What Does It Mean to Be One with Christ?

Tony Reinke: The Christian’s “union with Christ” is the mysterious dark matter of the spiritual cosmos, so to speak. It is a kind of glue that holds us together with the constellation of salvation and sanctification and glorification in Christ. And it is very hard to describe and explain. How, then, can we talk about it? Is such a mystery too deep for words? Where do we begin — and where should we stop? And in our search to explain this new bond to Christ, can we use the language of mysticism? How much of our union with Christ is legal and positional, and how much of it is felt? With these important questions brewing, I called Sinclair Ferguson, author of the new book Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. He has been talking about union with Christ for a long time and is as good a teacher as any on this vital subject. 1: Is union with Christ objective

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The Surprising Truth about Legalism

Adapted from The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson. As Old As Eden The root of legalism is almost as old as Eden, which explains why it is a primary, if not the ultimate, pastoral problem. In seeking to bring freedom from legalism, we are engaged in undoing the ancient work of Satan. In Eden the Serpent persuaded Eve and Adam that God was possessed of a narrow and restrictive spirit bordering on the malign. After all, the Serpent whispered, “Isn’t it true that he placed you in this garden full of delights and has now denied them all to you?” The implication was twofold. It was intended to dislodge Eve from the clarity of God’s word (“Did God actually say . . . ?”). Later the attack focused on the authority of God’s word (“You will not surely die”). But it was more. It was an attack on God’s character.

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Never Offer the Benefits of the Gospel Without the Benefactor Himself

Sinclair Ferguson, in Feed My Sheep: There is a center to the Bible and its message of grace. It is found in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. Grace, therefore, must be preached in a way that is centered and focused on Jesus Christ Himself. We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need. It is a disheartening fact that evangelical Christians, who write vast numbers of Christian books, preach abundant sermons, sponsor numerous conferences and seminars, and broadcast myriad TV and radio programs actually write few books, preach few sermons, sponsor few conferences or seminars, and devote few programs to the theme of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We give our best and

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Deeper grace from before the dawn of time

  Before all time; prior to all worlds; when there was nothing ‘outside of’ God Himself; when the Father, Son, and Spirit found eternal, absolute, and unimaginable blessing, pleasure, and joy in Their holy triunity — it was Their agreed purpose to create a world. That world would fall. But in unison — and at infinitely great cost — this glorious triune God planned to bring you (if you are a believer) grace and salvation. This is deeper grace from before the dawn of time. It was pictured in the rituals, the leaders, and the experiences of the Old Testament saints, all of whom longed to see what we see. All this is now ours. Our salvation depends on God’s covenant, rooted in eternity, foreshadowed in the Mosaic liturgy, fulfilled in Christ, enduring forever. No wonder Hebrews calls it ‘so great a salvation’ (Heb. 2:3). — Sinclair B. Ferguson In Christ Alone (Orlando, Fl.: Reformation Trust, 2007), 136 (HT: Of

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A Catechism on the Heart

Sinclair Ferguson: Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God. Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:  O for a heart to praise my God! A heart from sin

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Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

Nathan Bingham: In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than aSanta Christ. As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?” 1. A Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners. 2. A Semi-Pelagian

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Union with Christ

Justin Taylor: James S. Stewart wrote that “union with Christ, rather than justification or election or eschatology, or indeed any of the other great apostolic themes, is the real clue to an understanding of Paul’s thought and experience” (A Man in Christ [Harper & Bros., 1955], vii). John Calvin said that union with Christ has “the highest degree of importance” if we are to understand justification correctly (Institutes 1:737). John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption—Accomplished and Applied [Eerdmans, 1955], pp. 201, 205). Lewis Smedes said that it was “at once the center and circumference of authentic human existence” (Union with Christ [Eerdmans, 1983], xii). Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the

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Gospel imperatives and indicatives

The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice

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What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ?

Sinclair Ferguson: The exhortation to “abide” has been frequently misunderstood, as though it were a special, mystical, and indefinable experience. But Jesus makes clear that it actually involves a number of concrete realities. First, union with our Lord depends on His grace. Of course we are actively and personally united to Christ by faith (John 14:12). But faith itself is rooted in the activity of God. It is the Father who, as the divine Gardener, has grafted us into Christ. It is Christ, by His Word, who has cleansed us to fit us for union with Himself (15:3). All is sovereign, all is of grace. Second, union with Christ means being obedient to Him. Abiding involves our response to the teaching of Jesus: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you …” (John 15:7a). Paul echoes this idea in Colossians 3:16, where he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” a statement closely related to his parallel

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Christology in the 21st Century: A Discussion

Justin Taylor posts: Below is a panel hosted by Ligonier at the 2013 PCA General Assembly, with Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Ligon Duncan, Richard Pratt, and R.C. Sproul, moderated by Steve Nichols. They talk through the following: What is the biggest theological battle today and for the next generation? (00:00:00) What advice would you give to the next generation of pastors, especially church planters, as they try to address contextualization, Christology, and similar issues? (00:08:30) What might we learn from history about the parallel rising of Christianity and Islam? (00:11:35) What role does Christology play as we see the needs of the global church? (00:16:00) How do we guard against the various distortions when it comes to the person of Jesus? (00:22:40) Discussion on the work of Christ pertaining to justification and imputation. (00:30:45) The panel shares thoughts on substitutionary atonement, and how it is going to be an issue in the next generation. (00:41:52) Is the church in danger

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What is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

Sinclair Ferguson: Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement. How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords? Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be

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Why Everything Sad Will Become Untrue

Sinclair Ferguson: [Jesus] came to undo what Adam so disastrously did, and lead us back through the jungle to the garden. He crossed the ravine, the unbridgeable gulf between sinful man and holy God. And He did this as the Second Man, but now the Man of Faith, trusting in and living by every word that comes from the mouth of God. At the beginning of His public ministry He decisively overcame the powerful opposition of the Enemy who sought to keep Him out of territory He had formerly conquered. Having established His presence in that territory, He pressed on into the deepest and darkest part of the jungle. As He came to the edge of the ravine and looked across, He was heard by His followers to say, “This is the hour of the power of darkness” (see Luke 22:53). Indeed, so dark and thick was the jungle, so utterly lonely the task of crossing the ravine that — now

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What Kind Of A Pastor Do Sinners Need?

Sinclair Ferguson answers this question from his Marrow Controversy Lectures: But when your people come and have been broken by sin and have fallen into temptation and are ashamed to confess the awful mess they have made of their life, it is not a Calvinistic pastor who has been sanctified by vinegar that they need. It is a pastor that has been mastered by the unconditional, free grace of God. It is a pastor from whom ironclad orthodoxy has been torn away and the whole armor of a gracious God has been placed upon his soul–the armor of one who would not break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick. You see, my friends, as we think together in these days about a Godly pastor we have to ask, what is a Godly pastor? A Godly pastor is one who is like God, who has a heart of free grace running after sinners. The Godly pastor is the one

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A Catechism of the Heart

Sinclair Ferguson: Q.1. What is the heart? A. The heart is the central core and drive of my life intellectually (it involves my mind), affectionately (it shapes my soul), and totally (it provides the energy for my living). Q.2. Is my heart healthy? A. No. By nature I have a diseased heart. From birth, my heart is deformed and antagonistic to God. The intentions of its thoughts are evil continually. Q.3. Can my diseased heart be healed? A. Yes. God, in His grace, can give me a new heart to love Him and to desire to serve Him. Q.4. How does God do this? A. God does this through the work of the Lord Jesus for me and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me. He illumines my mind through the truth of the gospel, frees my enslaved will from its bondage to sin, cleanses my affections by His grace, and motivates me inwardly to live for Him by rewriting His law into my heart so

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Deeper grace from before the dawn of time

Before all time; prior to all worlds; when there was nothing ‘outside of’ God Himself; when the Father, Son, and Spirit found eternal, absolute, and unimaginable blessing, pleasure, and joy in Their holy triunity — it was Their agreed purpose to create a world. That world would fall. But in unison — and at infinitely great cost — this glorious triune God planned to bring you (if you are a believer) grace and salvation. This is deeper grace from before the dawn of time. It was pictured in the rituals, the leaders, and the experiences of the Old Testament saints, all of whom longed to see what we see. All this is now ours. Our salvation depends on God’s covenant, rooted in eternity, foreshadowed in the Mosaic liturgy, fulfilled in Christ, enduring forever. No wonder Hebrews calls it ‘so great a salvation’ (Heb. 2:3). — Sinclair B. Ferguson In Christ Alone (Orlando, Fl.: Reformation Trust, 2007), 136 (HT: Of First Importance)

Sinclair Ferguson’s Four Steps to Kill Sin

Josh Etter posts these headings from the January 2007 edition of Tabletalk: 1. Learn to admit sin for what it really is. Call a spade a spade — call it ‘sexual immorality,’ not ‘I’m being tempted a little’; call it ‘impurity,’ not ‘I’m struggling with my thought life’; call it ‘evil desire, which is idolatry,’ not ‘I think I need to order my priorities a bit better.’ 2. See sin for what your sin really is in God’s presence. ‘On account of these the wrath of God is coming’ (Col. 3:6). The masters of the spiritual life spoke of dragging our lusts (kicking and screaming, though they be) to the cross, to a wrath-bearing Christ. 3. Recognize the inconsistency of your sin. You put off the ‘old man,’ and have put on the ‘new man’ (Col. 3:9–10). You are no longer the ‘old man.’ The identity you had ‘in Adam’ is gone. 4. Put sin to death (Col. 3:5). It

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Seeing ourselves in the big picture of God’s activity in redemptive history

Union with Christ in his death and resurrection … is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology. It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness. – Sinclair Ferguson

Smuggling Character Into Grace

“The glory of the gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to him in spite of their sin. But our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into his work of grace. How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we remain justified only so long as there are grounds in our character for our justification. But Paul’s teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification. So powerful was his emphasis on this that men accused him of teaching that it did not matter how they lived if God justified them. If God justifies us as we are, what is the point of holiness? There is still a sense in which this is a test of whether we offer the world the grace of God in the gospel. Does it make men say: ‘You are offering grace that is so free it doesn’t make any difference how you

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Round-table discussion with Sproul and Ferguson, et al

Watch as R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Teaching Fellows Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, and R.C. Sproul Jr. engage in this round-table discussion (May 19, 2011) covering topics such as dispensationalism, regeneration, election, evangelism, and Harold Camping. Very highly recommended. (HT: Reformation Theology)

Ferguson on Freedom from the Law and Freedom from Sin

Sinclair Ferguson, on Owen’s theology of mortification: How does Christ set us free from the law? And how does that freedom involve freedom from the dominion of sin? For Owen the answers are clear: Christ sets us free from the curse of the law by taking that curse himself and he fulfills the demands of the law for holiness for the believer by his perfect life. . . . He is the believer’s righteousness. But how does freedom from the law entail freedom from the dominion of sin? It is because the believer’s union with Christ, which effects his freedom from the law, also effects his ‘death to sin,’ for he is united to Christ both in his death under the law and his simultaneous death to sin. The two were inseparable in Christ, and through union with him, they are also inseparable in the Christian. –Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth, 1987), 130; italics original (HT: Dane Ortlund)