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Synergism and Monergism: Which one is scriptural?

revised on 25 Apr 2018

for pdf file of this post click here

The debate between synergism and monergism is related to salvation, grace from God and our free-will; therefore we need to have at least simple understanding of those three.  Simple definition of salvation is being rescued from eternal damnation in hell.  Grace from God is a favour we receive from Him that we do not deserve.  There are a number of definitions of free-will, from both philosophical and theological views.  Simplest definition of free-will could be our ability to control our actions, to freely choose between good and evil, between life and death.

“See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evilIf you obey the commandmentsof the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse;therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lordyour God, obeying his voice, and clinging to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lordswore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, RSV)

Does our salvation depend on (1) God’s Grace, or on (2) our own free-will, or on (3) both God’s Grace and our Free-Will?  The first means that our salvation depends solely on God while in the second one we are the ones who decide whether we want to be saved.  The third view implies our salvation depends on both God and us.

To answer the above question Scripture (Romans 9:21-23) uses a metaphor of God as the potter while we are the clay.  God molded us to become either vessel of beauty or vessel for menial use.  Whether a piece of clay becomes a vessel of beauty or a vessel for menial use is at the sole discretion of the potter – as clay we can neither choose nor decide nor request.   Predestination, which means God is in control in everything, is a doctrine rooted in Scripture (Isaiah 46:9-10).

In relation to our salvation, predestination means that God when He created the world chose whom He wants to be saved or the Elect.  Thus, the Elect do not choose to be saved – but by Grace of God they are the chosen ones!  In Matthew 25:34 Christ told the Elect (the sheep) to enter the kingdom of heaven prepared for them from the foundation(creation) of the world.   Why does God need to choose the Elect?  Why can’t we make the decision?  All Christians believe that after the Fall, i.e. when Adam committed the first sin (Genesis 3:1-6), sin came to the world, affects all of us and with it came death. Therefore as sin came into the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned (Romans 5:12, RSV).   While what Adam did was his personal sin, but as his descendants all of us are affected by it – what is known as Original Sin[1].   It makes us born in fallen state, i.e. with inclination to sin and this makes none of us deserve heaven – we become children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  This is the reason why our salvation depends on God’s grace that comes through Election. It is grace because God is not under any obligation to save us.  How do we reconcile this with our free-will? This question has been dividing Christianity from the early centuries to this day and eventually gave rise to the issue of synergism and monergism.

How did God choose the Elect?  Until today the Catholic Church does not define dogmatically the nature of Election.  It may remain a mystery as God does not have to reveal everything to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).   There are two distinct theological views on election, followed by both Catholics and Protestants:

  • Unconditional (Absolute) Election: God by His decree chose the Elect when He created the world. It is adopted by the Thomists, Augustinians, some Molinistsand Calvinists.

Thomism is philosophical and theological teachings developed by St. Thomas Aquinas (died in 1274) and by religious order he established, the Dominicans.

Augustinians is religious order established in 1256 based on Augustine teachings on monastic life.   Reformer Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) belonged to this order.

Molinism came from teaching of Jesuittheologian Luis de Molina (1535 – 1600).  Jesuit or Society of Jesus, is religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola(1491 – 1556) in 1540.

Calvinism is Protestant’s theological system based on teachings of Reformer John Calvin (1509 – 1564) and his successors.

  • Conditional Election: God, being omniscience and not bound by time dimension, chose the Elect when He created the world based on His Divine Foreknowledge of their free response to His grace. It is adopted by most Molinists, St. Francis of Sales (1567 – 1622) and Arminian Protestants. The name Arminian came from Dutch Protestant theologian Jacob Harmensenor in Latin Jacobus Arminius(1560 – 1609)[2].

If God chose the Elect, did He also choose those who will end up in hell or the Reprobate?   Scripture says God desires salvation of all men (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).  He has no intention to put any one in hell (Ezekiel 33:11) and His Grace brings salvation to all men(Titus 2:11) through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22).  The phrase “prepared from the foundation of the world” is notapplied to the goats (the Reprobate) in Matthew 25:41 – the verse plainly says that hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, not for them. Thus, the Catholic Church always rejects the belief that God unconditionally predestined anyone to hell[3].  The Catholic Church position on Reprobation is Conditional Reprobation.

God, by an Eternal Resolve of His Will, predestines certain men, on account of their foreseen sins, to eternal rejection.

According to the teaching of the Church, there is conditioned positive reprobation, that is, it occurs with consideration of foreseen future demerits (post et propter praevisa demerita).

The conditional nature of Positive Reprobation is demanded by the generality of the Divine Resolve of salvation. This excludes God’s desiring in advance the damnation of certain men (cf. 1 Tim. 2, 4; Ez. 33,11; 2 Peter 3,9).

St. Augustine teaches: “God is good, God is just. He can save a person without good works, because He is good; but He cannot condemn anyone without evil works, because He is just” (Contra Jul. III 18, 35)[4].

Ott, L.[5]:Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, page 245 (underlined emphasis added)

Among Protestants, those who adhere to Calvinism believe in Unconditional Reprobation, i.e. God when He created the world, by His decree, assigned the Reprobate to be damned in hell.  Combined with Unconditional Election, it is known as double predestination– God by His decree (or unconditionally) predestined some to heaven (the Elect) and the rest to hell (the Reprobate)[6].  According to Sproul[7], it is positive-negativedouble predestination[8], i.e. while God actively provides His saving grace to the Elect to save them, He simply bypasses the Reprobate and without grace they are damned to hell.  Since both the Elect and the Reprobate were born in fallen state, God freely chose the former to be saved through grace and He is deemed not responsible for the damnation of the latter, though He did choose them from eternity not to receive His grace. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches that God gives His Grace to all (Titus 2:11) – efficacious grace to the Elect and sufficient but inefficacious grace to the Reprobate (based on their foreseen rejection)[9]. Unconditional Reprobation is condemned at Council of Trent[10].

If salvation depends only on God’s grace, then do we still have free-will and if yes, how do we reconcile it with grace?  The debate on the relation between our free-will and God’s grace in our salvation did not start during sixteenth century Reformation.  In early fifth century AD Pelagiusand Caelestius taught that the Falldoes not affect all mankind. In other word there is no such thing as Original sin.  We can achieve salvation using our free will – God’s grace has only optional role in assisting our free will.   Against their teaching, now known as Pelagianism, Augustine (died in 430 AD), bishop of Hippo in North Africa, taught the Fall makes all of us born with Original Sin[11]which makes us inclined to sin and therefore unable to reach salvation without God’s grace.  Augustine did not deny the existence of free will but unless it is moved by God’s grace we can do nothing[12].  He introduced what is now known as prevenientgrace, i.e. grace that precedes our free-will.  Later some tried to have middle ground between Pelagianism and Augustinianism – they admitted the existence of original Sin but we are still able to initiateour salvation using our free-will and only then we need God Grace.  In other word God’s grace, though required in our salvation, is notprevenient.  Their teaching is now known as semi-pelagianism.   In a nutshell in pelagianism our salvation depends on our free-will while in semi-pelagianism it depends on our free-will and God’s Grace.  There is neither Election nor Reprobation in both pelagianism and semi-pelagianism – our salvation or damnation depends on us.  Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism were condemned in the (second) council held in Orange(or Arausio) in southern France in 529 AD.   Its 25 canons followed by conclusion[13]declared that (1) the existence of original sin, (2) prevenient grace from God enables us to do good works, to obey His Commandments and to be saved, (3) God foreordained no one to evil.

Reformation gave rise to a new debate on the issue not addressed in the council of Orange, i.e. when God’s prevenient grace works in us (1) do we cooperate or work together with it using our free-will or (2) does His prevenient grace works alone in us?   The former is now known as synergism while the latter is monergism. Catholics and ArminianistProtestants are synergists.  Protestants who adhere to Calvinism are monergists.  Both synergism and monergism teach that our salvation depends on God’s Grace, which implies there is predestination.  This may surprise many monergists who tend to confuse synergism with semi-pelagianism[14].   Both Unconditional Election of Thomism and Conditional Election of Molinism, teach that prevenient grace given to the Elect is also efficacious, i.e. it governstheir free-will. It is Grace, not the Elect free-will, that is the primary cause of their Election.  Thus, Catholics have no problem to reconcile synergism with Romans 9:16: So it [election] depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy.

So it remains true that grace is not efficacious because free will consents, but conversely the free will consents because grace efficaciously premoves it to the willing and performance of a good act.

Catholic Encyclopedia: Controversies on Grace: Thomism

For it is not the will which by its free consent determines the power of grace, but conversely it is grace which makes the free good act possible, prepares for it and co-operates in its execution.

Catholic Encyclopedia: Controversies on Grace: Molinism[15]

Sovereignty of Grace. Catholic belief in the sovereignty of grace holds that no free act leading to salvation can be performed unless it is initiated, sustained, and brought to completion by the merciful gift or grace of God.  To deny this is to destroy the whole meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see, e.g., John 6.44; 15.5; Phil 2.13, 2 Cor 3.5, Rom 11.6), as the Church affirmed in its vigorous reaction to Pelagianism (Denz[16]222-230, 371-397).

Catholic Theology.  Every Catholic theology maintains that man’s supernatural act is produced both by his free will and by God’s grace, but the relationship between them is not that of two independent causes mutually cooperating.  On the contrary, the free consent is itself a gift of grace. While one legitimately speaks of “cooperating with grace” (Denz 379, 397, 1525), this cooperation is given to men by the gracious God. He so gives it to men that is truly theirs, but it is theirs without ceasing to depend on the saving good pleasure of God. God and man act on totally different planesOnly the divine freedom is absolutely independent.  Man’s freedom is creaturely freedom, and even in its free activity it is dependent on Subsistent Freedom.  Yet this dependence does do away with human freedom, for God’s causality transcends every category of cause man can imagine.  It gives lesser causes their own action in a way that is totally in harmony with their natures.  Beings that are not free He moves to an activity that is determined; beings that are free He moves to an activity that is free and responsible while not ceasing to be the product of grace. Herein there is mystery, but not absurdity.

New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, page 93: Free Will and Grace(underlined emphasis added)

How God’s grace works in us efficaciously while we remain free, is a mystery. Until today there is no dogmatic declaration from the Catholic Church on this issue, though there are a number of explanations proposed by a number of Catholic theologians[17].   Monergism, avoids this issue by denying free-will and make grace alone works in what they now call regeneration– but what happen after regeneration, according to most monergists, is synergism.

The way in which the fact of man’s free choice is reconciled with fundamental Christian truth of his total dependence on the grace of God is, ultimately, a mystery. The Catholic Church has always believed and taught both truths while its theologians have full liberty to attempt to explain their compatibility.

New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, page 93: Free Will and Grace

Synergism

 

Monergism

 

The word synergism comes from syn and ergon – prefix syn means together and (Greek noun) ergon means work.

The word monergism comes from mono and ergon – prefix mono means single and (Greek noun) ergon means work.

Synergism is theological belief that we cooperate or work together with God’s Grace.

Monergism is theological belief that God alone, through His Grace, works in us.

When Scripture says we are dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13) it can be interpreted without making analogy to physical death.  Scripture says the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4); and whoever sins is of the devil (1 John 3:8).  Thus, our sins do not entitle us to enter heaven.

Monergism is based on the interpretation of the phrase “dead in sin or trespasses” in New Testament (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13).  Monergists draw an analogy between “dead” in those verses and physical death, i.e. a physically dead person obviously can do nothing.

After the Fall, human nature is wounded but not totally corrupted[18].  We still have free-will but without God’s prevenient grace we cannot use it to believe in Christ, to obey God’s commandments and to be saved[19].

After the Fall, human nature is totally deprived[20].  We still have free-will but it always follows our sinful nature[21]. We are spiritually dead even though biologically alive[22].

The (Greek) word regeneration occurs only twice in New Testament (Matthew 19:28 and Titus 3:5) and neither of them talks about being regenerated as understood by monergists today.  Catholics relate regeneration in Titus 3:5 to Sacrament of Baptism, through which we are regenerated[23]into new life (Romans 6:4)

Because men are spiritually dead God must first monergistically regenerate them. It is an instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life. Once they become spiritually alive they can come to Christ willingly, i.e. no kicking and screaming[24].  In other word monergistic regeneration must take place before faith in Christ[25]. This is how monergists of today understand regeneration.

The Greek verb sunergeo, meaning to work together, appears in New Testament in a number of places, of which three are:

And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked [Greek sunergountos] with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen (Mark 16:20, RSV).

We know that in everything God works [Greek sunergei] for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, RSV)

Working together [Greek sunergountes] with him [God], then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1, RSV)

Scripture also uses corresponding Greek adjective sunergos, meaning fellow worker, in a number of places, one of them is: For we are God’s fellow workers [Greek sunergoi]; you are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9, RSV).

Luther related regeneration with Baptism, i.e. he believed in Baptism of Regeneration[26].  Calvin understood regeneration as renewal of man, a process that includes not only divine act which originates the new life, but also conversion and sanctification[27].  Hodge wrote that regeneration, renovation and conversion were used interchangeably and only later, regeneration was used to indicate the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life[28]. Turretin also considered regeneration as renovation from corrupt nature and part of sanctification[29].

According to Sproul only regeneration is monergistic – the rest that includes conversion and sanctification is synergistic[30].  Berkhof[31] and Hodge A.A.[32]also taught that only regeneration is monergistic and we do cooperate after being regenerated.  Horton, on the other hand considers regeneration and justification as monergistic.  While he admits men are not passive during Sanctification he stops short from referring it as synergism[33].

Analogy of Synergism

 

In a wedding both bride and groom are asked whether she/he is willing to take the other as husband/wife.  Unless it is a forced marriage, both are free – they can say “Yes” or “No”.  But they voluntarily say “Yes” because they are convinced the other is her/his soul mate.

A good advertisement of a product may make us buy it.  It does not force us to buy the product and being free, we are not under any obligation to buy it, but we voluntarily buy it.

Thus, prevenient and efficacious Grace from God makes the Elect voluntarily cooperate using their free will, while they remain free.

Analogy of Monergism

 

In a car repair shop when a mechanic decides to repair a damaged car, he/she does not require any cooperation from the car and there is no kicking and screaming from the car either.  The car can neither say “Yes” nor “No” and it is not required to do so.

Thus, God’s efficacious grace works alone on the Elect, who, like damaged cars, were spiritually dead persons.  No cooperation is required and no kicking and screaming either.

End Notes (underlined emphasis is mine):

[1]Catechism of the Catholic Church # 404

[2]For more information: http://evangelicalarminians.org.

[3]God predestined no one to go to hell

Catechism ofthe Catholic Church # 1037

We not only do not believe that some have been truly predestined to evil by divine power, but also with every execration we pronounce anathema upon those, if there are [any such], who wish to believe so great an evil.

Council of Orange in 529 AD

[4]Contra (or Against) Julian was correspondence between St. Augustine and Julian, bishop of Eclanum(near Benevento in present day Italy)

full text of English translation is available at https://archive.org/details/fathersofthechur013910mbp

[5]Ludwig Ott (1906 – 1985) was Catholic priest and theologian.

[6]By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation.

Calvin, J. Institutes of Christian Religion 3.21.5

[7]Robert Charles Sproul (1939 – 2017) was president of Reformation Bible College, Reformed theologian, author of numerous books and founder of Ligonier Ministry (http://www.ligonier.org).

[8]Refer to Teaching Series (from drop down menu after clicking “Learn” at top) at http://ligonier.orgon “Predestination” Lecture 8: The Other Side of the Coin.

[9]Ott, L.: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, page 246 – 247.

[10]If anyone shall say that the grace of justification is attained by those only who are predestined unto life, but that all others, who are called, are called indeed, but do not receive grace, as if they are by divine power predestined to evil: let him be anathema

Canon XVII of the Decree concerning Justification, Council of Trent

[11]While Romans 5:19 gives allusion to Original Sin, the term “original sin” is not found in the Bible, but it was not invented by Augustine either.   In Against[or Contra] Julian (refer to end note 4), Augustine quoted testimonies of a number early Christians, who while not using the term Original Sin, testified the earlier and continuous existence of the doctrine.  Original sin is the term used by Catholics and Protestants; Eastern Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, prefer to call it “ancestral sin”.

[12]Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from the Holy Scripture that there is in man free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing.

Augustine: On Grace and Free Will. Chapter 7

For complete text refer to http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xix.iv.html

[13]  Online English translation can be found at: http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/ORANGE.HTM

[14]The difference between Augustine and Cassian [John Cassian, died c. 435 AD, was originator of semi-pelagianism] is the difference between monergism and synergism at the beginning of salvation. Cassian and semi-Pelagianism is, with respect to the sinner’s initial step toward salvation, decidedly synergistic. God makes his grace available to sinner, but the sinner must, with his infirm will, cooperate with this grace in order to have faith or to be regenerated. Faith precedes regeneration.

Sproul, R.C.: Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, page 73

What Sproul described above is semi-pelagianism but he equated it to synergism.  There are non-Catholics, not as famous as Sproul, but understand the difference between synergism and semi-pelagianism.

http://www.nathanfinn.com/2014/01/21/is-synergism-necessarily-semi-pelagian/

[15]http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06710a.htm

[16]Denzinger: Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitorum (Compendium/Handbook of Creeds, Definitions and Declarations).

It is handbook or compendium containing collection of creeds, chief decrees and definitions of councils and of past popes, each given a number with prefix Denz or Dz or DS (Denzinger – Schönmetzer). First published in 1854 and continuously extended.  Heinrich Joseph Dominicus Denzinger (1819 – 1883) was one of the leading Catholic theologians in his time.

[17] It was Dominican theologian Banez (died in 1604) who formulated Thomism teaching on relation between grace and free-will.  That of Augustinian was developed by Noris (died in 1704) and Berti (died in 1766) and that of Molinism by Luis de Molina (1535 – 1600).  Extension of Molinism, known as Congruism, was developed by Suarez (died in 1617), St. Robert Bellarmine (died in 1621) and Jesuit General Aquaviva (died in 1613).  Other than Thomism, Augustinianism, Molinism and Congruism, that of Ysambert (died in 1642), Habert (died in 1668), Tournely (died in 1729) and St. Alphonsus of Liguori (died in 1787) syncretizes all previous four and is therefore known as Syncretism.  For more detail of all those five:

Ludwig Ott: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 248-249

Catholic encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06710a.htm

[18]Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a depravation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted.

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 405

[19]When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactivewhile receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, hecannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1993

If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

Council of Trent: Canon III of the decree on Justification

[20]Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

Westminster Confession of Faith,  IX.3

[21]after the fall, though the will itself remains free, its capacity for choice is limited by the sinfulness of human nature.   Human beings retain the capacity of choice, but all choosing occurs in the context of sin.

Donald K. Mc Kim (Editor): Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, page 145

[22]When we considered in an earlier study our condition of original sin, we used the biblical metaphors of death and slavery. By nature we are born into this world DOA, dead on arrival, spiritually although alive biologically. We have no inclination whatsoever in our souls towards the things of God – no interest, no passion, no love. We are dead. Because we are spiritually dead, we are slaves to the sinful impulses and lusts that drive our behavior. We are not just participation in sin; such a description is far too weak. The Bible teaches us again and again that we are slaves to sin. Sin is not only in our nature, but it is our master.

Sproul, R.C.: Romans, St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 188-189

[23]This sacrament [Baptism]  is also called the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit[Titus 3:5], for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one can enter the kingdom of God[John 3:5].

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1215

[24]Calvinism does not teach and never has taught that God brings people kicking and screaming into the kingdom or has ever excluded anyone who wanted to be there. Remember that the cardinal point of Reformed doctrine of predestination rests on the biblical teaching of man’s spiritual death. Natural man does not want Christ. He will only want Christ if God plants a desire for Christ in his heart. Once that desire is planted, those who come to Christ do not come kicking and screaming against their wills. They come because they want to come. They now desire Jesus. They rush to the Savior. The whole point of irresistible grace is that rebirth quickens someone to spiritual life in such a way that Jesus is now seen in his irresistible sweetness. Jesus is irresistible to those who have been made alive to the things of God. Every soul whose hearts beats with the life of God within it longs for the living Christ. All whom the Father gives to Christ come to Christ (John 6:37).

Sproul, R.C: Chosen by God, pages 122 – 123

[25]The Reformers taught not only that regeneration does precede faith but also it must precede faith.  Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.

Sproul, R.C.: Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, pages 23

[26]In Titus 3:5 St. Paul terms Baptism “a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” In the last chapter of Mark we read that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). And in this passage Christ declares that whoever is not born anew of the water and the Holy Spirit cannot come into the kingdom of God. Therefore God’s words dare not be tampered with. Of course, we are well aware that Baptism is natural water. But after the Holy Spirit is added to it, we have more than mere water. It becomes a veritable bath of rejuvenation, a living bath which washes and purges man of sin and death, which cleanses him of all sin.

Luther: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapter 3

English translation from Luther’s Works Vol. 22, page 284

Baptism, then, signifies two things—death and resurrection, that is, full and complete justification. When the minister immerses the child in the water it signifies death, and when he draws it forth again it signifies life. Thus Paul expounds it in Rom. 6[:4]: “We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This death and resurrection we call the new creation, regeneration, and spiritual birth.

Luther: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

English translation from Luther’s Works Vol. 36, page 68

[27]In one word, then, by repentance I understand regeneration, the only aim of which is to form in us anew the image of God, which was sullied, and all but effaced by the transgression of Adam. So the Apostle teaches when he says, “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Again, “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” and “put ye on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Again, “Put ye on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Accordingly through the blessing of Christ we are renewed by that regenerationinto the righteousness of God from which we had fallen through Adam, the Lord being pleased in this manner to restore the integrity of all whom he appoints to the inheritance of life. This renewal, indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in his elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as his temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare.

Calvin, J.: Institutes of Christian Religion, III.3.9

[28]In theological language, it is called regeneration, renovation, conversion.  These terms are often used interchangeably.  They are also used sometimes for the whole process of spiritual renovation or restoration of the image of God, and sometimes for a particular stage of that process.

With the theologians of the seventeenth century conversion and regeneration were synonymous terms.

By a consent almost universal the word regeneration is now to designate, not the whole work of sanctification, nor the first stages of that work comprehended in conversion, much less justification or any mere external change of state, but the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life.  Regeneration, therefore, is a spiritual resurrection; the beginning of a new life.

Hodge, C.: Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, page 3, 5

Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878) was Reformed theologian.

[29]Rather, it [sanctification]is used strictly for a real and internal renovation of man by which God delivers the man planted in Christ by faith and justified (by the ministry of the word and the efficacy of the Spirit) more and more from his native depravity and transforms him into his own image.

But because this real change of man is made by various degrees, either by efficacious calling (which carries with it the donation of faith and of repentance by faith and a translation from a state of sin to a state of grace); or by regeneration (which bespeaks a renovation of the corrupt nature); or by the infusion and practice of holiness, hence sanctification is now extended widely to the whole state of the believer and embraces also calling itself.  In this sense, Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, often designates believers by “those who are sanctified” (tous hagiazomenous, Heb 2:11, 10:14).  It is also taken more strictly and properly for renovation after the image of God. This follows justification and is begun here in this life by regeneration and promoted by the exercise of holiness and of good works, until it shall be consummated in the other glory. In this sense, it is now taken passively, inasmuch as it is wrought by God in us; then actively, inasmuch as it ought to be done by us, God performing this work in us and by us.

Turretin, F.: Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, page 689

Francis Turretin (1623 – 1687) was Swiss-Italian Reformed Theologian.

[30]This view is clearly monergistic at the initial point of the sinner’s movement from unbelief to faith. The whole process, however, is not monergistic.  Once the operative grace of regeneration is given, the rest of the process is synergistic. That is, after the soul has been changed by effectual or irresistible grace, the person himself chooses Christ.  God does not make the choice for him. It is the person who believes, not God who believes for him. Indeed the rest of the Christian life of sanctification unfolds in a synergistic pattern.

There is much confusion about the debate between monergism and synergism. When Augustinianism is defined as monergistic, one must remember that it is monergistic with respect to the beginning of salvation, not to the whole process. Augustinianism does not reject all synergism, but does reject a synergism that is all synergism.

Sproul, R.C.: Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, pages 73

Sanctification is not monergistic.  It is synergistic. That is, it demands the cooperation of the regenerate believer.

Sproul, R.C.: Chosen by God, page 131

    The following online articles also affirm Sproul belief in synergistic sanctification:

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/producing-fruit/

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/climbing-out-mire/

[31]Regeneration, then, is to be conceived monergistically. God alone works, and the sinner has no part in it whatsoever. This, of course, does not mean, that man does not co-operate in later stages of the work of redemption. It is quite evident from Scripture that he does.

Berkhof, L: Systematic Theology, page 473

But though God only is the author of conversion, it is of great importance to stress the fact, over against a false passivity, that there is’ also a certain co-operation of man in conversion.

Berkhof, L: ibid, page 490

It [Sanctification] is essentially a work of God, though in so far as He employs means, man can and is expected to cooperate by the proper use of these means.

Berkhof, L: ibid, page 532

Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957) was one of distinguished Reformed theologians.  He taught at Calvin Theological Seminary from 1906 and served as its president from 1931 – 1944.

[32]The act of grace which regenerates, operating within the spontaneous energies of the soul and changing their character, can neither be co-operated with nor resisted. But the instant the soul is regenerated it begins to co-operate with and sometimes, alas! also to resist subsequent gracious influences prevenient and co-operative.

Hodge, A.A.: Outlines of Theology, page 448-449

Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823 – 1886) was Reformed theologian and son of Charles Hodge

[33]It is vital to distinguish the new birth (or effectual calling) from conversion. In the former, we are passive: acted upon and within by the triune God through the gospel.  In the latter we are active (having been “activated” by grace), since we are raised from spiritual death to everlasting life.

In conversion (unlike regeneration), we are told, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  This does not mean that in conversion our salvation shifts from God’s sovereign grace in Christ to our activity and cooperation, but that salvation that has been given is worked out by the same Spirit, through the same gospel, in a genuine relationship in which we become covenant partners who are now alive to God in Christ.  Apart from our repentance and faith, there is no justification or union with Christ.  Yet even this human response is a gift of the Spirit through the gospel.

Does this mean that we are monergists at the point of regeneration and justification, only to become synergists thereafter? Not at all, our faith and grateful obedience are not only responses to God’s gift but are produced in us from beginning to end by the same grace of God.

Horton, M.: For Calvinism, page 110, 111

Michael Scott Horton (born 1964) is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and Editor in chief of Modern Reformation magazine.

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8 Comments

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  1. FingersBackAtYou / Mar 18 2014 4:08 pm

    There are so many problems here…perhaps best summarized in your last paragraph on the left:

    “Catholics believe we will enter heaven if we die without any un-repented mortal sin..”

    Notice the complete absence of Jesus in that statement.

    The question is not what your mortal sins are, but rather what are you to do with all your sin? I pray that every Catholic would in true humility ask The Lord for the Holy Spirit’s guidance before reading this excellent piece on sin vs. “mortal” sin…

    http://www.whateverycatholicshouldknow.com/wecsk/sin_mortal.htm

    Indeed, “Which one is scriptural?”

    • vivator / Mar 18 2014 5:56 pm

      Jesus is NOT absence in the statement “Catholics believe we will enter heaven if we die without any un-repented mortal sin..” First, Catholics repent from their sin through Sacrament of Reconciliation, which Christ Himself instituted (John 20:23). Second, we can repent only after being moved by God’s prevenient grace given through Christ by the Holy Spirit. If you have problem with Catholic grouping of mortal and not-mortal (venial) sins you should read 1 John 5:16-17 – it is scriptural. For obvious reason the link you provided ignore those verses – a common practice among those who share the same belief with you.

      • FourFingersBackAtYou / Mar 19 2014 7:34 pm

        There is no equating of the Catholic idea of “mortal” sin with 1 John 5:16-17.
        Despite what you say, the Catholic idea of “mortal” sin is not scriptural and goes far beyond the Word of God.

        Example:
        The sin of presumption according to Rome is a mortal sin: “It may be defined as the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them.” Catholic Encyclopedia

        But is this what the Bible says?

        “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Here the knowledge of eternal life is a ‘know so,’ not a ‘maybe so’ or ‘hope so.’
        This means that trusting in God’s promises of eternal salvation by faith alone consigns me to hell according to the bizarre theology of Rome!

        The Church of Rome itself is guilty of the sin of presumption… presuming it has the authority to enumerate what constitutes the fiction of “mortal” sin.

        1 Cor. 4:6 – “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”

      • vivator / Mar 19 2014 8:33 pm

        Scripture is supposed to be your only authority but ironically you prefer to rely on the authority of your man-made church. 1 Cor 4:6 is even best applied to you because you are the one who goes beyond Scripture by rejecting the Words of God in 1 John 5:16-17 that clearly mentions mortal and non-mortal sins. You quote cleverly selected verses of Scripture to justify salvation by faith alone – the verse you cited does NOT say “who ONLY believe”. Do you really believe that if you have faith in Christ you will be guaranteed heaven even if you keep on sinning without repenting? That will explain why you are so strongly against sin of presumption!

  2. Steve Reid / Dec 24 2014 2:06 am

    Sola el Papa when thrown into the mix with Sola scriptura really deceives the uninitiated and the flesh gets pleased when people get their ears tickled with smooth humanism talk and not sound doctrine. I decided to enroll for a catholic seminar titled – “Finding God in nature” – a talk which confirmed my worst fears.

    • vivator / Dec 25 2014 12:33 pm

      The Bible says the foundation and pillar of truth is the Church (1 Tim 3:15) Isn’t that clear enough? There is no such thing as sola papa and neither is sola scriptura! You are the one who is deceived!

  3. Unio ChristI / Dec 27 2014 5:57 am

    what do you think about the non-compétitive view of aquinas http://www.faith-theology.com/2006/11/monergism-and-synergism-some.html

    • vivator / Dec 27 2014 12:32 pm

      Thank you for the given link. It is the first time I heard about non-competitive view of Aquinas. How to explain how God’s prevenient grace can work efficaciously while human remains free is not easy. The Catholic Church does not give dogmatic explanation and currently there are a number of views: Thomism, Augustianism, Molinism, Congruism and Syncretism. The detail of each can be found in Ludwig Ott: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma page 248 or (online) Catholic encyclopedia. I am not sure to which view what Aquinas wrote belongs to.

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