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 five-hundred year effort at producing a cleverly-worded smear campaign starts to sound 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 our 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!