Devoted to God

Christians are called to the most difficult of all tasks. Over the course of our lives we are to be sanctified, to grow in holiness, to begin to act like and look like Jesus. We are to stop being what we once were, to put aside old dreams, desires, and habits, and to start being something new, to put on new dreams, new desires, and new habits. This work begins the moment of conversion and ends only with death. Between those starting and ending points, sanctification is to consume our lives, to be part of our every waking moment. Yet we find this work difficult. Sometimes we slow. Sometimes we stop. Still, through the Bible, God urges us on, he urges us toward growing holiness.

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Not surprisingly, then, we have shelves of Christian books on the subject of holiness and sanctification. Many of these are excellent, classics in their own right: Holiness by J.C. Ryle, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, and we are still just getting started. But now we must add a new title to that list and it is one of the best yet: Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson.

Ferguson admits there are already many books on this subject and, indeed, many good ones. Why would he add to their number? His book “contains no novel teaching. But it sets out with a distinctive goal: 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.”

Though it takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian, there are certain passages that rise to the top when we consider the subject of sanctification. Each of Ferguson’s top-ten receives thorough treatment here and together they provide a plan, a blueprint, for the Christian’s lifelong project. Ferguson’s dominant focus is not on the imperative passages, the ones that command sanctification, but on the indicative passages, the ones that describe it. Thus, Devoted To God is not so much a “how-to” book as much as a “how God does it” book. But, of course, to know how God does it is to begin to understand the how-to elements.

The meat of the book—and it is an exceptionally meaty book—is Ferguson’s ten expositions of his ten key passages. He begins with the opening verses of 1 Peter and the Christian’s great challenge of sanctification. “This is what ‘sanctification’ means: God has put his ‘reserved’ sign on something—temple vessels for example—or on someone who thereby becomes a ‘saint’, a person reserved for the Lord. He marks us out for his personal possession and use. We belong to him—and to nobody else, not even to ourselves. We become devoted to God.” Sanctification, then, is the work God does “To separate his people from what they were by nature in sin” and “To transform them so that their lives reflect his own being and character. This is why sanctification is so central to the New Testament’s teaching. God is restoring in our lives the image which we were created to reflect.” Put simply, “God is doing nothing less than changing you from what you were to what he means you to be—making you more and more like himself.” No wonder, then, that this challenge lasts a lifetime and takes everything we’ve got: We have got a long, long way to go!

From 1 Peter he goes to Romans, then to Galatians, back to Romans, back to Galatians, then to Colossians, Hebrews, and Matthew (with a few more Romans stops along the way). He leads us through the Bible, through the passages that together describe what God is doing in us and why he is doing it. In every case he lingers, he ponders, he exposits, he applies.

Let me make just a few observations about the strengths of Devoted to God. The first is that Ferguson uses few footnotes and refers to few other authors. I take this as proof that his work is the culmination of a long ministry of filling himself with the Word and with books expounding the Word. And now it all comes flowing out through his pen. This is the kind of book that can only follow a long and faithful ministry of preaching God’s Word.

Second, he is relentlessly gospel-centered in the absolute best, most faithful use of that term. God’s work of sanctification, and our joining him in that work of sanctification, must never be severed from the gospel. So as we think about putting sin to death, as we think about coming alive to righteousness, as we think about becoming who and whose we are, as we grow into the image of Christ—in all of it we must ever and always be grounded in the gospel.

Finally, he emphasizes the role of the local church. Where we tend to see personal holiness as a personal pursuit, Ferguson wants the reader to see that sanctification is a community project and that other believers, especially in the local church, are a great means of grace to us. We cannot expect to grow in holiness apart from participation in the life of the church. He makes this emphasis clear in nearly every chapter.

Devoted to God is a brilliant work and one that I think is fit to enter the rare company of the Christian classics. It is an advanced work, perhaps overwhelming for the newest Christians, but challenging for even the most seasoned. It displays a deep knowledge of Scripture, a penetrating understanding of the human heart, and a great longing to “be holy, because I am holy.” There is not a Christian alive who will not benefit from reading and re-reading it. Not surprisingly, then, it receives my very highest recommendation.

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