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A Catechism on the Heart

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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 set free.

Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical.

But behind the giants of church history stands the testimony of Scripture. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). That is why, in replacing Saul as king, God “sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), for “the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). It is a truism to say that, in terms of our response to the gospel, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. But truism or not, it is true.

What this looks like, how it is developed, in what ways it can be threatened, and how it expresses itself will be explored little by little in this new column. But at this stage, perhaps it will help us if we map out some preliminary matters in the form of a catechism on the heart:

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 that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”

Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?

A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”

Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?

A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.

Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word — reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.

Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.

Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace — and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.

This — and much else — requires development, elaboration, and exposition. But it can be summed up in a single biblical sentence. Listen to your Father’s appeal: “My son, give Me your heart.”

This article was originally published in Tabletalk Magazine.

Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

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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 Jesus is a Santa Christ

Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus — a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus’ hand, like Santa’s sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, “Have you done your best this year?” The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”).

3. A Mystical Jesus is a Santa Christ

Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn’t really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking — however much it employs Jesus-language — is not to be confused with biblical truth.

Who is the Biblical Christ of Christmas?

The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:211 John 3:8b).

  • Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.
  • Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down.
  • The shepherds’ night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.
  • The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.
  • Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is “like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6)—far from good enough—and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.

Adapted from In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.

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 New Testament” (Saved by Grace[Eerdmans, 1989], 64.

Hoekema explains that the New Testament uses two interchangeable expressions to describe union with Christ:

  1. We are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17John 15:4571 Cor. 15:222 Cor. 12:2Gal. 3:28Eph. 1:42:10Phil. 3:91 Thess. 4:161 John 4:13).
  2. Christ is in us (Gal. 2:20Col. 1:27Rom. 8:102 Cor. 13:5Eph. 3:17).

Three passages (John 6:56John 15:41 John 4:13) explicitly combine both concepts.

Hoekema says that we should see union with Christ “extending all the way from eternity to eternity.” He outlines his material in this way:

  1. The roots of union with Christ are in divine election (Eph. 1:3-4).
  2. The basis of union with Christ is the redemptive work of Christ.
  3. The actual union with Christ is established with God’s people in time.

Under the third point, he shows eight ways that salvation, from beginning to end, is in Christ:

  1. We are initially united with Christ in regeneration (Eph. 2:4-510)
  2. We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith (Gal. 2:20Eph. 3:16-17).
  3. We are justified in union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:302 Cor. 5:21Phil. 3:8-9).
  4. We are sanctified through union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30John 15:4-5Eph. 4:162 Cor. 5:17).
  5. We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (John 10:27-28Rom. 8:38-39).
  6. We are even said to die in Christ (Rom. 14:81 Thess. 4:16Rev. 14:13).
  7. We shall be raised with Christ (Col. 3:11 Cor. 15:22).
  8. We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:41 Thess. 4:16-17).

And here’s a helpful quote from Sinclair Ferguson (in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification [IVP, 1989], 58), explaining in a nutshell why union with Christ is the foundation for sanctification:

If we are united to Christ, then we are united to him at all points of his activity on our behalf.

We share

  • in his death (we were baptized into his death),
  • in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ),
  • in his ascension (we have been raised with him),
  • in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share
  • in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14Col. 2:11-123:1-3).

This, then, 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.

Some newer treatments of this important subject:

Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology

Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ

Robert Peterson, Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ (forthcoming, 2014)

Gospel imperatives and indicatives

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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 holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.

— Sinclair Ferguson “Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase”

(HT: Of First Importance)

What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ?

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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 exhortation in Ephesians 5:18: “be filled with the Spirit.”

In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles! Then, of course, as Christ’s Word dwells in us and the Spirit fills us, we will begin to pray in a way consistent with the will of God and discover the truth of our Lord’s often misapplied promise: “You will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7b).

Third, Christ underlines a further principle, “Abide in My love” (15:9), and states very clearly what this implies: the believer rests his or her life on the love of Christ (the love of the One who lays down His life for His friends, v. 13).

This love has been proved to us in the cross of Christ. We must never allow ourselves to drift from daily contemplation of the cross as the irrefutable demonstration of that love, or from dependence on the Spirit who sheds it abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). Furthermore, remaining in Christ’s love comes to very concrete expression: simple obedience rendered to Him is the fruit and evidence of love for Him (John 15:10–14).

Finally, we are called, as part of the abiding process, to submit to the pruning knife of God in the providences by which He cuts away all disloyalty and sometimes all that is unimportant, in order that we might remain in Christ all the more wholeheartedly.

Excerpt from In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson. Download the digital edition free through August 31, 2013.

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 of reductionism when it comes to the gospel? If so, how do we guard against it? (00:48:45)
  • Sinclair Ferguson, how has John Owen shaped your pastoral ministry? (00:51:32)

This is well worth an hour of your time!

 

What is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

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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 “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

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 so far beyond His followers and shrouded in darkness — He was heard to cry out: “My God, I am forsaken! Why?”

How intriguing that He should be buried in a garden, and that His first steps as the resurrected Adam should be in a garden, and one of His most devoted disciples should (mistakenly) address Him as though He were the gardener (John 20:15). Gardener? In truth He was . . .  taking His first steps in the resurrection body, the first fruits of the final restoration.

Read the whole thing.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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 who sees the prodigal and runs and falls on his neck and weeps and kisses him and says, “This my son was dead, he was lost and now he is alive and found.”

Pastors, when sinners are drowning, don’t tell them to paddle harder and kick faster. Throw them the life-line of amazing grace.

(HT: Tullian Tchividjian)

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 that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”

Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?
A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”

Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?
A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.

Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word — reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.

Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.

Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace — and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.

This — and much else — requires development, elaboration, and exposition. But it can be summed up in a single biblical sentence. Listen to your Father’s appeal: “My son, give Me your heart.”

You can read the whole Tabletalk article here. For more, see Ferguson’s book, A Heart for God.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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 is as ‘simple’ as that. Refuse it, starve it, and reject it. You cannot ‘mortify’ sin without the pain of the kill. There is no other way!

Read the entire article.

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 live’? This was precisely the objection the Pharisees had to Jesus’ teaching!” – Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, pages 82-83

(HT: Josh Harris)

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)

Grace is not a “Thing”

From Desiring God blog:

In the Christian life we can easily find ourselves using jargon without knowing what we’re really saying. What exactly is “grace”? Sinclair Ferguson clarifies:

It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misuing this langauge) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus.

If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a signficant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some poeple might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Excerpted from an interview with Sinclair Ferugson.

The Grammar Of The Gospel

Justin Taylor fantastically summarizes a section from Sinclair Ferguson’s talk earlier this year at the 2010 Basics conference. This is gospel gold. Take notes.

There is, according to Ferguson, a very clear grammar in the gospel: the mood, the tense, and the prepositions.

The Mood of the Gospel

We need to learn that the grammar of the gospel has its appropriate mood.

In our languages today we speak in the indicative mood and the imperative mood. The indicative mood is saying these are the things that are true. The imperative mood is saying these are things you need to do. And in the gospel, the structure of the grammar is always indicative gives rise to imperative. . . .

The Tense of the Gospel

There’s also a tense of the gospel: the present is to be rooted in the past. You need to go backward to what Christ has done in order to go forward in what you are to do. There is an emphasis of the already and the mopping-up operation of the not-yet.

The Prepositions of the Gospel

Do you remember how Paul uses prepositions in Galatians 2:20-21, where in a few words he summarizes the work of Christ:

The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me;
and therefore I am crucified with Christ;
nevertheless, I live, but not I; Christ lives in me.

In these three prepositions the apostle Paul has, in a sense, summarized the basic structure of our union with Christ.

Since we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, he came as our substitute and representative—there is this sense in which we now know through faith that we were crucified with Christ. And the past that dominated us has been nailed to the cross; the dominion of sin that reigned over us has been broken—so that  he has died for us and we have been crucified with him, and wonder of wonders there is this third dimension of our union with Christ: a mutual union, in which not only are we are said to be in Christ, but Christ the Lord of glory, in all the fullness of his role as our benefactor comes to dwell in the heart of the merest believer.

Justin has provided the video of Dr. Ferguson’s talks here. And you can access the audio here.

(HT: Tullian Tchividjian)

Be truly amazed by grace!

Sinclair Ferguson writes:

A chief reason for the weakness of the Christian church in the West, for the poverty of our witness and any lack of vitality in our worship, probably lies here:  we sing about “amazing grace” and speak of “amazing grace,”  but far too often it has ceased to amaze us. Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of “accustomed grace.” We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing.

Sinclair B. Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010), p.xiv

Sinclair Ferguson: By Grace Alone

JJ Sherwood briefly reviews the book at TGC Reviews here.

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

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