Dear Church Family,
In last two sermons on Sunday morning, we have examined the concepts of monergism and synergism. Simply put, monergism describes the “alone-working” of God in the redemption of human beings. In Genesis 15:6, we read that Abram believed in the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abram did nothing other than to trust in the promise of God, and by faith alone – through the monergistic work of God – Abram was justified (Romans 4:5).
Synergism, on the other hand (“with working”) speaks to how some people think about God’s redeeming work as a cooperation. That is, to think or act in a synergistic manner with regard to redemption is to falsely believe that God needs me to cooperate with Him – or help Him in some way – to accomplish my redemption (or the redemption). Abram made an attempt at synergism when he listened to the voice of Sarai and tried to fulfill God’s promise through his own efforts (Genesis 16:2-4).
This understanding of the monergistic work of God in redemption is very practical for the believer in his or her Christian walk: it gives us confidence and assurance. If, as the Bible teaches us, Jesus is indeed the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), then we can be assured that He who began a good work in us will perfect that work until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
That is to say, the beginning of our redemption is monergistic (we are justified by faith alone through grace alone); so too, the completion of our redemption is monergistic (we will be gloried by faith alone through grace alone). We are not what we one day will be, but at the second coming of Christ, we will be made like Him (1 John 3:2). God is the only one who is able to justify (declare righteous) and glorify (make perfect in holiness) His people (Jude 1:24).
Now, just because it is by faith alone in the monergistic work of God that we are justified and glorified, that does not mean that we ought to remain completely and always passive in our Christian lives. Even as we acknowledge that Jesus Christ has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through His precious and magnificent promises (2 Peter 1:3-4), we are commanded to diligently seek to add to our faith: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-14).
The Bible teaches us that our redemption from beginning to end is all of grace – all by the monergistic work of God. Apart from Him, we are lost and can do nothing to accomplish or even add to our redemption. Yet, even as we acknowledge that we will never attain perfection in this life, God commands us to pursue holiness: “Be holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord (1 Peter 1:14-16). Indeed, the Word of God is given to us, in part, to train men and women of God in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
So, far from being called to a life of passivity, we are called to be active in our pursuit of holiness. At the same time, our pursuit of holiness must always be tempered or qualified by the understanding that, in this earthly life, we will never be completely free of sin – for if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8-10).
This is not a defeatist mentality concerning our own growth in sanctification. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is an acknowledgement and appropriation of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil (1 Corinthians 15:55-56; Hebrews 2:14-15). Christ’s victory over His and our enemies was completely accomplished at His first coming, but will not be completely applied to this fallen world until He comes again in glory (Hebrews 2:8). Christians are zealous for good deeds precisely because we live between the first and second coming of Christ. The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men, yet we look for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, when He will come again (Titus 2:11-14).
So, we pursue holiness with all of our heart, mind, and strength – even as we acknowledge that our perfection and glorification is completely dependent upon the monergistic work of Christ. In this way, our pursuit of holiness ought to be earnest, diligent, and zealous – even as it is qualified and tempered by the understanding that we cannot reach the finish line apart from the independent, monergistic work of God.
The Holy War of Christmas
This coming Sunday – the Sunday before Christmas – the sermon will be from Revelation 12 in which we will examine “the holy war of Christmas.” Of course, I know that that sounds odd, but in using that phrase, I am attempting to describe the monergistic work of Christ in fulfilling ‘holy war’ on our behalf. God’s people in the Old Covenant – the people of Israel – were called to wage holy war against the pagan nations in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 20:16-20). Yet, in the New Covenant, “Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (WSC 26; Isaiah 33:22; 1 Corinthians 15:25).
Revelation 12:5 encapsulates the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry in his first coming, all in one verse: “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” In the following verses, the holy war victory of God, which is a result of the incarnation of the Son of God, is described in a declaration from a loud voice in heaven: “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before out God day and night” (Revelation 12:10).
As a result of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil the people of God are protected and nourished by their God (Revelation 12:14), even as they are persecuted by the devil (Revelation 12:13). Victory has been accomplished in the first coming of Christ, but the Church of Jesus Christ still wages war “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Tying It All Together
All of this is to say that, just as we recognize that we will not personally attain complete holiness through our own efforts but must hope and wait for the glorious appearing of our Savior to see the completion of our glorification – so too, we recognize that we cannot bring about the redemption or perfection of this fallen world through our own efforts but must hope and wait for the glorious appearing of our Savior and the new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:11-13).
Again, this ought not to cause us to be passive in our endeavors to make this a better world – a better place in which to live. Because we belong to and serve the victorious Christ who is both King of kings and Lord of lords, we proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ to all people (Romans 10:12-17). Because our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20), as exiles in this world we seek the welfare of the earthly kingdoms in which we live, praying to the Lord on the behalf of a fallen world – because in the welfare of the city, we will have welfare (Jeremiah 29:7).
Like our pursuit of holiness, we pursue the welfare of the earthly kingdoms in a tempered or qualified manner. We recognize that, as Christians, we are called to do good in this world – even the mere presence of Christians in this world is a blessing in that God promises to cut short the present tribulations for the sake of the elect (Matthew 24:22). And, God’s people are commanded to pray for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet live in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Our temporal welfare is tied to the temporal welfare of the earthly kingdoms in which we live. So, it is good, right, beneficial, and biblical that we “be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1-2). Yet, we also recognize that ultimate, complete, and final peace will only be accomplished at Christ’s second coming when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:23-24).
This is what it means to celebrate Christ’s victory in holy war. The birth of our Savior was the beginning of the invasion in which God established a foothold in enemy occupied territory. And, that foothold was also the decisive point of His victory – the rest of God’s war-plan is ensured by the mere fact that the Son of God became man. The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ was, as they say, the beginning of the end. We have seen the beginning. Jesus was victorious: the great dragon was thrown down (Revelation 12:9-10).
And now, we look and long for Christ’s return – knowing that when He comes, our great God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5)!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch