Different conceptions of regeneration exist even among Bible-believing Christians, and these differences are some of the most significant reasons for division in the church today. Why do these differences exist? Largely because we differ over the way that God works in regeneration. Fundamentally, all views of regeneration encapsulate one of two views of the way that God works in His people to bring them to new spiritual life: monergism or synergism.
In synergism, we are speaking of a “working together.” That is, human beings and God cooperate to achieve the new birth in human souls. To be sure, the Lord takes the initiative. He calls out to the hearts of unbelievers to change, even giving them enough grace to be able to say yes to this call. Nevertheless, God does not guarantee that we will embrace Him. The choice is finally up to us. We get enough grace to be “barely alive,” as it were, and we must do the rest to be fully revived from spiritual death. The problem, of course, is that the Bible never says we cooperate with God in being made alive. We come into the world spiritually dead, and He alone makes us alive, with no help from us (Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:4–5). Furthermore, in putting regeneration after our faith, synergism does not uphold Jesus’ teaching in John 3:3. If we must be born again before we can see the kingdom of God, we must be born again before we can believe the gospel.
Monergism, on the other hand, consists of a “working alone.” God and God alone acts in regeneration. The Holy Spirit sovereignly transforms our souls, bringing us to full spiritual life. The Lord not only enables us to choose Jesus, but He also guarantees we will choose Him. In God’s monergistic work of regeneration, we are not born again because we trust Jesus; we trust Jesus because we are born again.
Today’s passage helps to confirm that God’s work in regeneration is sovereign and monergistic. There is no hint that Saul of Tarsus was willing to consider, let alone follow, Jesus the Messiah before that pivotal day on the road to Damascus. Saul actually was dead set on destroying the body of Christ. That all ended when Jesus spoke to him. Saul offered no resistance when Christ knocked him to the ground. The Holy Spirit changed his heart, ensuring that Paul would become the Apostle to the gentiles (Acts 9:1–19). God did not merely ask Saul to believe; He guaranteed that he would believe.