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Monergism is the position that "the grace of God is the only efficient cause in beginning and effecting conversion. "The opposite of synergism, this position is consistently upheld by the Augustinian tradition within Christianity. Representative is the attitude of Martin Luther. Luther believed that salvation was by grace alone through faith, arriving at this position from his study of Rom. 1:16 - 17. The believing faith that receives this grace is itself the gift of God. In his explanation of the third article of the Creed, Luther commented: "I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith."

The same teaching was embodied in his Bondage of the Will, where he affirmed, "Man's will is like a beast standing between two riders.

If God rides, it wills and does what God wills.... If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it."

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Luther regarded repentance as the work of God in man, citing such texts as Acts 5:31 and 2 Tim. 2:25. While the human will was free in civil matters, concerning spiritual choices it was bound in sin. This view was reflected in the Formula of Concord, which stated that "man of himself, or from his natural powers, cannot contribute anything or help to his conversion, and that conversion is not only in part, but altogether an operation, gift and present and work of the Holy Ghost alone, who accomplishes and effects it, by his virtue and power, through the Word, in the understanding, heart and will of man."

The implication of this doctrine is that if one is saved, it is entirely the work of God; if one is lost, it is entirely the fault of man, who, while not free to accept the gospel, is by nature able to reject it. Calvin developed his theology in a different direction. Like Luther, upholding the sovereignty of God in conversion, Calvin differed from the German Reformer in affirming the perseverance of the saints (Luther felt it was possible to fall from grace) and in teaching that the lost were condemned because God willed them lost (damnation was a theological, not an anthropological, mystery, as it had been for Luther). Differing from both Calvin and Luther was the predominant position of the Roman Catholic Church, that grace plus faith (itself a good work) brought conversion. Later Protestants such as James Arminius and John Wesley stressed human responsibility as well as divine sovereignty in the matter of conversion.

C G Fry
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

D W H Arnold and C G Fry, The Way, the Truth, and the Life: An Introduction to Lutheran Christianity; J T Mueller, Christian Dogmatics; L Berkhof, Systematic Theology.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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