Synergism as a Model for God’s Glory

Several common accusations we hear from Calvinists are that a Synergistic view of faith (as opposed to regeneration) ‘robs God of the glory.’ “It’s man-centered,” they say, “and gives man room to boast in saving himself!” But does such logic really stand up to scripture? Let’s take a look at another important aspect of salvation: sanctification.

Is Sanctification Synergistic?

One of the most effective arguments Ben and I have ever employed against the idea of exhaustive determinism (the belief that there is no real libertarian free will/contrary choice of any kind) comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 10,

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God is faithful, and with each temptation He makes a way of escape so that we can endure it rather than yield to it. Yet if we do fall into sin, and that sin was predetermined (as it must be in exhaustive determinism), then the only possible conclusion is that God allows us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure, contrary to the scriptures. We have yet to hear a tenable defense against it by any of the hard determinists we’ve spoken to. This and other passages on the subject haven’t escaped the notice of quite a few Calvinists. John Hendryx, one of the foremost defenders of Monergism declares,

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. (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/questions/sanctification01.html)

But if sanctification is synergistic, then this raises the question….

Does Our Sanctification Glorify God?

Absolutely. In John 15, Jesus declares to His disciples,

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:8 )

This raises obvious difficulties for the standard Calvinist arguments against Synergistic faith: How does Synergistic faith somehow rob God of the glory, while Synergistic sanctification brings Him glory? Are we now to label sanctification as ‘man-centered?’ Why would Synergistic faith give us reason to boast in our salvation, but Synergistic sanctification not give us reason to boast in our holiness? Why is Synergistic faith not ‘of the the Lord,’ yet Synergistic sanctification obviously is? Suddenly, the arguments against Synergism don’t sound so clever, and the four-hundred year effort at producing a craftily-worded smear campaign starts to ring very hollow. Hendryx attempts to salvage the Calvinist case,

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. (Ibid.)

Yet the Synergistic view of faith is that one can only believe through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, for the heart of man is hopelessly lost due to his fallen nature apart from grace. It’s true that we believe that grace is resistible, but this does not rob God of the glory, for the work of the Spirit in sanctification is likewise resistible – else we could never sin. Yet any holiness worked in us cannot be ascribed to he who complies with the Spirit, but to He who supplies the Spirit (Galatians 3:5). Jesus said,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Using a similar analogy, Paul adds in Romans 11 that we are not even to boast against the branches that were cut off from the root [Christ], for we do not support Him, but He supports us! God’s grace is the beginning, sustainment, and completion of our salvation and sanctification. Free though he is to choose between God and himself, man is powerless on his own. He then has no reason to think himself focal, no right in claiming glory for his redemption or holiness, and no room to boast in what God has freely supplied him with. Without the grace of God, we truly are nothing, and this Synergist saved by grace can only reply, Sola Deo Gloria!

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14 Responses

  1. yada yada yada

    tackle this verse:

    Heb 6:3 And this we will do if God permits.

  2. michael,

    If you are not willing to interact with the material of the post (e.g. yada yada yada) then don’t expect any of us to interact with you.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Dear Ben:

    You make excellent points against the arguments of those who argue for a monergistic regeneration and a synergistic sanctification.

    As you know, I am a Calvinist. Yet, I do not subscribe to the type of “monergism” that is promoted by the Hypers who promote the “born again before faith” view and who equate this with “monergistic regeneration.”

    Blessings,

    Stephen

  4. That should be

    Dear J. C.

    Stephen

  5. Insightful post, thanks for sharing your work.

    Blessings,

    Steve

  6. Hey Stephen (and Steve as well), nice to hear from you. Bob Ross also teaches Calvinism without the regeneration prior to faith, doesn’t he?

  7. @Michael – I believe Heb 6:3 says “permits”, not “foreordains” or “determines”. And you are using this verse to argue for determinism? Odd, it sounded like a case for Arminianism to me.

  8. “God is faithful, and with each temptation He makes a way of escape so that we can endure it rather than yield to it. Yet if we do fall into sin, and that sin was predetermined (as it must be in exhaustive determinism), then the only possible conclusion is that God allows us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure, contrary to the scriptures”

    Your main problem here is that you need to understand the distinction between what Joanthan Edward calls “natural will” and “moral will”.

    Read his book, “On the Freedom of the Will”.

  9. Frank, sorry, I don’t buy into the “multiple [contradictory] wills of God theory.” Really, that issue has nothing to do with the problem that the theology of Edwards and his ilk runs into: It wouldn’t really matter if “another will did it,” their theology dictates that all sin is irresistibly and unconditionally caused by God, while the scriptures claim the opposite in declaring that He gives us a way of escape from temptation.

  10. J.C.,

    I think you misunderstood Frank’s comment. I don’t think he was speaking of God’s contradictory will, but our will. It’s the old, “you could choose it if you wanted to (you have the “natural” ability”), but you would never want to” (you do not have the “moral ability”). On this bizarre nonsense Edwards grounds accountability. Even though it is impossible for us to make a right moral choice, God holds us accountable since we have the “natural” ability to “choose” (just not choose that). It boils down to: “It would be possible if it weren’t impossible, and since it would be possible if it weren’t impossible, God rightly holds you accountable for the impossible.” Awesome philosophy. Of course, one would also have to demonstrate that our moral ability to choose is not also a “natural” part of our make-up, instead of just assuming and asserting it. Much more could be said on that (Daniel Whedon destroys this ridiculous theory in his book “Freedom of the Will”; I suggest Frank read that).

    However, such a distinction cannot help with 1 Cor. 10:13, even if it did make some sense (which it doesn’t) since 1 Cor. 10:13 is addressing Christians who have the moral ability to obey based on the indwelling Holy Spirit and based on God’s own promise in the passage that they can endure the temptation- certainly a matter of moral ability.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. Thanks for the clarification Ben. Quite true, the whole “It would be possible if it weren’t impossible…” type of argument trips over itself right out of the gate, as that premise itself is a tacit denial of what 1 Cor 10:13 directly states.

  12. Yes, Whedon spends four whole chapters dismatling Edwards’ notion of natural vs. moral ability (pp. 239-66). For a more succinct treatment, here are some comments from Ransom Dunn, “A DISCOURSE ON THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL” (http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/209):

    “It has been said that responsibility rests upon natural, not moral ability. But Edwards himself tells us that the difference between natural and moral ability does not consist in the nature of the necessity, but simply in the terms thus related. Moral necessity referring to volitions and their cause, motives; and natural necessity, to the connection between physical causes and their effects. Natural and moral ability and inability differ then only in the same way. Natural inability, is inability to do what we will; moral inability, an inability to will. There is no difference in the necessity. The one is as fatal as the other, and implies as little responsibility. Now, either. there is, or there is not any occasion for this distinction between natural and moral ability. If there is not such occasion, and if volition is necessary, then the same fatal necessity pervades alike the whole universe; and there is as much responsibility resting upon the physical as the moral world. But, if there is an occasion for such distinction, then, to base moral obligation upon natural or physical ability, is as inconsistent as to require a man naturally blind to see, because, forsooth, he could hear-or to require a man to move an arm which he never possessed, because he has a foot. If a man is not the cause of his own volitions, and in that sense possessed of moral ability, he cannot be responsible. Moral responsibility cannot rest upon natural ability.”

  13. @Stephen Garret: I urge you to continue thinking on the subject of regeneration and what it means. This subject unraveled a lot of things for me on the order of salvation and election. I am now calling myself a Classical Arminian. I understand how you are thinking that regeneration might not be necessary to Calvinism because I use to wonder the same thing. However, this is exactly the point this post is making about Calvinist criterion. True Calvinists would say full regeneration is necessary before faith because people are totally depraved. If you understand the error in this because you recognize that the Bible talks about conviction and drawing of the Holy Spirit, not regeneration, then you have realized the Classical Arminian doctrine of Prevenient Grace. God’s grace, applied through the Holy Spirit and His normal means of operation (the gospel), draws the sinner and convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment in order that the sinner may believe (not irresistibly change them before they believe).

  14. Reblogged this on The Pilgrim.

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