by Mike Ratliff
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions…. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put into your heart?”
“Yes,” says [Wesley], “I do indeed.”
“And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?”
“Yes, solely through Christ.”
“But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?”
“No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.”
“Allowing, then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?”
“What, then are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?”
“And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
“Yes, I have no hope but in Him.”
“Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite things wherein we agree.” – From the writings of Charles Simeon, a recorded conversation between him and John Wesley on December 20, 1784.
I personally have little use for Calvinists who treat the Gospel as if it is something unpalatable or off limits or to be shared only with a small group of people. No matter if we are Calvinists or Arminians who differ on some doctrinal points, I will consider all my brother or sister in Christ those who profess sola gratia, by grace alone. On the other hand, those who trash the Gospel by making it totally subordinate to men with God a helpless bystander will witness me raising my Monergistic flag. Monergism states that salvation is by grace alone and any addition at all to God’s grace is to destroy its graciousness, its very nature as a gift.
The difference between a monergistic and a synergistic faith, between a God only and God and Gospel, is nothing less than the difference between the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the one hand, and all other religious systems of belief…on the other. There are basically only two alternatives. If man contributes any essential part towards his salvation, he effectively becomes his own savior….
There is here a clear point of demarcation. It is all of God or it is not good news at all. If man is free to resist, God is not free to act, for He is bound by man’s freedom. If God is to be free to act, man must be bound by the will of God….But in a fallen world, God’s grace must be irresistible or man’s will can remain forever opposed to God, and the will of the creature overrides the will of the Creator.
In truth there is no “Gospel” that is not entirely rooted in the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation, which is the sum and substance of Calvinism….The crucial issue is the sovereignty of God’s grace….
The only defense against Synergism is an unqualified Calvinism ascribing all the glory to God by insisting upon the total spiritual impotence of man, an Election based solely upon the good pleasure of God, an Atonement intended only for the elect though sufficient for all men, a grace that can neither be resisted nor earned, and a security for the believer that is a permanent as God Himself.➀
I fear, however, that some reading this who consider themselves Arminian will take offense by this argument. Please remember the conversation recorded above between John Wesley and Charles Simeon. Wesley was a great evangelist because he was a preacher of righteousness. He preached the depravity of man and the impossibility of salvation without repentance and that ability to do so having to come only from God. My friends, this is sola gratia.
If you had approached me before 2004-2005 in a conversation about Christianity I am pretty sure that you would have come away from it convinced that I was a fundamental Southern Baptist. Up until that time I actually had no idea what Synergism, Monergism, or Arminianism were. I had a vague notion of what Calvinism was, but that came from the many World History classes I took over the years. However, if you had asked how salvation took place you would have received back a conglomerated mish-mash of doctrines that were inconsistent with each other at best. I knew Ephesians 2:8 because I had been an Evangelism Explosion presenter and trainer for many years. However, my understanding of that verse was that the grace only involved salvation while the faith that Paul mentioned was “mine.” Here is the verse again.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
However, there is a problem with that understanding in light of 1 Corinthians 2:14.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
If the grace is God’s, but the faith belongs to the one being saved then how do we reconcile this passage with that understanding? If the person being saved must decide if he or she truly wants to be saved then they must invite or allow God to come into them to be their saviour. Do you see how this tramples on God’s grace, making it simply an offer that depends on human effort or cooperation in order for God to apply His grace? This is Synergism.
Since we are holders to Sola Scriptura we insist that no outside assumptions or philosophies can override what the Bible teaches. Nor do we hold that these assumptions or philosophies can be added to the Sacred Scripture to enhance it or change it. With this understanding, we take the stand that the Bible does not teach Synergism in Salvation. No, it cannot be found in scripture nor can it be supported from scripture. If any human effort is added to the grace of God then our salvation is not by the grace of God “alone.”
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 ESV)
Please carefully read that passage. Who are “given” the right to become children of God? It is given to those who received Him and believed in His name. Notice neither of those things were the result of heritage, or the will of the flesh or the will of man. How do they come? They come by the will of God alone. At first glance it looks like the one being saved does work to receive and believe, but then we see that they do so only by the will of God.
Sola Scriptura tells us that salvation is by grace alone (Sola Gratia). I dearly wish I could have grasped this many years earlier than I did. Before I came to grips with Sovereign Grace I always assumed that since I was saved by the exercise of my free will that I also had to obey the rules in my own man-made religion. My religious activities were all up to me and done by my will power. This is a recipe for disaster because it is only a road to no where that requires constant self-effort. This road does not lead to spiritual life. It has no power to bring that life because it is just human activity.
Even after God radically drew me to Himself in 2004, I still struggled with this need to work by will power. However, I knew that something had changed in me and God had done it. It was in 2005 as I studied doctrine in preparation for writing a book that I came across the dispute between Calvinism and Arminianism. As I studied it, I was stunned to find that my own personal doctrine, the religion in my heart, was partially Calvinism and mostly Arminianism. I could not stop researching this. I started this in early Summer 2005. Around the end of October and the beginning of November 2005 I was a five point Calvinist. It took a lot of study and prayer. However, one of the things I am very grateful for in this is that God took me through the zealot stage of Calvinism very quickly. Fortunately I did not have a blog during this period.
It was as I began blogging that God brought all sorts of brothers and sisters in Christ to me. Some were not Calvinists, but obviously knew the Lord, loved the Lord, and served Him while others were. IMHO I contend that as long as people preach the cross and Jesus crucified and hold to Sola Gratia then they are my brethren. After all, I wasn’t a Calvinist when I was born again. Were you?
➀Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace (Philipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 363, 364.
Sola Gratia: In salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by His grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.
Soli Deo Gloria!
In scripture alone we find Salvation is by grace alone Through faith alone In Christ alone For the glory of God alone!