Book Review

The Whole Christ

51jyzpn-pul-_ss300_There has been much fanfare and acclaim for the latest offering from Sinclair Ferguson (as recent as yesterday Ray Ortlund suggested this was a must read for pastors) so I was highly expectant when I picked up The Whole Christ.

This helpful book evaluates, in a historical and current context, the sufficiency of Christ’s work, our response to it and our union with Christ. Recounting a theological debate from hundreds of years ago, Ferguson highlights biblical perspectives that match many questions believers may have today. What is necessary from us for our salvation? Is our belief and repentance a fruit of grace or do they earn grace? How do I go on living after salvation?

It really is the whole Christ that we cling to and from whom we find our assurance. Ferguson covers the shared basis of legalism and antinomianism, which serves as a good warning for us and guidance for answering these labels in our day. The current value of The Whole Christ is in Ferguson’s sharing of a previous generation’s view of the Christian’s union with Christ and just how far that theological and spiritual reality should shape our view of salvation and assurance.

Where I found myself in complete agreement doctrinally I often in reading missed the sense of gospel enrichment you have during a Spirit-empowered sermon. I wanted out of this book what Thomas Boston describe as the “tincture” in preaching Christ. But toward that end the book has given me a new interest in reviewing the works of Thomas Boston and his savoring of the work of Christ.

This book is careful and sound and I can recommend it.

Here are some choice quotes from The Whole Christ:

“The gospel is designed to deliver us from this lie [of the Serpent], for it reveals that behind and manifested in the coming of Christ and his death for us is the love of a Father who gives us everything he has: first his Son to die for us, and then his Spirit to live within us. . . . There is only one genuine cure for legalism. It is the same medicine the gospel prescribes for antinomianism: understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ himself. This leads to a new love for and obedience to the law of God.”

“When we behold the glory of Christ in the gospel, it reorders the loves of our hearts, so we delight in him supremely, and the other things that have ruled our lives lose their enslaving power over us.”

“It is not only that until very recently an emphasis on union with Christ was tellingly absent from the evangelical subculture, but with it the corollary that the reason we need to grasp this emphasis is that everything we need for salvation is in him and not in us.”

“Wherever the benefits of Christ are seen as abstractable from Christ himself, there is a decreasing stress on his person and work in preaching and in the books that are published to feed that preaching. This is accompanied by an increased stress on our experience of salvation rather than on the grace, majesty, and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost furnishes us with a model. He does not make conviction of sin in his hearers the condition for the offer of Christ to them. Christ himself is the warrant for faith, and so his sermon is profoundly Christocentric. Christ as the benefactor in whom the forgiveness of sins is to be found is proclaimed.”

“When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.”

“Pastors need themselves to have been mastered by the unconditional grace of God. From them the vestiges of a self-defensive pharisaism and conditionalism need to be torn. Like the Savior they need to handle bruised reeds without breaking them and dimly burning wicks without quenching them.”

“What God united (and which no man, or woman, should have put asunder), namely, his glory and our joy, have been divorced. Thus, except though the gospel, it is no longer possible for a man or woman to know their “chief end.”

“Sometimes Christians are eager to go on to the “deeper truths” of the Christian life. There is, of course, a genuine progress in understanding that marks maturity. But in reality what we need is to dig down deeper into the first principles of the gospel.”

“In contemporary terms God stated the indicative—his commitment to his people; this in turn gave rise to the imperative—the implications for the lifestyle of his people. The implications are the outworking of his declarations.”

“And we are Romans 8:3–4 Christians: the moral law has also been fulfilled in Christ. But rather than being abrogated, that fulfillment is now repeated in us as we live in the power of the Spirit.”

“Gospel assurance is not withheld from God’s children even when they have not shown themselves to be strong. What good father would want his children’s assurance of his love to be possible only when they have sufficient accomplishments in life to merit it? Shame on such a father! Yet how sad that we impute such an attitude to our heavenly Father.”

 

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In Christ You Are Qualified by God

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:11-12 ESV)

Power, endurance and joy? Sign me up! Who doesn’t want those things. And it is all according to Jesus’ glorious might. These are entry-level things. But do I get that God the Father has qualified me?

Are you sure it isn’t my work and perseverance that secures my place in eternity? If not that, then surely it is my work that moves me up the ladder of reward in Heaven, right? Well no, on both accounts.

It is the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. It was not your perfection or obedience but instead because of Christ’s perfection and obedience that God qualifies you to inherit what Jesus has. This is the reward for the ultimate of work, but work done by another.

We don’t like it. We want to earn something. After all, it is good to have goals and things to gain on merit. Not when it comes to our union with Christ. “It is finished” has much broader implications than you first thought. Let’s rest in that qualification and relax a little. Stop trying to earn something you never could in the first place. Instead worship and give thanks that you have been qualified. A life of thanksgiving. Celebration at this truth.

I want to be thankful, and I bet you do too. Let this truth that you are not the qualifying agent, God the Father has qualified you, sink deep. Live in this.

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In Christ… We Are Being Built Together

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in The Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22

Of all the benefits of union with Christ, this is my least favorite. Can I be honest? Thanks. I don’t always “like” other people in the church. I realize that many don’t like me either so we are probably all on the same page with this one. There are many days I wish by fellow citizens in Jesus were still strangers and aliens. But in the same way that I now have a place, in Christ, you have a place and we are being built together.

I occasionally think that I could built a better church than God but alas he humbles me and shows me his way is better. And that is the beautiful thing of our union with Christ. It is the work of the Spirit that is transforming us – together – into a dwelling place of God.

The next time I prefer a “brother” would be a stranger, I need to be reminded that the Spirit is building us together into something so glorious we can’t even imagine.

In Christ, we are being built together. Take that into you next church meeting!