BoT > Session 4 > Sinclair Ferguson

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Session 4 – (Wed. 10:45 AM)
“Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love”
Sinclair Ferguson

GRANTHAM, PA – Ferguson began his session with a reminder that while sanctification is a fight against sin to the death, we are inclined to forget about abiding in Christ and naturally move on into the more “manly” aspects of sanctification. Architecturally, as people who think systematically about holiness the struggle of sanctification, this is right. But at the end of the day, sanctification is a matter of personal character. Holiness is who we become in Jesus Christ. This is why it’s very insightful to see the way Walt Chantry designed the conference topics and themes.

The centerpiece of the Christian faith is love, of the Christian abiding in the love of Jesus Christ. This is what produces genuine holiness. False holiness does not come by abiding in the love of Christ, and as a result it’s a ‘holiness’ that does not attract unbelievers and weak believers. In the Gospels Jesus shows true Christlikeness in a character that attracted unbelievers and those who were particularly weak. This is a test case for our own holiness. The evidence of true holiness is not in my appearance, but rather in my devotion to those who have little of God. True Christlike godliness draws the weak, which is to say that those abiding in the love of Christ have an atmosphere noticed by others.

The Vine and the Branches

In this morning’s session Ferguson would center his teaching on the vine and branches (John 15:1-11) with a particular emphasis on Jesus’ command in verse 9 to “Abide in my love.” The full text reads,

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

To abide in Jesus love is the quintessence of true holiness. I am genuinely holy only to the degree that I abide in His love. There are no substitutes for growing in holiness than to abide in Jesus’ love.

Abiding in Christ’s Love

The text was broken down by Ferguson into three points: 1. The love in which we abide; 2. The union by which we abide; and, 3. The character of those who abide in Christ’s love.

1. The love in which we abide. Due to a lack of teaching, people make this “abiding” in Christ into some mystical reality that cannot be put into words. But using words is exactly how Jesus describes this abiding. Jesus gives us a carefully expounded teaching of the pattern of abiding. It is to love the Son.

In John there are many references to the Father’s love for the Son but only one reference to the Son’s love of the Father. This Son is the eternal Word who is face-to-face with the Father (John 1).

There is an eternal bond of love between the Father and Son. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (3:35). “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (5:20). The love of the Father towards the Son is extraordinary because no secrets are hidden from the Son in God’s daily work. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (8:42). If you knew who I was, Jesus says, you would love me like the Father loves me. Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me … I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23,26). And the most significant of all: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17).

We must grasp the love of the Father towards His Son! Here is eternal intimacy, mutual admiration, loving esteem, and a full enjoyment of one another. This is fellowship.

In Genesis we get a picture of the mutual love of the husband and wife as Adam and Eve enjoying their perfectly loving relationship. This is a glimpse of the eternal and divine relationship. So what was God doing before creation? What did He spend His time doing? He was enjoying His Son! God needed nothing more for His own joy! This is beyond our imagination to grasp, but we do get a taste of this fellowship at a conference like this one. We come together to meet with pastors we have not seen in a long time and the time together is rich fellowship. It’s fellowship, not because we are accomplishing some task together, but simply in the fact that we are enjoying the presence of one another! Fellowship is not always about doing something; often it’s about enjoying one another. This is the oneness, the fellowship that makes the church the church (John 17:11,21-23).

That the Father loves the Son for His willingness to die on the Cross reveals a love between them capable of growth and development (John 10:17). Some of the basis of the Father’s love towards the Son is for the work of the Son. So the love that we abide in is an eternal love also capable of growth and development. In other words, the Atonement of Christ on the Cross is an act of love whereby sinners may receive even more love from the Father. The Atonement is not the end, but the beginning of an eternally growing and developing love from God. So salvation is not the end, but the means to restoring God’s love to the soul so we can enjoy greater love in communion with Christ! [This reminds me of a quote by John Piper that “God is the Gospel.”]

A. This is a “love of complacency” (John Owen). The Atonement is the stepping-stone and foundation of every other blessing. God delights in those who have been atoned. Because of the Cross we are now objects of His pleasure and satisfaction. John Owen says, “The love of Christ is a love of complacency.” This love and delight flows in more love and joy (Zeph. 3:14-17, John 15:11). [Owen defines “complacency” as the delight and joy displayed by one fully satisfied in the object he has fixed his love upon (See Communion with God, 1:25).]

Jesus promises, “My joy will be in you.” Once our sins are atoned, there is a love in Jesus’ heart that overflows in sheer delight over us. Bathe in this truth! We are prone to beat ourselves into the dust over our remaining sinfulness rather than abide in Jesus’ love. Remember, Jesus’ love towards us is a love of complacency.

B. This is a “love of value” (John Owen). The saving love of God expresses valuation. Because Christ died for us and we are in Him, God values us as nothing less than His own Son. We love what we value (Matt. 6:21). We are loved because we are His treasure.

C. This is a “love of friendship” (John Owen). In verses 13-15 we see that we are loved like a friend. We are no longer servants. To the extent that I understand this truth and the dynamics of God’s love is the extent it will affect the character of my holiness.

[It appears Ferguson was pulling concepts from John Owen’s book Christologia. This book is available online and found in The Works of John Owen (1:2-273). Especially note chapter 13 (1:150-161).]

2. The union by which we abide. The union by which we abide in Christ is a very personal union. The Greek word for “to believe” (pistos) is more literally translated “to believe into.” Our union with Christ is a union of personal like that of marriage. This is Christ dwelling in the Father and He in me. This is the union we share with Christ is a union of His person. We do not merely share in the graces of Christ, but in His entire person. His person and the grace from Him cannot be separated, as the Roman Catholics attempt, in order to make grace something mediated and dispensed by a church. There is no such concept. We have union with the full person of Christ and all His graces. Christianity is Christ. Union with Him is personally grounded in the incarnation. Our holiness is forged in us because we become like the One we most love!

This spiritual union is forged by the Holy Spirit. It is important to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in our personal union with Christ (see John 14:15-31).

This union is regulated by Scripture as the Word abides in our hearts (Col 3:16 and Eph. 5:18). It’s important to note that we as pastors do not stand on the Word of God as expert interpreters. Preachers are deep-sea divers, diving down into the depths to search for pearls to bring to the surface. Preaching is bringing the pearls to the surface. We are explorers in a world of grace. Preachers are below this Book!

Some think we will become infinite in heaven. This is not true. In our union with Christ, we are always finite creatures. Even in eternity we will forever have a past, present and a future. Because of this we will, each day, have increasingly more reason to love Christ throughout eternity!

3. The character of those who abide in Christ’s love. Due to time restraints these points were given as a list. The Christian abiding in Christ’s love will show itself in …

a. A universal obedience to Jesus’ commands (v. 14).

b. A life aware of Christ’s friendship (vv. 13-15). We are sinners saved by grace and in need of further cleansing, yet Jesus calls us friend!

c. A love for what Jesus has accomplished (v. 13).

d. A universal love for all those Christ has purchased (vv. 12,17).

e. A willingness to suffer in Him and with Him (vv. 18-20). To see death as the way to life.

f. A constraint to witness to others (vv. 26-27). In the context of evangelism, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The Holy Spirit is the witness of Christ because the Spirit has been united with Jesus eternally. Abiding in Christ and witnessing of Christ are inseparably linked.

g. A full joy (v. 11). Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” What does this mean? Two things: He is the cause of our joy and we are the cause of His joy!

Understanding this mystery of abiding in Christ’s love will transform our ministries. Let us bathe in this truth!

———-

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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