I sat there in the car, gazing out the window, watching as the cars around us inched forward ever so slowly. It was one of those mornings where we were late and, much to our dismay, stuck in heavy traffic. Seeing that there was a possibility that we would be there for quite a while, I decided to catch up on some sleep. I laid back in my seat, and my eyes fluttered to a close……
“Monergism. Synergism.” I heard my dad say. Like every other morning, he was listening to a sermon from the internet radio station, ‘RefNet’.
My eyes shot open, as my face scrunched up in confusion. “Mon…. Syner- what?”
Alert! New words unlocked: “Monergism” and “Synergism”.
Two words that most of us probably haven’t come across before. Even if you have, they’re not words you would normally use. Such theological terms are, in fact, linked to another set of words that you may have heard in church when listening to sermons - the double bond of salvation: justification and sanctification.
You must be thinking, “What?” Honestly, I, too, was bewildered when my dad first introduced me to those terms. But what do these words mean, and what do they have to do with us? Let us first start with monergism.
Regeneration by God Alone
Picture a clay vessel. It has been beautifully sculpted by the ceramicist and boasts a magnificent, unique form, the evidence of hours and effort poured into this creation.
But overnight, this ceramic, which is unfinished, gradually turns bone dry and can no longer be moulded. It, obviously, cannot save itself and has no power at all to turn back to the malleable state it was in before, because it is not alive - It is dead.
The ceramicist has every right to throw it away and start a new one, having many bags of clay at his disposal. But graciously, he decides to save it by using a spray bottle to sprinkle the clay with drops of water, thus reviving it. Once again, it is the soft clay that is able to be moulded by the ceramicist.
We are, in fact, that clay vessel while the ceramicist is God. Here explains the new beginning for those whose lives have been ruined by sin, and harbour a hardened heart. But, in our inanimate state, we take no part in this new birth - It is the ceramicist alone who acts to revive the hardened vessel; to regenerate us.
You may know that regeneration is actually quite a controversial topic. Many religions believe that they can be saved by their good works; that the more good deeds they perform, the more eligible they are to be accepted by God and go to heaven. But as Christians, we believe otherwise.
The word "monergism" refers to, as you may have figured out, justification. With the word deriving from the term “mono”, meaning “single”, it is a concept explaining that it is God alone who acts to regenerate us, without our cooperation. This is because we are incapable of bringing about our own justification. Just as the clay vessel could not turn itself back to its former state, we too cannot turn ourselves into a righteous being.
Because the fact of the matter is, if God does not intervene, not even one will seek for Him (Romans 3:11). And our efforts can't miraculously make us righteous either. The seriousness of sin is so great that we, in ourselves, can do nothing to make up for them. The only thing that could save us from our miserable state, to pay the price of our sins, was Christ's death on the cross.
We don’t do good works to be saved, but we are saved to do good works. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10,
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
And in Ephesians 2:8 - 9 Paul reminds us that,
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast."
So now we are justified, having gone through the double imputation - Christ’s righteousness is imputed onto us and our sins imputed onto Him. We are no longer seen as the filthy and sinful beings we once were but as blameless before the eyes of the Lord. The End–
Hold up! It’s not over yet. You may think that this should be where we wrap up the story, but we are far from finished - because this journey of salvation has only just begun.
Play Your Part
Have you ever heard of the saying “It takes two to tango”? Well, it pretty much explains this next term we are about to learn, which is “synergism”. Once we have been regenerated, we don’t just dust our hands off, say, “That’s that!”, and go back to how we used to live. Surprise, surprise! There’s a second part to this story, and it certainly isn’t a brief one.
“Synergism” - a word that comes from the Greek term “synergos”, meaning working together - refers to sanctification. It’s not something that happens just once, but is a lifelong journey. And in this lifelong journey, we are a part of a relationship with God, a partnership in our faith. Now, it is not only Party A (which in this instance is God) who does all the work - we, as Party B, must have a part in it too!
Some may think accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour instantaneously changes our lives. But we do not transform just like that, as if it were a switch of a light. Maturity takes time, and so does growing in Christ. As we go through struggle after struggle, God, day by day, renews our minds to think more like Christ, growing us to become spiritually stronger; and synergism explains that these changes need our response.
If there is no response from us, our faith is at a complete standstill.
It is written in James 2:26 that "faith without deeds is dead." We cannot expect to grow in our Christian life without making an effort to respond to God’s calling, because we need to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). It takes the cooperation of both partners to execute a dance, just like the saying, "it takes two to tango". Once we are saved, we do not just wait around till we die. This part of our salvation includes our efforts. This is what we call synergistic, because it includes both parties doing something. God’s part is to open the door for us, but we will not get anywhere if we do not step through the doorway ourselves.
If this partnership is going to work, you are required to “play your part”. What is our part, our duty in this relationship? John 14:15 puts it plainly:
“If you love me, keep my commands.”
Our response, then, is our active obedience. In short: if you love God, do what He says.
An example can be your daily devotions. God will leave it to you to make that commitment to wake up early and read your Bible, and God will carry out His role to open our minds to help us to understand the meaning of the Scriptures.
Sanctification is a process that takes relatively longer than we would have expected, and sometimes, it may seem like it is rather fruitless. But when the ceramicist, after reviving the clay, continues to mould the vessel, though it does take a while, the creation eventually gets stronger and stronger. Our spiritual growth is a lot like this clay vessel. It is a slow but sure process.
Work in Progress
The ceramicist is currently still shaping us. We are a work in progress! We, as the vessel, will be brought to completion on the day Christ returns (Philippians 1:6). No matter where we are in this journey of salvation, we can rest assured because we are in His perfect hands. We can cling to the hope and be sure that whoever God calls, He will not fail to sanctify.