The Christian life is hard to explain. It almost seems Paul thought likewise. “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Work for it is God who works…hmm. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Co 15:10). Huh?
But it’s vital to grasp. We need to sink our teeth deep enough in the meat to develop an aftertaste. Beside the “plateau of orthodoxy,” the slope called “misunderstanding sanctification” is quite slippery. Once gravity clasps your ankles, the ground is something we call “men become gods.”
Paul didn’t accidentally leave sanctification absent from the Golden Chain of Romans 8:29-30. It is intrinsically something distinct from those monergistic works. In what manner is it synergistic?
Well, I don’t know.
But I speculate, for-better-or-worse, and one general thing I’m sure of is that “we are [not] adequate in ourselves, to consider anything as coming from ourselves” (2 Co 3:5). Salvation – any facet or fractal portion of it – is entirely out of our control. Clearly we work and will, but our labor is not effectual or meritorious towards any salvific end.
Because of the context preceding 2 Corinthians 3:4-5, Christian ministry needs to be addressed from these two verses. I think we see that the effectual grace of God is the basis for a confident proclamation of God. “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God” (v.4). Paul boldly proclaims the Gospel (2:17-3:3) because his morale is based in his sovereign God. He only proclaims in boldness when poised upon the working of God. “Our adequacy is from God” (3:5). Tenacious Gospel ministry is the product of confidence in Christ. If the minister’s feet are fixed elsewhere, the tenacity will always be misplaced.
Here’s an implication to mull over: how you approach the pulpit manifests your understanding of the Christian life. Or at least something of your understanding.
But the text must warrant application to the entire Christian life, because in verse 6 ministry is differentiated from the object of verses 4-5. “Who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (v. 6, emphasis mine). Basically: I am completely justified to wale on Word of Faith theology from this text.
The Word of Faith movement frolics just above the “men become gods” surface – and it seems to have misplaced 2 Corinthians 3:4-6. Here’s their theology: “Renounce sickness, and sickness will flee. Sickness does not belong in the Kingdom of God. You are a child of God and therefore have the UMPH to take care of business here!” And: “Adam and Eve, prior to sin, had authority over the earth. Through the work of Christ, mankind is restored to that position of authority. Start declaring the life that you want!” Also: “God has promised to bless all His children. Are you a child of God? Then stop moping around, sister! Name and claim the promises of God! Point-out the good things you want and WHAM – they’re yours!”
An echo-chamber of heretical anthropology and dimple-regulars might propel an individual to these things. Frankly, it’s garbage. It is the Word of Faith proposition that God has, in some way, produced a self-sufficient man. Paul clarifies: it is not from ourselves that sufficiency flows. Competence bubbles up from Divine springs. Fruitful ministry is exclusively given by God (cf. Jn 6:63). Drink from the fountain called “Christ,” and keep drinking.
I’m sure there are many different systematics of this passage. You and I might also differ on how to articulate what Paul is saying. What is clear, though, is that I cannot claim self-adequacy. Third-person: God’s work upon the Christian at no time leaves him self-adequate. Regeneration does not launch us into independence. The Gospel is not simplifiable to, “Jesus breaks my chains.” We aren’t set free to be free – we are set free to once again be enslaved. If my explanation of sanctification denies these things, I’ve capitulated to the deification of man.
So preach on, Kenneth Hagin. Send a postcard when you make the move to Utah.