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Entries in Devoted to God (2)


The battle is fierce

I finished Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God. It was a book which has been making me think hard. Some of the challenges in the book remind me of that moment in The Voyage of the Dawntreader where Eustace is a dragon and begins pulling away at his skin; painful and laborious. I am going to read J.I. Packer's Rediscovering Holiness next. 

What does holiness look like? That's a question always in my mind. Holiness should be evident, but it cannot be reduced to our conduct. That is when we get into legalism. Of course holiness will affect our conduct, but it must begin inside of us. Ferguson discusses throughout the book the reality that our holiness is an overflow of our union with Christ. Our identity becomes entwined with Christ's, and that means we will change as we are confronted with the standard of holiness. If we truly want to be Christlike, it means change.

That is hard. I don't like change. And there are times when I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of significant change. I grew up in a home with an underlying theme of combat. I had a fairly unremarkable childhood, but there was combat and confrontation. That kind of environment makes one defensive. If we feel we are going to enter into a battle, we put up our defenses. It gets to the point where we put up defenses as a rule even when there is no apparent conflict. It has taken me a long time to recognize this, and it is only a recent ephiphany, but understanding it has been very illuminating.

When we're defensive, we are self-focused. And while we may feel the need to be defensive to protect ourselves, there are times when that self-focus can run rampant and make us a generally self-focused person. That can result in living always with a view to pleasing ourselves. I thought about that when I read this passage from Ferguson:

Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force iin our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.

I can't change the past. I can't undo the things in my childhood which I look back at with regret. But I am a new creature in Christ, and I do not have to stay mired down in those things. That means releasing my defensiveness. It means striving to live in a way where my primary concern is not to please myself. I really appreciated Ferguson's questions to ask ourselves when contemplating our choices:

Is this going to build up?

Is this going to strengthen the fellowship of God's people?

Is this going to advance my goal of running towards Jesus Christ and glory?

Is this something that laying to one side will better enable me to serve Christ?

That last question is a good one. What could I release today that would enable me to serve Christ better?

Holiness is hard. As Ferguson says, " . . . the battle to be holy is fierce, the conflict is long, the opposition is strong, and the obstacles are many. "

Thanks be to God that we do not enter into this particular battle unequipped, but that we rest in the sovereignty of God and the knowledge that his Spirit is what brings about the victory.


Now, this is how books ought to be written

Since school finished, I've wanted to read from my "to read" pile. I started one, got about halfway through, and put it down, disappointed. I don't often do that, but I found it a chore to read every day. Sometimes, in school, I have to read things I find tedious, but reading for pleasure ought to be just that: pleasurable.

After putting down the other book, I took up Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God. I started it while on holidays, but in the wake of my decision to stop reading the other, I've given it more attention. I can understand why so many people gave such resounding approval to this book. There is theological explication combined with eloquence that demonstrates that this man, a minister of the gospel and a teacher for many years, has thought deeply about matters of doctrine for many years.

In the third chapter, Ferguson talks about the "prepositions of grace." When writers bring up the grammar of a biblical passage, I eagerly listen. Specifically, what he does is show the prepositional phrases found in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ
and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself up for me.

Ferguson addresses them in theological order rather than as they appear in the text: Christ gave himself for us; we live by faith in him; we have been crucified with him; Christ lives in us. His purpose in this is to show us that unity in Christ is a key foundational principle in our sanctification. He points out, especially, that Paul uses the phrase "into Christ" rather than just "in Christ." He says: "Faith brings us into a person-to-person union and communion with Jesus Christ so that what is ours becomes his and what is his becomes ours." This is intimacy that is staggering; that Christ would be this intimate with us is something amazing!

I particularly liked Ferguson's explanation of what being crucified to Christ means:

The heart of union with Christ, Paul emphasizes, is this: when we trusted into him who was crucified with us there is a sense in which we also came to share in his crucifixion. Paul does not mean that we died physically but rather that united to Christ all the implications of his being crucified for us became our possession.

There is much to think about in the rich descriptions Ferguson provides. He points the reader to think about matters that are deep and enduring. And when a writer uses grammar-speak, it's an added bonus.