Saturday, March 23, 2019

Reading Challenge, Book 5

The fifth book of Tim Challies’ reading challenge for 2019 is “a book about Christian living.” I read Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).[1]

Each chapter examines a particular section of New Testament Scripture that describes the growth of a believer in Christ. A lot of times you hear people denigrate confessions or theology as “systems imposed upon the Bible.” Ferguson’s work here reveals the shallow ignorance of such claims. While Ferguson is confessional and holds to a rich theological tradition, the exegetical theology in each chapter of this book shows that the confession and theology grow up out of the Bible, and are far from being imposed on it from the outside.

“Sanctification” (the Christian’s life-long growth in holiness) is in the very title of the book, and it’s to that holiness I turn now by way of personal admission.

For me personally, the most impactful moment in my reading of the book came in the middle. Ferguson asks several rhetorical questions: “What do we want Christ to do for us? Do we really want to grow in holiness? Or has our failure left us content with mediocre levels of sanctification?” (pg. 146). In answering those questions, I realized I couldn’t recall ever once praying that God the Holy Spirit make me holy as He is holy. It’s certainly possible I have prayed in this way at some time or another and just don’t remember, but this request is not one that I regularly make in prayer. This grieved me. I have preached and taught that we should be students of the Bible’s teaching about holiness, but have never made that a matter of prayerful attention. I have lifted up holiness as the highest attribute of God according to the Bible, but have not desired it enough for myself to make it a matter of regular request.[2]

“Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father Who is in heaven,
Hallowed [ἁγιασθήτω, cause to be holy] be Your name’” (Matthew 6:9).

It is the first petition. How can I pray for anything else or in any other way until I have first entreated Him for His holiness in me? If I truly want to be conformed to Christ (which is God’s purpose for me, Romans 8:29), how can I not desire His holiness above all else?

How can we be “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20) if His holiness is not our highest longing?

For the last weeks, I have made the prayer “Lord, make me holy as You are holy” one that I pray many times throughout the day. The Holy Spirit’s working through that prayer in my life has been significant.

Ferguson defines holiness from the starting point of the eternal Trinity, a devotion of infinite love between the three Persons of the one true God: “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” (pg. 2). It is this mutual devotion among the Persons that undergirds the title of the book, Devoted to God. Once reconciled to God in Christ, we are to grow in a devotion to God throughout our lives into completion in Christ alone, according to the Bible, by the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. This devotion of all that we are to God is holiness.

Chapter 8, “The Law Goes Deep,” was a very helpful meditation on God’s Law and the Christian’s growth in Christ.
“The law is fulfilled by love, but it is not replaced by love. This fulfillment means that law is love-shaped and that love is law-shaped…love was always at the heart of God’s law. It was given by love to be received in love and obeyed through love…love provides motivation for obedience, while law provides direction for love” (pg. 162-163).
“The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker” (pg. 179).

Believers, influenced by the world and their own innate sinful desire for autonomy from God, are woefully unable to understand the Law of God in the context of the Gospel. This topic should be the regular meditation of the Christian, keeping us from falling into either legalism or antinomianism (the Gospel is lost in either). This was a very helpful chapter.

I could speak of many other parts of the book that I think are so important (the necessity of holiness through a renewal of our thought-life is one), but I’ll stop short of saying too much and thereby muddying a great work. One of many things I like about Sinclair Ferguson is that he wastes no words in his writing. There is no filler in Devoted to God. It is a rich, thoughtful, and useful meditation on sections of the New Testament which are vital to growth in Christ.

[1] I started out ahead on this reading challenge, but am lagging a bit…
[2] When I say holiness is “the highest attribute of God,” don’t mean that there is a hierarchy of attributes or that the attributes can be divided into unmingled categories. I mean that all of the attributes of God can be seen as a revelation of His holiness. All the attributes are revealed for our benefit and understanding by His gracious revelation of Himself. He has no parts. He is one.