Heidelminicast Q&A: Is Sanctification Synergistic?

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  1. Hey Dr Clark!

    Thanks so much for an excellent episode today.

    Of course, as I was thinking about this and looking at the catechism question and answer, I noticed the last phrase, “enabled more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness.”

    I fear our neonomian friends may see this as their hook. “Aha! See! We are unabled, but we must do the work. Sanctification IS synergistic!”

    I was trying to think through how one might respond to this objection. One thought is that our works themselves are not actually sanctification. They are, as you said in the episode, fruit and evidence of sanctification. Good works are proof that we are sanctified, not our sanctification themselves. Am I thinking about this correctly? Is it true that our works are not of themselves our sanctification?

    Thanks again for all you do! Keep up the great work!

    • I think it is always key to know that justification and sanctification are by God’s grace alone. Sanctification involves our response to God for His gracious salvation, it is the fruit. It is evidence that we truly are being changed, but never the cause of our right standing with God. It is God working His purpose in us to conform us to the image of Christ. Romans 8:29
      The Spirit is indwelling us and renewing us for that purpose. As Spurgeon would say, God makes us willing to do what is pleasing to Him. Our obedience and good works are the evidence that God is working in us.

  2. As one new to things reformed, l really struggle with the concept of sanctification. If the works we do are necessary evidence of our justification, l despair. I don’t understand the relationship between active obedience and the fact that our sanctification is a work of the Spirit alone.

    • Hi Ed,

      Like all Christian doctrines, we start with the Word of God, which we believe implicitly. God’s Word says that there has been a definitive break with the old life/man. It does not say that we will be able to perfectly perceive that break with our senses. In that regard it is analogous to justification. If I ask, “are you justified?” You would say, “Yes, I am.” If I ask, “How do you know?” You would say, “because God says “having been justified” and “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If I ask, “Do you feel justified?” You would probably say, “No, not always” but you know that you are justified on the basis of God’s Word. So it is with sanctification. The Scriptures tell us that we are being gradually, graciously conformed to Christ.

      Is there evidence? Yes. It’s there even if we feel the weight of our sins and the struggle with sin and our failures in the Christian life. It’s there.

      I’ve never met an unregenerate man (and I was one) who was worried about his lack of sanctification.

      The very struggle you’re experiencing is a fruit and evidence!

      Take a listen to the discussion of Romans 7 in the Romans series.

    • Martin Luther makes the point that the motive for good works is all important, and it makes the difference between true good works and “good works” that are actually damnable sins. True good works are the fruit of the Spirit working in us, and are motivated by love and gratitude to God, through knowing there is now no condemnation because we are justified in Christ alone. But any works that are done to gain acceptance with God are damnable sins, because they are done by the unregenerate, and without trust in the only One that can provide our true righteousness. With regeneration comes sorrow for remaining sin and a life of repentance, (Romans 7) which drives us more and more to look to Christ alone and to look to what He has done, and gratitude to God for justification, and the love that makes us want to obey Him.

  3. As soon as I think I understand sanctification, I find another source that makes it difficult to understand; this blog article by Kevin DeYoung leads me to believe sanctification is synergistic. I’m more convinced that it is not but am frustrated that, even among the reformed, there is disagreement on such an important doctrine. Or maybe there is no disagreement, and I just don’t get the nuance (I don’t want to accuse Pastor DeYoung of claiming something he isn’t). https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/is-sanctification-monergistic-or-synergistic-a-reformed-survey/

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