In my last post in this series, I discussed progressive Sanctification. In this post, we discover how the Holy Spirit Himself works in us to bring about change.
The Monergistic Work of the Holy Spirit
The Monergistic work of the Holy Spirit is the work He does by Himself upon our hearts to bring about change in our lives.
Grounding it in Scripture
Before exploring the specific work of the Holy Spirit, let’s first ground the idea that He works on us by Himself in Scripture. Psalm 119:36-37 says,
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.
The Psalmist asks God to do something he cannot do – change His heart. He asks because he knows only God (Holy Spirit) can change his heart.
The writer of Hebrews agrees with the Psalmist. In Hebrews 13:20-21 he writes,
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.
While there is a lot here, what is important to notice right now is that the Lord is the one who equips us to do His will. Without Him equipping us, we wouldn’t give up our will for His.
So, in just these two references, we see that we aren’t the only ones working in the process of sanctification. God is also, and I would argue primarily the One, working in us through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit (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. This can occur in a number of ways:
- He may convict us of a particular sin as we are reading God’s Word.
- He may awaken our conscience to a particular sin as we are praying.
- 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.
- He may even send a friend, relative, or spouse to point out sin in our lives.
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 to us as He works 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 gospel. As we remember what Christ has done for us in the gospel, our love for Jesus should increase and we should desire to rid sin from our lives for His glory.
A desire to change based on the gospel is different from a desire to change because we feel guilty or defeated by our sin.
Admittedly, guilt is an effective motivator to get rid of certain sins in our lives. The reason we change, however, is not necessarily because we want to glorify God by becoming more like Christ. Rather, it is because we want to feel better about ourselves.
Like guilt, feeling defeated by certain sins can motivate change, but not for God’s glory. Our motivation here is our own pride. It is the desire to stroke our own ego for not having sin in our lives.
(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. Ultimately, the way He creates change in us is mysterious and hard to explain. But two illustrations might help.
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 and I will talk about that next time.
In my next post in this series, I will discuss the Synergistic Work of the Holy Spirit – how we work alongside the Holy Spirit to bring about change in our lives.
Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Ch. 8