Pillar Journal

Book of the Month for November 2023

Grace never leaves a man where it finds him. Grace always transforms the sinner into a saint – a holy man.

Beeke’s Book of the Month for November 2023 is A Radical, Comprehensive Call to Holiness by Dr. Joel Beeke and Dr. Michael Barrett. Enjoy this brief excerpt from the preface of the book that will remind you that God’s glory in our holiness is truly the end of the Christian life. (Note: All of the references in this article are properly footnoted in the full text of A Radical, Comprehensive Call to Holiness.)

Grace never leaves a man where it finds him. Grace always transforms the sinner into a saint – a holy man. ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’ (Eph. 2:10). God’s will is for His people to be holy. The objective of His electing grace is to bring us into conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), and every true Christian has a desire for that Christ-like holiness.

The doctrine that concerns our daily duty of holiness is sanctification. Sanctification is God’s will for every believer. First Thessalonians 4:3 is explicitly clear: ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.’ Doing the will of God is our duty, but, as always, duty must flow from doctrine. The more we understand the doctrines of the gospel, the more we can do our duty. The gospel is like a chain with many inseparable links: election, regeneration, conversion, union, justification, adoption, reconciliation, sanctification, glorification, etc. Successful sanctification is going to depend on how we see sanctification coupled with the other links. Too often, Christians are frustrated in their efforts at holiness because they have uncoupled and isolated sanctification from all the other gospel components. Attempting to live a Christian life apart from the bedrock of Christian theology is presumptuous folly, but it is not a new mistake. Paul saw this same proclivity for will power rather than gospel power among the Galatians: ‘Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?’ (Gal. 3:3). His right answer to their mistake was to direct their eyes again to Christ who had been ‘evidently set forth’ before them (Gal. 3:1). Seeing Christ and our place in Him is going to be the solution for us as well. We are complete in Him.

In this book, we want to expound the doctrine of sanctification and show its connection to our complete salvation by discussing specific aspects of Scripture’s radical and comprehensive call to holiness. Very simply, we are going to see that sanctification is the application of the gospel in our daily lives. Perhaps the axiom ‘right thinking about the gospel produces right living in the gospel’ applies more directly to this element of salvation than to any other. Whereas the other links in the gospel chain focus on our position, privileges, and prospects in Christ, sanctification concerns where and how we live right now. Sanctification is the believer’s becoming in experience what grace has purposed him to be. Sanctification is living in the reality of gospel grace. Since, in our justification, God regards us as holy and righteous, we should live as though we are. Although holiness is not the prerequisite for salvation, it is the evidence of it. Sanctification is the essential and certain effect of the gospel.

God’s call to holiness is radical, and it is comprehensive. Holiness is a topic that demands and deserves constant visitation, both from the pulpit and from the pew – indeed, both in the pulpit and in the pew. The divine call to holiness is a daily task involving the core of religious faith and practice. Calvin said, ‘The whole life of Christians ought to be a sort of practice of godliness, for we have been called to sanctification.’ Holiness is the commitment of the whole life to live Godward – to be set apart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit operates in our sanctification as He directs us to the application of the gospel. We have received ‘the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God’ (1 Cor. 2:12). It is by the Spirit of the Lord that we are changed into the image of Christ from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). In the light of this provision, it should be our daily prayer ‘to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man’ (Eph. 3:16). God has given us the infallible Guide to lead us to walk contrary to the flesh (Rom. 8:4). Indeed, the promise is that if we walk in the Spirit, we ‘shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh’ (Gal. 5:16). Paul’s argument is that since ‘we live in the Spirit,’ we should ‘also walk in the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:25). The particular word for ‘walk’ in this verse brings the issue down to the basics. We are literally to walk in a straight line or row, step by step, following the path set by the Holy Spirit. The way of holiness is certainly not a game, but it does involve ‘following the Leader.’ We must submit ourselves to that holy influence and follow God’s provision, our faithful Companion, relying on His might to lead us to victory. Following the Holy Spirit will lead us not only away from sin but also toward the positive marks of godliness: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’ (Gal. 5:22-23).