Regeneration by Monergism or Synergism?
Recently as I was having a conversation with some brothers who said that they had a difficult time persuading their evangelical friends that God regenerates people monergistically as opposed to synergistically; In other words, that it is God, the Holy Spirit alone, who first quickens the spiritually dead sinner that he might believe and obey the gospel ... that a person's heart must first be changed by God if he is ever to believe. That God must open his spiritually blind eyes and unstop their deaf ears if they are to see, hear and understand the gospel and love Jesus. This spiritual understanding does not come naturally, according to my Bible. That is why we pray for unbelievers ... because only God can save them. Unfortunately, many evangelicals in this era or spiritual anemia, are taught most incorrectly regarding this foundational doctrine, often holding staunchly to the erroneous belief that they can come to faith in Christ of their free will apart from this effectual supernatual operation of the Spirt. So how can we persuasde our friends?
With God's help, this is how I usually go about it. There is a very persuasive way to do this. Just ask these two questions.
1) Can a person come to faith in Jesus Christ apart from any help from the Holy Spirit?
Any true Christian would say "no, you cannot" .. so here we have already determined that, apart from the Holy Spirit, no person has the free will to believe the gospel, because the will and affections are in bondage to a corruption of nature until Christ sets them free. I.e. The Spirit must do something to change the heart, or the natual human heart remains blind and stubborn.
But then your friend might resppond by saying, "ok, but I can come to faith with the help of the Holy Spirit but this does not guarantee it" which brings me to question #2
2) Then what makes you to differ from others who also received this grace but rejected Christ?. Is it Jesus Christ who makes you to differ or is it something else?
To believe the truth of Christ is to see the goodness in Him. You cannot place your faith in Him without believing He is good and His words are true. Consider ... the good thoughts about Jesus that you had (that you deserve God's wrath save in Christ's mercy alone), but that your neighbor did not have ... were these good thoughts only a result of the grace we have in Christ or something else you came up with on your own? If not the grace of Jesus alone, then it must be some inherent good found in you that God finally accepted you. And your neighbor did not have this good nature even though he received the same gracious opportunity. The result of this kind of false belief is salvation by merit, not salvation by the grace we have in Jesus Christ alone. It is Christ PLUS the good thoughts you generated about Jesus. You still have something to boast of here, that you made a better decision than your neighbor. But a healthy understanding is to despair of ALL hope in yourself. If only God can save then we are stripped of all self help. And this is exactly where God wants us to be: bankrupot in spirit.
It is also important we see that this is not merely infallible logic but is the clear exegesis of the Text of Scripture. Scripture is the foundation and any logic there may be is what follows. See John 6:63-65 which plainly teaches that regeneraiton precedes faith.
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."
It says unambiguously that no one can believe in Jesus Christ unless God grants it... and it is the Spirit who quickens, regenerates and gives life. If that were not enought, in verse 37 of the same passage Jesus teaches with the same language that all whom God grants will have faith in Christ.
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."
Here we have a universal positive and a univeral negative. No one can believe unless God grants it and all to whom God grants the Son will believe. This leaves zero room for human boasting. Many ask whether we should teach unbelievers such things, but if you will notice, Jesus does this very thing throughout this passage in John 6.
All comands and requirements God gives us, including belief, (which requires the heart to believe the gospel), we have no power in ourselves to do, or, as John Owen said, it would make the cross of Jesus Christ of no effect.