Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Discipleship & Grace

I’ve heard people that I respect say that sanctification is by grace alone: “The Christian's personal holiness is as much a monergistic activity of the Holy Spirit as is his justification and conversion.”

(Monergistic is just a fancy way to say that it depends entirely upon God and that we play no part in the process.)

I understand the motivation and mindset behind such a statement.
But it is not biblical.

J. I. Packer doesn’t let his theology get in the way of clear biblical teaching:
Regeneration was a momentary monergistic act of quickening the spiritually dead. As such, it was God’s work alone. Sanctification, however, is in one sense synergistic — it is an ongoing cooperative process in which regenerate persons, alive to God and freed from sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:11, 14-18), are required to exert themselves in sustained obedience. God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort.
As Dallas Willard explains:
Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it. We find it hard to see that grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning. Earning and effort are not the same thing. Earning is an attitude, and grace is definitely opposed to that. But it is not opposed to effort.
Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, p. 166
Here are a few statements from Scripture about the effort involved in becoming like Christ (emphasis added):

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.
Philippians 2:12–15

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
1 Corinthians 15:9–10

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Colossians 1:28–29

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
2 Peter 1:5–7

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13–16

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
2 Peter 3:14

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Colossians 3:5–10, 12

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
1 Thessalonians 4:3–7

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’
tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:7–8

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
1 Timothy 6:11

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:22

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Hebrews 6:11–12

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:24

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

Make no mistake. The work of transformation in the Christian is done by the power of God. But this transformation does not occur without participation on our part.

Discipleship is “training for godliness.” It is a process much like physical training.

In today’s church we’ve reduced the gospel to a theory of atonement and reduced grace to forgiveness of sins. But the gospel is much more than that. And grace is not just some deposit in a cosmic bank account.

Jesus called us to be (and to make) disciples.
A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus.
Dallas Willard, “
Rethinking Evangelism
Discipleship “is not a matter of behaving in certain ways, but of being inwardly and thoroughly a different kind of person: having the character of Jesus Christ.”

Christian spiritual formation is a transformation of the “inner person” by the power of God through our exercise of spiritual disciplines and participation in the means of grace. It is God’s work. But it also requires effort on our part.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Steve Sensenig said...

But Rod, you have just turned God into something less than sovereign! ;) (JUST kidding!!)

Seriously, I'm glad you pointed this out, because I have noticed a lot of these verses that you quoted and wondered how people could continue to say that it's monergistic.

Good post.
steve :)

Pastor Rod said...

Thanks, Steve.

I was surprised to find such a clear statement from J. I. Packer.


Brandon said...

And to think that JI Packer has said that Wesley was "confused" in his theology. I think sometimes that Packer is closet Wesleyan ;)

Pastor Rod said...


Welcome. Thanks for stopping by. I think you might have a point there.


jul said...

Hi, this has nothing to do with your post (forgive me). I was just curious if you were any relation to Ron Pickett.

daniel the smith said...

Reading this post, I found myself thinking, "It is monergistic-- you just have to work at it." I guess that's not terribly logical...

Pastor Rod said...


Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I don't have any relatives that I know of named Ron Pickett. Where is he from?

Thanks for visiting. Feel free to add your comments whether they are on topic or not.

God Bless,


Pastor Rod said...


I think what you are trying to articulate is an accurate description of grace. Paul seems to struggle with expressing it too in 1 Corinthians 15:10.

God Bless,


jul said...

As a child, Ron Pickett stayed in our home. He was a missionary in Brazil at the time and my dad was a Wesleyan pastor. I'm not sure where he's from or where he is now, but my parents maintained a friendship for some time with him and his family. He has a son named Jim, but can't remember any other names.

I did find your post very interesting, but will stay out of trouble and refrain from commenting much futher. I'm a former dogmatic Wesleyan Arminian turned reformed charismatic! I thank God for my roots and solid Christian upbringing.

Pastor Rod said...


I know of Ron, but we are not related. Surprisingly, we've never met either.

You won't get in trouble with me. I like to hear different views. So how does "reformed charismatic" work? That seems an unlikely combination to me.

God Bless,


jeff franczak said...

Just wanted to add this thought to the conversation…

“When we pursue God’s plan for our lives with all our hearts, minds, and wills, that is when we truly are controlled by Him and our lives become disciplined.”

Michael Youssef, “The Spirituality That Heals”, pp. 178-179

Pastor Rod said...


I'm looking forward to seeing you on Friday.

The quotation from Youssef is correct. The problem is that this is usually understood as a willpower issue. That tends to result in legalism.

I think most Christians believe they should "pursue God's plan" with all their hearts, minds and wills. But they don't think it is possible or desirable.

I find Dallas Willard extremely helpful in dealing with all these problems.

Have a save flight,