. . . I am sending you, to open their eyes,
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
— Acts 26:17–18 —
When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.
Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).
In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts.
Seven Monergistic Texts in the Book of Acts
Forced to give an answer for the hope they have, Peter and the apostles testify before the Jerusalem leaders, that salvation comes in no other way, but by faith in Christ. And importantly, such faith comes because Christ raises people to life.
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
If the Christ-centeredness of Acts 4:12 is not sufficiently monergistic, Acts 5:31 begins to fill in the details: the exalted Lord gives repentance.
31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
God’s salvation comes to the Gentiles, just like it came to the Jews—God granted repentance that leads to life.
18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
After Luke records Paul’s sermon in Acts, he reports how the Gentiles heard the Gospel and believed. But instead of leaving it there, he also declares that those who believed were the one’s God appointed to believe (cf. Eph. 1:4–6; Rom. 9:1–23; 1 Thess. 1:5).
47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Moving from the doctrine of election in Acts 13:48, we spot the doctrine of regeneration in Acts 16:14. Lydia responded in faith, because the Lord opened her heart.
14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
Acts 18:9–11, 26–28
In Acts 18, the Lord tells Paul to stay in the city of Corinth, because he has many of “my people” there. Importantly, this statement comes prior to Paul’s work of evangelism. In other words, the Lord motivated Paul with the promise of his people (i.e., the one’s chosen by God) receiving the Word and believing.
9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Later in the same chapter, we find another evidence of the way Luke thinks about salvation. In v. 27, he says that faith as a result of grace, not grace as a result of faith. In this turn of phrase, we find the normative pattern of New Testament grace and faith—faith is a gift of God’s grace (see e.g., Eph. 2:8–9; 1 Phil. 1:29; Tim. 1:14).
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Finally, in Acts 26, the Lord says that Paul will be sent open the eyes of the spiritually blind, so that they might repent, believe, in order to receive forgiveness and a place among the saints.
15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Incredibly, this verse supplies an ordo salutis (order of salvation) on par with with Romans 8:30. It begins with the gospel call in Paul’s calling. This gospel call is what makes possible the effectual call, which in turn grants regeneration. Regeneration then produces faith and repentance that results in forgiveness and a place among the redeemed. In Acts, all of these truths are seen in multiple ways, and this verse, therefore, caps off a book that testifies to God’s grace that saves all people whom the Father chose in Christ before the world began. And wonderfully, this full doctrine of monergistic grace does not inhibit or impede evangelism and missions. Instead, it is the bedrock for preaching Christ to all people, praying for the lost, and even suffering in order to bring the gospel to all Christ’s people.
Monergism is a Biblical Truth Before It Is a Theological Construct
In the end, when we consider the doctrine of salvation from the text of Scripture, it becomes apparent that the theological positions of Calvin, the Puritans, Particular Baptists, and so-called Neo-Calvinists is not formed outside of Scripture, it is rooted in the text of Scripture. In Acts we see the gospel of the kingdom go from Jerusalem to the end of the earth, but in every instance, the efficacy of the gospel is not based upon the presentation of the message. Rather, salvation is always dependent upon the God who saves.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh is called the Lord of salvation (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9). This moniker not only speaks of the fact that God offers salvation but it declares he accomplishes salvation. For all whom he sets his love upon, they will be saved. As Jesus says in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Jesus came into the world to save the people whom the Father gave to him in eternity, and now the Spirit of God is granting faith and repentance to God’s elect. This unified work of the triune God is the basis of our salvation and the hope that as we preach the gospel, it will bear fruit.
Wonderfully, in Acts, we see the doctrines of grace in action. And this gives us confidence for our salvation and for God to save those to whom we proclaim Christ. God is a God who opens hearts (Acts 16:14) and grants salvation, at the proper time, to all those whom he has appointed (Acts 13:48). This is how Luke describes salvation in Acts, and it is the way we should think about it too.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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