A Simple Explanation of Monergism

by John Hendryx

The doctrine of monergistic regeneration asserts that God alone gives ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart to understand (Deut 29:4, 30:6). In other words, God is the exclusive and singular source of illumination and comprehension of His Word, endowing us with a renewed heart that possesses the moral impetus to believe.. Only He has the power to resurrect us from spiritual death, circumcise our hearts, and unplug our ears (Ezek 36:26-27), granting us a new sense that allows us to behold His beauty and unsurpassed excellency. As Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus, we are naturally inclined to love darkness and hate the light, and without divine intervention, we will not come into the light (John 3:8, 19, 20). This hardened resistance is rooted in our affections, and only God's grace can change, overcome, and disarm our rebellious disposition. The natural man, without the quickening work of the Holy Spirit, will not come to Christ, as he is at enmity with God and cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14; Rom 8:7). Simply reading or hearing the word of God will not elicit saving faith (1 Thess 1:4, 5) unless the Spirit first "germinates" (so to speak) the seed of the word in the heart, which then infallibly gives rise to our faith and union with Christ. Lydia's story in Acts 16:14 exemplifies this point, as "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Similarly, God must give His people spiritual life and understanding to open their hearts and turn to Christ in faith.

In order to understand the concept of faith, one must recognize that it is beyond the power of unregenerated human nature. Thus, it is solely God who can grant the spiritual ears and eyes necessary to recognize the beauty of Christ as presented in the gospel. God alone can disarm the sinner's hostility, transforming their heart from one of stone to one of flesh. The issue of conversion does not stem from any fault in the Word or God or His Law but instead from man's prideful heart. The humility required to submit to the gospel, a task beyond man's natural capacity, is inspired not by the individual's will but by God's mercy (John 1:13; Rom 9:16). No one can believe the gospel unless it is granted by God (John 6:63, 65), and the Spirit must provide all believers with spiritual life and understanding in order to open their hearts and allow them to respond to Christ in faith.

The Century Dictionary's definition of monergism may be helpful:

"In theology, [monergism is] the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration [the new birth] - that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated [born again], and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration."

The word "monergism" consists of two main parts. The Greek prefix "mono" signifies "one", "single", or "alone" while the suffix "ergon" means "to work". Taken together it means "the work of one".

Very simply, then, monergism is the doctrine that our new birth (or "quickening") is the work of God, the Holy Spirit alone, with no contribution and without the cooperation of fallen man, since the natural man, of himself, has no desire for God and cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 3:11,12; Rom 8:7; John 3:19, 20). Man remains resistant to all outward callings of the gospel until the Spirit comes to disarm us, call us inwardly and implant in us new holy affections for God. Our faith comes about only as the immediate result of the Spirit working faith in us in the hearing of the proclamation of the word. But just as God does not force us to see against our will when He gives us physical eyes, so God does not force us to believe against our will when giving us spiritual eyes. God gives the gift of sight and we willingly exercise it.

Monergism strips us of all hope to ourselves, reveals our spiritual bankruptcy apart from Christ, and thus leads us to give all glory to God alone for our salvation. As long as we think we contributed something, even a little bit (like good intentions) then we still think deep down that God saves us for something good he sees in us over our neighbor. But this is clearly not the case. Only Jesus makes us to differ from anyone else. We are all sinners and can boast in nothing before God, including the desire for faith in Christ (Phil 1:29, Eph 2:8, 2 Tim 2:25). For why do we have faith and not our neighbor? Please consider that. Did we make better use of God's grace than he did? Were we smarter? More humble? Have better judgment? Are we More sensitive? Do some naturally love God? The answer is 'no' to all of the above. It is God's grace in Christ that makes us to differ from our neighbor and God's grace alone that gave rise to our faith, not because we were better or had more insight. No other element but Jesus mercy alone.

When the Spirit enables us to see that we fail to live up to God's holy law, man will utterly despair of himself. Then, as C.H. Spurgeon said:

"... the Holy Spirit comes and shows the sinner the cross of Christ, gives him eyes anointed with heavenly eye-salve, and says, "Look to yonder cross. That Man died to save sinners; you feel you are a sinner; He died to save you." And then the Holy Spirit enables the heart to believe, and come to Christ."

To conclude, "...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3) . ...who is the deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5). Thus it should become plain to us that not everyone receives this redemptive blessing from Christ. God bestows it mercifully on whom He will according to His sovereign good pleasure (Rom 9:15-18; Eph 1:4, 5). The rest will continue in their willful rebellion, making choices according to their natural desires and thus receive the wrath of God's justice. That is why it is called "mercy" - not getting what we deserve. If God were obligated to give it to all men then, by definition, it would not longer be mercy. This should not surprise us ... what should surprise us is God's amazing love, that He would save a sinner like me at all.



For those who want to dig deeper into monergism, study the following essays:

Two Views of Regeneration by John Hendryx (See this helpful chart for clarity)
What is Monergism? by John Hendryx
Monergism vs. Synergism by John Hendryx
Regeneration by J.I. Packer
Biblical Regeneration and Affectional Theology by John Hendryx
Responding to Critics of Monergism: Passages Which Show Receiving the Sprit After Faith by John Hendryx
A Divine and Supernatural Light, A Sermon by Jonathan Edwards
God's Great Mercy and Our New Birth by John Piper
A Defense of Monergistic Regeneration by Gannon Murphy
The Necessity of the Spirit's Work (1859) by C. H. Spurgeon
The New Genesis by R.C. Sproul
Ordo Salutis @monergism

Which Christians believe this? historical and contemporary references
Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther (who considered this doctrine the heart of the Reformation), John Calvin, John Owen, the Puritans of the 17th century, Augustine, George Whitefield, and some contemporary pastors and theologians such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, J.I. Packer, James Montgomery Boice, and signatories to the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.


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