Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Monergism vs. Synergism – Part 2

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Monergism in John's Gospel

In the first article in this series, I defined and illustrated both Monergism and Synergism. In this article, I will look at the Apostle John's affirmation of Monergism in his Gospel. In a third article, I will present an edited transcript of a sermon that I preached on the subject. In a fourth article, I will look at each views inherent implications to the Great Commission.

In his record of the early church, Luke shows that God demands repentance from all mankind.

Acts 17:30-31
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.

While both Monergism and Synergism recognize the necessity of repentance, they differ on the ability of man to obey the command. The monergistic view denies that man in his unregenerate state has the ability to obey, while the synergistic view affirms that man does have that ability.

1 Corinthians 2:13-14
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

In a sermon titled Man's Natural Blindness In Things Of Religion,1 Jonathan Edwards affirms the monergistic view regarding man's spiritual blindness, while noting an effect of his blindness:

They are vastly deceived about their own righteousness. They think their affections and performances lovely to God, which are indeed hateful to him. They think their tears, reformations, and prayers, sufficient to make atonement for their sins, when indeed if all the angels in heaven should offer themselves in sacrifice to God, it would not be sufficient to atone for one of their sins. They think their prayers and works, and religious doings a sufficient price to purchase God's favor and eternal glory. When, as they perform them, they do nothing but merit hell.

They are greatly deceived about their strength. They think they are able to mend their own hearts, and work some good principles in themselves. When they can do no more towards it, than a dead corpse does towards raising itself to life. They vainly flatter themselves, they are able to come to Christ, when they are not. They are greatly deceived about the stability of their own hearts. They foolishly think their own intentions and resolutions of what good they will do hereafter, to be depended on. When indeed there is no dependence at all to be had on them.

In a sermon titled Human Inability, Charles H. Spurgeon also affirms the monergistic view. He writes that man's inability:

…lies deep in his nature. Through the fall, and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it is impossible for him to come to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Spirit.

We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ.

In his booklet titled Hyper-Calvinism: A False Doctrine, John R. Rice affirms the synergistic view:

Now the doctrine that all are sinful, incapable of being saved or doing good without God's help, is true. But it is certainly not true that some never could repent, that God leaves some intentionally without light or calling. Consider these Scriptures:

a. "God… now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30) Can anyone accuse God of commanding people to do what He has made it impossible for them to do?

Notice his insistence that the command to repent must necessarily imply ability.

In the fall of 2008, Jerry Vines preached at the John 3:16 Conference. Reporting on his sermon, Baptist Press News wrote:

"In Scripture God commands men to believe," Vines said, asserting that God would not command people to do what they cannot do.

Here again we see the synergistic view insisting that God's commands imply ability on the part of natural man.

The passages in John's Gospel that we will look at briefly can easily be divided into CAUSE and EFFECT. We will note that all of the passages that speak to the CAUSE of believing show that God is that cause, which is what Monergism affirms. All of the passages that show the EFFECT of believing neither affirm nor deny either view, as neither view disputes the notion that all who believe will be saved.

Where the difference between the views appears is that synergism, because of the insistence on natural ability, will see CAUSE in the passages that show EFFECT. Others have written entire books on some of the passages we will consider, so this will not be an exhaustive look at each passage.

John 1:12-13
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

John affirms that those who received Christ, whom he also describes as those who believe on the name of Christ, are given the right to become children of God, and that their spiritual birth precedes the receiving and believing. Not only does John affirm that God is the sole cause of spiritual birth, he also denies that the wills of both flesh and man cause that birth.

John 3:3-8
3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus declares in verse 6 that the flesh cannot give birth to the spirit, and uses two illustrations that are compatible with the monergistic view. In verse 3 he uses birth, and in verse 8 he uses wind, illustrating that the cause of each is external to the recipient. The baby does not cause his own birth, nor does the individual who is enjoying the breeze cause the breeze to blow.

John 3:14-18
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

This is a favorite passage of the Synergistic view because (as was noted earlier) that view insists that unregenerate man has the ability to respond in belief. What the passage actually shows, though, is a contrast between the believer and the unbeliever, with John showing that the believer does not face condemnation, while the unbeliever does not escape condemnation.

John 3:36
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

John affirms the words of Jesus from verse 18 - eternal life is the effect of believing, while condemnation is the effect of not believing.

John 4:13-14
13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

John explains that only those who drink the water Jesus provides will have their thirst quenched.

John 5:21-25
21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.

In verse 21, John repeats what he stated in 1:13 - the cause of life is the will of Son. He further shows in verse 24 that the effect of belief is not only escape from condemnation, but the benefit of eternal life.

John 5:40
But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

Jesus clearly states that the unregenerate are NOT willing to come to Him.

John 6:35-37
35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out."

Shortly after explaining that the unregenerate are unwilling to come (in 5:40), Jesus tells the people that if they will come, and will believe, they will have their hunger and thirst satisfied. He then states that all whom the Father gives will come. There is a process: the Father gives to the Son, those who are given come to the Son, the Son in turn receives them, and they will never be cast out by the Son.

John 6:38-40
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Jesus continues to explain that the will of His Father is that none of those given to the Son will be lost, but will be raised up at the last day, and that those given by the Father, will see and believe the Son, with eternal life being the effect of their belief.

The repetition of the "raised up" phrase indicates that the ones given by the Father to the Son in verse 37-39 are the same who see the Son and believe in verse 40. Their believing is caused by the Father's giving of them to the Son.

John 6:44-45
44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.

Jesus explains that there are those that have not been given to the Son, by stating, in verse 44, that they cannot come without the Father having drawn them. Jesus repeats his "raised up" phrase, showing that those drawn by the Father are the same that are given to the Son and that believe on the Son. The Father not only gives people to the Son, He also draws them to the Son with the effect that they believe and have eternal life. Verse 45 shows that the hearing and learning from the Father is the cause for the coming to Jesus.

John 6:47-51
47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

In verse 47, we see that the effect of believing in Christ is eternal life. Following that we note that Jesus refers to Himself as the bread of life, and that the effect of eating is eternal life.

John 6:63-66
63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

Jesus, in verse 63, repeats what He said in 3:6, that the flesh cannot produce spiritual life; then in verse 64 He notes that some to whom He is speaking do not believe. In verse 65 He gives the reason they do not come to Him: it has not been granted by the Father. Clearly Jesus is showing that the ability to believe and come to Him is caused by the Father.

John 7:37-38
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

Jesus invites those who are thirsty to come to Him and drink; living water will then flow from them. The Synergist view insists that man in his unregenerate state is aware of his hunger and thirst, and is capable of deciding to believe on Christ. Yet in the previous chapter, Jesus has already established that ability to come is granted by the Father and only to those whom the Father wills to grant it.

John 8:12
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

Jesus refers to Himself as light: those who follow Him will not walk blindly.

John 8:21-24
21 Then Jesus said to them again, "I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come." 22 So the Jews said, "Will He kill Himself, because He says, 'Where I go you cannot come'?" 23 And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."

Jesus repeats what He stated in chapter 3: the effect of unbelief is death in sin.

John 8:42-43
42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word."

Jesus shows that love for Him is the effect of being a child of the Father, while also pointing out their lack of ability to listen with understanding.

John 8:47
He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.

Hearing is the effect of being "of God."

John 10:4
And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

In the first 30 verses of chapter 10, Jesus refers to Himself as the good shepherd and shows His care for His sheep. Here we note the effect of being a sheep: they recognize their shepherd's voice and follow.

John 10:9
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Security and provision are effects of entering the fold through Jesus, who declares Himself to be the door.

John 10:16
And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

The fold is not limited to just the present hearers; there are others who will also hear the shepherd's voice.

John 10:26-30
26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. 30 I and My Father are one."

The reason these do not believe is because they do not belong to the shepherd. The synergistic view insists that belief is the cause of one becoming a sheep, but Jesus here is teaching the opposite, that belief is the effect of one becoming a sheep, with eternal life the result.

John 11
The first 40 verses tell the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. In a previous article, titled Regeneration Precedes Faith, I dealt with this story more fully. Suffice it to say that Lazarus did not have the ability to raise himself to life. Had it not been for Jesus commanding him to come out of the tomb, he would have stayed dead. This command of Jesus was the sole cause of his being restored to life. The story perfectly represents the monergistic view, that God alone, without man aiding Him, brings the spiritually dead to spiritual life.

John 12:32
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.

The Synergist approach to this verse presupposes that the word all means "all men without exception," rather than referring to Gentiles as well as Jews. That approach then reads that presupposition back into John 6:44, which also contains the word "draw."

In his booklet Why I Disagree With All 5 Points of Calvinism, Curtis Hutson, a former editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper, writes:

Some Calvinists use John 6:44 in an effort to prove total inability. Here the Bible says, "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him... " But the Bible makes it plain in John 12:32 that Christ will draw all men unto Himself. Here the Bible says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."

All men are drawn to Christ, but not all men will trust Christ as Saviour. Every man will make his own decision to trust Christ or to reject Him.

The problem here is that Hutson has left off the end of John 6:44 - "raise him up at the last day." If the all in this passage means "all men without exception," then John in 6:44 teaches universalism - that "all men without exception" will be raised up to eternal life at the last day, an idea that I am sure Hutson would reject.

John 12:39-40
39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them."

John quotes Isaiah 6:10 in observing that the reason for unbelief is because God blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the people.

John 12:46-48
46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.

The effect of believing in Jesus is leaving the darkness for the light, while the effect of rejection of Jesus is judgment.

John 17:1-3
1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

In this chapter, we have the prayer of Jesus before his arrest; it is an exclusive prayer for those whom the Father has given to Him. In these verses we observe that God the Father has given to His Son the authority to extend eternal life to all those whom the Father gave to the Son.

John 17:6
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

Some individuals belonged to God, and those are the ones He gave to the Son.

John 17:9-10
9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.

Those belonging to the Father also belong to the Son.

John 17:20
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;

There are others who will believe.

John 17:24
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

Notice the continued reference to those given to Christ by the Father.

John 20:30-31
30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

In John's statement of his purpose for writing his Gospel, he affirms that the effect of believing in Christ is life, a theme that runs throughout the Gospel.

In all of the passages I have presented, we have either seen the cause for belief, or the effect of that belief. All of the passages that reference cause affirm the monergistic view of God as the sole cause for belief. All of the passages that reference effect establish eternal life as that effect.

How Sweet And Awesome Is The Place
Isaac Watts / Gioachino Antonio Rossini © Public Domain

How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues
Lord why was I a guest

Why was I made to hear Thy voice
And enter while there's room
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come

'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin

Pity the nations O our God
Constrain the earth to come
Send Thy victorious Word abroad
And bring the strangers home

We long to see Thy churches full
That all the chosen race
May with one voice and heart and soul
Sing Thy redeeming grace

1 Edwards preached another sermon titled Men Naturally Are God's Enemies, that also shows man's inability.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Links in this article are provided solely for information purposes,
and do not in any way imply full and complete endorsement.


www.biblicaltheologyblog.com said...

Hi Brian,
I've been enjoying your comments on monergism vs Synergism. Interesting how the terms have changed over the years. Forty years ago, we referred to synergism as "Ivory Soap Christianity." That title came from an old commercial: they believed salvation was 99 and 44/100% the work of God.
Jack Williamson

J. Brian McKillop said...

Jack, thank you for your comment. I'm old enough to remember those Ivory Soap commercials, and that was an accurate way to portray synergism.