Marks of the Christian Life

following jesus1

In 1872, Horatius Bonar published Light & Truth, a collection of his sermons and articles. One of my favorite entries is, “The Model of a Holy Life.

Bonar begins by considering four Bible passages:

  • “These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”—Revelation 14:4
  • “Follow me!”—John 11:22
  • “Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.”—2 Peter 2:21
  • “I Paul myself beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10:1

He then writes, “These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ’s walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.”

Bonar proceeds to meditate on the mark of a growing Christian life. Each trait was found in Christ, and so should be found in us, for “a Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ’s footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ’s image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.”

What then is a Christian man?

Bonar answers that question in six ways. I read these yesterday afternoon and found much cause for conviction, encouragement, and prayer. May they do the same for you.

I. He is a man of FAITH. It was by giving credit to God’s word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ’s life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.

II. He is a man of PRAYER. In this too he follows Christ. Christ’s life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.

III. He is a man of HOPE. Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.

IV. He is man of HOLINESS. He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ’s footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master’s mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.

V. He is a man of LOVE. He has known Christ’s love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.

VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL. ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,’ said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father’s honor and His Father’s business. So is the disciple to be ‘zealous of good works.’ Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah’s glory, for Christ’s name, for the Church’s edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.

These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.

Book to Look For: On Sanctification

I consider Sinclair Ferguson the greatest living guide for pilgrims on the way to heaven—at least when it comes to biblical/theological books. His publishing output is broad and comprehensive. Rarely does a year go by without another contribution from the Scotsman. In late October he’ll published Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. It surely will be a candidate for book of the year.

devoted7a-810x1280According to the Trust

The Banner writes:

Christians are transformed by the renewing of their minds. They understand that in large measure how they think about the gospel will determine how they will live for God’s glory. They learn to allow the word of God to do its own work, informing and influencing the way they think in order to shape the way they live.

In a series of Scripture-enriched chapters Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Devoted to God works out this principle in detail. It provides what he describes as ‘blueprints for sanctification’—an orderly exposition of central New Testament passages on holiness. Devoted to God thus builds a strong and reliable structural framework for practical Christian living. It stresses the foundational importance of fundamental issues such as union with Christ, the rhythms of spiritual growth, the reality of spiritual conflict, and the role of God’s law. Here is a fresh approach to an always relevant subject, and a working manual to which the Christian can turn again and again for biblical instruction and spiritual direction.

According to Ferguson

Here’s what Ferguson himself had to say about the book in an interview with Fred Zaspel:

Do you have any new books in the works that we can expect?

Thank you for asking, Fred. The Lord willing, yes. The next one is entitled Devoted to God, and is a treatment of sanctification. I realize there are excellent books on the theme of holiness (Walter Marshall’s classic, Ryle’s great work, and more recently Kevin de Young has written on the subject)—so obviously one needs to “justify” writing another one. The subtitle is Blueprints for Sanctification and the book begins with a somewhat different “take” on what “holiness” means. If there is a distinctive feature that justifies another book on the theme (can we have too many?) it probably lies in the approach. I have tried to focus on a selection of central New Testament passages that provide the groundwork for sanctification (“blueprints”) and work through them in a progressive and cumulative way. If readers know George Smeaton’s two great classic volumes on the atonement, Devoted to God is a kind of more modest (and doubtless very inferior!) attempt to do something similar with sanctification. In harmony with the principles of our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that sanctification takes place through his word, my aim has been to draw the blueprints for sanctification from within both the context and the atmosphere of the text of Scripture itself. I think the book is due out by the Summer of this year.

Tolle lege!

Preaching Sanctification

As I’m sure you know, over the last few years a largely constructive debate on sanctification has taken place in the broader New Calvinism sub-culture of American evangelicalism.

Many helpful articles, blog posts, and books have considered the issue biblically, historically, and practically for church members. But if anything has received small mention I think it would be discussion on how pastors should wisely labor for the holiness of their congregation.

At this year’s Together for the Gospel conference one panel decided to take up the matter of “Preaching Sanctification.” The lively dialogue is full of wisdom and warmth. Here is the video with timestamps of some pertinent questions underneath. Not only is this a helpful conversation, it’s also a model of a panel done well.


  • What are the biblical motivations for pursuing holiness? (2:20)
  • What do you do when a church member is struggling with pornography? (10:00)
  • How can pastors walk in discernment when counseling church members unto sanctification? (11:36)
  • Why is it that duty, obligation, and “effortful progressive sanctification” is now immediately viewed as legalistic? (14:10)
  • How has antinomianism crept up on the church in the past? How is it doing so now? (23:38)
  • How would you define legalism? (25:20)
  • How much effort can you give to bearing fruit before it becomes legalism? (26:34)


  • “I kind of want have a moratorium that we can only use the word ‘legalism’ once a month and then we’ve got to get it right.” – Thomas
  • “Legalism is a problem . . . but the answer to legalism isn’t antinomianism. The answer to legalism is Christ. The answer to antinomianism is Christ.” – Thomas
  • “There seems to be a lost ethic of hard work [in our culture today].” – Chandler
  • “Grace is [now] felt mainly as leniency.” – Piper
  • “You don’t become a good tree by bearing good fruit. That would be legalism. Start bearing good fruit and He’ll admit you into the tree heaven. That’s legalism. You were made a good tree by sovereign grace in Christ alone through faith alone. ” – Piper
  • “Do you think sometimes when people use the word legalism they just mean, ‘That’s inconvenient?'” – Thomas
    • “I totally do. In fact, I think that’s why people break the speed limit.” – Piper
    • “Now we’re gettin’ real.” – DeYoung
  • “Anyone who is indifferent to sanctification is indifferent to Christ.” – DeYoung

An Old Path to Know


The recent sanctification debates in the broader Reformed world have taken us well back into the 16th century. It’s there where much of our discussions on a law/gospel hermeneutic, union with Christ, and three uses of the law find respective historical beginnings.

But I’ve wondered if our focus on the Reformation and Puritan eras have led us to neglect another era’s teaching on sanctification and its [largely negative] impact on today: Keswick Theology.


Have you heard of Keswick? From 1875-1920 Keswick Theology1 was a major force in the evangelical world. While you may not have heard “Keswick” before, odds are you’ve encountered its effect in American evangelicalism. And it’s usually unhelpful.

The movement’s hallmark is a chronological separation between justification and sanctification. This paradigmatic truth is evident in how many Christians recount their testimony: “I was saved at the age of seven, but it wasn’t until I was sixteen or seventeen that I fully gave myself to the Lord.”

To help you get a simultaneous handle on Keswick’s aberrant understanding of the Christian life and a biblical understanding of sanctification we turn to a living expert: Dr. Andy Naselli.


20100515_118.bw_.pngAndy Naselli serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He teaches courses primarily at the seminary-level on Greek exegesis, New Testament, biblical theology, and systematic theology. He loves to study and teach how the theological disciplines (exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology) interrelate and culminate in doxology.

Andy earned two PhDs before he turned thirty: a PhD in theology from Bob Jones University and a PhD in New Testament Exegesis and Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under D. A. Carson. He served as Carson’s research assistant from 2006 to 2013 and continues to work with him on various projects, including the theological journal Themelios, for which Carson is editor and Andy is administrator.2

It’s that PhD from Bob Jones we are concerned about because it is a masterful analysis and critique of Keswick Theology. The 100,000 word dissertation was published in 2010 as Let God and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology. If you have the time and cash money to grab a copy, I’d highly recommend it. Rick Phillips says,

If you are seeking a biblical understanding of the Christian life, read Andy Naselli’s Let Go and Let God? If you wish to avoid sidetracks that can absorb years of your life in fruitless confusion, then pay attention this careful study of the Bible’s doctrine of sanctification and searching critique of the Keswick theology. With this book, Naselli has provided an important service to many Christians who have been or might be led astray by well-meaning but false teaching on the Christian life.

If reading the dissertation sounds daunting, don’t worry, there are two other mediums to get the substance of Naselli’s work.


In 2008 Naselli gave the William R. Rice Lecture Series at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary on Keswick Theology. In the course of three lectures he distilled his dissertation down to about 20,000 words . . . a much more manageable count for most pastors! So grab the lecture PDF or mp3s below and grow your understanding of this stream of teaching on sanctification. And your appreciation for a more biblical model of how to grow in Christ.

You can download all these resources and more on Naselli’s website.


  1. Pronounced “KEH-zick” and named after a small English town.
  2. Bio taken from BCS.

A Conversation on Sanctification

In Colossians 1:28 Paul manages to pack in a stunning amount of apostolic instruction on faithful ministry by writing, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

Christ is the message, proclamation is the manner, and maturity is the aim.


Faithful shepherds then are God’s ordinary agents to bring about, through the work of God’s Spirit and Christ’s appointed means, the sanctification of God’s people. God called His sheep before the foundation of the world that they would be holy and blameless before Him. Jesus Christ ascended on high and gave pastors to His church to equip her unto “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Sanctification plays a central role in pastoral ministry. Pastors must then think rightly and deeply about this core issue of our faith.


Later this week the elders at IDC plan to spend extended time discussing the doctrine of sanctification and its implications for our shepherding. I, like the other elders, have been browsing through various resources to prepare for our meeting and in the course of my perusal I came across an old gem from the boys at Reformed Forum.

Back in January 2012 the now well-known debates on justification, sanctification, and pursuing holiness were just beginning to fan into full flame in the broader Reformed evangelical world. Nick Batzig was able to sit down with Kevin DeYoung and Rick Phillips for a roundtable discussion on sanctification. And oh how useful their dialogue was – and still is! Set aside fifty minutes of time this week to watch their interaction below.

The conversation is clear, pastoral, biblical, and edifying throughout.


Click here to download the audio of this episode.