Sanctification by Works?

I have mentioned this in posts and comment threads in the past, but thought I would bring it up in its own post and get some thoughts on it. 

Many Calvinists insist that if there is a synergsitic element in man’s initial salvation (i.e. conversion) then it amounts to salvation by “works”.  Synergism in coversion apparently equals conversion by works.  But what about sanctification?  Many Calvinists say sanctification is synergistic.  Well, doesn’t that mean that sanctification is by works?  Why is synergistic conversion “by works” but synergistic sanctification is not?   I have yet to hear a solid Calvinist response to this question.  Maybe today will be my lucky day.

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17 Responses

  1. I wouldn’t wait up. You shouldn’t leave the light on either.

  2. Hello Ben,

    I believe you have made a valid observation here.

    Many Calvinists argue as if God alone is acting in the salvation process. They are so committed to their so-called *monergism* that in order to be consistent they cannot allow people to be doing ANYTHING in the process of salvation. This leads to two major inconsistencies.

    First, because of their commitment to *monergism* they end up actually arguing just like a cultist who argues that choosing to have faith is a religious work by which we save ourselves. This is most clearly seen when you bring up to a zealot determinist the necessity of faith in order for a person to be justified and bring up the fact that **we have to choose to trust** the Lord for salvation. They then respond that: if faith is a freely made choice that **you** make, then it **must** be something that **you do** (correct), and if it is something that **you do**, then it **must be a religious work** and so you are “saving yourself” (incorrect).

    I have especially seen this error being made by zealous Calvinists on the internet.

    Sadly, while this explicitly contradicts the biblical teaching of justification by faith, since it makes **faith itself ** into a religious work.

    Inexcusably, whenever zealot Calvinists make this argument I have ****never ever**** seen **other Calvinists** challenge this argument and rebuke the person making this heretical claim.

    Second, consistent monergism leads directly to the inconsistency that you have brought up. If you are going to claim that salvation is monergistic, that God **alone** does actions in the salvation process, then this will wreak havoc in the area of sanctification. This is so because sanctification does in fact involve our actions (actions including faith, repentance, obedience, prayer, all actions THAT WE DO).

    Robert

  3. Are you still waiting? 🙂 I think it’s a good question.

  4. I think it’s a good question.

    Must be.

  5. I love this post. Impeccable logic.

  6. Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly…

    Would it be more consistent for a Calvinist to insist that a believer is just as un-regenerate now as he was when he was an unbeliever>

  7. Craig,

    I am not sure I am following you. Feel free to elaborate. What I am saying is that it is inconsistent to say that synergism in conversion equals conversion by works while synergism in sanctification does not equal sanctification by works.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  8. Ben,

    I simply mean that monergism refers to the basis of a man’s faith which is birthed by God’s Spirit. Sanctification involves the constant renewal and progressive holiness wrought by that faith which is the result of that man’s regenerated faculties.

    As an analogy, would you assume a car, after having been started by the turn of a key in the ignition, should be then be turned continually to accelerate down the highway?

    A believer’s working presupposes the activity of God’s grace, not the basis of his sanctification…unless you’re an Arminian, of course.

  9. I simply mean that monergism refers to the basis of a man’s faith which is birthed by God’s Spirit.

    I am aware of this, but I think it would be more proper to say that regeneration irresistibly causes a faith response (according to Calvinism).

    Sanctification involves the constant renewal and progressive holiness wrought by that faith which is the result of that man’s regenerated faculties.

    Fair enough, but can we cooperate with or resist this sanctifying grace? Furthermore, if sanctification is the inevitable result of a faith irresistibly given and sustained by God, how then can sanctification be anything other than a monergistic work of God apart from any cooperation on the part of the believer? Do you see sanctification as synergistic or not?

    As an analogy, would you assume a car, after having been started by the turn of a key in the ignition, should be then be turned continually to accelerate down the highway?

    I really don’t see how this analogy is relevant. Would you say that turning the key or accelerating down the highway is a “work”? Why or why not?

    A believer’s working presupposes the activity of God’s grace, not the basis of his sanctification

    True, and a sinner’s believing presupposes the activity of God’s grace as well. The question regarding either has to do with whether or not this grace is irresistible. Both initial salvation and sanctification are by faith, and that faith is enabled by God’s grace. If one can cooperate with God’s grace in sanctification and it not be a work, why can’t one cooperate with God’s grace in conversion and it not be a work?

    unless you’re an Arminian, of course.

    Well, I am an Arminian and I reject salvation by works just as strongly as I reject the idea that one can put faith in Christ apart from the gracious working of the Holy Spirit.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. I have just discovered your site–it is like a breath of fresh air.

    I will probably end up reading and studying each post. But I wanted to point out that I’ve yet to do this, so I don’t know what has been discussed.

    I do believe that salvation is monergenistic. Paul takes great pains to point out that salvation is by faith and not by works. Faith is not a work, not something you “do.”

    I’ve not worked that out to where I’m real comfortable in explaining just how “believing in Jesus” is not something you “do.”

    Sanctification is, however, something you “do.” Hence, working out your salvation with “fear and trembling.”

    Paul was talking about our position before God. When God views us through the Blood of Christ, he sees us as perfectly righteous and (dare I say it?) entirely sanctified.

    James, on the other hand, was talking experientially. He was concerned, as you all know, about those who claim the “position” of salvation without evidence of the lifestyle befitting a follower of Jesus Christ.

    Sproul, et. al., are quick to point out the logical inconsistencies of Van Tillian presuppositionalism, but somehow cannot see the logical inconsistencies of Calvanism.

  11. davidk,

    Thanks for stopping by. Just curious, where did you get the idea from the Bible that “works” equals “anything you do“? Notice what Paul says to the Jailor when he asks, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” Paul didn’t say, “Nothing, since anything you do would be a work and you can’t be saved by works.” Rather, Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Believing was something he had to “do” and yet believing is not a meritorious work since it is simple trust in the work of another (Rom. 4:4, 5).

    Notice also how Peter responds to those who say “What shall we do?” in Acts 2:37. Does Peter say, “Nothing, because anything you do would be a work and you can’t be saved by works”? No. He tells them to repent and be Baptized.

    The idea that “works” equals “anything one does” is not Biblical. It is the result of an errant 17th century theology being wrongly imposed on Scripture.

    Faith is not a work because it is simple trust in Christ to save us when we are helpless to save ourselves (i.e. we cannot work for, merit, or earn our salvation). It has nothing to do with it being something we “do”.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  12. I use that language because the Calvinist I’ve talked to use it. I try to explain to them that saving faith is not “something you do” but rather something you have.

    “The idea that ‘works’ equals ‘anything one does’ is not Biblical. It is the result an errant 17th century theology being wrongly imposed on Scripture”

    I’m not surprised to learn that. Like I stated above, I’ve not worked all of this out in my mind. I hopeful that reading the articles you reference and the comments you and others have made will help me out.

    “Faith is not a work because it is simple trust in Christ to save us when we are helpless to save ourselves (i.e. we cannot work for, merit, or earn our salvation). It has nothing to do with it being something we ‘do’.”

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    Don’t hesitate to question and challenge anything I say. I want to learn how to present the Gospel in concise and precise terms.

  13. davidk,

    Just to be clear, the above comments concerning works and “doing something” were just describing the Calvinist error in conflating the two. They were not directed to you since I know that you are still trying to work through these things. I was just trying to help you see the problem there. You mention here that faith is something we have. I agree, but it is also something we do (i.e. we “believe”). There is really no need to deny that believing is an act of will and therefore something we do (as illustrated in the Scriptures quoted above), though this “act” is divinely enabled (i.e. if not for God’s prevenient and enabling grace, no one would believe).

    Have you checked out SEA yet? If not, you should. That is another great resource for learning Arminian theology and further exploring the issues that interest you.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  14. Dear Mr. Ben,

    1) I believe that justification is monergistic, God saves a man by revealing Himself to that individual-at that point all the man can do is wonder in amazement at the contrast of his depravity and Gods supreme holiness. The man is then conquered by Gods grace for he has no choice but to capitulate.
    God is a conqueror, but this does not mean that man is dragged kicking and screaming-on the contrary God is the liberating conqueror of slaves in bondage to sin and to satan.
    Those who have not believed have not had the arm of the Lord revealed to them (John 12:38). Its OT reference(Isaiah 53) is made up of two subsequent, synonomous questions. This is a tool often used in the Bible. Those who have believed are the ones to whom the arm of Lord has been revealed.
    Even stronger in expression verse 40 states that God also actively blinds and hardens those who do not believe:

    “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”

    2). God also works a monergistic work in sanctification we are only as advanced as far as He has ordained us to be at the time. It is His work through the Holy Spirit that conforms us to the image of His Son-in short, when God’s grace is applied it acheives its purpose.

    AJ

  15. AJ,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. This post was mainly directed towards those Calvinists who see sanctification as synergistic. Since you see it as monergistic, the main thrust would not apply to you. However, I think there are serious problems with seeing sanctification as monergistic. For example, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is grieved by our sins and desires our full sanctification (1 Thess. 4:1-8; Eph. 4:30); yet according to you He purposely leaves us in sin and refuses to fully sanctify us. In other words, the Holy Spirit actively and continually grieves Himself and works against His will for us by not giving us the “irresistible monergistic grace” (or “conquering grace” as you seem to prefer) to continually and infallibly overcome sin in our lives.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  16. Everett Harrison, in his exposition of Romans 8 in the Expositor’s Commentary series, is adamant that man’s responsibility is a necessary element of sanctification (implying synergistic sanctification). Although I can’t say for certain, I believe Harrison was a Calvinist (since he was at one time a Presbyterian minister).

    Just thought this was interesting info to pass along. Forgive me for not referencing the exact page number – I don’t have my commentaries handy at the moment.

    By the way, Ben, I enjoy your blog and your gracious attitude in the theological discussions I’ve read.

  17. Amen!

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