John Murray

Sinclair Ferguson on Union with Christ

devoted7a-810x1280__82818.1478970628.315.315In his book, Devoted to God, Sinclair Ferguson makes an “staggering” observation about how often the Apostle Paul used language in his epistles denoting the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ. He writes,

“Contrast Paul’s frequent use of the specific expression ‘in Christ’ (over eighty times), and ‘in the Lord’ (over forty times), not to mention the variations of it such as ‘in him.’ The statistic is staggering. It is the basic way Christians in the Pauline churches were taught to think about themselves. They were ‘in Christ’, united to Christ, and therefore sharing ‘with Christ’ in all that he had accomplished for them. After all, as we have seen, they had been ‘baptized into Christ Jesus.’ (p.114)

Think about that for a moment. By Ferguson’s count, not even including Paul’s frequent use of phrases like “in him” (e.g. Ephesians 1:4, 7, 11), that adds up to no less than 120 times that the Apostle Paul used language related to the believer’s union with Christ!

No wonder John Murray once wrote that, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p.161). Do we think about our union with Christ in such terms, as being central to the whole doctrine of salvation?  Or do we read through the epistles of Paul and simply pass right over such phrases, either not noticing them in the first place, or not giving them much thought at all?

The next time that you are reading through one of the epistles of Paul, take some time to note (highlight?) the numerous times that you come across such phrases as “in Christ”, “in Him”, and the like. You may be surprised to see that the doctrine of union with Christ, as central as it is to the biblical doctrine of salvation, has been hiding under your nose in plain sight all this time!

The Spark that Lit the Flame of the Reformation

Luther

What was the spark that lit the flame of the Protestant Reformation?  John Murray writes,

It may be safe to say that the greatest event for Christendom in the last 1500 years was the Protestant Reformation. What was the spark that lit the flame of evangelical passion? It was, by the grace of God, the discovery on the part of Luther, stricken with a sense of his estrangement from God and feeling in his inmost soul the stings of his wrath and the remorse of a terrified conscience, of the true and only way whereby a man can be just with God. To him the truth of justification by free grace through faith lifted him from the depths of the forebodings of hell to the ecstasy of peace with God and the hope of glory.” (Collected Writings of John Murray Vol.2, p.203)

In other words, it was the salvation of one sinner – a monk named Martin Luther.  Not only his new-found understanding and grasp of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ, but his personal belief in it  – that he himself was justified by faith alone in Christ alone – was the spark.

Martin Luther found true peace with God through faith in Christ.  And by the grace of God he would spend the rest of his days telling others how they too could know peace with God through the good news of Jesus Christ.

Are you (like Martin Luther before his conversion) stricken with a sense of estrangement from God because of your sins?  Are you suffering from a terrified conscienceYou too can have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  The truth of justification by the free grace of God through faith in Jesus can lift you from the depths of the forebodings of hell to the ecstasy of peace with God and the hope of glory.

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17)!

John Murray on Sanctification

Murray

In his book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes the following about the sanctification of the believer in Christ:

There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. (p.145)

If you are a Christian and you struggle with sin . . . welcome to the club!  That is not a cause for worry or despair.   The work of the Lord in your sanctification is ongoing; it is lifelong.  You will spend the rest of your life repenting of sin, and you will do that because of the grace of God at work in you!

The time to worry (as Murray says) is if you are complacent in and about your sin.  That is a sign that sin is still reigning in your life.  It is a sign that, despite whatever profession of faith you may have made, you are simply not yet a Christian.

But if you are a believer in Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin.  As Paul writes in Romans 6:20-23,

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is vitally important that we understand the difference between “surviving sin and reigning sin.”  The better we understand not only the nature of our justification, but our sanctification in Christ as well, the better equipped we will be to deal with our sins and the doubts that sometimes accompany them.

Justification is an “act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.33).  So we are not justified by anything that we do (not by any righteousness of our own!), but only on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ, accounted to us by faith alone!

And sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.35).  So, unlike justification (which is a one-time act of God’s grace), sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the life of a believer, conforming us more and more into the image of Christ.

Understanding the work of God’s grace in our sanctification (like the act of His grace in our justification) is a key to experiencing the assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  In fact, truly understanding the difference between the two (our justification and our sanctification) is one of the keys to experiencing the assurance of our salvation.

And God most certainly does want every one of us who believes in the name of Jesus Christ to know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

Who said that theology wasn’t practical!

“At Home” In Sin?

Murray

Some strong, but ever-so-timely words from the late John Murray (1898-1975) regarding the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers:

“If we find ourselves at home in the ungodliness, lust, and filth of this present world, it is because we have not been called effectually by God’s grace.” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p.92)

What is effectual calling?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.31) defines it as “the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convicting us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

So in other words, if we (to use Murray’s phrase) still “find ourselves at home in the ungodliness, lust, and filth of this present world” it shows that the Holy Spirit has not worked in us to convict us of our sin and misery.  Sinners who are “at home” in sin do not perceive the sinfulness of sin.  Sinners who are “at home” in sin do not see it as the source of their misery.

And so Murray is also saying that being “at home” in sin is also evidence that one has not truly been enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, nor has he or she truly embraced Jesus Christ by faith as He is freely offered to us in the gospel.  All this is to say that being “at home” in sin is evidence that one is not yet truly a believer in Christ at all.

Are you “at home” in sin?  Then, simply put, you are not yet a Christian.

But there is a world of difference between being “at home” in sin (in other words, seeing nothing wrong with it, being quite comfortable in it), and being a believer who simply struggles with sin.  Struggling with sin shows that one is convicted that it is, in fact, sin.  Struggling with sin shows that one is convicted of the misery of sin.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are struggling with sin, welcome to the club!  You are in some pretty good company.  Even the Apostle Paul himself struggled with sin!  Look at his words in Romans 7:15-23 (ESV):

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Sound familiar? Feel familiar?

And what was his solution?  Look at what he wrote in the next two verses:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25 ESV)

When you feel the weight of your struggle with sin, let that drive you all the more to Jesus Christ.  Cling to Him by faith.  Thanks be to God through Jesus our Lord, for He is the One who will deliver us from this body of death!