In my last post in this series, I wrote about the progressive nature of Sanctification. In this post, I will talk about how the Holy Spirit Himself works in us to bring about change, which occurs through the Monergistic Work of the Holy Spirit.
The Monergistic Work of the Holy Spirit
When I refer to the Monergistic Work of the Holy Spirit in the process of Sanctification, I mean that there is a work the Holy Spirit does by Himself upon our hearts that brings about change in our lives. The work He does is apart from the work we do. This does not mean we do not work. I will talk about our work in the process of Sanctification in the next post in this series, but right now I want to give us an idea of what the Holy Spirit does in us to bring about change.
Grounding it in Scripture
Before we move to the specific work He does, let me ground this concept in Scripture. In Psalm 119:36-37 we read,
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
Here we see the Psalmist is asking God to do something he cannot do, which is to change His heart. Only the Holy Spirit can change our heart.
Also, in Hebrews 13:20-21 we read,
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
There are a number of things packed into this benediction, but for our purposes in this post, one thing I want you to see is that the Lord is the one who equips us to do His will. If the Lord did not work in our lives to equip us, then we would not do His will.
From these two references, we can begin to see that there are things in the Sanctification process that we do not do. Which means it is necessary for God to be at work in us. The way the Lord is at work in us, is through the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us (John 7:39; 14:26; Acts 1:8; 2:4; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 8:11; 8:14; 15:13; 15:16; 1 Cor. 2:12; 3:16; 12:13; 2 Cor. 1:22; Gal. 3:3; Eph. 1:13; 1 Thess. 4:8; 2 Tim. 1:14; 1 John 3:24; 4:13).
What is the Work the Holy Spirit Does in Us?
(1) He Makes us Aware of Our Sin & Brings Conviction
He makes us aware of and convicts us of specific sins in our lives, so that we can deal with those sins, sins we may not even have known existed before the Holy Spirit brought them to our attention. The ways in which He convicts us of specific sins and brings them to our attention are numerous.
- He may connect a specific Scripture to a specific sin in our lives as we read God’s Word.
- He may awaken and make our conscience sensitive to a particular sin.
- He may cause us to see patterns of sins in our lives that we previously thought were insignificant.
- He may use adversity to cause us to see our sin problem.
- He may even send a friend, relative, or spouse to point out sin in our lives.
As you can see there are a number of ways the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts us of sin, but the important point to notice is that He is the One who reveals these sins and brings about the conviction, and He does this Monergistically (by Himself).
(2) He Creates Desire in us to Change
Not only does the Holy Spirit reveal our sin and convict us of it, but He also creates a desire in us to change.
How does He create desire in us to change?
He does so by causing us to remember the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of Christ’s righteousness credited to us, the bondage we were released from, our reconciliation to God, and the eternal life we were given when we repented and exercised faith in Christ. In other words, He reminds us of the results of the gospel. As we remember what Christ has done for us in the gospel, our love for Him should increase and we should desire to be more like Jesus, causing us to want to rid sin from our lives for His glory as a sense of gratitude wells up inside of us.
This brings up an important point:
A desire to change based on the gospel is different from a desire to change because we feel guilty or defeated by our sin.
Guilt often causes people to want to rid sin from their lives. When we feel guilty, we want to defeat that sin that is causing the guilt in us, so that we can feel better, not so that we will be more like Christ. It is subtle, but the reason we want to change is for our own well-being, and not for the glory of God.
Likewise, if being defeated by a certain sin is the reason we want to rid sin from our lives, we may be doing so in order to stroke our own ego. To be able to say to our friends or fellow church members that we do not have any specific sin we are dealing with can be a way for some to feed the idol of pride in their lives. It is a subtle difference, but again the reason we want to defeat the sin in our lives is not so we can be more like Christ and glorify Him, but it is so we can glorify ourselves.
(3) He Creates Change
After making us aware of our need and creating a desire to change, the Holy Spirit works on our hearts to bring about change. The way this occurs is mysterious. In an effort to explain, let me use two illustration.
Unlovable to Lovable
We all have those people in our lives who are unlovable. No matter what you do, how much you prepare yourselves, and how well you try to interact with them, they always do something or act in some way that causes them to be hard to love. As Christians, we know we should love, even loving those who are at times unlovable, so we pray that God would change our hearts. At some point God answers our prayer, changing our hearts, and causing us to love the person who was once unlovable to us. Now that person did not change, they still act in the same way, but we have changed because the Holy Spirit has worked on our hearts.
Anxious to Calm
There are those of us who are anxious when it comes to flying. As Christians though, we know it is a sin to be anxious because it shows we are not trusting in the Lord. Our awareness of this sin in our lives causes us to pray to God to change our hearts, so that we are no longer anxious when we board a plane. Amazingly, the next time we get on a flight we are not anxious. We find ourselves calm, and even enjoying our time in the air. Now, air travel did not suddenly get safer. What changed was our heart, and that change was brought about by the Holy Spirit working in us.
So we see that one way in which Sanctification occurs in our lives is through the Monergistic Work of the Holy Spirit. He works by Himself to make us aware of and to convict us of specific sins. He also produces a desire in us to change and rid specific sins from our lives by causing us to reflect on the gospel message. Furthermore, He produces change in our hearts that we could not bring about by ourselves.
Now this does not mean that we are not to work. Indeed we are to work in the Sanctification process, but what it does mean is that without the Monergistic work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we would not be aware, nor convicted of sins in our lives. We would not desire to change, nor would we change. The Monergistic Work of the Holy Spirit is then necessary for our growth in Christ. It is a change we cannot bring about own our own apart from the Spirit dwelling in us.
In my next post in this series, I will discuss the Synergistic Work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we will discuss how we work alongside the Holy Spirit to bring about change in our lives.
Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Ch. 8