We made the point a few days ago that every Christian tradition has formulated some doctrine of regeneration. Despite the differing formulations of this doctrine, however, there are ultimately only two different views of the role of man and the role of God in regeneration: monergism or synergism.
A synergistic view of regeneration says man and God cooperate in bringing new life to a person. The Lord acts upon the heart of the unbeliever, imploring him to change. However, though God calls to the heart, regeneration cannot occur unless the unbeliever, who has the ability to say, “yes,” or “no,” embraces the divine call. There are several problems with this view. First, synergism sees the human will working with the divine will to achieve salvation. Yet we all come into the world spiritually dead and, being dead, cannot take hold of God’s grace unless first moved by His grace (Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:4–5). Synergism also reverses the order of regeneration and faith. Synergists argue that we first come to faith, and then we are born again. But if being born again is necessary to see the kingdom (John 3:3), regeneration must precede faith. After all, you cannot trust the Lord if you cannot see the truth of His kingdom.
Monergism, on the other hand, says that God’s Spirit is the sole agent in regeneration. God moves sovereignly upon the souls of those He has chosen, enabling them to have faith. He takes the spiritually dead and makes them alive. We are actually born again — regenerated — before we have faith. We are not born again because we trust Jesus; we trust Jesus because we are born again.
God’s sovereignty in regeneration is seen clearly in the account of Paul’s conversion found in today’s passage. Saul of Tarsus was completely unwilling to follow Jesus the Messiah before God took the initiative. He was so hard-hearted, in fact, that he did all he could to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. But when Jesus appeared to Him, Saul could not resist. Christ, by His Spirit, gave Paul the eyes to see the kingdom and to become one of its greatest ambassadors (Acts 9:1–19). Had Jesus not overpowered Saul’s natural inclination against Him, there never would have been an apostle Paul.
Some of us have had dramatic conversion experiences that we remember vividly. Others cannot remember a time when they did not trust in Jesus. Whatever our story, the same God who raised Jesus to life and knocked Saul of Tarsus to the ground also overpowered our natural bent against Him. The fact that you believe is evidence of the Lord’s mighty working in your life. He loved us enough to seek us out when we were running from Him.