Living by Faith in Future Grace
2 Thessalonians 1:3–12 says,
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I preached on this text the last Sunday of 1985. Little did I know that I was uncovering in verses 11 and 12 the foundations of what would become one of our most practical and important 30-year theological trademarks; namely, living by faith in future grace. So what I would like to do is summarize these two verses and then flesh out what it means to live by faith in future grace and how faith in future grace becomes the conduit of God’s power into your life.
Let’s read again verses 11 and 12,
To this end [that is, so that you will marvel at Christ when he comes again] we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good [or good resolve] and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are eight absolutely crucial things to see in Paul’s prayer.
1. The Calling of God
First, there is the calling of God. Verse 11: “That our God may make you worthy of his calling.” This calling is our glorious destiny in God’s kingdom and glory. That’s what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, “We charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Your calling is to be in the kingdom of God and to share the glory of God, as we will see in just a moment.
2. Being Made Worthy
Second, there is our being made worthy of God’s calling. Verse 11: “. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” Being made worthy doesn’t mean being made deserving. It means being made suitable or fitting or appropriate because of the worth of another. So we would say, I need to fix up this room because the Queen of England is going to stay with us and the room needs to be worthy of her dignity. It needs to be fitting, suitable, appropriate. She didn’t decide to come because the room is beautiful. The room should be made beautiful because she’s coming. So we are being made suitable for our calling into God’s kingdom and glory.
3. Fulfillment of Good Resolves
Third, there is the fulfillment of good resolves. Verse 11: “That our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good.” The Christian life is a resolving, planning, purposing, intending life. We have minds and wills, and God expects that we will use them to form resolves and plans and purposes according to his will. These resolves are to be fulfilled. But how?
4. Fulfilled by God’s Power
That’s the fourth thing: by the power of God. Verse 11: “That our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.” If our resolves were fulfilled by our power, we would get the glory. But it will be plain in just a moment that God intends to get the glory for the fulfillment of our good resolves. So he fulfills them by his power, not ours. So our duty is to tap into his power. How?
5. Living by Faith
That’s the fifth thing: by faith. Verse 11: “That our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.” When God fulfills a resolve for good, it becomes a work of faith because the means by which we receive the power to fulfill the resolve and turn it into a deed is faith. So the deed or the work or the act is called a “work of faith” or a “deed of faith” or an “act of faith.” So from God’s side the resolve became a deed by God’s power. And from our side the resolve became a deed by faith. Faith in that power. By faith we trusted God for the power to fulfill the resolve and, by that power, through that faith, the resolve became a deed or work, a work of faith. This sin was defeated. This righteousness was performed. Because we looked away from ourselves to God and all his powerful effects in our lives.
6. Jesus Is Glorified
Therefore the sixth thing to see in this text is that the name of Jesus is glorified when God’s power fulfills our resolves and through faith turns them into deeds. Verse 12: “. . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” That is, God fulfills our resolves by his power through our faith so that the name of Jesus gets glory. This assumes that the power of God is coming to us because of Jesus. That was the point of last week’s sermon. Because Jesus has died for us, God’s power is now not against us but for us. So when that power enables us to turn our resolves into deeds of love, Jesus and the Father get the glory.
7. We Are Glorified in Him
Seventh, not only is Jesus glorified in us, but we are glorified in him. Verse 12: “. . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.” In other words, as Jesus glorifies himself in purchasing the power of God to be made worthy of our calling, we too are being glorified. And the day will come when that slow process in this world will be completed in the twinkling of an eye, and we will “be saved to sin no more.” This is the calling for which we are being made worthy, suitable.
8. It Is All of Grace
Finally, eighth, all of this process of being made worthy of our calling and fulfilling our good resolves and doing good works by faith in God’s power, is “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 12: “. . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was all of grace. The power of God that comes to us moment by moment fulfilling our resolves in works of faith is the power of grace.
The Eights Pieces in Summary
Now let me put the eight pieces together in the order that they actually work. Paul ended with the foundation of everything — the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s start with the foundation and build the structure of the Christian life with these eight pieces. If you are a Christian, this is your life:
Everything starts with and is built on the grace of God. That grace is expressed in God’s power toward his children. See the end of verse 11: “by his power.” That gracious power which God exerts toward his children is appropriated, received, tapped into by faith. The way we experience the power of God is by trusting him to be for us everything we need so that good resolves become deeds of faith.
The effect of this power, as we trust him for it, is to fulfill our resolves for good and turn them into acts, deeds, which he calls “works of faith.” Thus the life of the Christian is lived by faith. Christianity is not a will-power religion. We will things. We resolve. We plan. We form purposes. But as we engage our wills to act, we look to God. And we treasure him. We love him. We trust him that the power will be given to fulfill the resolve.
A Panorama of the Christian Life
In this way, then, we are made worthy of our calling. A life of God-dependent obedience is a life fitting, or appropriate, or suitable for our calling into God’s kingdom and glory. And this being made worthy is the first stage in our being fully glorified in Christ and Christ’s being fully glorified through us.
So when you stand back and look at these two verses, they are an amazing panorama of the Christian life and of the meaning of existence. Everything flows from the free grace of God in Christ. And everything is moving toward the fullest glory of God in us and through us. And between the foundation of grace and the goal of glory, there is the power of grace daily arriving in our lives through faith turning daily resolves and plans and purposes into deeds of faith and fitting us for glory. O Bethlehem, live these verses!
That’s your life as a Christian. Daily, hourly, tapping into the flow of God’s grace for the awakening and fulfilling of your good resolves, so that as you are made increasingly worthy of his calling — fitted for his kingdom and glory — Jesus gets more and more glory in your life.
What It Means for the Everyday
Now let me step back and draw out of these two verses — this amazing picture of the Christian life — what I mean by the 30-year theological trademark of living by faith in future grace. Because what I mean is all right here either explicitly or implicitly.
Grace, in the New Testament, as we have seen, is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it — undeserved favor. It is also a power from God that acts in our lives and makes good things happen in us and for us. Paul said that we fulfill our resolves for good “by his power” (verse 11). And then he adds at the end of verse 12, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That power that actually works in our lives to make Christ-exalting obedience possible is an extension of the grace of God.
You can see this also in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “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.” So grace is an active, present, transformative, obedience-enabling power.
Therefore this grace which moves in power from God to you at a point in time is both past and future. It has already done something for you or in you and therefore is past. And it is about to do something in you and for you, and so it is future — both five seconds away and five million years away.
God’s grace is ever cascading over the 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.
Gratitude and Faith
The proper response to grace that you have experienced in the past is gratitude — a profoundly humble and transforming spirit in itself. 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. This is where I get the idea of faith in future grace. That’s what Paul is talking about in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12. We fulfill our good resolves by the power of grace arriving second by second as we trust God for it on the basis of Christ’s work. And so we live in those moments by faith in the constant arrival of 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 — the cross and the new birth — a river of future grace will never, ever stop flowing to us for all eternity. I just read this week in my devotions: “Christ is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Christ died for us and he lives for us. And because his death is all-purchasing, and his life is all-providing, grace will never stop flowing to us. Therefore to trust in past grace means to draw from it confidence in future grace.
So even though our faith is founded on decisive acts of past redeeming grace, the way faith works moment by moment to turn our resolves for good into deeds of purity and love (patience, kindness, meekness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control) is by looking up and forward to the boundless fountain of grace that comes to us through a river of promises for every moment of the day. We live by faith in the ever-arriving power of future grace.
Satisfied with All His Promises
And here’s another aspect of this 30-year theological trademark. When we speak of faith — faith in future grace — we mean being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). In other words: Believing in me means receiving me as the satisfier of the thirst of your soul. Being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ.
Faith is not only a serious assent to the truth of God’s promises; it is also a satisfying embrace of Christ in those promises. When Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:8), he means that moment by moment in every situation Christ satisfies. “I have learned in whatever situation I am,” Paul said, “to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11–13).
Paul is “content” — satisfied — in every circumstance. How? Because he has learned a secret. What? I have learned to trust him for moment by moment strengthening. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The future grace of all that God is for me in Christ, arriving every moment of my life, in every circumstance, for every need, is enough. It satisfies. I am content. That is what we mean by faith in future grace.
So when Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 that God fulfills our good resolves by his power through our faith according to his grace, he means that we defeat sin and we do righteousness by faith in future grace, that is, by being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ in the next five minutes, five weeks, five months, five years, five decades, five centuries, and five million ages of ages.
- If you set your heart to give sacrificially and generously, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in this promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And this promise: “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). And this promise: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
- If you set your heart to return good for evil, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in this promise: “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).
- If you set your heart to renounce pornography, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in this promise: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). “It is better that you tear out your eye than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Much better. Wonderfully better. All-satisfyingly better.
- If you set your heart to speak out for Christ when the opportunity comes, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in this promise: “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).
- If you set your heart to risk your life by ministering to the needy in a dangerous place, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in this promise: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “Don’t fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:28–30).
- If you set your heart to invite some for Thanksgiving who cannot repay you, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in this promise: “You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13–14).
May God increase our daily faith in his inexhaustible, blood-bought, Christ-exalting future grace.