Devoted to God: Chapter 1

Devoted to God: Chapter 1

The first chapter of Devoted to God is called “The Ground-Plan.” It is here that Sinclair Ferguson sets out the blueprint of the book. He begins by challenging our assumptions about holiness. Perhaps we think we know what holiness is. We might think of holiness as either a set of actions we perform, or things we choose to refrain or abstain from. If this is our view of holiness, we are actually defining holiness in reference to ourselves and what we do or do not do. But if we really want to understand holiness, we need to delve deeper.

One problem with our understanding of holiness is that we tend to think of it in relation to sin. Holiness is separation from all that is evil, from all that is sinful. There is a sense in which this definition is quite useful. We see the word used that way frequently in the Old Testament.

But God is holy in Himself. He is everlastingly holy. He is holy without any reference to sin whatsoever. In other words, God was holy before sin entered His creation. This means that holiness cannot be defined as separation from sin. Holiness has its definition, not in something outside of and separate from God–holiness has its definition in God Himself.

Holiness is better defined in terms of God’s nature as the Triune God. God is holy in Himself. God is holy in all He is. God is holy as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, God’s holiness is best defined as the perfect devotion of the three Persons of the Godhead to one another in the fellowship of the oneness of the divine Being. As Ferguson puts it, “Holiness is the intensity of the love that flows within the very being of God, among and between each of the three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (p. 2).

The point for us to grasp is that if holiness is the devotion of the Persons of the Trinity to one another in eternal fellowship and communion, then this becomes the starting point for understanding what holiness is for us, the children of God. Simply put, holiness is devotion to God–living with such a God-orientation that we give ourselves entirely and fully to God.

Immediately, we feel a certain tension in this definition. None of us knows what it is like to give ourselves fully in devotion to God. Often we feel that the main thing we lack in our lives is devotion to God. Yet, the encouragement of the Scriptures is that there is hope for growth in holiness. We call that sanctification. And Ferguson’s main point is that sanctification is not so much about what we do or don’t do; rather, it’s about who we are. The key to growth as a Christian is not having a list of rules. The key is knowing: 1) whose you are; 2) who you are; and 3) what you are for. To know these things is to answer the question, “How shall I live?” (p. 7).

Ferguson emphasizes the importance of understanding the relationship between justification and sanctification. The two are to be clearly distinguished from one another, on the one hand, but never separated, on the other. Our Westminster Shorter Catechism distinguishes justification from sanctification. Justification is called an “act” of God’s free grace, whereas sanctification is called a “work” of God’s free grace. But, as Ferguson points out, it is impossible to be justified without being sanctified:

Why is this? Simply because there is no justification without sanctification. Both are given in Christ–our new status is always accompanied by our new condition. Justification never takes place apart from regeneration which is the inauguration of sanctification. Put differently, if Christ is not Lord of our lives, sanctifying us, how can He have become our Savior? Indeed unless we are actually being saved Christ has not become our Savior. If He is our Savior, the evidence of that will be–being saved; saved from the old life style into a new life style (p. 9).”

Holiness, then, means not only being in right standing with God (justification). Nor does holiness mean simply belonging to God, being a child of God (adoption). Holiness includes these, but also moves beyond them. Holiness involves being progressively transformed into the image and likeness of God. When God makes someone holy, He does two things. He separates them unto Himself by separating them from sin. But He also graciously recreates and renews them so that they begin to reflect His divine nature in their lives. This inevitably leads to wonder and adoration, or worship (p. 13).

The book of 1 Peter is a great encouragement that what God commands, He also provides. Ferguson builds on this premise by noting six foundational principles related to sanctification from 1 Peter 1:

1. Our sanctification is the purpose of the Triune God

The proof of this is God’s foreknowledge of elect sinners in love. God’s foreknowledge is always connected in the New Testament with His love of particular sinners whom He desires to conform to the image of Christ in love. The source of our holiness is the eternal, sovereign, electing, love of God (Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 2:13-14). God chooses sinners in order to sanctify them (Eph. 2:3, 10). This leads to a startling, but straightforward, point of application:

If sanctification is not my priority then it should not surprise me if I find my Christian life being dogged with frustration. For in this case I am seeking, consciously or not, to withstand the eternal purposes of God. I am missing out on the central privileges of the Christian life, namely glorifying and enjoying Him” (p. 17).

In other words, if God’s great purpose is our sanctification, it would seem reasonable that it would be our first priority–especially when we rightly understand that sanctification is devotion to God:

If God committed Himself to changing our lives, to sanctifying us, then wisdom–not to mention amazed gratitude–dictates that we should be committed to that too. Otherwise God’s will and my will are in competition with each other. But if by God’s grace i commit myself to His purposes, Peter’s teaching provides me with all the encouragement I need: the whole Trinity co-operates in bringing me to the goal. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit co-operate with one another, but they also co-operate with me in order to make me more like Christ…Whatever opposition there may be from the world, the flesh, and the devil, God the Trinity has determined to pour His energy into making us like Jesus Christ. It is His settled purpose” (p. 17).

2. Holiness is not only the desire of God for us, it is His commandment

The same pattern is to shape our lives as that which shaped the lives of God’s people in the Old Covenant: “Be holy, for I am holy.” Peter’s use of this phrase is a direct quotation from the book of Leviticus (Lev. 11:44; 19:2). The command to be holy is a “summarizing command.” It summarizes the whole law, which flows out of the love of God. Holiness is not inconsistent with love; rather, it is the very expression of it. As Ferguson says, “Sanctification is growing in holy-love; love is growing in holiness” (p. 18). Holiness is knowing God, who is holy, and reflecting His holiness in a life of devotedness to Him. As Isaiah learned in the throne room of God, holiness is not mere external conformity to the commandments of God. Holiness is the character of God coming to expression in the hearts of the children of God through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. It is on the basis of Christ’s work that God commands His children to be holy as He is holy (p. 22).

3. To be holy is to live as an exile in this unholy world

Scripture describes the Christian life as a pilgrim life, a life of exile (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11). An exile is someone who is separated from his homeland. As Christians, our true home is in heaven, where Christ is. This is why we find ourselves “out of sync” with the native inhabitants of this world. When we consider–even for a moment–our Savior who endured the utter alienation and exile of the cross for us, we are able to say, with Ferguson:

He is worth living in exile for. He is worth living the life of holy-love for. If such a Savior suffered such a death in order to make us holy, how else should we respond by by giving ourselves entirely to Him?” (p. 24).

4. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us

This comes to wonderful expression in the words of Psalm 100: “Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” Just as only God can do the work of creation, only God can do the work of recreation. The Spirit is the one who unites us to Christ, bringing us into the family of God, and producing in us the fruit of that union by making us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). The Spirit’s work in us is to conform us to the likeness of our Father, who is holy. He give us dispositions and desires that match those of our Father:

Now we love what we once despised, and despise much that we once loved. Now, while the Christian life remains a battle to the end, we find that there is all the difference in the world between seeking to be holy when that is a burden, and seeking to be holy because we belong to the family of God and have the new family nature” (p. 26).

We see this in our own families, don’t we? Our children, from the very youngest ages, seek to be like us. The children of God seek to imitate God. They do so not in order to become the children of God. They do so precisely because the are the children of God. The Spirit of God is at work in their hearts conforming their hearts to the very heart of their Father in heaven.

5. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by means of afflictions and trials

The Christian learns holiness as he lives a life in exile. This is what the Psalmist means when he says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71). God afflicts His children in faithfulness so that they may learn the comfort of His merciful kindness (Ps. 119:75-76). It seems counter-intuitive to us that one of the reasons we suffer is because we are the children of God. But God uses affliction to reveal the genuineness of our faith (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God tests us in order to refine, purify, grow, and strengthen us. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. It was through suffering that our Savior learned obedience to His Father in heaven. God afflicts us in order to make us more like His Son (Heb. 2:10; 5:8).

6. Our growth in holiness here and now prepares us for the glorious holiness we will enjoy in the life to come

Ferguson points out that this is not a “pie in the sky when you die” kind of theology. Our motivation for living a holy life is not the reward of happiness in heaven. Our motivation is that we are the children of God and our lives in this world right now are a manifestation of the reality that Christ is crucified, risen, and reigning, and that the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). We are in union with Christ now, and therefore we live as those who know the kingdom has already come in Jesus Christ. We live our lives in this world as those who know that all our afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). We are already living in the light of the glory of the world to come shining down upon us in the face of Jesus Christ (2 or. 3:18). We are simply waiting for the full revelation of what we already are and what we already have as the children of God. As Ferguson puts it:

If holiness is our heavenly happiness, and true happiness is, ultimately, holiness, then the prospect of the future will influence and shape our lives here and now. How strange it is that people think (as many seem to do) that they will be happy pursuing holiness there and then in heaven, if they are singularly unhappy about the calling to pursue it here and now on earth! No, there is a continuity. Love holiness now, because we love the Holy One and we will love it all the more the, in the presence of the Holy One when we see Him face to face. Despise it now and we will despise it then too…Those who will enjoy holiness there and then are those who want to pursue holiness here and now” (p. 29).

The blueprint for our growth in grace is now laid out before us. Let us devote ourselves to holiness of life by devoting ourselves to God with all our hearts.

 

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