The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 4: Find Holiness and Union With Christ By Means of the Gospel

[This is the 4th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 4: The means of instruments whereby the Spirit of God accomplisheth our union with Christ, and our fellowship with him in all holiness, are the gospel, whereby Christ entereth into our hearts to work faith in us; and faith, whereby we actually receive Christ himself, with all his fullness, into our hearts. And this faith is a grace of the Spirit, whereby we heartily believe the gospel, and also believe on Christ, as he is revealed and freely promised to us therein, for all his salvation.”

Marshall built precept upon precept in the fourteen “directions” required to unfold the gospel mystery of sanctification. Direction four deals with the nature of saving faith, since it is one of two means used by the Spirit of God to affect the believer’s union with Christ (the first being the gospel of the grace of God, and the second being faith).

Marshall identified two acts necessarily found in saving faith: 1) believing the truth of the gospel; and 2) believing on Christ as promised freely to us in the gospel, for all of salvation. He also asserted that these two acts of saving faith must be performed heartily, with an unfeigned love to the truth and a desire for Christ and his salvation above all things. He elaborated on the manner of such hearty performance by asserting:

  1. Our assenting must not be forced by mere conviction of the truth, such as devils and wicked men may have.
  2. Our believing in Christ must neither be only a constrained fear of damnation, without any hearty love and desires towards the enjoyment of Christ.
  3. This love must be to every part of Christ’s salvation: to holiness as well as forgiveness of sins.

When comparing Marshall’s definition of saving faith here with that of Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith (follow this link to an earlier, related blog), we find common ground with respect to what it means to believe on Christ (i.e., trusting in and resting upon Christ for salvation). Marshall’s treatment, though, includes an aspect of repentance. In coming to Christ, the repentant sinner turns from sin to God for happiness and life and everything. Repentance isn’t a superficial matter of obtaining “fire insurance” in order to continue on a path of ungodliness, but a total renunciation of all that is contrary to God, and so is never ending this side of heaven. Marshall puts it more succinctly:

“We must desire earnestly, that God would create in us a clean heart and right spirit, as well as hide his face from our sins (Ps. 51:9, 10); not like many, that care nothing in Christ but only deliverance from hell. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled (Matt. 5:6).

So a key observation to be gleaned here is how specious are the claims of many so-called Christians today who care little for being conformed to the image of Christ. How silly would it be for someone to say, “I really love Sally, but I can’t stand to be in her presence because of the way she looks, moves, talks, thinks, and basically everything about her.  She is so embarrassing.”

Just as Sally will not be taken in by such vapid sentiments, neither will the Lord, in that those who are His will be conformed to His image in holiness, without exception (Heb. 12:14). Or as the Psalmist warns (Psa. 50:16-23, ESV):

16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?

17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.

18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.

19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.

20 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.

21 These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!

23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

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