“In Adam by nature, in Christ by grace” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Union with Christ in His death and resurrection is the element of union which Paul most extensively expounds. But the principle of Romans 6 is a wider one: if we are united to Christ, then we are united to Him at all points of His activity on our behalf.

We share in His death (we were baptized into His death), in His burial (we were buried with Him by baptism), in His resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ), in His ascension (we have been raised with Him), in His heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God) and we will share in His promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-4).

This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology. It is rooted, not in our humanity and our achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with Him.

Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.

This general approach is well illustrated by Paul’s key statements: ‘We know that our old self [anthropos, man] was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin’ (Rom. 6:6).’

What is here said to be accomplished already is the central element in sanctification (we are no longer slaves to sin, we are servants of God). It is accomplished by doing away with ‘the body of sin’– an expression which may refer in the context of Romans 6 to the physical body, or more generally, to bodily existence as the sphere in which sin’s dominion is expressed.

In Christ, sin’s status is changed from that of citizen with full rights to that of an illegal alien (with no rights– but for all that, not easily deported!). The foundation of this is what Paul describes as the co-crucifixion of the old man with Christ.

The ‘old man’ (ho palaios anthropos) has often been taken to refer to what I was before I became a Christian (‘my former self’). That is undoubtedly implied in the expression.

But Paul has larger canvas in mind here. He has been expounding the fact that men and women are ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Christ’. To be ‘in Adam’ is to belong to the world of the ‘old man’, to be ‘in the flesh”, a slave to sin and liable to death and judgment.

From this perspective, Paul sees Jesus Christ as the second man, the last Adam, the new man. He is the first of a new race of humans who share in His righteousness and holiness. He is the first of the new age, the head of the new humanity, through His resurrection (compare 1 Cor. 15:45-49). By grace and faith we belong to Him.

We too share in the new humanity. If we are in Christ, we share in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we are no longer ‘in the flesh’, but ‘in the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:9). The life and power of the resurrection age have already begun to make their presence felt in our life.

What is so significant here is the transformation this brings to the Christian’s self-understanding. We do not see ourselves merely within the limited vision of our own biographies: volume one, the life of slavery in sin; volume two, the life of freedom from sin.

We see ourselves set in a cosmic context: in Adam by nature, in Christ by grace; in the old humanity by sin, in the new humanity by regeneration. Once we lived under sin’s reign; now we have died to its rule and are living to God.

Our regeneration is an event of this magnitude! Paul searches for a parallel to such an exercise of divine power and finds it in two places: the creation of the world (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17) and the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Eph. 1:19-20).

Against this background Paul urges radical consecration and sanctification (Rom. 6:11-14). In essence his position is that the magnitude of what God has accomplished is itself an adequate foundation and motivation for the radical holiness which should characterize our lives.

In actual practice, it is the dawning of this perspective which is the groundwork for all practical sanctification.

Hence Paul’s emphasis on “knowing’ that this is the case (Rom. 6:3, 6, 9), and his summons to believers to ‘consider’ themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).

‘Consider’ (‘reckon’, KJV) does not mean to bring this situation into being by special act of faith. It means to recognize that such a situation exists and to act accordingly.

Sanctification is therefore the consistent practical outworking of what it means to belong to the new creation in Christ. That is why so much of the New Testament’s response to pastoral and personal problems in the early church was: ‘Do you not know what is true of you in Christ?‘ (Rom. 6:3, 16; 7:1; 1 Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 19; 9:13, 24).

Live by the Spirit’s power in a manner that is consistent with that! If you have died with Christ to sin and been raised into new life, quit sinning and live in a new way.

If, when Christ appears, you will appear with Him and be like Him, then live now in a manner that conforms to your final destiny!”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “Christian Spirituality: The Reformed View of Sanctification,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 534-536.

“It seems that Christians read and understand their Bibles less today” by Sinclair Ferguson

“There are so many Bible translations and editions. I personally use the English Standard Version of the Bible. I love it and I recommend it.

Over the years I have seem to amassed multiple copies: a Study Bible, a Large Print Bible, a Compact Bible, a Wide Margin Bible, A Reference Bible, a Pew Bible, and a Classic Thinline Bible, a Minister’s Bible, and yes, I also have a Red Letter Version (although I dislike the idea that Jesus’ words should somehow be distinguished in this way. Plus, publishers should know that red letters are more difficult to read as one’s eyesight gets poorer!).

And then I have other translations as well. The Geneva Bible (I am privileged to have been given a copy published in 1610!); The Authorised (King James) Version, The American Revised Version, The New American Standard Version, The New King James Version, J. N. Darbys Translation, Moffatt’s Translation, The New English Bible, The Amplified Bible, The Message, The Living Bible, The New Living Bible, and so on.

In addition, at one time I used to receive a Bible Catalogue every four months which offered for sale an even longer list of Bibles I don’t have. The Orthodox Study Bible, The Archaeology Study Bible, The Power of a Praying Woman Bible, The Rainbow Bible, Bibles for children, teens, girls, fellows, youth, sportsmen, soldiers, etc.

Yet, despite all these translations in all the variety of packaging in which they come, it seems that Christians read and understand their Bibles less today than their forefathers did.

Are you one of them?

In some countries the Bible is a banned book. Government agents hunt Bibles down and confiscate them.

Imagine for a moment that this happened to your favourite Bible—and in order to prosecute you your Bible was handed over to a CSI Unit (‘Crime Scene Investigation’)—the kind of law enforcement unit you have probably seen on TV–Would there be enough recent fingerprint and DNA evidence on your Bible to bring charges against you of being a Christian?

And would there be enough evidence of a transformed life to secure a conviction against you?

–Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God’s Church: Core Values for Christian Fellowship (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2020), 97-98.

“No longer my past but Christ’s past” by Sinclair Ferguson

“We share one bundle of life with Christ in what He has done. All that He has accomplished for us in our human nature is, through union with Him, true for us and, in a sense, of us.

He ‘died to sin, once for all’; ‘He lives to God’ (Romans 6:10). He came under the dominion of sin in death, but death could not master Him.

He rose and broke the power of both sin and death. Now He lives forever in resurrection life to God. The same is as true of us as if we had been with Him on the cross, in the tomb, and on the resurrection morning!

We miss the radical nature of Paul’s teaching here to our great loss.

So startling is it that we need to find a startling manner of expressing it. For what Paul is saying is that sanctification means this: in relationship to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past.

The basic framework for my new existence in Christ is that I have become a ‘dead man brought to life’ and must think of myself in those terms: dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ our Lord.”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “Christian Spirituality: The Reformed View of Sanctification,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 533.

“He is one with us and has taken our place” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Because Christ bears our name and our nature even the weakest believer may look to Christ and find assurance of grace and salvation in Him.

Here Calvin’s exposition of the Gospels’ testimony is profound and telling: Jesus’ ministry reveals to us the humanity of a Saviour who can be trusted, who understands, and who is able to bring reassurance of the adequacy and fittingness of His grace.

Much of what He does and experiences is intended to show us how near to us He came. The revelation of His frailty and weakness is all intended to assure us that He is one with us and has taken our place.”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “Manifested in the Flesh: The Reality of the Incarnation,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 81.

“Read, study, reflect, and write” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Many—probably most—of these chapters were written in the context of busy pastoral ministry, either in Scotland or in the United States—preaching, teaching, pastoral visiting, personal meetings, crises in the lives of individuals and sometimes the whole church, administrative responsibilities, and the wide and wonderful variety of activities that make up the average ministers life.

And since virtually all the essays were written by request, their writing has been squeezed into, or out of, an occasional hiatus in the sheer busy-ness of ministry life and the constant preparation involved in preaching anywhere between three and six times in the week.

So, at some point in the writing of almost all these chapters I have heard an inner voice ask, ‘Whatever possessed you to agree to do this?’ Yet, however far short these various pieces fall, in each case the preparation of them did me good, enlarged my understanding a little, and fed into the day-to-day work of pastoral ministry.

I hope, therefore, that these pages will encourage other ministers to allow themselves to be stretched a little beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation. There is no doubt that the wider reflection, reading, study and stretching involved can only strengthen and enrich long-term ministry.

Such stretching produces growth. Sometimes ministers can ‘waste’ the privileged time they have by studying only in relation to their next sermon. This does produce some growth, of course; but perhaps not growth that is constantly putting down deeper roots and producing richer fruit.

Preachers need to be reading and studying more widely, and reflecting theologically if that is to be the case. For only then will our ongoing ministry be deepened and enriched.

Thus, in one sense at least, the undergirding message of these diverse chapters is: if you are a preacher, accept invitations or create opportunities to study, speak, or write on subjects outside of your usual diet of preparation.

Yes, you may find yourself under a little pressure; but pressure can produce diamonds! You will grow personally as a result, and, God-willing, Paul’s exhortation will be fulfilled in your ministry:

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have… Practise these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

It can be an unnerving question to ask oneself, ‘Has anyone in the congregation ever thought, far less said, about me, ‘He is making progress’?”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), xii-xiii.