So much has been written on the doctrine of sanctification, that we might wonder what is left! Yet it is such a foundational doctrine that it warrants fresh investigation and application for each generation. And we might expect from a pastor-theologian such as Sinclair Ferguson a particularly well-informed and at the same time pastorally warm approach. This new book is that, but his is also a distinctive approach, so far as books given to the subject go, and the result is a genuine contribution to the literature and a rich resource well within the grasp of every Christian reader.
Ferguson’s intent is not to provide a “systematic theology” of the doctrine of sanctification – although that is hardly absent. His goal, rather, is
to provide a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of foundational passages in the New Testament. By the end of the book we will have worked our way together through some of the most important biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness. (p.ix)
He does this out of the conviction that the Bible does not approach the doctrine of sanctification in a “how-to” fashion. There is no lack of New Testament imperatives, of course, but that’s not the first or most basic emphasis. The New Testament writers, rather, present the doctrine in its gospel light – a framework in which the indicatives dominate and underlie and inform the imperatives.
Ferguson approaches a definition of “holiness” in a distinctive way. The notion of “separation” is important in many respects, but it is not primary. We know this, if nothing else, he argues, from the fact that God is himself holy: surely we cannot rightly define any of his essential attributes first with reference to his creation. Before any creation and considered in himself without any reference to his creation, the triune God is himself holy. The primary idea, then, is not that of separation but of devotion. God is utterly devoted to himself – Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s holiness speaks of “the perfectly pure devotion of each of these three persons to the other two” (p.2). If this is so, then it follows that holiness in us is likewise
a corresponding deeply personal, intense, loving devotion to him – a belonging to him that is irreversible, unconditional, without any reserve on our part. Simply put, it means being entirely his, so that all we do and possess are his. We come to think all of our thoughts and build our lives on this foundation…. To be holy, to be sanctified, to be a ‘saint’, is in simple terms to be devoted to God. (p.4)
From here Ferguson proceeds to expound, in turn, his selected “foundational” passages: 1Peter 1:1-7, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-14, Galatians 5:16-17, Colossians 3:1-17, Romans 8:12-13 with Colossians 3:5, selected passages on the law of God, Hebrews 12:1-14 with other selected passages in Hebrews, and finally Romans 8:29 and other selected passages on Christlikeness. These chapters are models of theological exposition pastorally framed, addressing “big picture” concerns such as union with Christ, definitive sanctification (even though he doesn’t use the term, except in a footnote citing John Murray), mortification, the relation of justification and sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as Christian obedience and responsibility. Among the five appendices, I found Appendix 2 particularly helpful – a lucid explanation of Paul’s unique expression, “he [Christ] died to sin” in Romans 6:10. True to form, Ferguson’s expositions throughout are Christ centered and gospel informed. Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology, and redemptive-historical concerns inform each chapter, but the form is that of pastoral exposition marked by devotional warmth. In the end Ferguson’s new book does indeed provide a “Blueprint for Sanctification,” one that treats the doctrine on the Bible’s own terms. Of course the expositions necessarily entail certain subjects where – sadly – differences among us will likely always remain, such as some questions regarding the law of God. Good men will continue to quibble here. Yet Devoted to God is a rich resource every Christian will appreciate and find enriching and deeply profitable. I’ve said it before: Sinclair Ferguson is among my very favorite pastor-theologians, and this book yet again illustrates why. A genuine contribution for which I am grateful. Very highly recommended.
Fred G. Zaspel is executive editor here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification