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Recently, in a leadership training class at our church, a spirited discussion broke out on whether sanctification is monergistic or synergisitic. No, this is not what every class is like at University Reformed Church. But this one was. I wasn’t there, but I was told the discussion was energetic, intelligent, and respectful. I’m glad to serve at a church where people know and care about this level of theological precision.

The terms monergism and synergism refer to the working of God in regeneration. Monergism teaches that we are born again by only one working (mono is Greek for “one,”  erg is from the Greek word for “work”). Synergism teaches that we are born again by human cooperation with the grace of God (the syn prefix means “with” in Greek). The Protestant Reformers strongly opposed all synergistic understandings of the new birth. They believed that given the spiritual deadness and moral inability of man, our regeneration is owing entirely to the sovereign work of God. We do not cooperate and we do not contribute to our being born again. Three cheers for monergism.

But what should we say about sanctification? On the one hand, Reformed Christians are loathe to use the word synergistic. We certainly don’t want to suggest that God’s grace is somehow negligible in sanctification. Nor do we want to suggest that the hard work of growing in godliness is not a supernatural gift from God. On the other hand, we are on dangerous ground if we imply that we are passive in sanctification in the same way we are passive in regeneration. We don’t want to suggest God is the only active agent in our progressive sanctification. So which is it: is sanctification monergistic or synergistic?

I think it’s best to stay away from both terms. The distinction is very helpful (and very important) when talking about regeneration, but these particular theological terms muddy the waters when talking about sanctification. Synergism sounds like a swear word to Reformed folks, so no one wants to say it. And yet, monergism is not the right word either. To make it the right word we have to provide a different definition than we give it when discussing the new birth. What does it mean to say regeneration and sanctification are both monergistic if we are entirely passive in one and active in the other?

Those who say sanctification is monergistic want to protect the gracious, supernatural character of sanctification. Those who say sanctification is synergistic want to emphasize that we must actively cooperated with the grace in sanctification. These emphases are both correct. And yet, I believe it is better to defend both of these points with careful explanation rather than with terms that have normally been employed in a different theological controversy. Sanctification is both a gracious gift of God and it requires our active cooperation. I’ve tried to show in previous posts that these two truths are biblical. In this post I want to show these two truths are also eminently Reformed.

Let me give a few brief examples.

John Calvin (1509-64)

Commenting on 2 Peter 1:5 (“make every effort to add to your faith…”), Calvin says:

As it is an arduous work and of immense labour, to put off the corruption which is in us, he bids us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimates that no place is to be given in this case to sloth, and that we ought to obey God calling us, not slowly or carelessly, but that there is need of alacrity; as though he had said, “Put forth every effort, and make your exertions manifest to all.”

For Calvin, growing in godliness is hard work. There is no place for sloth. We must exert ourselves to obedience with speed and diligence. The believer is anything but passive in sanctification. But later, while commenting on the same verse, Calvin also warns against “the delirious notion” that we make the movements of God in us efficacious, as if God’s work could not be done unless we allowed him to do it. On the contrary, “right feelings are formed in us by God, and are rendered by him effectual.” In fact, “all our progress and perseverance are from God.” Wisdom, love, patience—these are all “gifts of God and the Spirit.” So when Peter tells us to make every effort, “he by no means asserts that [these virtues] are in our power, but only shows what we ought to have, and what ought to be done.”

Francis Turretin (1623-87)

Turretin employs sanctification as a theological term “used strictly for a real and internal renovation of man.” In this renovation, we are both recipients of God’s grace and active performers of it. “[Sanctification] follows justification and is begun here in this life by regeneration and promoted by the exercise of holiness and of good works, until it shall be consummated in the other by glory. In this sense, it is now taken passively, inasmuch as it is wrought by God in us; then actively, inasmuch as it ought to be done by us, God performing this work in us and by us” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology 2.17.1).

When it comes to the grace of God in regeneration, Turretin is opposed to “all Synergists.” He has in mind Socinians, Remonstrants, Pelagians, Semipelagians, and especially Roman Catholics, who anathematized “anyone [who] says that the free will of man moved and excited by God cooperates not at all” in effectual calling (Council of Trent). Turretin is happy to be just the sort of monergist Trent denounces. But then he adds this clarification about synergism:

The question does not concern the second stage of conversion in which it is certain that man is not merely passive, but cooperates with God (or rather operates under him). Indeed he actually believes and converts himself to God; moves himself to the exercise of new life. Rather the question concerns the first moment when he is converted and receives new life in regeneration. We contend that he is merely passive in this, as a receiving subject and not as an active principle. (2.15.5).

Given this caveat, it’s hard to think Turretin would have been comfortable saying sanctification is monergistic, though he certainly believed holiness is wrought in the believer by God.

Wilhelmus A Brakel (1635-1711)

Like Turretin and Calvin, A Brakel makes clear that sanctification is a work of God. “God alone is its cause,” he writes. “As little as man can contribute to his regeneration, faith, and justification, so little can he contribute to his sanctification” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 3.4). This may sound like we are completely passive in holiness, but that’s not what A Brakel means.

Believers hate sin, love God, and are obedient, and do good works. However, they do this neither on their own nor independently from God; rather, the Holy Spirit, having infused life in them at regeneration, maintains that life by His continual influence, stirs it up, activates it, and causes it to function in harmony with its spiritual nature. (3.4)

We contribute nothing to sanctification in that growth in godliness is a gift from God. And yet, we must be active in the exercise of this gift. A Brakel even goes so far as to say, “Man, being thus moved by the influence of God’s Spirit, moves, sanctifies himself, engages in that activity which his new nature desires and is inclined toward, and does that which he knows to be his duty” (3.4, emphasis added). That’s why A Brakel later exhorts his readers to “make an earnest effort to purify yourself from all the pollutions of the flesh and of the mind, perfecting yours sanctification in the fear of God. Permit me to stir you up to this holy work; incline your ear and permit these exhortations addressed to you to enter your heart” (3.24). So in one sense (on the level of ultimate causation and origin) we contribute nothing to sanctification and in another sense (on the level of activity and effort) we sanctify ourselves.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

We find these same themes–sanctification as gift and sanctification as active cooperation–in the great systematician from Princeton. Hodge stresses that sanctification is “supernatural” in that holy virtues in the life of a believer cannot “be produced by the power of the will, or by all the resources of man, however protracted or skillful in their application. They are the gifts of God, the fruits of the Spirit” (Systematic Theology, 3.215).

And yet, Hodge is quick to add that this supernatural work of sanctification does not exclude “the cooperation of second causes.” He explains:

When Christ opened the eyes of the blind no second cause interposed between his volition and the effect. But men work out their own salvation, while it is God who worketh in them to will and to do, according to his own good pleasure. In the work of regeneration, the soul is passive. It cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life. But in conversion, repentance, faith, and growth in grace, all its powers are called into exercise. As, however, the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature, and are due to the agency of the Spirit, sanctification does not cease to be supernatural, or a work of grace, because the soul is active and cooperating in the process. (3.215).

There are several important ideas in Hodge’s summary. First, he affirms that sanctification is a work of supernatural grace. It is not something that comes from us or could be accomplished by us. Second, he suggests that the soul is passive (monergism) in regeneration, but not in the rest of our spiritual life (note: by “conversion” he means our turning to Christ not the new birth). Third, he does not hesitate to use the language of cooperation. We are active in the sanctifying process with Christ as he works in us.

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

More than Hodge, and more like Calvin, Bavinck emphasizes the “in Christ” nature of sanctification. He wants us to see that we are not “sanctified by a holiness we bring out ourselves.” Rather, evangelical sanctification “consists in the reality that in Christ God grants us, along with righteousness, also complete holiness, and does not just impute it but also inwardly imparts it by the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit until we have been fully conformed to the image of his Son” (Reformed Dogmatics, 4.248). Bavinck goes on to say that Rome’s doctrine of “‘infused righteousness’ is not incorrect as such.” Believers “do indeed obtain the righteousness of Christ by infusion.” The problem is that Rome makes this infused righteousness that ground for forgiveness. We are given the gift of righteousness (by which Christ “comes to dwell in us by his Spirit and renews us after his image”), but only as we are also declared righteous by the gift of an imputed righteousness (4.249).

Sanctification, for Bavinck, is first of all what God does in and for us. But that’s not all we must say about sanctification.

Granted, in the first place [sanctification] is a work and gift of God (Phil. 1:5; 1 Thess. 5:23), a process in which humans are passive just as they are in regeneration, of which it is the continuation. But based on this work of God in humans, it acquires, in the second place, an active meaning, and people themselves are called and equipped to sanctify themselves and devote their whole life to God (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:3; Heb. 12:14; and so forth). (4.253)

While Bavinck may be more willing to stress the passive nature of sanctification rather than use the language of cooperation, in the end he hits the same themes we have seen in Calvin, Turretin, a Brakel, and Hodge. Bavinck sees no conflict “between this all-encompassing activity of God in grace and the self-agency of people maintained alongside of it” (4.254). He warns that Christians go off the rails when they sacrifice “one group of pronouncements to the other.” Sanctification is a gift from God, and we are active in it.

Louis Berkhof (1873-1857)

We see in Berkhof the same tendency to guard against any notions of self-helpism on the one hand and human inactivity on the other.

[Sanctification] is a supernatural work of God. Some have the mistaken notion that sanctification consists merely in the drawing out of the 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. (Systematic Theology, 532).

In other words, sanctification is essentially a work of God. But it is also “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 prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. (534)


So what do we see in this short survey of Reformed theologians. For starters, we do not see the exact language of monergism or synergism applied to sanctification.

Second, we see that, given the right qualifications, either term could be used with merit. “Monergism” can work because sanctification is God’s gift, his supernatural work in us. “Synergism” can also work because because we cooperate with God in sanctification and actively make an effort to grow in godliness.

Third, we see in this Reformed survey the need to be careful with our words. For example, “passive” can describe our role in sanctification, but only if we also say there is a sense in which we are active. Likewise, we can use the language of cooperation as long as we understand that sanctification does not depend ultimately on us.

And if all this is confusing, you can simply say: we work out our sanctification as God works in us (Phil. 2:12-12). Those are the two truths we must protect: the gift of God in sanctification and the activity of man. We pursue the gift, is how John Webster puts it. I act the miracle, is Piper’s phrase. Both are saying the same thing: God sanctifies us and we also sanctify ourselves. With the right qualifications and definitions, I believe Calvin, Turretin, A Brakel, Hodge, Bavinck, and Berkhof would heartily agree.

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84 thoughts on “Is Sanctification Monergistic or Synergistic? A Reformed Survey”

  1. brad dickey says:

    The biggest problem in this discussion is deciding when you are regenerated. Which, for the record, you’ll never know, only God can judge that.

    Romans 6:22 gives me a suggestion that I find matches up well with the rest of scripture.

    Now that you have been freed from sin (atonement/saved)

    And enslaved to God, (vs 16 above shows this is “obedient to God” and that it’s a past tense obedient, not an ongoing process.)

    You receive a benefit (some say Spirit, or 1 j 4:16-18 love, I say it’s the same. 1 peter 1:22 seems to support that thought.)

    The benefit leads to Sanctification…. and that to eternal life.

    So, most people I talk to, would say you are sanctified at atonement/salvation/SAVED. But this suggests Sanctification comes after a benefit. That’s a benefit you received after obedience which was after salvation. Surely you wouldn’t suggest you become obedient of God TO BE saved would you? So this verse shows a progressive order to Sanctification.

    The word Sanctification simply means set apart. It’s used in the NT in different ways. In other words, if you see the word Sanctification it may not be the same meaning as the last time you saw it.

    When you are saved, God sets you apart, in His perception.

    When you are a mature Xian you are MADE different. HE renews your mind and heart. Not YOU renew your mind and heart for Him.

    Now, surely you don’t sit on your posterior and watch it happen. If you accept that sanctification is something that occurs AFTER salvation, AND that when you are saved you are set apart, the only issue is to decide what is the difference in being perceived apart, and being made apart. What does that look like?

    I have to admit, I’ve never met a fellow Xian that didn’t claim they WERE mature, (at least not if it wasn’t false humility). We’d all like to claim we are it. What does it look like in Scripture?

    1 John gets all into this. But stick to 1 John 4:16-18. In this verse you see that if you do not love correctly, God isn’t in you and you aren’t in God. It seems the LOVE is the mature look. Not just warm fuzzy warm feeling “I love you” love, but Agapao love.

    Sigh another definition. Agapao is a word used for an emotion, good or bad, that is demonstrated with action. RAPE would be one of the forms of Agapao. (see septuagint) You can agapao evil things. And what does OUR Agapao look like? Christ describes some examples in the last parable of matt 25. Paul addresses it in Gal 5:6 (the most important theological debate of Paul’s days) was not important but FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE.

    So, how do we learn to love correctly? I’d say first we admit it’s HIM that does the changing, but realize WE will do all the work. Then we get our kiesters in gear and start making the attempts to do those loving works we were saved to do. They don’t save you, you are already saved. They mature you. As we do those works/demonstrations of love, undoubtedly, not being mature, we’ll screw up. By being in motion, God leads us to the right way. Gal 5:18. (Word for lead there, ago, is like leading a horse or camel by reins/rope/leash) It’s an organic process that you work at, but he orchestrates.

    Same as you can’t learn to bat from the unnatural side of the plate by reading a book, you have to practice over and over and over, and the change is natural and slow and gradual and not really noticeable as it occurs within you.

    In Ephesians 4, says the church leaders are to prepare the people for…

    works of service….

    which bring unity and knowledge of Christ as well as make us a perfect person. (Means complete, or finished, we’ll say MATURE or made different heart and mind…)

    How mature?

    It goes on to say as mature as Christ.

    If Jesus’ spiritual maturity was measured in a glass,

    our glass would be JUST as full, not less.

    AND, our glass would be the same size as Him.

    AND IN CASE someone still wants to say Nu UH! Paul adds to the full and complete measure of maturity of Jesus.

    Now those are some highlight spots in the discussion. I could go on, but it’s not my venue…

    Salvation can only be done by God.

    Sanctification/MADE not perceived different is something GOD does through you as you work your butt off.

    Salvation pure monergism.
    Maturity is all synergism. Example, who parted the red sea, God or Moses?


  2. David Randall says:

    Someone has already pointed out that we must define what we mean by sanctification. To decide if sanctification is monergistic or synergistic we also have to be very precise in what we mean by “monergistic”. A strictly literal definition of monergistic is that which results from a single worker. If I allow you to pick wild mushrooms on my land, the soup you make from them is monergistic in this sense even though my permission was a cooperating cause for this to take place. This is true because my cooperation required no work on my part. In fact I cooperated specifically by doing NOTHING. That is, offering no resistance to your picking the mushrooms and not helping you pick them. By this strict definition Jacobus Arminius believed that salvation was monergistic. That is, salvation results from the abandoning of all effort; both our efforts to resist God and also any effort to accomplish our own salvation. We do no work to be saved. However, most monergists would not allow for a definition of monergism that would include Arminius’ view. To be a monergist in the common sense of the term is to deny any causal role to any creature. This would be the monergism of Edwards in his “Freedom of the Will”, which is foundational to most monergistic theology. But Edwards’ definition of the freedom of the will is not only about salvation, and not even just about choices in general; it is about EVERYTHING. By the law of cause and effect all things are determined by the only first cause, which is God. Therefore if by monergism we mean the monergism of Edwards then everything is a monergistic work of God. This includes salvation, sanctification, what I have for breakfast, and how many raindrops fall from the clouds today. If anything is monergistic, everything must be monergistic by this definition.

    So what about the case for synergistic sanctification because our cooperation is needed as a secondary cause? If you are a monergist with regard to salvation, this is an equivocation, since salvation also involves hearing the gospel and our willing faith as secondary causes, even by Edwards’ definition of free will. What cooks the goose, cooks the gander. If sanctification is synergistic because the will is somehow involved, then so is salvation. On the other hand if salvation is monergistic because God must be the first cause of everything, then obviously sanctification must also be monergistic. One may choose either the narrower or the broader definition of monergism/synergism, but whichever is chosen it needs to be applied consistently in the same discussion. One can say the salvation is monergistic in ONE sense, and that sanctification is synergistic in ANOTHER sense. But you cannot say that one is monergistic and the other is not in the SAME sense.

  3. Tim Locke says:

    I like the article…but…I think we’re missing each other when we talk about this subject. Those of us for sanctification as monergistic don’t mean “let go and let God.” We focus on the how of putting off the flesh. Do we put off the flesh by focusing on the putting off or by focusing on putting on Christ? So many Reformed men have merely adopted a Reformed version of the higher life movement or the entire sanctification models…the victorious life movement. We follow a model of sanctification that urges believers to spend their energy focusing on the indicatives of Christ’s work so that a heart of love and gratitude will fuel a genuine repentance…rather than a new moralistic renewal program of putting off sin that is nothing but “fruit stapling” (Paul David Tripp). Yes…the believer is active…but where is his primary activity? Trying to keep the law or loving the law giver? Trying to stop particular evident sins or having a heart captured by the Father’s love and grace? This to me is the main argument we continue (DeYoung continues) to miss.

  4. Brad Dickey says:

    I usually don’t do this…
    which is what you say just before you do something you know you shouldn’t do…..

    The best example I have of mono/syner is this…

    Who parted the Red Sea, Moses or God?

    If Moses what other magic tricks could he do and why did HE need God?

    If God, why did Moses have to do any work at all? magic stick over the head.

    In terms of sanctification, I think it’s problematic that the word is used as if it were just one thing. As if you could search sanctification and get all the verses on the topic. The ark of the covenant and several altars were sanctified. The word means set apart.

    How many different sanctifications are there in one believer’s walk? At atonement, or “salvation” whatever that means in reality, the believer is sanctified and set apart by God vs judgement.

    However, that’s the way God looks upon them for sin penalty purposes. SOME PEOPLE think that is all it is. It stops there. The whole story is about saving our sorry, unrepentant, worthless butts from a Hell that GOD in His Fascist power imposes on us. I’m sorry, but the whole fire and brimstone/way of the master thing distorts the truth of the Gospel beyond recognition for some. THERE IS MORE THAN SALVATIOn.

    Christ is the gate is what scripture says. He opened the door. Through the door the “race” paul discusses begins.

    There is a part you are MADE to be apart. Remade! The remake is apart by nature. Not just “position”, “wink wink nudge nudge vs Judgement”, or some other title or phrase that is appointed to you. Your heart is changed. Your mind is changed. The way your life is lived literally changes. It’s Xian maturity. Scripture says AS mature as Christ was on earth. Most will deny that can happen. Scripture says it does.

    But it won’t if you don’t let Him change you. THUS blessed are the poor, dependent,beggared, in Spirit. The ones who realize they can’t do crap, and give up, and lean/fully dependent on Him.

    He will change you through your works, or when you apply His will to the World.

    As long as people read all the verses as SALVIFIC only, and deny the maturation part, they will confuse verses written for different concepts as the same concept, and it will be further screwed up.

  5. George May says:

    Thank you for your stimulating article.

    My thought on “sanctification” is to see both terms used to give me an intellectual perspective on what happens to me when I keep my eyes on Jesus and His righteousness.

    Like Peter, when he walked on the water, he did well when he walked straight out to meet him. When he shifted his eyes onto the water on which he was walking he started to sink. The good news for him was to find Jesus right there to keep him from drowning.

    So too my life in Christ by His Spirit. When I’m taking Justification seriously, i.e., the fact of forgiveness grounded in Christ’s righteousness, I’m actively “walking on water.” When I forget, because of my seeing my circumstances, resulting in momentary despair,His Spirit reminds me I’m forgiven.

  6. Brad Dickey says:

    I’m sorry to pop back in-(what you say when you really aren’t sorry but know you are being a pain).

    But, what is Sanctification? Some people think you are sanctified the moment you are “saved”. Some people think it’s an ongoing process that ends post mortem. Some people think it occurs on earth before you die, that He will finish what He started.

    As it stands, I read through here and see all these comments on the same concept, and many of them aren’t even discussing the same thing. I think the best article you could do is what is sanctification. AND THEN, you’ll start WWII because no good “Christian” will allow their views to be shaken! :) And since no one will agree on what it is, some engaging exploration would / should occur.

    Let a little iron rub on iron, be challenged, use our spiritual gifts of Agitation… (Iron rubbing on Iron..)

    My opinion, and it’s free-but only worth half that, is the word doesn’t mean the same thing every time you need context. You are sanctified when you are atoned for. That is God picks you up and sets you in another line for judgement. But, your person is still the same corrupted pile of skubalon it always has been. However, it has entered a race, a journey to be changed.

    When that change is completed, you have been MADE to be different. This is a finished state of Spiritual maturity. You are no longer simply looked at differently, you are actually made to be different.

    Thoughts to consider,….,….,….
    * God removes the stone heart and gives you a softer heart, a living heart.
    * Paul’s comments on milk/vs meat. Both were “saved” but one was definitely more mature. (Wesleyans would see a big change, most other Protestants see that as a matter of knowledge, which isn’t a change at all.)
    * John’s comments on walking in the light AS HE DOES with no darkness, vs those still walking with Darkness approaching the fellowship found when you walk in the light as He does. (1j 1:3-8)
    * Rom 8:9 indwelled by the Spirit OR still in the flesh. we are only one, not both, nor bouncing back and forth.
    * The Mature believer, is as Spiritually Mature as Jesus was on Earth. That’s the claim in Eph 4. It’s corroborated with John and Jesus in specific places as well. Most churches I’ve known, would claim it a heresy to suggest someone who is merely human, could be as Spiritually mature as Jesus. And yet, unequivocally, that is the claim by Paul.

    This is a change.
    Atonement alone, is where God “looks and judges you as if you were changed.”

    People who are taught hellfire and brimstone “you must be saved” theology, often don’t even know there is a maturation part of the plan. Therefore the maturation verses and the salvation verses are all run together causing mass chaos. You have to really get creative to take every place that “sanctification” is used, and make them give a consistent message.

    You are sanctified (set apart) at atonement. “salvation”
    You are Sanctified (made new) when that heart is fully replaced and the change made complete.

    Since GOD does the changing, I trust he can do as promised and deliver, IF I run the race before me.

    And that race is the really fun conversation. I’ll really try to stop here. This is just a topic I’m passionate about, and the comments get me fired up.

  7. REGENERATION imparts eternal life and is monergistic – an act of God alone. (Ephesians 2:1)

    POSITIONAL SANCTIFICATION is monergistic via the covenantal work of salvation performed by God on our behalf. (Jude 1:1)

    ETHICAL SANCTIFICATION is synergistic as it involves the human will and human effort working in conjunction with the Spirit of God. (II Peter 1:5)

    Failure to distinguish between one’s legal or positional sanctification (“set-apart-ed-ness” by covenant if you will) and our personal sanctification in obedient discipleship (“come out from among them and be ye separated-ness” by personal obedience) only serves to greatly confound the issue.

    Stated more plainly, our eternal salvation is a monergistic work of God, but our obedient discipleship is a synergistic work involving the will of both God and Man.

  8. “Those who say sanctification is monergistic want to protect the gracious, supernatural character of sanctification. Those who say sanctification is synergistic want to emphasize that we must actively cooperated with the grace in sanctification. These emphases are both correct.” (Kevin DeYoung)

    To say that “these emphases are both correct” is to affirm that only one of them is correct, because if our ETHICAL sanctification is synergistic (involving our willing obedience to God) then it is in NO SENSE monergistic. The moment there is the work of more than one involved, then it is no more the work of one.

    At the end of the day our ETHICAL (or PRACTICAL) sanctification is a synergistic work; but the LEGAL (or POSITIONAL) sanctification that Christ accomplished on our behalf was a monergistic work which was established in election and wrought by the obedience of “one.” (Romans 5:19)

  9. brad says:

    ears, that’s only true, if Christ came to save us and nothing else…. Salvation isn’t even the most important reason He came to us.

    If you think it’s all about salvation, then every where you look you think you see salvific comments.

    Paul said you had perfect and imperfect believers. He also mentioned that they might be milk or meat believers. And that they might be walk in the spirit, and not yet walking in the spirit. Spirit indwelling and not yet indwelling, and other examples.


    You are put on earth to be developed into a tool God uses to love his children and his enemies. When you love the least of those, even, you are loving God. When you love them, God’s love is through you to them, and their love is back to you, for God. You get a double dosage of love. Thus His burden is light. In fact it’s a pleasure.

    There are several reasons Christ came to us on earth. Salvation is only the most selfish, self serving reason.

    You are also to grow up, and be complete, or mature, or perfect defending on how you want to define that word…

    Many of the verses you are thinking about in your previous two posts, are mixing salvific and maturation verses together for salvific claims.

    You are sanctified as in set apart when you are “saved” whatever that cliche means.

    You are sanctified again, in a different way, when you are mature and are completely changed.

    Those are two different events. Both are appropriately using sanctification.

    Context context context.

  10. David Randall says:

    It is clear that this can only be an issue for those in the reformed camp. Obviously those who believe in prevenient grace (the grace of God that is necessary for salvation, but is enabling rather than compelling) see sanctification as synergistic. Note many who believe this way still consider themselves monergistic with regard to salvation, since they do in fact believe that God does all the work (the “erg” in monergism); they merely consent to the process. Obviously the strongly reformed would not concede this, but to some extent words always mean only what we mean by them.
    However for the reformed, whether one believes sanctification is monergistic or synergistic depends on why one believes that regeneration/salvation is monergistic. If one believes in monergistic salvation based primarily on God’s sovereignty over all things, then obviously this demands that sanctification is equally monergistic. An example would be Jonathan Edwards (see “Freedom of the Will”, in which we are only “free” to inexorably follow inclinations that are wholly beyond our control). If the nature of the will is as Edwards conceives it, “synergism” in ANYTHING is illogical. Even God’s will only follows His innate inclinations (which fortunately for us, are good). Contemporary examples would be R.C. Sproul Jr., and possibly John Piper. It is a bit hard to tell with Piper since he sometimes equivocates to put a more palatable spin on his views for those who don’t share them. R.C. Jr. seldom if ever equivocates (see “Almighty Over All”). This presupposition is also found on As I said this view of sovereignty cannot logically lead anywhere else than “universal monergism”, i.e. absolutely every action is monergistically caused by God. In this it is a wholly consistent view of grace as a compelling work in all its operations. Another contemporary example (but of an entirely different bent in most respects) is Steve Brown. He frequently encourages his listeners that they shouldn’t sweat the problem of sin in their lives. When God decides to rid us of a sin, it will just happen without our effort, and until then all our striving is in vain.
    On the other hand there are those among the reformed who believe in monergism with regard to salvation based solely on the radical effects of the fall. Once these effects are monergistically overcome by sovereign grace, we have freedom to cooperate in the process of sanctification. With this view sanctification is easily seen as synergistic. Bear in mind that the “syn” in synergism still requires God’s work. If it were our work it would still be “monergistic”, but all our work, not God’s. Though many holding this view would be loath to admit it, their view of sanctification is identical to the Arminian/Remonstrant view. They are also much closer to the Remonstrant view of regeneration than to the strongly reformed. Both see the effects of the fall in the same way, and both maintain that God must do a work of grace before faith is possible. Both see God’s grace as absolutely necessary for sanctification. Neither see God’s sovereignty as requiring His meticulous and deterministic control of everything. They differ only in that the Remonstrants saw this grace as enabling rather than compelling. In this the Remonstrant has a somewhat more consistent view of grace as a necessary and enabling (but not compelling) in its work.

  11. Kevin Schoonhoven says:

    On page 98 of her book “Extravagant Grace” Barbara Duguid denies that sanctification is a cooperative effort. Do you agree with her?

  12. Brad says:


    If you think Sanctification is solely when you are saved, then it’s not cooperative. God alone can save you. But thinking GOD’S sole expectation is to save us, is pretty narcissistic and self important.

    Sanctification is just a word that means set apart. At salvation God sees you as apart. Grace.

    However there is an ongoing process, Hebrews 11 or 12 discusses training, or discipline is usually the chosen word. Eph 4:11-17 shows that through WORKS led by the church ALL THE MEMBERS (the individuals) will be brought to a point that they are as mature as Jesus the Christ was on Earth, Spiritually at least.

    That’s not something that happens at “salvation” That’s the growth that BEGINS with Salvation.

    Rom 6:22 I think talks about first you are given atonement, then you become a slave to God/obedient, from that you receive a benefit that leads to sanctification.

    Now, ATONEMENT is what most folks think it’s all about. The rest of that verse is pointless to them. HOWEVER, it says you go on after that, to a more complete role. In other words instead of looking at you as changed, He actually changes you.

  13. d says:

    According to sanctification, if you mean that synergism is true which defined is two co equal partners working together to produce a result that is great then both, I strongly disagree. We do not co work with God, God works in us His will. At best we are sub workers. Subordinate to the All Powerful. The commandments of God are meant to reveal sin and helplessness which in turn should drive us to the Cross and Blood of Jesus for help. One Christians said that all our Christians works are still filthy unrighteousness deserving of hell. We are to do the work of God which is only to believe in Christ which is to yield and abide in Him, then His power is given and God works mighty things.

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  15. Bill says:

    Interest article, I think the lutheran confessions do a great job of clarifying. For me personally it is monergistic. Even though the lutheran confessions indicate that man cooperates in sanctification, and Luther said the same. But the key here is how we cooperate, scripture says clearly that we will because God wills in us. And so both Luther in the bondage of the will and the lutheran confessions explicitly say that if by cooperation we understand two horses pulling from a chariot (one is God, the other one man) and both cooperate equally we got it all wrong. Now if by cooperation we understand a horse that cooperates with the rider, the get it right. God is the rider and the christian is like a horse ridden by God. Luther in the bondage of the will mentions the difference of believer and unbeliever as two horses, one ridden by Satan and the other ridden by God. So for me even though we can speak of sanctification in terms of cooperation, it is clear that is monergistic based on the analogy of the two horses.

  16. Bill says:

    Further to my comment just a few minutes ago, here’s a lutheran link that explains that sanctification is monergistic every bit as much as coming to faith and justification. No difference there. it talks about the two horse analogy as well which is used in the lutheran confession and by Luther in his book the bondage of the will.

  17. Bill says:

    Sorry forgot to copy the link, here it is.

  18. […] Trackback […]

  19. I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well written!

  20. Dumbo says:

    To make this matter simple, a Christian’s will is active in obeying Jesus’ commandments. Any thought system that says let go and let God in obedience is unbiblical. We know we are being sanctified when we find ourselves more able to resist, reject and overcome our passions, instincts, and thoughts that make us disobey.

  21. Bill says:

    Dumbo, no. This kind of works righteousness that you advocate is destroying the reformed faith. I don’t care whether you say it’s because of grace (roman catholics say the same) or not, but every time you bring works into the equation you are contradicting the article of justification by grace through faith. Your assurance of sanctification can not possibly based on works, because the only guy I know in the bible who sought assurance of sanctification in his works is the pharisee of Luke 18:9-14 . I don’t care if you give credit to God or not for your works, the pharisee gave credit to God and still was not justified, why because he gave credit to God for his own works. Grace is the forgiveness of sin, it’s about Christ’s works, never, never our own works.

  22. David says:

    Bill, my understanding of Dumbo’s comment is rather different from yours. I find nowhere that he’s advocating a works righteousness, rather a simple, er… what we programmers would call a “sniff test.”
    I’ve employed similar ones myself sometimes. For example, and again, this is a simple example… but unbelievers hate God and are against the things of God, but I love the things of God. I see God’s awesome works in things great and small and I just praise Him and love Him even more. This resonates with me that I’m saved, I’m His child, I’m a believer, because my first thoughts would not be praising God if I were reprobate.
    I also don’t see that the Pharisee gave credit to God, he simply thanked God that he was not like other men. Specifically scripture says that “9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:”
    As we mature (the points on maturity were made earlier) and grow more Christ-like, we *should* be more and more resistant to temptation and sin. We are more “in tune” with the Spirit, my mind is more like my Master, etc. And, for example, if I can more and more resist recurring sin–even by so simple a measure as days on a calendar, I can think of myself as growing in grace and being more sanctified. There’s a dynamic tension in scripture and humans aren’t comfortable with that, that’s true. But it’s also true that I should never be fooled into thinking it was me and my efforts alone that did it.
    Hopefully that made sense and added to the understanding, not the confusion.

  23. Hasim Hodzic says:

    If anyone be in Christ he IS a new creation and as such sanctification is inevitable. The new creation naturally cooperates with God in the oneness being formed by the Spirit. Grater is He that is in me then he that is in the world. Any resistance by the residual sin nature is dealt with by The Father. Those He loves He also disciplines. All who are chosen are called and all who are called will be saved. No doubt about it, you can know with confidence that you are a child of God…

  24. Nathan Jarrett says:

    This was helpful. I was really trying to gauge what it means to cooperate with sanctification from a Reformed standpoint. My pastor has taught from Galatians that Paul told the church to grow the same way they are saved– by faith. But at the same time, my pastor also stresses that we have work to do to move towards holiness–that we cannot sanctify ourselves, but we can walk in faith and obedience in the direction God calls us to go. Or, in contrast, we can not obey and slow our growth. I really felt like the two teachings were not consistent, especially considering the Monergistic view of salvation. I still plan to think on this more, but you have indeed given me a new way of thinking about it.

  25. John Tan says:

    I notice that you draw heavily on Calvinist viewpoint and didn’t really explore much on the classical Arminian viewpoint (Note that Limborch is not considered classical Arminian) like Arminus, Simon Episcopius, John Wesley, etc. The view point from the other side admits that Humans by nature is totally depraved as well and without the grace of God, they can’t be saved. But after the grace of God unlocks the person, they can exercise free will not under the influence of Sin for the first time and they can now choose whether to accept the grace of God for salvation or otherwise, that is the synergistic approach to salvation in essence.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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