christ, (which in essence you do if you believe salvation is by anything other than grace through faith), you will spend eternity in hell. No matter how you slice it, though, you cannot save yourself. Not even partially. The philosophy that salvation is brought about by co-operation between man and God is known as synergism, and it is wrong because it deflects some of the glory, or "credit" if you like, from God. HE and HE ALONG can regenerate the spirit awakened to Him. God alone does the saving.

Our faith in Christ, (which in itself is a gift), is the condition on which our salvation rests. That condition was graciously set by God. The faith itself could not be produced apart from Him, and it is only because of His mercy that Christ dwells within us. The faith is a prerequisite, but God is still the Savior (not the faith itself).

Frankly, one does not have to be a died-in-the-wool 5-point Calvinist to realize that monergism is the correct soteriological stance. You may disagree to some extent with Limited Atonement and see Irresistable Grace as saying more than the Bible does, yet still be a monergist. It really isn't rocket science. While it remains somewhat of a divine mystery how our will and God's election correspond, a high view of God prohibits us from taking any credit at all in our own salvation.

Think of it this way: if a man is drowning and someone puts a life preserver down into the water - or Jesus, as in the painting above, offers Peter His arm, can the drowning man say he helped to save himself? No. Did he "partially" save himself? No. The rescuer saved him. However, if he had refused to grab the other's arm, he would have drowned. That, perhaps, is where the "choice" lies. By no means, however, was the drowning man's rescue a joint effort.

Neither is your salvation. Yet you still need to grab the life preserver.

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