"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Sola Gratia - Grace Alone | Main | Gospel-Driven: Good News People in a Bad News World by Michael Horton »

    Are Faith, Repentance and Sanctification Synergistic?

    Visitor: I think that conversion and regeneration are mongergistic; but is repentance synergistic, and faith synergistic; is sanctification synergistic?

    Response: In a manner of speaking yes. One could say that technically only regeneration is monergistic. This is because it is the only grace God gives us when we are utterly passive, or even hostile to Him. We do not cooperate with God to be regenerated. He regenerates us and, as a consequence of our new heart and the Spirit living in us, we most willingly cooperate. And, like you appear to conclude in your question, it is we, and not God, who actually exercise faith and repentance. Yet, I must admit that I am uncomfortable with the word "synergism" when applying it to faith, repentance and sanctification. This may perhaps be an improper word since these things effectually arise from a renewed heart. We are already redeemed so we are not working toward salvation, but rather, working from out of our salvation. We therefore no longer work in the sense that we are striving to earn anything redemptively. That is already a fait accompli. Our work is, rather, the inevitable outworking of our adoption as sons who are no longer slaves. We work from thankful hearts that spring forth from our new nature which God himself has given us. Having been regenerated, our own work never maintains our just standing before God. Christ has already proved sufficient for this and having joined us to Himself has given us rest from our work (read Heb 4).

    Hope this helps

    Posted by John on May 5, 2009 11:12 AM


    Your post nicely opens up the subtle but significant and important distinction between Luther and Calvin on the life of the Christian.
    You say that God “regenerates us and, as a consequence of our new heart and the Spirit living in us, we most willingly cooperate”. This is a view put forward by Calvin; indeed Calvin suggests that the principal use of the Law is to tell the Christian how he can behave in order to please his God. This view suggests that Romans 7 (the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing) must be the pre-Christian or sub-Christian experience and that on conversion we move on from there to the Romans 8 Christian experience.
    By contrast, Luther stresses that we remain ‘simul justus simul peccator’ – both forgiven and yet still sinners. Romans 7 remains for Luther the tragic but real ongoing experience of the believer – the experience that needs a saviour daily, indeed hourly.
    For Calvin therefore, the law pertains to the regenerate part of the Christian (as well of course acting as the pedagogue for the unregenerate man and for the unregenerate society). For Luther on the other hand, the law pertains to the unregenerate part of the Christian, to the part of him that would break away, and therefore to the part of the Christian that needs corralling back to the source of light, in the way that a sheepdog brings the sheep back to safety.
    From my own experience (though relevant), I identify more with Luther’s struggling believer than I do with Calvin’s successful, victorious believer. Calvin’s portrait represents the believer as we will one day be, when glorified. But we are not yet glorified, and the world of unbelievers can see that clearly of us.
    I do not think we do ourselves any favours by confusing the ‘now’ with the ‘not yet’ and thereby claiming that we are further on than we really are. This, I suspect, is the error of the Pharisee in Luke 18. He was ready to acknowledge God’s hand in his life (“I thank you Lord that I am not like other men..”). But he confused his only valid standing (as a sinner in continuing need of forgiveness) with his as yet unglorified state (of one truly able to love and serve God).


    Thanks for your thoughts. But I believe you may have Calvin and me confused with someone else. Neither I nor Calvin believe anything even close to how you have portrayed us. Not sure where you received this erroneous understanding of what we believe.

    You quote: "You say that God “regenerates us and, as a consequence of our new heart and the Spirit living in us, we most willingly cooperate. This is a view put forward by Calvin; indeed Calvin suggests that the principal use of the Law is to tell the Christian how he can behave in order to please his God."

    You have misunderstood what this means. If you read any of Calvin or the reformers they flat out reject any Christian perfectionism in this life and indeed fully embrace the same ‘simul justus simul peccator’ as Luther and to the same degree. God has not changed. He still calls us to a holy life but we woefully fall short minute by minute. Christ is our ONLY hope.

    Rather, what is being stated above is that God effectually changes the unregenerate heart to a regenerate one which then believes the gospel ... not perfectly, nor even close to perfect. But it effectually causes our hearts to change that we behold the truth and beauty of Christ and believe.

    In tihs way regeneration is monergistic. But every other aspect of the Christian life is one where we actively participate, striving after holiness, which we often fail.

    IN fact I personally fail every moment to love God with all my heart mind soul and strength. Christ alone has fulfilled this commenad perfectly. So my suggestion is that be more careful when you explain what others believe. Always retell it in a way that they would agree with you - otherwise you may end up twisting the facts.


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