BoT > Session 2 > Sinclair Ferguson

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Session 2 – (Tues. 7:00 PM)
“Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase”
Sinclair Ferguson

GRANTHAM, PA – It was unfortunate Walt Chantry was not able to speak at this year’s conference (his book, The Shadow of the Cross is a treasure). Sinclair Ferguson was his chosen replacement. Ferguson, who has been a friend of Chantry for 30 years, took time at the beginning of his address to honor his friend.

Ferguson is one of the great contemporary preachers in our age. He serves as Senior Minister of The First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC and as professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Dallas. What I love about Ferguson is that he is a Cross-centered scholar. A Puritan, really. And the opening night of the conference was a special treat because his address centered on how the Son purchases our sanctification.

Ferguson began by reading Titus 1 — words directed to a Gospel minister — with an emphasis on verses 11-15 where Christ’s redemption is tied to our sanctification.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:11-15)

The three messages on holiness (“Our Holiness”) at the conference are titled: 1) The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase, 2) Abiding in Christ’s Love, and 3) Walking in the Spirit. This excellent, God-centered division was outlined by Chantry.

Ferguson shared many helpful personal questions and reflections throughout his message, beginning with this statement (and continuing throughout my notes below).

Fill in this statement: My people’s greatest need is (blank). Is it my improved preaching? My improved pastoral skill? Overall church attendance and growth? Or, is my people’s greatest need my personal growth in holiness? We all come in here knowing this is our great weakness, but excellence in holiness is one of the supreme qualifications for pastoral ministry. In fact, in the lists of qualifications for elders, giftedness and skillfulness are not the dominate characteristics of the qualified pastor. But holiness is! Holiness marks out pastors as authentic believers.

We are timid of this fact because this means that others should see our progress. These questions have haunted me constantly with other ministry friends: Are they seeing my progress in holiness over the years? Is my congregation seeing my progress in godliness over the years? There are few other things more important to consider than our own personal holiness.

But here is the great encouragement. The great Gospel imperatives are rooted in the indicatives of grace that sustain those imperatives! As preachers, often our indicatives are not big enough or gracious enough to sustain the weight of our imperatives. Preaching then becomes a rod to beat holiness, but all we see are our own failures. We lose sight of the Gospel.

And we need to remember how the imperatives of holiness are grounded in the NT in the Triune God. “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Woven into the warp and woof, holiness is grounded in God. This holy God has in Himself, by Himself, for Himself, and is committed by Himself to bring about sanctification of His own people. Paul writes, “because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”(Rom. 15:15-16). “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3).

Elected to Holiness

Our holiness has been planned eternally by God. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). The grace of God has appeared, and this produces holiness. That the grace of God has appeared is a reference to Christ. He has appeared and this eternal planning shows that our holiness is the fruit of eternal planning.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). A living Calvinist is marked by compassion, humility, kindness. If you don’t look like this, you are not a Calvinist. This holiness is rooted in the eternal counsel of the eternally blessed God. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). The divine and eternal purposes of God are shown in our conformity to Christlikeness. This is holiness. It is of supreme importance that we understand that Christlikeness is holiness, not plus or minus anything else. We may have all types of abilities, theological knowledge, intellectual ability and affection towards the Gospel, but if I am not like Him I am not holy.

Election grounds our holiness. John Owen asked the question, how do we know if we are truly elect? The answer: Has God destined you to be holy? His chosen are to be like Himself (See Owen’s Works, 3:597-598). I still have powerful sin in me and without grace I would utterly fail at holiness. God’s eternal plan is the necessary inducement to holiness. God has seen His portrait fractured in the Fall and rebellion has set in. God wants His portrait back and He is getting rid of what is not Christlike in us. He wants us to be conformed to the image of His Son. In Romans Paul goes on to say that nothing will thwart this plan? Satan? Who can stand in God’s way? Charge them? Destroy them?

God is bending all circumstances and pain, He is chiseling and doing one thing – riding the universe of what does not reflect Christ. He deconstructs us to reconstruct our character, lives, to be Christlike. God is determined that you will be transformed into Christ. Holiness is not a threat but a cause of joy, wonder, worship and humility because this holiness has been purchased by the work of the Son.

Christ and Sanctification

The role of Christ in sanctification extends beyond purchase, but we should see holiness is purchased by Christ – not as an additional work. Justification and sanctification are linked together. My sanctification is as much purchased as any other aspect of salvation (Heb. 2:14-17). We can get so focused on the blood of Christ which pardons that we lose sight of Christ purchasing our sanctification and holiness. There are no gospel blessings that come apart from the crucified Christ. The conduit is His death. We receive nothing in the Christian life unless He purchased it by His obedience and Atonement.

The death of Christ is a multifaceted reality. Just look at how many Hebrew nouns are used in the Old Testament to communicate the multidimensional, sinister, twisted, fallen, nature of sin. And these are not all synonyms. The Spirit comes and loosens the flesh. Sin is not a single independent mass in our hearts, but rather sin is woven multidimensionally into our lives. The salvation in the Blood of Christ is a corresponding Atonement to this sin. We are to be totally sanctified which means there will be no remnant of sin.

Our understanding of the Cross is often superficial. Shame on me if I expound to my people multiple dimensions of sin without expounding the multiple dimensions of the Cross! How is it possible that redemption purchases salvation from sin in all dimensions?

The Cross and Sanctification

1. Christ propitiates God’s wrath (Rom. 3:21-24). Christ answers the wrath of God for the sins of Romans 1-3:20. But propitiation is more than mere justification. Under the wrath of God (or a fear of future wrath from God) I will be emptied of all hope in sanctification. It is not psychologically possible to be under the wrath of God and desire to be like Him. We have been freed from God’s wrath, are exalted in Christ, and we now stand before God with the identical confidence of Christ. His righteousness is mine! “Bold I approach th’eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Propitiation is significant for sanctification.

2. Christ expiates defilement. “How much more will the blood of Christ … purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). In the Cross our sins are washed away. But our hearts and our consciences are cleansed, too! Too often we miss this.

3. Christ dies to sin. Our holiness is affected at the Cross because in the Cross Christ died to sin. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God” (Rom. 6:10). It does not say here Christ died for sin but rather that He died to sin. This point may be controversial. The context is in explaining Christian baptism. We no longer live in sin because Christ died to sin. We have been set free from the reign and dominion of sin in order to yield ourselves to Jesus. Christians do not die for sin but rather we die to sin which is to say that we have died to sin because Christ has died to sin. Since sin reigns in death, it was in Jesus’ death that His humanity came under the reign of sin in the process of overcoming sin. Christ not only purchased justification from the wrath of God and cleaned our consciences, but He also purchased that freedom from the dominion of sin that makes it possible to live endlessly to the glory of God. John Owen said there are two primary problems for the pastor, convincing sinners they are under sin and convincing the redeemed they are no longer under sin. Nearly all pastoral situations come back to this!

4. Christ frees from Satanic bondage.
Jesus entered enemy-occupied territory and defeated Satan. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Without redemption in Christ, we are lifelong slaves to the fear of death. We see this in all non-Christian funerals. There are no windows, it is bleak, there is a concerted effort to celebrate but nobody in the room has conquered the fear of death. In a truly Christian funeral there is hope and a future. Even in the loss and grief we rejoice for the one taken into the presence of Christ. The fear of death is the mother of all fears. Psychobabble abounds over the fears people have. The world is awash in insecurities. Only Christ delivers from the fear of death. The Resurrection of Christ is such a glorious thing! Arguments to prove the Resurrection is one thing, but to be overwhelmed by the powerful reality of being saved from death is another. To be “dead to sin” is to be raised into newness of life. This is the glorious power of the Resurrection. Has it made my life different? When people look at my life do they say, ‘Someone must have been raised from the dead’?

5. Christ purchases the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because of the work of Christ on the Cross the Holy Spirit comes. Jesus said to the disciples, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Later in John’s Gospel we see that John was struck that blood and water flowed from the side of Jesus (John 19:34). This is because John understood that Jesus was not only the source of Atoning blood, but also the river of living water. He is the One for Whom the river flows, He is the true Jerusalem where the thirsty go to drink (Rev. 22). When Christ ascended into the clouds He entered behind a curtain where we can no longer see Him. We don’t know exactly what happens behind the curtain but Peter says, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). In the ascension, Jesus pours out His life transforming Holy Spirit. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

The point is that Christ purchased everything we need. We are purchased by Christ, therefore we glorify Him in our lives (1 Cor. 6:20). We are owned by Him and nobody else. Once we are purchased, we begin taking baby steps in holiness that are apparent towards others. Has anyone thought of your life, ‘There is something in this man’s life that looks like Jesus’? It is not great gifts that God blesses in the ministry but a likeness to Jesus (M’Cheyne). And this likeness to Christ is eternal.

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Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.

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