Rebuilding Some Basics of Bethlehem: The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace
Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us. For example, Paul says,
By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
God’s grace was God’s acting in Paul to make Paul work hard. So when Paul says, “Work out your salvation,” he adds, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Grace is power from God to do good things in us and for us.
This grace is past and it is future. It is ever cascading over the infinitesimal waterfall of the present from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past.
The proper response to grace you experienced in the past is gratitude, and the proper response to grace promised to you in the future is faith. We are thankful for past grace, and we are confident in future grace.
It is not wrong to say that we trust in past grace—like the grace God showed us at the cross and in our new birth—but what we mean by that is: We believe that because of these acts of past grace, our future will be all grace, and finally the grace of sinless perfection. But in general, the biblical pattern is that we trust in future grace and give thanks for past grace.
The way to understand the power of faith in future grace is to realize that this faith means being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ. When Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. . . . I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11, 13), he means that faith in the ever-arriving future grace of God in Christ gives him the contentment that conquers fear and greed.
One of the essential keys to a life purified from the sins of wanting what we shouldn’t want and fearing what we shouldn’t fear is faith in future grace. Consider some examples of how faith in future grace conquers fear and selfishness and makes people radically loving.
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)
By faith Moses . . . chose to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:11-12)
We heard of . . . the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:4–5)
But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13–14)
In other words, by profound satisfaction in all that God promises to be for us in the future (five minutes out—and five million ages out) we can conquer the cravings of selfish fear and greed that destroy love. Radical love is the fruit of faith in future grace.
Living by faith with you,