Devoted to God: Chapter 3

Devoted to God: Chapter 3

In this chapter, Sinclair Ferguson introduces us to the theme of union and communion with Christ, which he calls “the heart of sanctification, the soul of devotion, and the strength of holiness” (p. 55). He does this by turning our attention to a single verse of Scripture, but one that is a mountaintop of the New Testament:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

We’ve already seen that sanctification is a work of God. In our sanctification, God works by His Holy Spirit to renew our minds and to grow us into Christian maturity in the likeness of Christ. Now, in this verse, Paul summarizes his entire theology of sanctification in four prepositional phrases. Let’s briefly consider those four phrases in order to discover more of what it means to live a live of devotion to God.

1. The Son of God…gave Himself FOR me

At the cross, the Second Person of the Trinity gave Himself in the ultimate act of devotion to the other members of the Godhead. But He also gave Himself for His elect, for you and me. The emphasis here is on Christ’s union with us in our human nature which is “the foundation of our fellowship with Him” (p. 57). When we speak of union with Christ, we often think primarily of only one aspect of our union with Him, what Ferguson calls our “faith union.” This is a very important (and wonderful!) facet of the picture of union with Christ, but it is not the whole picture. The Son of God united His divine nature to our human nature in the Incarnation. Our union with Christ by faith only becomes possible because of that prior aspect of union:

At the beginning of His life on earth, conceived by the power of the Spirit in the darkness of the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God took human nature, in all its frailty and poverty, in order to live a perfect life for us, in our place. At the end of His life He was carried by friends into the darkness of the garden tomb, having died the death we deserve because of our sins. Because He has taken our human nature and lived in perfect obedience to His Father for us, and died for our sins and been raised into new life, and ascended to His Father in the nature He assumed, there are now resources in the hands of the Holy Spirit both to justify us and sanctify us, indeed even to glorify us” (p. 57).

Jesus is the only kind of Savior who can supply us both with a perfect pardon for our sins and a perfect devotion to God. We need not only Jesus’ death for us on the cross for forgiveness; we need His perfect life of obedience for holiness. This is why theologians sometimes speak of a “double grace” that was purchased for us by Christ. It is important for us to remember that what Jesus did (both by His perfect life of obedience, and His death at the cross), He did FOR us, as our representative in the covenant of grace. He acted as our substitute. His perfect life of obedience is accepted by God as ours. His perfect atoning death is accepted as ours. Jesus our Sanctifier is truly able to sanctify us because He is the eternal Son of God united to our human nature forever. All that He accomplished in our human nature, He accomplished FOR us as our Redeemer–our Justifier, our Sanctifier.

2. I live by faith IN the Son of God

Prepositions are very small words, but they are very important ones. The second preposition Ferguson wants us to pay attention to is “in.” Here, the focus is on the means, or the instrument, by which God brings us into the experience of our union with Christ. God does this by “working faith in us and thereby uniting us to Christ” (see Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 30). Faith is the God-produced response in us to all that God is and all that God says of Himself. It is receiving, resting upon, and abiding in Christ alone for salvation “as He is offered to us in the Gospel” (WSC Q. 86).

Faith means responding to Christ’s invitation, ‘Come to Me…and I will give you rest.’ With all the burden of my sin and guilt, in my weakness and failure, I rest on Jesus Christ and receive His gracious pardon and power…[it] means to transfer trust from self to Christ, all the while recognizing that I cannot carry the heavy load of my sin and guilt, but He can” (p. 60).

This is where the preposition “in” becomes so meaningful for the Christian who understands the theological freight that one little word is meant to carry. For Paul, all that it means to be a Christian is summarized in the idea of being “in” Christ. Faith brings us not only to Christ, but into Christ so that there is a sharing and partaking of all that Christ is and all that He has. What is His becomes ours and what is ours becomes His.

3. I have been crucified WITH Christ

To be united to Christ means to be united to Him in His death and resurrection. This is the mystery at the heart of Romans 6:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:3-6).

Notice here that the emphasis is not on the Christian’s act of crucifying (mortifying) the flesh. One who is in Christ by faith  is one who, by the Spirit of Christ at work within him, will be crucifying the deeds of the flesh, putting the old man and its deeds to death. But this is not the focus of Gal. 2:20. The focus is on what has happened to and for us in our union with Christ. We have become partakers of Him and all that He is for us in the Gospel. Paul is not speaking here of something that we believe because we feel it to be true of us. He is speaking of what is objectively and eternally true of us because God has declared it in His Word. We are dead to the old man and his corrupting lusts in Christ. Therefore, being dead, we can begin to live by faith as those who are alive to God in Christ.

4. I no longer live, but Christ lives IN me

The last thing we need to understand from this truly breathtaking verse is that the Savior who died for me also lives within me! This is the very doctrine that Jesus used to comfort the hearts of His disciples when He was about to depart from them and return to the glory that He shared with the Father from before the foundation of the world. This doctrine of the indwelling of Christ by the Holy Spirit appears repeatedly in chapters 14-17 of John’s Gospel. To be in Christ is also to know the intimacy of Christ in you. To know Christ as the indwelling Son of God is to know the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Do you want to grow in your devotion to God, in holiness and sanctification? Know what Christ accomplished for you at the cross. Know who you are in Christ. Receive and rest upon the truth that you are dead in Christ, crucified with Christ. And live in the conscious awareness that not only are you in Christ, but Christ is in you, working in you both to will and to do according to the Father’s good pleasure.

Some further resources on sanctification:

  1. Louis Berkhof, “Sanctification.

2. Jon Payne, “The Nuts and Bolts of Sanctification.”

3. J. C. Ryle, “Are You Holy?”

4. Joel Beeke, “Holiness.”

5. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “He and He Alone.”

And a helpful overview of the place of union with Christ in the theology of the Reformation:


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