Friday, 2 April 2010

by grace through faith: part 8

The conflict between authentic Calvinism and all other attempts to systematise revelation truth can be expressed in the simple formula... monergism vs synergism. These words deserve a brief explanation. The idea of synergy is used in science and business and theology in very different ways but theologically speaking ‘synergism is the teaching that the human will cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration’ while ‘monergism is the teaching that the Holy Spirit acts independently of the human will in the work of regeneration’. Synergy is a word with a biblical history. It is the verb translated ‘work together’ in Rom 8:28. You can see how the word is defined and used here in the BlueLetterBible. See how the Bible uses this concept. It is the word ‘syn’ meaning ‘together’ and the word ‘ergeO’ which means ‘to work’. It would not be amiss to say it speaks of partnership. Whereas ‘syn’ implies ‘togetherness’ ‘mono’ implies ‘aloneness’ and this is the thrust of these two words. Is the work of salvation the result of a partnership between God and man or is it a sovereign and independent act of God? Is God the prime and initiating agent in salvation or is he the sole agent in salvation?

Let’s take a look at a well known verse from Isaiah; "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool." Isaiah 1:18 Let’s take the first two phrases and examine them.

1. Come now. The invitation or command originates in God. We cannot come unless the Lord draws us. We cannot believe if he has not spoken and we cannot obey if he has not commanded. So there ought to be no confusion here. Salvation belongs to the Lord and is in his gift alone. The phrase implies that some kind of movement is necessary; to get from there to here you must ‘come’ and it is I who must do the coming. The promise was that if the Father lifted up the Son he would draw all men to himself. John 12:32. The cross was the first part of that process and we may be sure that God is at work ‘drawing’ men and women to himself. But ‘drawing’ and ‘coming’ implies response. God has on occasion used the method of ‘beaming’ an individual from one place to another but not in the context of salvation. The command or invitation to ‘come now’ is a clear indication that the person who hears these words must take some responsibility in moving from one place to another.

2. and let us reason together... This is one of the most profound statements in the Bible. Take note of that tiny word ‘us’ and think about the implications. To use the pronouns ‘we’ or ‘us’ implies that at least two people have something in common. When we contrast ‘us’ and ‘them’ we imply that ‘we’ have some common ground that is not shared by ‘them’.

The earlier verses of this chapter describe the human condition in a graphic way; “...The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment.” Isaiah 1:5-6. That’s as dramatic a description of man in his congenital sin as we will find anywhere in the Book. There is nothing to commend this creature to God. He is helpless and hopeless. Man is a bundle of corruption. I trust we have said enough to make it plain that this creature is totally corrupted... there is no soundness in him.

It is all the more remarkable then that God addresses such a creature with an invitation to come and a plea to ‘let us reason together’. Let the significance of that ‘us’ settle upon your spirit. In spite of the description we have been given it is still possible for God to use the embracing pronoun ‘us’ in this phrase. At some level, in spite of all appearances, God and this wreck of humanity have something ‘in common’; otherwise he could not use the pronoun.

And notice too, wonder of wonders, that God insists that He himself and this ruined creature must do something ‘together’. The consequence of this ‘synergy’ will be deep and radical cleansing; “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” Could God ‘impose’ cleansing upon this creature? Theoretically he could. Theoretically the father could have dragged the wayward son out of the far country and brought him home hostage, but he didn’t and he doesn’t. He will not impose saving grace but he makes it wonderfully available.

This is the mystery of synergy. God’s grace is 100% his responsibility and I cannot make 1% contribution to it, but faith, ie responding to what God has said in promise or command, is 100% man’s response. Responsibility is found to be ‘my response to his ability’ but in the ‘my’ and ‘his’ of that sentence there is a wonderful and necessary synergy; by grace we are saved, through faith.

1 comment:

KingJimmy said...

Good thoughts Ron. I like to think of these things in light of the incarnation of our Lord. Jesus was 100% God, but also 100% man. So it is with our response in faith to God. 100% God. 100% man.