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The Spirit’s work in regeneration is thus total in the extent of its transforming power. It is the individual as an individual who is regenerated, the whole man. For regeneration is the fulfillment of God’s promise to give us a new heart (Ezk. 36:26; cf. Je 31:33), indicating that the Spirit’s renewing work is both intensive and extensive: it reaches to the foundation impulses of an individual’s life and leaves no part of his or her being untouched.

Regeneration is, consequently, as all-pervasive as depravity. On the basis of such statements as ‘the heart is…beyond all cure’ (Je. 17:9), theologians have spoken of total depravity, meaning not that man is as bad as he could be, but that no part of his being remains untainted by the influence of sin. Regeneration reverses that depravity, and is universal in the sense that, while the regenerate individual is not yet as holy as he or she might be, there is no part of life which remains uninfluenced by this renewing and cleansing work. Indeed, just as total depravity leads to moral and ultimately even to physical disintegration, so total regeneration leads to moral, but also ultimately physical renewal, in the regeneration of the whole being in the resurrection (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:42-44). The new man is put on; he is constantly being renewed by the Spirit (Col. 3:10), and finally will be resurrected and glorified through his power.

-Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology, ed. Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 122-123.

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Reposting in light of Resurrection Sunday tomorrow. May every believer grasp what is theirs in Christ Jesus because of His resurrection!

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

All that [Christ] 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; he lives to God (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 the resurrection life of 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 both to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past. The basic frame work of 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 B. Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, p. 57

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I am transferring this post from Ligonier’s blog and bring it here. Sinclair Ferguson gives a great basis for understanding sanctification. Read, learn, and be edified

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The aftermath of a conversation can change the way we later think of its significance.

My friend — a younger minister — sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said: “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed, hopefully he was feeling as blessed as I did by our conversation. I still wonder whether he was asking his question as a pastor or simply for himself — or both.

How would you best answer his question? The first thing to do is: Turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!), or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” so that the principles we are learning to apply carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work.

Several passages come to mind for study: Romans 8:13Romans 13:8–14(Augustine’s text); 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1Ephesians 4:17–5:21Colossians 3:1–17;1 Peter 4:1–111 John 2:28–3:11. Significantly, only two of these passages contain the verb “mortify” (“put to death”). Equally significantly, the context of each of these passages is broader than the single exhortation to put sin to death. As we shall see, this is an observation that turns out to be of considerable importance.

Of these passages, Colossians 3:1–17 is probably the best place for us to begin.

Here were relatively young Christians. They have had a wonderful experience of conversion to Christ from paganism. They had entered a gloriously new and liberating world of grace. Perhaps — if we may read between the lines — they had felt for a while as if they had been delivered, not only from sin’s penalty but almost from its influence — so marvelous was their new freedom. But then, of course, sin reared its ugly head again. Having experienced the “already” of grace they were now discovering the painful “not yet” of ongoing sanctification. Sounds familiar!

But as in our evangelical sub-culture of quick fixes for long-term problems, unless the Colossians had a firm grasp of Gospel principles, they were now at risk! For just at this point young Christians can be relatively easy prey to false teachers with new promises of a higher spiritual life. That was what Paul feared (Col. 2:816). Holiness-producing methods were now in vogue (Col. 2:21–22) — and they seemed to be deeply spiritual, just the thing for earnest young believers. But, in fact, “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Not new methods, but only an understanding of how the Gospel works, can provide an adequate foundation and pattern for dealing with sin. This is the theme ofColossians 3:1–17.

Paul gives us the pattern and rhythm we need. Like Olympic long jumpers, we will not succeed unless we go back from the point of action to a point from which we can gain energy for the strenuous effort of dealing with sin. How, then, does Paul teach us to do this?

First of all, Paul underlines how important it is for us to be familiar with our new identity in Christ (3:1–4). How often when we fail spiritually we lament that we forgot who we really are — Christ’s. We have a new identity. We are no longer “in Adam,” but “in Christ”; no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit; no longer dominated by the old creation but living in the new (Rom. 5:12–218:9;2 Cor. 5:17). Paul takes time to expound this. We have died with Christ (Col. 3:3; we have even been buried with Christ, 2:12); we have been raised with Him (3:1), and our life is hidden with Him (3:3). Indeed, so united to Christ are we that Christ will not appear in glory without us (3:4).

Failure to deal with the presence of sin can often be traced back to spiritual amnesia, forgetfulness of our new, true, real identity. As a believer I am someone who has been delivered from the dominion of sin and who therefore is free and motivated to fight against the remnants of sin’s army in my heart.

Principle number one, then, is: Know, rest in, think through, and act upon your new identity — you are in Christ.

Second, Paul goes on to expose the workings of sin in every area of our lives (Col. 3:5–11). If we are to deal with sin biblically, we must not make the mistake of thinking that we can limit our attack to only one area of failure in our lives. All sin must be dealt with. Thus Paul ranges through the manifestation of sin in private life (v. 5), everyday public life (v. 8), and church life (vv. 9–11; “one another,” “here,” that is, in the church fellowship). The challenge in mortification is akin to the challenge in dieting (itself a form of mortification!): once we begin we discover that there are all kinds of reasons we are overweight. We are really dealing with ourselves, not simply with calorie control. I am the problem, not the potato chips! Mortifying sin is a whole-of-life change.

Third, Paul’s exposition provides us with practical guidance for mortifying sin. Sometimes it seems as if Paul gives exhortations (“Put to death…,” 3:5) without giving “practical” help to answer our “how to?” questions. Often today, Christians go to Paul to tell them what to do and then to the local Christian bookstore to discover how to do it! Why this bifurcation? Probably because we do not linger long enough over what Paul is saying. We do not sink our thinking deeply into the Scriptures. For, characteristically, whenever Paul issues an exhortation he surrounds it with hints as to how we are to put it into practice.

This is certainly true here. Notice how this passage helps to answer our “how to?” questions.

1. Learn to admit sin for what it really is. Call a spade a spade — call it “sexual immorality,” not “I’m being tempted a little”; call it “impurity,” not “I’m struggling with my thought life”; call it “evil desire, which is idolatry,” not “I think I need to order my priorities a bit better.” This pattern runs right through this whole section. How powerfully this unmasks self-deceit — and helps us to unmask sin lurking in the hidden corners of our hearts!

2. See sin for what your sin really is in God’s presence. “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (3:6). The masters of the spiritual life spoke of dragging our lusts (kicking and screaming, though they be) to the cross, to a wrath-bearing Christ. My sin leads to — not lasting pleasure — but holy divine displeasure. See the true nature of your sin in the light of its punishment. Too easily do we think that sin is less serious in Christians than it is in non-believers: “It’s forgiven, isn’t it?” Not if we continue in it (1 John 3:9)! Take a heaven’s-eye view of sin and feel the shame of that in which you once walked (Col. 3:7; see alsoRom. 6:21).

3. Recognize the inconsistency of your sin. You put off the “old man,” and have put on the “new man” (3:9–10). You are no longer the “old man.” The identity you had “in Adam” is gone. The old man was “crucified with him [Christ] in order that the body of sin [probably “life in the body dominated by sin”] might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). New men live new lives. Anything less than this is a contradiction of who I am “in Christ.”

4. Put sin to death (Col. 3:5). It is as “simple” as that. Refuse it, starve it, and reject it. You cannot “mortify” sin without the pain of the kill. There is no other way!

But notice that Paul sets this in a very important, broader context. The negativetask of putting sin to death will not be accomplished in isolation from the positivecall of the Gospel to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). Paul spells this out in Colossians 3:12–17. Sweeping the house clean simply leaves us open to a further invasion of sin. But when we understand the “glorious exchange” principle of the Gospel of grace, then we will begin to make some real advance in holiness. As sinful desires and habits are not only rejected, but exchanged for Christ-like graces (3:12) and actions (3:13); as we are clothed in Christ’s character and His graces are held together by love (v. 14), not only in our private life but also in the church fellowship (vv. 12–16), Christ’s name and glory are manifested and exalted in and among us (3:17).

These are some of the things my friend and I talked about that memorable evening. We did not have an opportunity later to ask each other, “How are you going?” for it was our last conversation. He died some months later. I have often wondered how the months in between went in his life. But the earnest personal and pastoral concern in his question still echoes in my mind. They have a similar effect to the one Charles Simeon said he felt from the eyes of his much-loved portrait of the great Henry Martyn: “Don’t trifle!”

HT: Ligonier

One of the most foundation doctrines of the Christian life is the reality of the believer’s union with Christ. By the mysterious power of God the believer is united to Christ so that salvific works and benefits of Christ becomes possession of the believer.

I recently listened to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson message where he talks about this doctrine. I would highly recommend this message to you as either a great introduction or a great reminder about this reality.

You can get the audio here.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

All that [Christ] 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; he lives to God (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 the resurrection life of 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 both to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past. The basic frame work of 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 B. Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, p. 57

Jesus is the “author” of our sanctification, in the sense that he creates it for us, but he is also its “pioneer” because he does so out of his own incarnate life, death and resurrection. He is the “pioneer” of our salvation, because as the Hero of Faith (to be distinguished from the long list of those heroes who bear witness to him [Heb 12:1]), he has endured the cross, despising its shame and the opposition of sinners, and is now seated at God’s right hand. He is the first and only fully sanctified person. He has climbed God’s holy hill with clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:3-6). It is as the “Lead Climber” that gives the sanctification he has won to others (Acts 5:31). As “pioneer, ” Jesus has himself gone ahead of us to open the way to the Father. By doing so, he brings to the Father in similar obedience all those who are “roped” to him by grace and faith.

Christ is our sanctification. In him it has first come to its fulfillment and consummation. He not only died for us to remove the penalty of our sin by taking it himself; he has lived, died, risen again and been exalted in order to sanctify our human nature in himself for our sake. This is the significance of his words shortly before the cross, “Sanctify [the disciples] by the truth….As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (Jn 17:17-19).

~Sinclair B. Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, p. 49

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4).

The ‘super-apostles’ in Corinth despised Paul ‘weakness’ (‘his bodily presence is weak’, 2 Cor 10:10). They said he was ‘unimpressive’ (2 Cor 10:10). Paul responds by indicating that it is in his weakness that he is an analogy of Christ to men. God’s power does not necessarily destroy weakness; indeed, his saving power is expressed through the weakness of the cross.

Careful attention is required in order to feel the weight of Paul’s language here. He does not say: ‘We are weak in ourselves, but we are strong in Christ.’…Rather, Paul has a different perspective: bound by the Spirit to Christ crucified and risen, he is weak in Christ, as well as powerful in him….Paul’s weakness is not a motivation for seeking union with Christ in order that he might be strong; it is the direct consequence, implication and outworking of that very union in the Spirit.

This, then, is the way of sanctification, because it is the way of Christiformity, and ultimately the way in which the restoration to the divine glory-image is complete.

~ Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 170-171

Taken from Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 41-43.

5 reasons why the virgin conception-birth is important:

  1. The action of the Holy Spirit (coupled with the absence of conception ‘by the will of man’, J. 1:13) points to the sovereign newness of the work God is accomplishing,
    • While Mary is involved in the virgin conception she is completely passive in it, because it is the direct result of the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit. Here, as Barth underlined, over against the place given to Mary by the Roman Catholic theology, the active contribution of humanity in providing salvation is nullified.
  2. The human nature which was assumed by the Son of God was created ex nihilo, but was inherited through Mary. It is our human nature, ‘addicted to so many wretchedness’, as Calvin vividly puts it. Subject to the pains and temptations of this life, his human natured needed to be acted upon by the Holy Spirit in order to be sanctified.
    • Only by the work of the Spirit could the divine person of the Logos assume genuine human nature, come ‘in the likeness of sinful man’ (Rom 8:3), and yet remain ‘holy, harmless, undefiled’ (Heb. 7:26, AV), ‘the holy one’ (Lk. 1:35).
  3. The revelation of the virgin conception by the Spirit forbids any adoptionist Christology.
    • There is no room for the notion that the man Jesus of Nazareth becomes the Son of God by adoption….The modern addiction to a Christology exclusively ‘from below’ is a truncated pneumatology as well as a deformed Christology.
  4. The conception of Jesus by the Spirit underlines both his identification with our frailty (he assumes our nature at its smallest and weakest) and his essential distinctiveness, not in relation to the reality of his humanity but in relation to his liability to guilt.
    • The work of the Spirit preserves both the reality of his union with us in genuine human nature, and his freedom from the guilt and curse of Adam’s fall (Rom 5:12-21).
  5. The conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is the mode by which the Father’s sending of the Son is effected. As such, it underlines the principle that, in the work of redemption which Christ spearheads, each person of the Trinity is engaged.

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