Does Monergism Rob Humanity of Free Will?
by John Hendryx

At first glance it may appear that monergism radically violates human free will, so there has risen up some modern teachers who are quite vocal in their hostility toward it. But not only has this been the historic teaching of the Church among its greatest theologians, but also this short essay will set out to show that no one is coerced into something they do not want to do. Man always freely chooses either to reject or receive Christ in the gospel.

Every Day Example

Before getting into the Scriptural and theological teaching, I first want to use an simple example from every day life to bring this truth to you in a way you may be able to more easily grasp. Lets start by asking a question: When a baby is born into the world and God determines that the baby will be endowed with eyesight, is this a violation of the infants' free will? I mean, what right does God have to give the baby the ability to see? Perhaps the baby had no desire for sight and would have preferred to be left blind. How utterly intrusive of God to so presume on the baby's freedom. The new baby wasn't asked if that is what he wanted. Well, you can see where I am going with this. We all know such an argument would be nothing short of ridiculous. This is God's world which is governed by His rules and persons born into it it have to live with what God blesses them with. God gives the baby eyes and he/she uses them. May I suggest to you that similar logic plays a role in our new birth in Christ. The moment God opens our spiritual eyes, we see. The moment He unplugs/circumcises our ears, we hear. Likewise, the moment God capacitates us with understanding and illumination, we believe. God isn't doing the believing for us, He has only restored the spiritual capacity we were meant to have. If God miraculously gives new eyes to a blind man and he sees, it is not God who is doing the seeing but the man, yet all glory goes to God because without this new capacity, sight would not be possible. So it is with new spiritual eyes. We infallibly exercise our own faith because we have been given the new capacity to do so by the work of the Holy Spirit, who has disarmed our hostility to God by giving us a new moral perception.

How Do we Understand this Theologically?

Since many persons have not deeply considered what the Bible teaches and have not thought of the simple logic above, there are many evangelicals who directly oppose the view that we are saved by God's grace alone (monergism) because they believe it is somehow antithetical to man's free will. They reason that if God sovereignly dispenses His grace only on the elect, then there are some who have been strong-armed out of heaven while others are forcefully dragged in. In other words, they envision Divine election as a manipulating of events and people's wills in such a way as to coerce, unwillingly, some to believe while keeping others out who, deep down, really want God. So they end up rejecting monergism because they see it as a radical violation of man's free will.

So the question naturally arises, does man have a free will? And the answer, which may come as a surprise to some, is yes, we have a free will. Free will simply means that we have the capacity to choose what we desire the most. The Scripture teaches that all persons have a free will to do whatever they want. He does not interfere by keeping anyone out of heaven who wants to embrace the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. We wholeheartedly concur that "whosoever believes" the Gospel has eternal life. That is the historic position of all the Reformers.

But that is not the issue of the will. The problem arises when we discover what it is that we do with our free will. The Scriptures, time and again, testify that man is so given over to sin and hostility to God that he us unwilling to even lift a finger toward his own redemption. We always choose what we want most, but what we want most is limited by our bondage to our fallen natures. We may desire salvation, but not God's way of salvation. Romans 1:18- teaches us that humanity, individually and collectively, suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and replaces God with a idol of our own making. It is self-evident that the nature of a person is the determining factor in the choices he makes. Our Lord teaches this when he asks,"Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" and states, "a bad tree cannot bear good fruit". This means that fallen unregenerate sinners, left to themselves, will not choose God (1 Cor 2:14). Their desire for sin or self is always greater than their desire for the true God. That is why we need grace, that is why we need redemption ... our desperate condition is one of bondage to sin and a hatred for the light, by choice. This bleak condition of humanity described by the Bible is more than many of us can bear to hear so we soften it. But our fall is of such a radical nature that we need redemption from head to foot and that if we ascribe any of it to ourselves, then we have completely missed the point of what the cross of Jesus did for us. Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. Even our faith is not part of the price of our redemption, rather, this capacity (faith) is part of the package of redemptive blessings that Christ purchased for us (Eph 2:5, 8) lest we have no hope at all. Again, He does not force us to believe, he only mercifully grants us new holy affections and capacities which we willingly exercise. When Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, he came. Was Jesus violating his will? Shouldn't he have asked Lazarus permission first? Viewed from this perspective, we begin to see the absurdity of the opposition view.

In our fallen state we are left with a humanity that outright does not want God. God need only leave us in our rotten condition (to our own autonomous free will) and we will all freely reject Him. Yes, God has given us a free will, to choose what we want most according to our nature. But is this really what the opposition wants - to have Him leave us to ourselves without acting to save us from our hell-bent desires? To reject God is what fallen man wants most, so those who so ardently fight to keep the autonomous free will of man, are arguing that God should leave us in our dreadful condition? This is tantamount to keeping man graceless. Unregenerate men freely and happily do not want God and love what He hates. God has not violated their free will one iota to bring them to this rebellious state of mind. But those God saves He comes to with grace and restores in them a spiritual nature which now turns and wants God. So when man is regenerated, his first thought is to embrace Christ in faith of his own free will. His renewed will has new desires and is no longer beholden to sin. His eyes are opened and he sees His true condition of bondage for the first time so he repents of trusting in himself and reaches out to the Savior knowing that He alone can save. Even though we owe God a debt we cannot repay, He is merciful. He forgives the debts of many of those who owe Him while the others He still requires payment. And they don't want God's forgiveness anyway. It is perfectly just of God to require payment of them for He is under no obligation to cancel the debt of anyone. That is what makes mercy, mercy. But those he passes over and does not give mercy, He has left them to their own free will. Take time to think about that.

To conclude, those who are confused about free will have likely misunderstood the Scriptures' teaching on man's condition without grace. Go back to the Scripture and research what it says about our fallen condition is. 1 Cor :14, Romans 3:11, 12 and Rom 8:7 are good places to start but read them in their context. And remember FALLEN MAN HAS A FREE WILL ... but his nature, which hates God, will not use it for redemptive good. Apart from grace no one willingly submits to the humbling terms of the gospel. You say, what about with the help of grace? Do you mean God's grace takes us part of the way to salvation and man's fallen will does the rest? If so, consider why some people believe the gospel and not others? Did some improve on that grace while others did not? Where did he get that spiritual capacity? Think about it.... If all humans are granted "part of the way" grace at some point, then it wouldn't be grace that makes us to differ from others. It would be some innate capacity God would see in us that moved Him to save us. Such a belief would bring some of the glory of salvation to ourselves. This kind of theology brings us back to meriting the merit of Christ and is none other than an unbiblical merit/works salvation.