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Is sanctification in Christ’s saints monergistic or synergistic?



“The unalterableness of our union with Christ, on the account of the faithfulness of the covenant of grace, is that which doth and shall eventually secure it. But yet our own diligent endeavour is such an indispensable means for that end as that without it, it will never be brought about.” (John Owen, Commentary on Hebrews)

Chapter XVI
Of Good Works

II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

Is sanctification in Christ’s saints monergistic or synergistic?

A few items to consider:

1. Salvation is by grace alone.

2. Sanctification is an element or fruit of our salvation.

3. Therefore, sanctification is by grace alone.

How is the above to be understood?

Turretins compound and divided senses must be considered:

*God ordaining is in the compound sense

*Man’s responsibility to follow the perceptive will is a result of the Divided sense

What does the shorter catechism say?

Q. 35. What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

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.”

L. Boettner writes: “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”

It is important to note that many confuse the monergistic act of regeneration and conversion w/ sanctification. It is important to make this distinction when understanding these two ideas.

Galatians 5:22-25 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

This needs to be seen in two senses; for example, in the compound sense, salvation and sanctification must be seen as God working in us, alone….

Phil 2:13For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

In the divided sense, men participate; ‘work out your salvation w/ fear and trembling’, ‘run the race’, ‘fight the good fight’, ‘resist the devil and he will flee’, etc.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…..

Pray that ye enter not into temptation….

Resist the devil and he will flee….

Matthew Winzer writes: 

We should not lose sight of the fact that justification is by faith alone and faith is receptive by nature. In sanctification the other graces are wrought in the person but these graces are creative. Therefore, although God works faith with all other graces in the person, faith is given as the instrument of receiving Christ and His righteousness, whereas the other graces are given for the pupose of bringing forth a Christ-like character and behaviour. Distinction must be made between them to the effect that we can produce nothing as a part of our justification but we must make concerted effort to be productive Christians as a part of sanctification; and in both cases — the ability to rest in none but Christ in justification as well as the desire to live for Christ in sanctification — the grace is the inwrought gift of God.”

Herman Hoeksema writes: “” . . God works continuously in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. He not only regenerates us in principle, but He also continuously sanctifies us through the Spirit of Christ. That work of God in us is of such a nature that we consciously and willingly bear fruit unto righteousness. It is not true that God works our sanctification and that we work also, and that these two aspects of the work of salvation stand independently from each other or must be conceived as an irreconcilable contradiction. Nor is it true that God alone accomplishes sanctification and that He drags us along the way as stock and blocks, as is the presentation of the antinomians. Still less is it true that the relation between God’s work and our work is such that we must work, and that if we work, God will help us, as is the view of the Pelagians.”

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?

A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification,330 yet they differ, in that

God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ;331 in sanctification of his Spirit

infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof;332 in the former, sin is pardoned;333 in the

other, it is subdued:334 the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of

God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation335 the other is

neither equal in all,336 nor in this life perfect in any,337 but growing up to perfection.338

Scripture proofs

1 Corinthians 6:11. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 1:30. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

Romans 4:6, 8. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works…. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Ezekiel 36:27. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Romans 3:24-25. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.

Romans 6:6, 14. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin…. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 8:33-34. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

1 John 2:12-14. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Hebrews 5:12-14. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

1 John 1:8, 10. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2 Corinthians 7:1. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Philippians 3:12-14. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Are we talking the cause, the means, the utilization of the means, or the result of sanctification? These are needful distinctions that must be considered……

From Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology:

“D. The Nature of Sanctification

1. It is a supernatural work of God. Some have the mistaken notion that sanctification consists merely in the drawing out of new life, implanted in the soul by regeneration, in a persuasive way by presenting motives to the will. But this is not true. It consists fundamentally and primarily in a Divine operation in the soul, whereby the holy disposition born in regeneration is strengthened and its holy exercises are increased. It is essentially a work of God, though in so far as He employs means, man can and is exected to co-operated by the proper use of the means. Scripture clearly exibits the supernatural character of sanctification in several ways. It describes it as a work of God, 1 Thes 5:23; Heb 13:20,21, as a fruit of the union of life with Jesus Christ, Jn 15:4; Gal 2:20; 4:19, as a work that is wrought in man from within and which for that very reason cannot be a work of man, Eph 3:16; Col 1:11, and speaks of its manifestation in Christian virtues as the work of the Spirit, Gal 5:22.

4. It is a work of God in which believers co-operate. When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but merely, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayful and intellegent co-operation with the Spirit.”

From Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology:

“It is a Supernatural Work….

That sanctification is a supernatural work in the sense above stated is proved, –

1. From the fact that it is constantly referred to God as its author. It is referred to God absolutely, or to the Father, as in I Thessalonians v. 23, “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” Hebrews xiii. 20, 21, “The God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus . . . . make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight.” It is also referred to the Son, as in Titus ii. 14, He “gave himself for us, that he might . . . . purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” Ephesians v. 25, He “loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Predominantly sanctification is referred to the Holy Spirit, as his peculiar work in the economy of redemption. Hence He is called the Spirit of all grace; the Spirit of joy, of peace, of love, of faith, and of adoption. All Christian graces are set forth as fruits of the Spirit. We are said to be born of the Spirit, and by Him to he enlightened, taught, led, and cleansed. We are said to be in the Spirit, to live, to walk, and to rejoice in the Spirit. The Spirit dwells in the people of God, and is the abiding source of all the actings of that spiritual life which He implants in the soul. The Bible teaches that the Son and Spirit are in the Holy Trinity subcrdinate to the Father, as to their mode of subsistence and operation, although the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. Hence it is that the same work is often attributed to the Father, to the Son, and to the Spirit; and as the Father and Son operate through the Spirit, the effects due to the agency of God are referred specially to the Holy Ghost.

This reference of sanctification to God proves it to be a supernatural work, because the insufficiency of second causes to produce the effect is declared to be the ground of this reference. It is because men cannot cleanse or heal themselves, that they are declared to be cleansed and healed by God. It is because rites, ceremonies, sacraments, truth, and moral suasion, cannot bring the soul back to God, that it is said to be transformed, by the renewing of the mind, through the power of the Spirit, into the image of God. We are, therefore, declared to be God’s work. manship, created unto good works. And it is not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us.

2. This reference of sanctification to God as its author, the more decisively proves the supernatural character of the work, because the reference is not merely general, as when the wind and rain, and the production of vegetable and animal life, are referred to his universal providential agency. The reference is special. The effect is one which the Scriptures recognize as not within the sphere of second causes, and therefore ascribe to God. They recognize the free agency of man; they acknowledge and treat him as a moral and rational being; they admit the adaptation of of truth to convince the understanding, and of the motives presented to determine the will and to control the affections, and nevertheless they teach that these secondary causes and influences be utterly ineffectual to the conversion and sanctification of the soul, without the demonstration of the Spirit. The sacred writers, therefore, constantly pray for this divine influence, “extrinsecus accidens,” to attend the means of grace and to render them effectual, as well for sanctification as for regeneration and conversion. Every such prayer, every thanksgiving for grace imparted, every recognition of the Christian virtues as fruits of the Spirit, and gifts of God, are so many recognitions of the great truth that the restoration of man to the image of God is not a work of nature, either originated or carried on by the efficiency of second causes, but is truly and properly supernatural, as due to the immediate power of the Spirit producing effects for which second causes are inadequate.

3. We accordingly find the Apostle and the sacred writers generally, referring not only regeneration, the communication of spiritual life to those spiritually dead, but the continuance of that life in its activity and growth, not merely to the power of God, but to his almighty power. Paul prays in Ephesians i. 19, that his readers might know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” The same almighty power which was exhibited in the resurrection of Christ, is exercised in the spiritual resurrection of the believer. And as the power which raised Christ from the dead was exercised in his ascension and glorification; so also the same power, according to the Apostle, which is exerted in the spiritual resurrection of the believer, is exercised in carrying on his sanctification, which is inward and real glorification. Accordingly, in the same Epistle (iii. 7), he ascribes all the grace whereby he was fitted for the apostleship, “to the effectual working of his power.” And further on (ver. 20), to encourage the people of God to pray for spiritual blessings, he reminds them of his omnipotence whereby He was “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” It is almighty power, therefore, and not the impotence of secondary influences, which works in the believer and carries on the work of his salvation.”

Ch 17 of the WCF states in regards to good works:

“Chapter XVI

Of Good Works

I. Good works are only such as God has commanded in His holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intention.

II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.

IV. They who, in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possibly in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.

V. We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.

VI. Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreproveable in God’s sight; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

VII. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God”

G.I Williamson

Who is involved in sanctification?

“Both man and God are involved in sanctification. As Answer 35 says, sanctification is a work of God’s free grace, but we are the ones turning away from sin and unto God. Sanctification is a change in man, though it is a work of God.”

A.A. Hodge

“4. The evangelical doctrine of sanctification common to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches includes the following points: (1) The soul after regeneration continues dependent upon the constant gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, but is, through grace, able to co-operate with them”

Loraine Boettner

“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”

J.I. Packer

“Regeneration was a momentary monergistic act of quickening the spiritually dead. As such, it was God’s work alone. Sanctification, however, is in one sense synergistic — it is an ongoing cooperative process in which regenerate persons, alive to God and freed from sin’s dominion”

W.G.T Shedd

“The believer cooperates with God the Spirit in the use of the means of sanctification. Sanctification is both a grace and a duty….. Regeneration, being a sole work of God is not a duty. It is nowhere enjoined upon man to regenerate himself”.

Louis Berkof

“It is essentially a work of god, though in so far as he employes means, man can and is expected to, co-operate”

Charles Hodge

“But men work out their own salvation, while God works in them to will and to want according to his good pleasure. In the work of regeneration the soul is passive. it cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life”.

A friend writes:

“First of all, there is no such thing as a covenant without conditions. Conditions are defined covenantally as responsibilities. Imagine a marriage in which the husband had no responsibilities or obligations to his wife. We would not call that a marriage. Second, just because something is forensic and legal does not mean that it is not a relationship (i.e. do not set a relationship against the contract notion). A covenant is a special kind of relationship. Third, man does not bargain with God, he does not choose any of the terms of the covenant. We see that God fulfills the conditions of the covenant (and hence also sanctification). He fulfils not only His own, but His people’s too because of their sinfulness. Therefore on the side of the fulfillment of the conditions, the covenant (and sanctification) is monergistic — it is God’s POWER that fulfills them. On the side of the requirements of the covenant, the covenant is synergistic, but that synergism is asymetrical. For example: faith. We are required to believe, but God provides the faith to us. In sanctification, we are required to obey the imperatives of God (note that there are more imperatives in the NT than in the OT), but it is God who sovereignly enables us to obey.”

and more here:

“1) There are two aspects to sanctification

2) One is definitive sanctification (And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” 1 Cor. 6:11

3) One is progressive.

4) Progressive sanctification includes: (a) mortification (Rom. 8:13) ; (b) renewal (2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 4:23; Rom. 12:2) ; and (c) growth.

5) God is the author of sanctification

6) Man is the sphere where sanctification takes place

7) Growth is the responsibility of the believer

8) The believer’s growth is wholly dependent on grace

9) The relationship of responsibility to grace is aptly summed up by Augustine’s statement that so infuriated Pelagius, “Command what you will, and give what you command”.

10) Sanctification must be cultivated by the believer

11) Sanctification can only be cultivated by the Spirit

12) The supply of strength for sanctification comes from Christ (cf. WCF 13.3)

13) The Christian’s ability to do good works comes from Christ (cf. WCF 16.3)

14) Good works are not a means of sanctification

15) Good works are a fruit and evidence of faith, strengthening assurance and giving glory to God (cf. WCF 16.2)

16) The means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about sanctification are the means of grace, namely the Word, prayer and the sacraments

17) The Christian must use diligence in sanctification, but that diligence is the mean that the Spirit uses to bring about sanctification (cf. WCF 16.3)”


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