Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Causes and Effects of Sanctification

J. V. Fesko, The Christian’s Pocket Guide to Sanctification

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Those who love Jesus Christ must be concerned with their own personal holiness, or sanctification. This book is an excellent introduction to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. Fesko presents sanctification clearly from Scripture in three brief chapters followed by a select list of recommended resources for further reading.

He roots sanctification in the believer’s union with Christ and utter dependence on the person of the Holy Spirit. He also steers a clear path between a large number of imbalanced and unbiblical views of the doctrine, presenting a balanced Reformed approach to personal holiness.

Some will fault Fesko for not treating what John Murray termed “definitive sanctification.” Definitive sanctification refers to those passages of Scripture that describe sanctification in terms of a decisive once-for-all break with the power of sin in distinction from the process of growing in personal godliness. In Fesko’s defense, Murray’s terminology is relatively new in the history of the church. Classic manuals on sanctification do not use it. He also clearly includes the fact that sanctification begins with the new birth and that Christ breaks the reigning power of sin in our lives when we are united to Him by faith.

Fesko excellently conjoins the corporate and individual aspects of sanctification. Much of the New Testament teaching on personal obedience to the Lord requires a relation to other Christians in the context of the church. He stresses the necessity of corporate prayer, public preaching, and observing the sacraments in addition to practices such as Bible reading and private prayer. This flows from his treatment of the individual and corporate aspects of salvation in Chapter 1.

This reviewer takes issue with one statement in this book. Fesko states that the law is not a means of sanctification for the Christian (50). This initially sounds alarming, since God writes the law on the hearts of His people with the pen of the Holy Spirit. However, Fesko later describes the Christian life clearly in terms of the Spirit of God using the Law of God to conform believers to the image of Christ (57). It is difficult for this reviewer to understand how these two assertions are compatible. The Law is a divinely appointed means of sanctification in a manner comparable to how the Scriptures in general are a means of sanctification. Just as the Word of God is a means of grace for believers, so is the Law of God as it is a special part of the Word. If anything, the Law is the preeminent means of sanctification, even though it is not the cause of sanctification. Christ is the cause of sanctification, through the Spirit, using the Law as a means of conforming us to His image. Fesko’s view seems to be that the Law cannot sanctify us by its own power. This point is vital and believers forget it at their peril.

This book is a good introduction to a vital topic. May the Lord help readers lay its teachings up in their hearts and practice it in their lives.

This review first appeared in the Puritan Reformed Journal.