This Mystery

reflections on theology and life

Tag: Sinclair Ferguson

Completed by the Spirit: Download the original paper

By request, here’s the com­plete paper from July 2010 from which the Com­pleted by the Spirit blog series was adapted. You’re wel­come to down­load it and dis­trib­ute it freely as long as you do not mod­ify it:

Com­pleted by the Spirit: New Covenant Sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion in Paul (PDF, 240 kb)

Completed by the Spirit Part 16: Exhorted in our Union With Christ

This is the 16th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Abraham Kuyper

Abra­ham Kuyper

The Holy Spirit is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Paul wrote in . It is, accord­ing to Abra­ham Kuyper, a “mys­ti­cal union with Immanuel.”[1]

Our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion is achieved by God through our union with Christ. “He who calls you is faith­ful; he will surely do it” ().

The great existence-altering event that hap­pens in our sal­va­tion is our union with Christ through His Spirit.

Paul writes in : “I have been cru­ci­fied with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave him­self for me.”

To the Romans, he writes:

[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been bap­tized into Christ Jesus were bap­tized into his death? [4] We were buried there­fore with him by bap­tism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in new­ness of life. [5] 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 ().

Con­tinue reading


27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gen­tiles are the riches of the glory of this mys­tery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (ESV)


23 Now may the God of peace him­self sanc­tify you com­pletely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blame­less at the com­ing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faith­ful; he will surely do it. (ESV)


20 I have been cru­ci­fied with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave him­self for me. (ESV)


Do you not know that all of us who have been bap­tized into Christ Jesus were bap­tized into his death? We were buried there­fore with him by bap­tism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in new­ness of life.

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. (ESV)

Completed by the Spirit Part 15: Producing Fruit, Not Inspecting Fruit

This is the 15th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

While we have seen that the law is inef­fec­tual against sin, and (as Paul argues) that the law pro­motes sin in sin­ful flesh, and while we have just seen that it is love that ful­fills the two tables of the law, we then must ask, “What, accord­ing to Paul, pro­duces growth in holi­ness?” And that brings us to the great antithe­sis between the Spirit and the flesh that Paul expounds in . Let’s empha­size once again that Paul is writ­ing to the church. He is not writ­ing a trea­tise solely on jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by faith. He reminds the Gala­tians, as we noted above, “You were run­ning well!” These are believ­ers that Paul is cau­tion­ing against turn­ing from the Spirit.

[16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not grat­ify the desires of the flesh. [17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. ()

While the strug­gling man of may or may not be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the unre­gen­er­ate man fac­ing despair in try­ing to obey the law, the man addressed by Paul is one who fights the Chris­t­ian fight, the war between the flesh and the Spirit.  Con­tinue reading


5:1 For free­dom Christ has set us free; stand firm there­fore, and do not sub­mit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept cir­cum­ci­sion, Christ will be of no advan­tage to you. I tes­tify again to every man who accepts cir­cum­ci­sion that he is oblig­ated to keep the whole law. You are sev­ered from Christ, you who would be jus­ti­fied by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we our­selves eagerly wait for the hope of right­eous­ness. For in Christ Jesus nei­ther cir­cum­ci­sion nor uncir­cum­ci­sion counts for any­thing, but only faith work­ing through love.

You were run­ning well. Who hin­dered you from obey­ing the truth? This per­sua­sion is not from him who calls you. A lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump. 10 I have con­fi­dence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is trou­bling you will bear the penalty, who­ever he is. 11 But if I, broth­ers, still preach cir­cum­ci­sion, why am I still being per­se­cuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unset­tle you would emas­cu­late themselves!

13 For you were called to free­dom, broth­ers. Only do not use your free­dom as an oppor­tu­nity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is ful­filled in one word: “You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not con­sumed by one another.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not grat­ify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evi­dent: sex­ual immoral­ity, impu­rity, sen­su­al­ity, 20 idol­a­try, sor­cery, enmity, strife, jeal­ousy, fits of anger, rival­ries, dis­sen­sions, divi­sions, 21 envy, drunk­en­ness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the king­dom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kind­ness, good­ness, faith­ful­ness, 23 gen­tle­ness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have cru­ci­fied the flesh with its pas­sions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become con­ceited, pro­vok­ing one another, envy­ing one another. (ESV)


16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not grat­ify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (ESV)


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. 14 For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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. (ESV)

Completed by the Spirit Part 8: Paul, Redeemed but Struggling

This is the eighth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

As we vis­ited in our pre­vi­ous two installments, Douglas Moo describes three dif­fer­ent ways in which the man Paul describes in can be identified:

1. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as an uncon­verted Jew under the law, a view we saw explained in the pre­vi­ous installment.

2. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence, per­haps shortly after his con­ver­sion, as he sought sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion through the law.

3. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as a mature Chris­t­ian.[1]

Sin­clair Fer­gu­son advo­cates for the third view, a post-regenerate Paul (or generic regen­er­ate man) in , and sees the apos­tle as using this peri­cope to join with and to describe the strug­gle that the believer has between his remain­ing cor­rupt flesh and his new nature: Con­tinue reading


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. 14 For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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. (ESV)


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. 14 For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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. (ESV)


6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to con­tinue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been bap­tized into Christ Jesus were bap­tized into his death? We were buried there­fore with him by bap­tism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in new­ness of life.

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. We know that our old self was cru­ci­fied with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to noth­ing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has domin­ion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must con­sider your­selves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin there­fore reign in your mor­tal body, to make you obey its pas­sions. 13 Do not present your mem­bers to sin as instru­ments for unright­eous­ness, but present your­selves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your mem­bers to God as instru­ments for right­eous­ness. 14 For sin will have no domin­ion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present your­selves to any­one as obe­di­ent slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obe­di­ence, which leads to right­eous­ness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obe­di­ent from the heart to the stan­dard of teach­ing to which you were com­mit­ted, 18 and, hav­ing been set free from sin, have become slaves of right­eous­ness. 19 I am speak­ing in human terms, because of your nat­ural lim­i­ta­tions. For just as you once pre­sented your mem­bers as slaves to impu­rity and to law­less­ness lead­ing to more law­less­ness, so now present your mem­bers as slaves to right­eous­ness lead­ing to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to right­eous­ness. 21 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. 22 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. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eter­nal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)


8:1 There is there­fore now no con­dem­na­tion for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weak­ened by the flesh, could not do. By send­ing his own Son in the like­ness of sin­ful flesh and for sin, he con­demned sin in the flesh, in order that the right­eous require­ment of the law might be ful­filled in us, who walk not accord­ing to the flesh but accord­ing to the Spirit. For those who live accord­ing to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live accord­ing to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hos­tile to God, for it does not sub­mit to God’s law; indeed, it can­not. Those who are in the flesh can­not please God.

You, how­ever, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any­one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of right­eous­ness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mor­tal bod­ies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

12 So then, broth­ers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live accord­ing to the flesh. 13 For if you live accord­ing to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slav­ery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adop­tion as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit him­self bears wit­ness with our spirit that we are chil­dren of God, 17 and if chil­dren, then heirs—heirs of God and fel­low heirs with Christ, pro­vided we suf­fer with him in order that we may also be glo­ri­fied with him.

18 For I con­sider that the suf­fer­ings of this present time are not worth com­par­ing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the cre­ation waits with eager long­ing for the reveal­ing of the sons of God. 20 For the cre­ation was sub­jected to futil­ity, not will­ingly, but because of him who sub­jected it, in hope 21 that the cre­ation itself will be set free from its bondage to cor­rup­tion and obtain the free­dom of the glory of the chil­dren of God. 22 For we know that the whole cre­ation has been groan­ing together in the pains of child­birth until now. 23 And not only the cre­ation, but we our­selves, who have the first­fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adop­tion as sons, the redemp­tion of our bod­ies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Like­wise the Spirit helps us in our weak­ness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit him­self inter­cedes for us with groan­ings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit inter­cedes for the saints accord­ing to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called accord­ing to his pur­pose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also pre­des­tined to be con­formed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first­born among many broth­ers. 30 And those whom he pre­des­tined he also called, and those whom he called he also jus­ti­fied, and those whom he jus­ti­fied he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him gra­ciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who jus­ti­fies. 34 Who is to con­demn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is inter­ced­ing for us. 35 Who shall sep­a­rate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribu­la­tion, or dis­tress, or per­se­cu­tion, or famine, or naked­ness, or dan­ger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than con­querors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that nei­ther death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor pow­ers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any­thing else in all cre­ation, will be able to sep­a­rate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)

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