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Sanctification: Is It Synergistic or Monergistic? by David Lee Chu Sarchet 

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” -Philippians 2:12-13 

I have recently become aware of a controversy within Christian circles concerning the topic of Sanctification. I confess that I am not quite understanding why this is controversial, however, I believe that teaching that it is synergistic is essentially teaching works-based salvation and it is very harmful towards one’s mental health.

I will explain my position in this, but for those of you who are not familiar with these terms, I will explain what they mean.

  • Monergism simply says that “the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ independent of any cooperation from our unregenerated human nature” 
  • Synergism teaches that salvation involves some form of cooperation between divine grace and human freedom”. 

As a Reformed Protestant Christian

I hold to the belief that sanctification is Monergistic because it is what is clearly taught in Scripture. I understand that there is a possibility that this teaching on sanctification is not in line with what the original reformers taught (although, that is up for dispute), but we should be reformed and always reforming to what Scripture teaches, not what any man teaches.

If the Protestant Reformers did in fact teach that sanctification is synergistic then they were in serious error. I think that in the above scripture, the Apostle Paul clearly taught that Sanctification is solely a work from God in us. Yes, we do cooperate in some sense in our sanctification, but our cooperation is in of itself a work from God!

I believe that those who teach that Sanctification is synergistic are in error in three ways: 

1) They are teaching works-based salvation 

2) They are loading onto people a heavy burden they cannot bear 

3) They are stealing glory from God 

I intend to expound on all three of these points within this blog.

After you finish reading this I hope and pray that you will walk away understanding my point and why this is such an important issue for us to discuss. This is literally a salvation issue. I am not saying that those who promote this idea that sanctification is synergistic are not saved, but I am suggesting that they are preaching a heretical doctrine that needs to be exposed.

I do not make any apologies to anyone who may be offended by the strong tone of this blog because this teaching is harmful to the mental health of many Christians. As a mental health advocate, it is incumbent on me to speak out against anything that will harm people’s mental health.

Please keep an open mind as you read this blog anyways and if you still disagree with me, you can always leave a comment on the bottom and we can discuss this topic. However, if you think I am in error on anything I say, I will expect you to show me my error through Scripture alone. Scripture is the sole authority for all true Christians, not our own thoughts, opinions, personal experience, church denomination, family, friends, culture, or anything else. So, we should look to see what Scripture has to say concerning this topic. 

Works-Based Salvation 

For anyone who has been a solid Christian for any amount of years should know that salvation is by grace in Christ alone, not in anything we do or say. This fact is so clearly taught in Scripture that it is not even up for dispute at this point. However, when someone says that sanctification requires man and God cooperating together they are unintentionally teaching that man is required to do something in order to be sanctified.

If they are not in line with their own sanctification then these people will say that their salvation is in question. This teaching is causing Christians to focus more on their works rather on Christ alone for their salvation. It is true that we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, but it also true that it is God at work in us to cause us to be able to cooperate with Him in the sanctification process.

If the above text is not clear enough for you, I will now direct your attention to Philippians 1:6 which says, 

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” 

What the Apostle Paul is saying here is that it is God who will bring us to completion until the day Jesus returns. Paul leaves no room for synergism here. It is evident that God is at work in us enabling us to cooperate with Him. Anything good we do is because of God working in us. I will say that this a mystery how God is working in us to cause to work for His good pleasure, but it is still all His work alone. 

Heavy Burden People Cannot Bear 

This is a huge allegation I am leveling at these people who are teaching that Sanctification is synergistic, but I believe it is true. When you teach that man is required to work out their own sanctification apart from the work of God, you are giving them a huge burden on their shoulders. Legalism is our default setting and this means we will always fall back into legalism. This is why we need daily and weekly reminders of the Gospel because grace is foreign to us.

So when you tell people who are already legalistic by nature that sanctification is synergistic, they will become discouraged because we all know that we cannot fully obey God’s commands on our own. If we try to obey God’s commands we will always fail because we sin daily in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

I agree with what Dr. Michael Horton says, 

“In the great chain of salvation, if even one link has your name on it, that is a huge burden you cannot bear. But, if every link has God on it, then that is true freedom and true liberation.” 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ frees us from all forms of legalism and this includes our legalistic beliefs about sanctification. I think the word of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:1 ring true when he says, 

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” 

When someone teaches that sanctification is synergistic, they are attempting to cause you to submit to a yoke of slavery all over again. We must adamantly oppose this line of reasoning much like the Apostle Paul did. The Gospel teaches us that we can rest and be a peace with God because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.

We are no longer slaves to sin but instead we are sons of God through adoption in Christ. 

Stealing Glory From God 

I fully understand that this is also a heavy accusation, but it is true.

When you teach that sanctification requires man’s cooperation with God, you are inevitably taking some partial credit for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. I hope that anyone can see the gross error in this line of reasoning because God is the sole credit and glory for our salvation, redemption, sanctification, and glorification of His elect people.

We cannot boast in anything we do or say because it is all a work of God alone. He gets all the credit and honor and the only thing we contribute is our own sin. In other words, there is no room for boasting when we fully understand that it is all a work of God.

People who are teaching that sanctification is a synergistic work of God are doing so with good intentions, but they do not understand how by teaching this they are giving at least some credit to man. We do not deserve any credit whatsoever. 

I hope that this blog really helps you better understand the biblical position on Sanctification being Monergistic and next time someone tries to tell you otherwise you can tell them where they are in error (or you can show them this blog!).

Someone once told me that teaching Sanctification is Monergistic is coming “dangerously close to hyper-Calvinism or fatalism,” but my response to him is that teaching Sanctification is synergistic is coming dangerously close to legalism, or works-based salvation.

Thank you for reading this blog. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this when you could be doing other thing. I hope you were blessed and edified by this blog too. May the grace of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ richly bless you! 

-David Lee Chu Sarchet 
Christian Mental Health Advocate 

Click Here To Read More By David Lee Chu Sarchet

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