Having described the condition of man apart from the intervening work of the Holy Spirit in my last entry on the depravity of man, it is important to understand that there is a great deal of error amongst those that call themselves evangelicals as it pertains to how we are saved. This error in the minds of these individuals has to do with the “slight” inclusion of human exertion and will in the work of grace, that man somehow cooperates with the work of grace. This is called synergism (or in it’s extreme form, human monergism) and comes in many different forms, from out-right heresy (human monergism), to slight contradictory inclusion of heresy (synergism).
The original debate concerning what role man plays in his salvation originally began between Augustine and Pelagius. The root of the Pelagian heretical error had to do with a dispute on the doctrine of original sin, or the imputed sin of Adam to the entire human race, that when Adam sinned, we all sinned. Pelagius denied this. Pelgius believed all men to be in the same place as Adam before the fall inherently. This heretical error was condemned first by Augustine but then officially condemned at the Council of Orange in 529 AD. This heresy is humanism at its base (or human monergism), that man controls his own destiny and is his own god, and indeed can attain perfection apart from God. And though it was officially condemned as heretical by the church, the Pelagian error began infiltrating the church in the form of synergism, that man cooperates with the work of grace. Throughout church history, this debate has reared its head one way or another, with Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus, and Whitefield and Wesley. And the debate is alive and well these days. This “slight” humanistic thinking is prevalent within the church today and removes the only power by which people are saved: God alone. “So then it (meaning the granting of mercy) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (And here’s the argument by Paul for the former statement) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.‘ So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” – Romans 9:16-18.
One of the results of the Reformation was the Five Solas (Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone as our sole infallible authority; Solus Christus – Christ alone accomplished our salvation; Sola Gratia – God saves by grace alone; Sola Fide – through faith alone apart from works; Soli Deo Gloria – everything is for the glory of God alone). Pertaining to the work of grace in the life of man, Sola Gratia in particular states that it is grace alone that regenerates a soul or causes the new birth which then gives rise to faith within the believer (a gift of God), not grace plus something else (i.e. human choice, exertion, running, will, etc). If our doctrine of the utter depravity of man is true, then no man honestly wants anything to do with God when left to himself. But God must first regenerate our souls and free our hearts from sin to believe in Christ. Because of the dead state of man in his sin, he will never choose Christ when presented with the Gospel, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit alone (i.e. Grace Alone) to regenerate the person who is to be saved. Man will always choose sin by necessity (John Hendryx, great quote!). Why? Because we’re dead in sin! That’s what that means. Our souls our incapable of any moral good, apart from a work of God within us first. Therefore, because of this, the work of grace in the life of the individual who is to be saved is the only thing that will bring to life the heart and soul of a sinfully dead individual, in order that he cannot help but believe in Christ because He is irresistable in His beauty and glory and lovliness.
In Ezekial 36:26, God states that He will come in power and remove His people’s hearts of stone, giving us instead hearts of flesh (removing our resistance to Him, and instead giving us a willing heart). Is this not monergism (the work of Grace Alone) in the life of dead sinners? There is no cooperation with grace, otherwise it is not grace. Grace is receiving something you do not deserve, and I would even add that it is something you don’t even want in your naturally sinful state. We must first be made genuinely willing (regeneration, second birth). “At the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Did we ask for our hearts to be regenerated? No! We naturally kick and scream at such a prospect. We love sin, it’s the best thing humans do. And oh how much energy we use to that end! If we could only harness that energy for the cause of Christ! God freely gives of Himself on His own timing and to whom He pleases. When I came to know Christ truthfully, I was such a rebel against anything holy, and I can honestly say that the only reason I became willing is because God came and changed my heart. I did not cooperate with this grace, but was simply the unworthy recipient. God saved me by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works. This faith even was a gift of God. What do I now have to boast about before God or man? Nothing! If I cooperated with this grace in any manner, then when I walk into heaven, God has me to thank for making the right choice and I would have something to boast about. “Good job, David, you made the right choice man. Way to exert that ‘free will.’ You must have been smarter, more intelligent and more sensitive than the rest of those wicked sinners.” Wrong! Does this in any way sound like the God of the Bible? I think not. I was dead in trespasses and sins, corrupted by own perverse nature, in every facet of my existence, in my mind, will, thoughts, soul, heart, acts, motives, flesh, relationships, everything. He removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh, a heart that was sensitive, willing and able to love Him. “We love because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19) not the reverse. This is the work of grace alone (monergism).
Apart from grace, there is no honest submission to the Gospel, we are unable to submit even. But this does not alleviate your responsibility. If you reject Christ, the Messiah, there will be no one to blame but yourself; you cannot bring a successful accusation against God almighty when standing before the Great White throne after you die. Man is so hopeless apart from the work of God, carried out by the Holy Spirit, provided through the cross of Christ. Throw yourself at His sovereign mercy and pray for Him to change you inwardly, to incline you to Himself. Ask Him to give you the eyes to see His glory through Christ on the cross and the ears to hear the call of God unto salvation in order that you will believe in Him and be saved. God’s sovereignty in salvation is our only hope for being saved at all. It’s God alone that saves, not man alone, or man cooperating with God. We’re dead. Dead means dead. We have nothing else we can trust in but God alone, through Christ alone, His death and resurrection.