Is Sanctification Monergistic or Synergistic?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Is Sanctification Monergistic or Synergistic?

Answer: The Bible has a lot to say about sanctification. Sometimes it appears to be a work of God alone... and under those conditions, it seems like it is monergistic. But at other times, it looks as if we cooperate with the sanctification process, and at those times it seems to be synergistic. So, your question is well-taken: which is it?

It’s both! In fact, there are three types of sanctification... two of which are monergistic and one of which is synergistic. So the trick is to always know which type we are talking about and when. Fortunately, the biblical context usually makes this plain.

For instance, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 shows that we are positionally sanctified. That’s the first of our three types. Here, it is monergistic... and at this point, there is no real difference between our justification and our sanctification.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31, ESV, emphases mine)

Note in the above passage that the beginning of our sanctification was all on God. He called us and chose us to be “in Christ” ... and by the word “in,” we see that both our salvation and sanctification are positional. But also, Hebrews 10:10 nails this concept down by telling us that our sanctification was something done “to” us (“have been sanctified”) ... and that it was done once and for all.

“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10, ESV, emphases mine)

Now... that’s all well and good... but it should come as no surprise that we positionally sanctified Christians still sin (1 John 1:10). So, sanctification wears another hat... but one in which we cooperate with God in the process of becoming holy. And because this is an ongoing (as opposed to a once-and-for-all) type of enterprise, we sometimes call this “experiential sanctification” and we sometimes call it “progressive sanctification.”

Progressive sanctification is simply growing in the Lord (2 Peter 3:18)... and the “growing” part is on us. That’s what makes this type synergistic. We can only grow by cooperating with God’s Spirit, and the Scripture is clear that we have work to do here (1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14). It is also clear that there is a process in which we are “being sanctified.”

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14, ESV, emphasis mine)

The third type of sanctification is our glorification... and again... this one’s all on God. This is the completion of our sanctification so it’s sometimes called “ultimate sanctification.” The following verses describe that final state, and since this is something done “to” us (and in spite of us!), this final state is monergistic too.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV)

“When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4, ESV)

I pray that this helped. The Got Questions Ministries article on sanctification contains a short video that explains these issues very clearly. I’d encourage you to watch it and to share it with your friends. Find it at the following link:

https://www.gotquestions.org/sanctification.html

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20191223 Is our sanctification monergistic or synergistic?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)