Are you a Christian? What has your life looked like since you became one? How do you grow to become like Christ? Do I have a role in this or am I only dependent on God to change me? I have been a Christian for 24 years now, and I did not realize until recently that what we believe are the answers to these questions has a dramatic impact on our ability to be successful in becoming more like Christ.
Specifically, the topic these questions fall under is our understanding of the process of sanctification.
Earlier this year, I read a book by Sinclair Ferguson called The Whole Christ that I would highly recommend, which helps the reader see that legalism and antinomianism are problems from the same root, a misunderstanding of God’s grace. With this recent book in mind, I was compelled to read Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson.
Devoted to God is ten chapters long. Each chapter is an exposition by Ferguson of the following ten passages: 1 Peter 1:1-25; Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 5:16-17; Colossians 3:1-17; Romans 8:13; Matthew 5:17-20; Hebrews 12:1-14; Romans 8:29.
I recently described reading Devoted to God as an opportunity to guzzle the gospel. The main premise that Ferguson highlights through the ten passages is the following “spiritual logic.”
“Exhortations to be holy are always derived from an exposition of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit. Indicatives are always the foundation for imperatives even if they appear in the reverse order.
God never throws us back to rely upon ourselves and our own resources. He encourages us rather to grow up as Christians by digging down ever more deeply into the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is rich and fertile soil in which Christian holiness puts down strong roots, grows tall and bears the fruit of the Spirit. Thus the New Testament always links two things together in an important piece of spiritual logic. The new situation creates the new lifestyle:
God has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that.
Be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.” – page 93
It is incredibly refreshing and energizing to think of sanctification in these terms. We can be successful in becoming more like Christ because of “the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ.” We have hope to change from one degree of glory to another on the basis “of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit.”
I highly recommend the reading of this book to cement in your mind and heart how sanctification is to work in the life of a Christian. You will be given the tools to determine if preachers are motivating you biblically or are trying some other means that simply sound biblical when in fact they are not rooted in the truths of the gospel. In fact, Ferguson gives some great questions to consider on page 119:
“The key test of any formula for sanctification is: Does this enable me to overcome the influence of sin, not simply in my outward actions but in my inner motivations? And, in particular: Does it increase my trust in and love for the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it a Christ-centred sanctification I am being offered?”
Below you will find some quotes that I found especially insightful and/or helpful when considering how we are to become more like Christ. Enjoy!
A fundamental way in which Christian character is strengthened is by stress. The friction God builds into the Christian life is, therefore, not accidental. It is deliberate, strategic, and intended to produce growth in holiness. – page 27
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 continuity. Love holiness now, because we love the Holy One and we will love it all the more then, in the presence of the Holy One when we see him face to face. – page 28
When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of the gospel. – page 32
If we are to understand the nature of sanctification and successfully pursue it, we must immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ and applied in us by the Holy Spirit. – page 35
The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. – pages 39-40
This, perhaps, is 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 ever will for ourselves. But to those who are being transformed, God’s will brings pleasure. – page 52
The gospel turns the duty of doing and experiencing God’s will into a delight. – page 53
Jesus lived a life of complete obedience and perfect sanctification. – page 58
Thus, everything Christ did he did for me in obedience to his Father. All that he has done is therefore mine as a gift. He gave himself for me, in his love to me; and now through the Spirit all that he did is mine. – page 59
Paul is grinding spectacle lenses for us according to the gospel’s prescription. We need to wear these spectacles in order to see ourselves more clearly and to recognise and benefit from our new identity in Christ. – page 65
We have been too busy doing to take time to reflect on being. As a result we suffer from a loss of our Christian identity…But grasp the indwelling of Christ and a new dynamic is released, and a new melody is introduced into our devotion. – page 67
An important aspect of sanctification: thinking through the logic of the gospel corrects, cleanses, recalibrates, transforms, and sanctifies us emotionally as well as intellectually. – page 77
We may have given our whole lives to Christ; but it will take the rest of our lives to work that out in practice. And we can only do that if we keep on walking in the Spirit. – page 102
The more sensitive we are to the fact that we are living in a warfare context, the more successful we are going to be in living in the Spirit. – page 104
We battle with the flesh. But it is never enough to concentrate our attention only on the flesh. We must give our attention to the Spirit. – page 108
We must never stress the negative (‘put to death’) on its own. That would lead to spiritual disaster. It must be accompanied by the positive (‘put on’). – page 129
Thus, growing in sanctification means:
- Understanding that I am a new man or new woman in Christ.
- Recognizing the traits in my life that are inconsistent with that new identity.
- Dealing death blows to my sins.
- Clothing myself in the graces of Jesus. – pages 137-138
There are no spiritual gains without pains. So we must be willing to act with spiritual violence against our sins. – page 146
The motivations themselves carry with them the impetus to live wholly for Christ. – page 153
Love was always at the heart of God’s law. It was given by love to be received in love and obeyed through love. – page 162
Love provides motivation for obedience, while law provides direction for love. – page 163
The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. – page 179
Sometimes pilgrimage can seem a lot harder than bondage. – page 192
Christians have a significantly different form of the maxim: ‘Know thy sinful self.’… It is ‘know your Christian self!’ – be conscious not only of what you are by nature, but of who and what you have become in Christ. For we must never lose sight of what we are in Christ when we are reflecting on what we are in ourselves. – page 199
Know your sin, but know also the power of God’s grace…Not even sin and its strength should be allowed to loom so large in our thinking or feeling that it covers up the sight of Christ and his people. – page 203
It is as though struggles, suffering, trials, are, in the Spirit’s hands, the raw materials out of which he creates glory in us. – page 219
Grasp this and it sheds light on our path. Is my life more rather than less challenging now that I have become a Christian? Am I puzzled by what the Lord seems to be doing in the circumstances of my life? Do I face trials and experience affliction, even forms of persecution I never expected? Am I discovering more sin in my heart than I ever imagined before I became a Christian? Then he is sanctifying me. And this is a much bigger, wider, longer, deeper work than I first realised when I became a Christian. God is not interested in short-term results but long-term, permanent (everlasting!) changes. – pages 219-220