In Christ Alone

11 11 2008

in-christ-alone1Recently I was sent a copy of “In Christ Alone” – Living the Gospel Centered life, by Reformation trust. Its a collection of articles that Sinclair B. Ferguson wrote for Tabletalk and Eternity Magazines. Trying to sum up Jesus can be monumental task. Some have said its like a blind man trying to draw an elephant after feeling it. Reviewing this book wasn’t easy. There is so much I could write about. Each of these articles is like a gold mine of truth about Jesus. I hope you enjoy my review and can gain a deeper appreciation for our Lord.

 My Parents had a holiday in Europe recently and while they were away my wife and I looked after their house and kept their cats alive. When they came back we all went out for dinner to our favorite local restaurant. In and amongst the tales of mischief they got up to (for my dad has been and always will be a hooligan even at age 58) they shared some profound thoughts.  “His providence is my inheritance” & “Our sole purpose is to make Jesus famous in our lives” These were etched onto the walls of some Cathedrals they visited. The quotes have stuck with me and play on my mind constantly, particularly the later. How do I make Jesus famous in my life? What is it about my life that shows Jesus to others. I suggest to you that it starts with a decent, solid understanding of the Person of Jesus in both his historical and Biblical contexts. 

 

Ferguson starts with some foundational truths about Jesus. He was present before the creation of the world in the counsel of the Trinity with the Father and Holy Spirit. He was also present at creation, and the one through whom and for whom all things were made. As the God-man he was revealed to creation as the messiah, the Christ and the fufillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  He is the one who died in our place, who became sin for us, and bore the full extent God’s wrath against sin. He is the author and finisher of our Faith, our high priest, our mediator. The pioneer of salvation who brings many sons to Glory.

You might at this point start asking “What is the point of knowing all this?” echoing Jean Domminic Crossans’s statement “So what if Jesus was raised from the dead! Thats nice for him, what does it mean for me?” Jesus is the answer to the cosmic problem of sin. The only one capable of putting the world to rights. But payment for sin is not enough. We also need deliverance from death and a righteousness that is foreign to ourselves. Christs death and resurrection secures this for us. By his active and passive obedience we are made whole.

But another important aspect is the here and now. How weview Jesus affects the way we live. Let me give you an example. If we view Jesus as a moral teacher, or someone promoting a new way of behaving we will try to emulate his example or adopt his teachings into our existing framework of morality. The problem is that when we find ourselves unable to live up to his standard e.g. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” we become disillusioned and forget about Him. If we believe that the incarnation, death and resurrection were a once off event meant to show us a God who loves us but has ultimately gone into hiding then we will live as if God isn’t around and we are free to do as we please. But if we see that creator of Heaven and Earth, the eternal triune God, took on flesh and bones, became a human being, lived and died to reconcile all things to himself, to renew creation, to save sinners from sure and certain eternal death, and that he is still active in the world today, we will live very differently. Not only that we will worship differently.  We will worship with a clear idea of why and who we worship. We need a solid foundation lest we make Christ in our own image (or Santa’s image to borrow from Chapter 2).

The form of the book is both its selling point and its downfall. Its great because you can start anywhere. Each of the articles is a self contained chapter. I imagine pastors or leaders would find them invaluable as sermon or study outlines. It needs to be chewed, dissected, and discussed by a group. But at times the form was a little irritating. The articles can be a little too well contained, lacking in continuity and flow. That made the review of the book a little difficult. How do you sum up 50 individual articles without spoiling the entire book? Well, you highlight some of the chapters that made an impact on you.

Chapter 2 “Santa Christ” is a wonderfully anecdotal story about how we often make Christ out to be something he’s not. God does give grace to the proud or those who have tried their hardest to please him. He gives grace to the humble to those who are most undeserving of it. God justifies the ungodly. That is not an excuse for ungodly behaviour, that would be a misunderstanding of three tenses of salvation as chapter 9 will show. But in reality how often do we treat Jesus as Santa? Do we see him as an added bonus to an already good life? Someone who rewards us for good and punishes us for bad? Or do we see him as the merciful saviour who forgives even the worst of sinners and accepts them unconditionally? Lets not confuse Christmas cheer with Biblical truth.

Chapter 9 “Christ of the three appearances” was a helpful reminder that salvation is more than just a one off event. It reminded me a lot of Michael Hortons “Putting amazing back into Grace“. We have been saved (justification), we are being saved (sanctification) and will one day be saved (glorification). When I was younger I had a strange view of salvation. I thought that Jesus had paid my sins I had committed up until the point that I was saved. From then on I had to keep my slate clean in order to avoid hell. As strange as that may seem there are a lot out there with equally strange and unbiblical ideas. Mine stemmed from a bad understanding of the three tenses of salvation. I was confusing sanctification and justification. The former is evidence of the later but the later comes first. Salvation was a past event, where Jesus paid the ultimate and final sacrifice on the cross. Something the old sacrificial system could never do. Salvation is an ongoing reality, a continual process where I am being remade in the image of God. I am being renewed and transformed by the Holy Spirit daily. Salvation is also a future event where I await the physical return of Jesus and in the twinkling of an eye to be made like him with my new resurrection body. If I was preaching on the nature of salvation I’d use this chapter as a sermon outline.

Chapter 18 “Seeing Jesus at Pentecost” helped me to understand that Pentecost was more trinitarian than I had previously thought. It was like the Holy Spirit put a floodlight on Jesus. He illuminated the work Jesus to those present and continues to do the same for us today. This is the work of the Spirit. He makes Jesus famous to us. He never glorifies himself he always points us to Jesus who in turn points us to the Father.

Chapter 25 “Sharing in Christs inheritance” would be perfect for small group study and devotional use. Its a mind numbing thing to think of us as joint heirs with Christ. The correct response to that is reverance, adoration, and worship. We can only be humble in light of such a gift. Ferguson is right, we are extremely rich in Christ. By grace we have become privy to enormous priveliges. All that belongs to the final Adam now belongs to us too. When I went over that in my mind it blew me away. The more I think about it the more I am moved with gratitude. As a sinner I deserve nothing but death, but by Grace through Christ I am not only recued and redeemed, I am showered with gifts.

Chapter 36 “Eating Black Pudding” was one of the best and most practical essays I have read on true Christian Liberty. I’ll highlight some of the principles Ferguson posits. Christian liberty must never be flaunted and it is not neccessary to use it to enjoy it. How often has our liberty become a stumbling block or a wedge of offense to our weaker brothers and sisters? Christian liberty does not mean we only welcome brothers and sisters once they have sorted out their theological positions on X and Y. Christian liberty produces a Biblical balance. We don’t seek to please ourselves anymore. How often have homegroups split over theological differences or when some people cannot accept the flaunted liberty of some members? This helped me put a lot of my own liberty in perspective.

Chapter 47 “Danger: Apostasy” presents a wonderfully balanced view of Eternal Security or Perseverance of the saints. I’ve always said to those who question the doctrine that Grace is not a licence for sin, but sin does not cancel out Grace. This has always been a controversial doctrine and as Ferguson highlights earlier, it has been called the greatest protestant heresy by many some Roman Catholic theologians. Ferguson reminds us that we are not to neglect the Grace that has been shown to us through Christ Jesus, and that perseverance is a mark of true Faith. It would be fair to say that there have been more fights within the church over this subject than any other. Sadly this has lead to much division in the Church. We need to be careful not to let our freedom lead us into judgementalism of those who do no hold the same views.

This review is already longer than I had planned. I don’t want to spoil the book for you. I hope my review has helped you get an idea of the material present in the book. Get yourself a copy, in fact get a whole lot of copies for your homegroup too and work through it section by section. Its a wonderful book with very little chaff and some great foundational stuff that will get your homegroup talking. My only caution is chapter 22 where he lays out his case against spiritual gifts. I’m not a cessationist and struggle to understand people who believe in a personal God who is active in history and hold that spiritual gifts have ceased. But thats a minor point of contention, a secondary doctrine if you will, and not enough to stop me reccomending the book without reserve. Its one of those books you read and the re-read later with different results. Other articles start to stand out. It truly is a treasure trove of truth about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some people have been fascinated with the apostle Paul and his theology. I’ve felt the attraction too. The Epistles are a lot easier to understand than the prophetic books and I easy relate to the struggles. But personally I am fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ. Thats precisely what I enjoyed about this book. Christ is the central focus and is wonderfully expounded in each article. Every so often I catch a glimpse of something I hadn’t seen before in the scriptures. As Paul Barnett said, Jesus is the engine that drives drives the New Testament, and it is clear that Ferguson is driven by Christ. For me Christ is the lense that brings all of scripture and life into focus.

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