Is sanctification also monergistic?
(email from visitor)

John,

I looked over a couple of articles on your website and discovered before long that our hearts beat together in the area of Reformed soteriology. I am a graduating senior from a small bible college. Though the college I have attended is not largely calvinistic in theology, there is a decent sized contingent among the student body that would be so inclined. It is through the fellowship and friendship of these guys as well as the writing ministry of John Piper that has exposed me to the Doctrines of Grace. I still have much to learn, as I have only just begun "the hunt," so I had a question that I wanted to ask you. Obviously by your web address I came to the conclusion that you would hold to a monergistic view of regeneration. My question is due to the vital connection of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification and the dependence of all of these doctrines on sovereign grace, would it be fair to say that sanctification is also monergistic? I look forward to hearing your insight on this issue as I have not found much on this topic. Thanks for your time.

Nate

Your question about monergistic sanctification is a good one. I recall R.C. Sproul saying that the sanctification process is synergistic and it seems the Scriptures would also testify to this. Only regeneration is monergistic (solely the work of God). The Scripture itself testifies to a synergistic sanctification...

"work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at
work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Phil 2:12b,13.

This is a clear indication that there is a synergism taking place in our sanctification.

Prior to regeneration, due to our affection for the world, we would never desire to come to Christ of our own will (Rom 8:7, 1 Cor 2:14, ROM 3:11, John 3:19), yet the Scriptures make clear that sanctification is synergistic. This is not to say we could maintain our justification (judicial standing before God) by what we do since Christ's work is sufficient. But in our regeneration we were given new nature (from God) which desires to please Him. In this way sanctification, unlike regeneration, isn't entirely a divine action while we just remain passive. Those who think we just remain passive and wait for God to change us cannot give Scriptural evidence to support this position. I have heard some brothers say, "if God wants to deliver me from this sin, He will do so in His own good time." But historically this is a theological error in the church known as quietism. Instead, with the gospel Christ as our constant abiding theme we are called to be ACTIVELY "putting sin to death" ... "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you PUT TO DEATH the misdeeds of the body, you will live." (ROM 8:13)

By God's unfailing grace we are enabled by the new principle within. Just as the we must despair of any hope in ourselves as the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, in the same way we must lose all confidence in self if we are to grow in grace. We must look to Christ and, by His gospel power, we are to put to death all remaining sin (ROM 6). Because sin is no longer our master and God works in and through us to do this, we have great hope that sin can and will be overcome in our lives. Before regeneration, however, we were dead in sin and had nothing to draw upon, but now we are alive to God in Christ so the new nature empowered by the Holy Spirit is constantly working through us.

A. A. Hodge said,

"It must be remembered that while the subject is passive with respect to that divine act of grace whereby he is regenerated, after he is regenerated he cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the work of sanctification. The Holy Ghost gives the grace, and prompts and directs in its exercise, and the soul exercises it. Thus while sanctification is a grace, it is also a duty; and the soul is both bound and encouraged to use with diligence, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, all the means for its spiritual renovation, and to form those habits resisting evil and of right action in which sanctification so largely consists."

Yet this is a synergism in which God receives the glory because the Holy Spirit indwells and enables our new desires yet it is we who make choices based on that new nature. In other words, biblical Theology teaches neither quietism nor pietism. Quietism would say "let go and let God" while remaining entirely passive letting God do all the work. Pietism, however, would say that we need to do all (or most of) the work of holy living and obeying God's law. Practice with perfectionistic tendencies is often emphasized at the expense of theology .

The best understanding of this from a biblical perspective, then, is that we need to, in light of the gospel, exert ourselves in prayer, evangelism, good works relying wholly on God for the reality of our new life in Christ. Of course, all that is really holy and gracious in a renewed sinner comes through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. The desires of the soul to be conformed into His image are the direct result of the grace of God, not something we generate from the flesh. (John 4:14; 7:38, 39). He has renewed our natures to be in conformity with the image of God. Our new nature inclines us to choose what is pleasing to God. We love God more than we love sin yet sometimes we are deceived by sin and choose it in unbelief. One who has undergone the new birth will be brought to repentance, however, due to the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. The man without the Spirit does not understand the things of God (1 Cor 2:14) but now that we were freely given the Spirit, our inclinations, desires and disposition has been changed. We willingly cooperate with God to work out our salvation.

"many people confuse regeneration and sanctification. Regeneration is exclusively God's work, and it is an act of His free grace in which He implants a new principle of spiritual life in the soul. It is performed by supernatural power and is complete in an instant. On the other hand, sanctification is a process through which the remains of sin in the outward life are gradually removed . . . It is a joint work of God and man"(Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination , 172).

God's law is no longer seen as a burden for us. This is similar to a groom who is to be married. He limits himself for his bride willingly, not just because he is obligated to. He loves his bride so has no problem putting himself in this covenant relationship that has stipulations. Our relationship to God is similar. When he comes to transform us from the kindgom of darkness to the kingdom of light, when He makes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, we willingly believe and obey His commands. It is our delight to do so. We can say now that we love God's law, whereas before in our unregenerate nature such was impossible. Our choices are always based on our desires and our desires are the direct result of who we are by nature. We work and God works for our sanctification but God gets all the glory since it was He who implanted the new desires when He gave us spiritual birth.

* qui·et·ism -
A form of Christian mysticism enjoining passive contemplation and the
beatific annihilation of the will. The system of the Quietists, who
maintained that religion consists in the withdrawal of the mind from
worldly interests and anxieties and its constant employment in the
passive contemplation of God and his attributes.

** Pietism -
A reform movement in the German Lutheran Church during the 17th and
18th centuries, which strove to renew the devotional ideal in the Protestant
religion. (basically became legalism)

 

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