Devoted to God: Chapter 2

Devoted to God: Chapter 2

“The gospel turns the duty of doing and experiencing God’s will into a delight.” These are the final words of this chapter of Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent book on sanctification, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. What do you think about that statement? Does it surprise you to find the phrase “duty of doing” in the same sentence as the words “gospel” and “delight”?

The purpose of this book is to set before us the pattern of the Scriptures as the mold by which we are shaped and conformed to Christ in our sanctification. God sanctifies us by His Word, which is truth (Jn. 17:17). Ferguson has chosen several key passages of Scripture to help us see how God (in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) “renews us in the whole man after the image of God, and enables us more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” In Chapter 1, the focus was on 1 Pet. 1. Now, in Chapter 2, we turn our attention to Rom. 12:1-2:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (NKJV).

The first thing we need to keep in mind as we think about our sanctification, or our growth in Christian maturity, is that sanctification is a work of the Trinity. It is because this is a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in us that we have all the resources necessary for our growth in conformity to Jesus Christ. According to Ferguson,

God involves Himself in this work as the triune Lord: the Father commands it; the Son has died to provide the resources for it; the Spirit indwells us in order to effect it in our lives. As Augustine famously prayed, God commands what He wills and gives what He commands” (p. 31).

In other words, sanctification is a work of transformation produced in us by all three Persons of the Godhead working in us to make us more and more “holy as He is holy.” This should remind us that holiness is devotion to God as the supreme source and object of love. Transformation is not the same thing as “self-help” or “self-improvement.” Transformation is what God does in us to make us body and soul more like His Son Jesus Christ. Ferguson draws out four main principles for us to consider from this text.

1. Sanctification Flows from the Gospel

When God commands us to be “holy as He is holy,” He is not calling us to simply stop sinning and start obeying. He is not giving us a prescription for despair. Instead, He is encouraging us to be what we already are in Christ–children of our Father in heaven. Ferguson points out that there is a “grammar” to the gospel. Reversing this “grammar” leads to despair because it leads us to ground our relationship with God in what we are in ourselves, or in what we must do. This way of thinking is actually our “default” position. But we need to “change the settings.” We need to understand that the “grammar” of the gospel always places gospel indicatives prior to gospel imperatives. The “indicatives” of the gospel are are the statements in Scripture about what God has done, is doing, or will do for us in Christ. The “imperatives” are statements regarding our response to God in Christ. It is important for us to see that, not only in justification, but also in sanctification, grace always precedes and produces faith. As Ferguson says,

Paul’s thinking is always: God has done this for you in Christ, therefore you should respond in the following ways. Sanctification–being devoted to God–is always the fruit of His setting us apart in and through Christ…This lies at the heart of sanctification: not living for myself but living for Christ…Christ died and rose for us, and the love of Christ thus manifested constrains us to live for Him. It is because we understand the significance of His death and resurrection that we are devoted to Him” (p. 36).

The great danger in the Christian life is that of falling into the error of the Pharisees, who became obsessed with the details of the law of God rather than on the God of the law. This leads to “metallic” holiness–an external correctness of life that is lacking precisely because it has become its own end. The focus of such external “holiness” is self, not God. The corrective is to keep in mind the priority of grace and faith. The whole of our obedience flows not from ourselves, but from Christ, who is our life, through our union with Him which we have done nothing to earn or produce.

2. Sanctification Comes to Expression through our Bodies

Now, this is perhaps one of the most surprising thoughts in the chapter. But this is what Paul is saying: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice…” Sanctification involves the body because we are made to relate to God as His image, both body and soul. We are called to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices.” This means that our service to the Lord is costly and volitional. It involves us deeply, in all that we are, in our consecration to the Lord. This emphasis on the body is especially important because of the cultural context in which we live. We live in an age that worships the body. The Christian responds to this body-worship of the modern world, not by rejecting the body, but by devotion to God in our whole redeemed humanity:

The gospel…calls us to the thankful and joyful worship of the Lord in which we give our whole lives to him, including our bodies. In such worship we discover self-forgetfulness and Christ-glorifying consecration. This is why, even although it is true that who we really are as Christians is not visible to non-Christians, holiness cannot remain hidden. It shows itself in how we use our bodies” (p. 45).

3. Sanctification Involves the Renewal of our Minds

How does the gospel transform us? The answer Paul gives is “by the renewing of our minds.” The world around us exerts a continual, gradual, persistent (but imperceptible) conforming pressure upon our minds. This happens in a multitude of different ways from every conceivable direction. The gospel calls us to be counter-cultural non-conformists. This means we ought to be greatly concerned about what influences are shaping our thoughts, affections, desires, and inclinations. The Christian is a new creature in Christ:

At the heart of Paul’s gospel is a startling truth. The resurrection of Jesus Christ as the firstborn from the dead means that this new creation has already broken into our world and the new age has already begun. What was expected at the end of history has been inaugurated in the middle of it–in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who belong to Him already begin to share in this new age. Thus, Paul says (literally) ‘If anyone in Christ, new creation. The old has gone; behold the new has come'” (p. 46).

The result of this transformation of our minds is that we come to know who we have become in Christ. This is of great practical significance. As Ferguson says,

Knowing who we are will shape how we live. Conversely, not knowing who we are as Christians will leave us muddled and confused in our lifestyle. So we need to learn this new way of thinking about both the gospel and ourselves if we are to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ by the renewing of our mind” (p. 47).

Interestingly, the very grammar of the passage suggests that this involves both activity and inactivity. We are to be actively engaged in the work go God in renewing our minds by His Word and Spirit. This active engagement in God’s work of mind-renewal comes especially as we place ourselves under the regular preaching of God’s Word. We are passive in the sense that the Word comes to us in preaching and we must yield ourselves to it. Nevertheless, we are also active because it “appeals to our minds, reshapes our thinking, penetrates our consciences, and at this level engages us in intense activity” (p. 49). There is a cumulative impact of the Word upon us from one Lord’s Day to the next–and even from one service on the same Lord’s Day to the next. As I often ask parents who struggle bringing young children to the evening worship service (something our family certainly understands well!), which is better–52 opportunities for your children to hear the voice of Christ a year, or 104? The more we immerse ourselves in the Word of Christ, the more our minds will be renewed in and conformed to the mind of Christ.

4. Sanctification Produces a Discernible Effect

As we are transformed in our minds by the Gospel, we become more mature, more discerning Christians. Faith involves a kind of “experiment.” The more we yield to God’s gracious work upon us and in us (and the yielding, too, is His gracious work!), the more we taste and see for ourselves that the Lord is good. We learn by experiment and experience that the will of the Lord is “good and acceptable.” It is “acceptable” in the sense that it is worthy of being accepted by us as good for us:

This is perhaps the most obvious contrast between life in sin and life in grace. To the unregenerate, God’s will is inevitably unpleasant, simply because it is His will and not their will. They do not know that He wills much better for us than we can will for ourselves. But to those who are being transformed, God’s will brings pleasure…The gospel turns the duty of doing and experiencing God’s will into a delight” (p. 53).

Is this true of you? Do you delight to know and do the will of God, by the grace of God? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Php. 2:5).

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