Cooperation In Sanctification: It's Not A 50/50 Thing

When we read the second article of The Formula of Concord in The Lutheran Confessions and come across the word 'cooperation,' we must be careful not to understand this word as if it means that we cooperate alongside the Holy Spirit in the way two horses draw a wagon together.  In other words, after the Holy Spirit has begun His work of rebirth in us - through the Word and Holy Sacraments - we do not cooperate with Him as if He exerts 50% and we do the remaining 50%.  Rather, it is necessary to understand that we cooperate when we are made instruments and tools in conversion. Indeed, as instruments and tools of God the Holy Spirit, we only do good to the extent that He rules, leads, and guides us. If He would withdraw His gracious hand - if we ceased to be direct objects of His verbs to and through us - we could not for one moment remain in the faith, let alone bear good fruit.

As instruments of the Lord, we can then confess that sanctification is an exclusive act of the Lord done to us, enabling us to will and to work.[1]  God the Holy Spirit enlightens us, keeps us, and sanctifies us.[2]  Indeed, we believe, teach, and confess that we cannot believe upon Christ, unless we are gifted faith; likewise, we believe, teach, and confess that everything good, right, and salutary does not come forth from our own will, power, or cooperation, unless we are gifted good works to walk in.    

What this means for us is that, "Just as forgiveness is exclusively God's work and every cooperation or conditioning activity on man's part is completely excluded, so regeneration is an energy that comes simply out of Christ's victory and does not require our supplementary efforts."[3]  That is to say, "It is not fitting to teach justification evangelically and then in the doctrine of sanctification to turn synergistic."[4]  

Why though are we prone to turn to synergism in sanctification?  Why do we want to give our 50% and draw the wagon with the Holy Spirit as a co-equal?  Unfortunately, "Man is unwilling to give his honor and gratitude to God alone.  From the fact that he is and may continue to be a tool of God he would like to take some credit to himself or even aspire to assist the [gracious operating] by his own works of penitence and love."[5]  Thankfully, "The statements in the New Testament make the gift of sanctification dependent, in the same measure as the forgiveness of sins, on faith in Christ, and commands that the message of deliverance be heard and accepted just as gladly and assuredly as the promise of pardon."[6]

In summary, to cooperate in great weakness is to cooperate as direct objects of the Holy Spirit, for daily and richly He enlightens us, keeps us, brings us to repentance, ignites faith, puts us at war with our flesh, and enables us to will and to work by the Word and Sacraments.
[1] Philippians 2:13
[2] The Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle's Creed in Luther's Small Catechism
[3] Adolf Koberle, The Quest for Holiness: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Investigation, tr. John C. Mattes (Eugene, OR: WIPF and STOCK Publishers, 2004), 95.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid. 

CLICK HERE to join in the conversation on Facebook.
CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter.