This is a book about the doctrine of sin. It’s unique in that it’s not an exposition of our depravity, nor is it a focus on the atonement. There are many books out there that cover those topics. This book is unique in that it’s book about the doctrine of post-conversion sin. How, exactly, do we deal with that issue? We are saved from sin and the notion of works righteousness to freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1), and yet just about every day we feel captive to sin (Rom. 7:23-24). What is going on with our sanctification? Why are we still left with an inability to stop sinning?
The subtitle of this book is “God’s glory displayed in our weakness,” which calls to mind 2 Corinthians 12:9, where Paul says, “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Duguid’s main point is to show how God allows sin to remain in His redeemed children so that His glory can be more manifest. She takes aim at the notion that the focus of sanctification is our cooperation with the Spirit’s work, because that thought places far too much ability into our own hands (78, 124). Perhaps even more radically, she suggests that sanctification is not all about sinning less, but about growing in our dependence on Christ and His grace (18).
The reason I find this book so helpful is that I am as reformed as the next guy–I wholeheartedly subscribe to the doctrines of total inability and effectual calling and regeneration. I believe that sanctification is all a work of grace, and that though I am responsible for my failings to fight sin, on my own I am also wholly unable to grow in godliness. But all the same, I become discouraged at my lack of growth. If I could just try harder, read Scripture a little more, spend more time in prayer, lean on those graces that God provides, I could become a stronger warrior against sin. On the one hand, true: God requires action on my part for my sanctification, and my actions will be caused and sustained by His grace. And on the other hand, patently unhelpful, because, as Duguid points out, God allows my failure for His glory.
Seeing the depths of our fallenness causes us to rely on Christ more (118). It makes us broken and contrite before Him, which He loves (Ps. 51:17). It creates humility, because we see how pitiful we are and how perfect God is (128). We value Him, love Him, desire Him more as we understand our weakness in sin. It helps to remember these things so that I don’t despair or get unduly frustrated at my sinfulness. He allows my sin for a reason.
The one area where I think this book could be improved is a little more exposition of Scripture, or at least Scripture references. There are many times when Duguid makes a claim that I wish would have been followed with some sort of citation so that I could see where she is getting her thought. Sometimes it’s because I agree but can’t remember where the thought comes from; more seriously is when I’m not sure if I agree and I want to investigate. This latter case happened several times: “We can be hard on ourselves in a way God is not” (173). I would have loved to see some sort of explanation of that claim. Or again when she says, “[I]t would be incongruous with his nature to think that, having ordained our weakness, he will then get angry with [believers] whenever we fall” (210). This is Duguid’s explanation of Romans 8:1. Is this true? Does God never get angry with the believer who sins? And elsewhere, Duguid posits that God is less disappointed with a sinner’s failure than He is delighted in the sinner’s fight against sin. For me, these aren’t truths that are common sense enough that they can simply be dropped into the middle of the book without more explanation.
That being said, I still recommend this book. It provides a needed counterbalance to all the books and sermons out there that emphasize the personal responsibility aspect of sanctification. It gives a biblical sense of comfort to the believer that God loves us despite–and through, since He has ordained them to teach us dependence on Him–our failings in sanctification. The book is easy to read, full of personal anecdotes from Duguid herself, as well as from many counseling sessions she has had in her ministry. It provides the briefest primer on John Newton’s own thoughts about sanctification and grace, and quotes and paraphrases are woven through the work. There’s a lot of questions I still have about the tension between the Spirit’s work in sanctification and our work, and what sanctification is and should look like–good questions, I think, so I’m thankful to Duguid for raising them. I’m looking forward to reading this book again to see better the God’s grace and His purposes in sanctification.
NOTE: A preview of this book is available on the P&R website. You can read the first chapter and view the table of contents.
(This book was provided free for review by P&R Publishing, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)