Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 296 pages. 2016
Every once in a while, a book comes along that is truly special. Hearing that Sinclair Ferguson whom R.C. Sproul calls his favorite theologian was writing a book on sanctification, I knew this book had the potential to be special. As I read the book, which is my top book of the year, I knew that it had delivered on that promise.
Dr. Ferguson writes in the “Introduction” that the book has a goal of providing a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of ten foundational passages in the New Testament that serve as biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness. These passages (which are printed in Appendix 5), create the possibility for exponential growth in our understanding of what sanctification is, and how it is nurtured. Each chapter in the main portion of the book focuses on one of these passages, which the author recommends we meditate on, and even memorize them.
The passages focus on teaching that is given in the indicative, rather than the imperative mood – passages that describe sanctification, rather than passages that command it. As such, this is not so much a “how to” book but a “how God does it” book. It is not dominated by techniques for growing in holiness. He states that the book is a manual written to encourage those who read it to “strive….for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. (Hebrews 13:14).
The author writes that holiness is unreserved devotion to the Lord. He tells us that the biblical teaching on holiness, a life devoted to God, is simply an extended exposition of 1 Corinthians 6: 1-20.
Holiness means belonging entirely to him. He tells us that from beginning to end being a Christian and being holy are virtually synonymous. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry and likeness to Christ is the ultimate goal of sanctification. Sanctification is holiness, and therefore the ultimate fruit of being devoted to God.
As there has been some controversy regarding justification and sanctification in recent years, he writes that justification (God counting us as righteous in Christ) and sanctification (God making us more and more righteous in ourselves) should never be confused. Nor is the former dependent on the latter. He states that we are not justified on the basis of our sanctification; yet justification never takes place without sanctification beginning.
Themes covered in this wonderful book include union with Christ, sin, God’s grace, election, the Trinity, flesh and Spirit, putting to death the old and putting on the new, and the Christian and the Law.
The 5 appendices included in the book nicely supplement the main text, which is bathed in Scripture. And as with all of his books, the author often quotes from old hymns of the faith.
I cannot recommend this book too highly.
30 Wonderful Quotes from Devoted to God:
Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson
This year I’ve read many excellent books but this is my favorite book of the year. Here are 30 quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you:
- Sanctification is God setting us apart for himself. As saints we have already been sanctified by him. Then he gradually transforms us so that we begin to reflect his attributes and attractiveness. Jesus Christ’s life begins to be mirrored in our lives and personalities.
- Divine election is the foundation of sanctification – not the other way around. Everything depends upon God taking the initiative.
- If God has 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.
- The whole Trinity cooperates 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.
- Holiness is not only the desire of the Trinity, it is a specific command.
- Those who are becoming holy will always have a two-fold impact on those around them. On the one hand there will be the irresistible attraction of the beauty of holy-love showing what life in the presence of God really is – life as it was meant to be lived. On the other hand, this holy-love, so attractive in itself, also involves loving-holiness that will offend those who are repelled by God’s holiness and live in rebellion against him. It cannot be otherwise.
- Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry.
- 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.
- Sanctification – being devoted to God – is always the fruit of his setting us apart in and through Christ.
- God’s grace transforms us through our union and communion with Jesus Christ.
- Believers are so united to Christ that all he is and has done for us becomes our possession too.
- Our lives are transformed only when our minds are renewed.
- For Paul, the “big idea” of the gospel is that the believer is “in Christ”.
- Romans 6: 1-14 are among the most important verses of the New Testament. It is not claiming too much to say that the church is still trying to fully understand some of the details of his teaching in Romans 6. So there is room here for a lifetime of reflection.
- 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 has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that. Or, be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.
- The Christian life involves us in an ongoing, lifelong conflict. The gospel therefore calls us to live under the reign of the Spirit in a world dominated by the flesh.
- Living in the Spirit therefore means a daily commitment to please Christ and not to please self.
- There can be no other way to live the Christian life than by (1) Putting to death the old, and (2) Putting on the new.
- Many young believers are shocked to discover that indwelling sin seems to be like an onion in the soul; the unraveling of one layer simply reveals the next – on and on continue the painful revelations of our sinfulness.
- 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?
- Success in the Christian life never means that we live for ourselves or see ourselves as superior to others. No, the real success the gospel effects releases us from our self-obsessions and self-interests, so that at last we are free in Christ to love and serve others.
- Growing in holiness, enjoying closer fellowship with God, brings with it an ongoing and very painful revelation of layers of sin that have been subtly hidden in our hearts but rarely if ever exposed.
- The Christian life has both seed-time and harvest. We therefore need to take a long-term view. If I sow to the flesh I will always reap from the flesh corruption; sow to the Spirit and I will enjoy a spiritual harvest in eternal life. That is an unchanging law in the kingdom of God.
- For what we think about and love will have a determinative influence on our character. What fills our minds will shape our lives. We become what we think!
- The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. Now the requirements of the law have been fulfilled in him, its prescriptions fully obeyed, its penalties finally paid. All that remains is for this to be imputed to us in justification and imparted in us in sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
- Sin has a way of knitting itself into the very fabric of our being, into our character and personality, into our propensities and our weaknesses and, yes, even into our strengths – sometimes especially into our strengths. It becomes my distinctive sin.
- It is always a shock to our pride when we discover that we are sinners – and not merely people who occasionally sin.
- Those who experience the grace of God in justification want to experience his grace in sanctification too. That involves strenuous activity on our part.
- Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force in our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.
- Union with Christ means that we come to participate not only in his death but also in his weakness. This weakness is not something from which union with Christ delivers us, but into which union with Christ brings us.