I am in the midst of revising Future Grace for a new edition this fall. For the few of you who have read the book and stumbled over some ambiguities, I hope to bring new precision and clarity.
One area for clarification is what I meant by saying “Faith is primarily future oriented” (13). I’m changing the word “primarily.” I’m going to use “profound and pervasive” and then explain. All that follows is an exerpt:
Faith has a profound and pervasive future orientation. To be sure, it can look back and believe a truth about the past (like the truth that Christ died for our sins). It can look out and trust a person (like the personal receiving of Jesus Christ). And it can look forward and be assured about a promise (like, “I will be with you to the end of the age”).
But even when faith embraces a past reality, its saving essence includes the embrace of the implications of that reality for the present and the future. We see this in Romans 5:10: “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son [past], much more, now that we are reconciled [present], shall we be saved by his life [future].” Thus when faith looks back and embraces “the death of the Son,” it also embraces the reconciliation of the present and the salvation of the future.
And when faith looks out and trusts Christ in the present, its saving essence consists in being satisfied in him now and forever. Thus Jesus says in John 6:35, “Whoever comes to me [present] shall not hunger [future], and whoever believes in me [present] shall never thirst [future].” Thus when faith looks out and embraces Christ in the present, it also embraces his never-ending all-sufficiency.
This is why I say that faith is profoundly future-oriented. There is no saving act of faith — whether looking back to history, out to a person, of forward to a promise — that does not include a future orientation.
But even more clarification is in order. Time is a mystery. We hardly even know what it is. So words like past, present, and future (“yesterday, today, and tomorrow”) can be tricky. For example, it is very difficult to define the present. Since the past and future can both be milliseconds away, what is left to be the present? We tangle ourselves in knots. But practically, we can know what we are talking about.
What I mean by the future is that part of time which is not-yet-experienced and which has the potential to make you frightened or make you hopeful. Ten seconds from now, you may have to walk onto a stage and speak before thousands. That is still future. It is very powerful. And you could still walk away. Ten years from now you may have to retire on a fixed income. Will it be enough? Or won’t it? Ten centuries from now you will be in heaven or in hell. Future is when all those near and far experiences may happen.
What about the present? What is that? It is the instant (and the succession of instances) when we experience faith. When I say that faith is profoundly future-oriented, I don’t mean that it is experienced in the future. Faith is always experienced in the present. In fact, that is how I would define the present. It is the instant of experience. Faith is always experienced now. When I say it is profoundly future-oriented, I mean that deep inside this present experience of faith, the heart is picturing a future. When faith is in fullest operation, it pictures a future with God so powerful and so loving and so wise and so satisfying that it experiences assurance. Now.
The closest thing we have to a definition of faith in the New Testament is in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance (Greek hypostasis) of things hoped for.” That word “assurance” can mean “substance” or “nature” as in Hebrews 1:3: “[Christ] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (hypostaseos).” Therefore, it seems to me, that the point of Hebrews 11:1 is this: When faith pictures the future which God promises, it experiences, as it were, a present “substantiation” of the future. The substance of the future, the nature of it, is, in a way, present in the experience of faith. Faith realizes the future. It has, so to speak, a foretaste of it — as when we are so excited about something and so expectant of it, we say, “I can already taste it!”