Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Arminians and Synergism

According to one Calvinist theologian, synergism is “the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives.”  Calvinists often boast of being the opposite of this and being monergists who teach that salvation is the entire work of God meaning that God regenerates the lost sinner so that they can respond in faith to the gospel.  In other words, in the words of R.C. Sproul, a person is born again to believe and does not believe to be born again.  This flows from the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and unconditional election.  In the TULIP acronym it is I for irresistible grace though Calvin used the term “effectual calling.”

However, are Arminians truly synergists?  There is no doubt that Roman Catholic theology embraces synergism and teaches that mankind must cooperate with the various means of grace to be saved.  There is no denying that Roman Catholicism embraces works righteousness and teaches that we are saved by grace and by our good works as well.  They combine for our justification.

Arminianism, on the other hand, embraces the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith.  We agree that we are totally unable to secure our eternal salvation by our good works (Isaiah 64:6).  Because of the nature of sin, even the “good” that we do is often tainted by our own pride.  If good works could inherit eternal life, what was the point of the cross?  Was it not to demonstrate the glory of God and the fact that salvation comes through Jesus alone?

It can be said of reformation Arminianism that we teach that salvation is the work of God.  Through God’s prevenient grace, He prepares the souls of men to hear the gospel and to respond freely.  The Holy Spirit opens the hearts of lost sinners and He also enables the sinner to either believe or reject the gospel.  The sinner is not “working with God” when they embrace the gospel.  In fact, the sinner finds that when they embrace the gospel, they find that Jesus alone saved them by His grace.  They did not earn the salvation of God.  They freely accept it but even this is a gift from God by His prevenient grace.

In Romans 4:1-8 Paul contrasts works with faith.  The text reads:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Abraham believed God.  In contrast, in verse 4 Paul says that a works mentality is one that says I am owed this.  But, Paul adds in verse 5, the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

Now I believe, with my Calvinist brethren, that all of this is a gift of God.  While I reject the notion that God does it all for us (I find it hard to fit how God believes for us but I understand that Calvinists would say that He makes us willing to believe to quote Sproul again), I likewise accept the fact that even my believing could not be done apart from the work of the Spirit.  He enables me to believe though this is not irresistible.

The point here is not to protect free will.  The point is that God deals with us as people.  People can reason, can think, can use logic, can act.  People are not robots.  God deals with lost sinners as people.  We should not think that our inability limits the ability of God to save sinners.  He freely saves those who come to Him and the condition that He has placed is faith and repentance but the Spirit aids the sinner in this saving process.  This is not a solo work nor us working with God.  This is us surrendering to the Spirit to save us through Christ (Titus 3:5-7).

In conclusion, I believe that reformation Arminianism is based on the belief that God alone does save sinners.  Sinners do not “aid” God in saving them.  They do surrender to His conviction as part of their freed will but this is a gift from the Spirit (John 6:44).  None of us can earn salvation.  It is impossible.  Jesus alone is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Our salvation is found only in Him (John 8:51).  I hope this was a helpful post on showing that we Arminians stress, like our Calvinist brethren, that salvation is the work of the Lord (John 1:12-13).

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