Future Grace for Finishing the Task

Part 7

International Missions Week | Ridgecrest, North Carolina


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

I like to view what I do when I speak as worship. I call it expository exultation. I’m just exulting over the word, and you can join me if you want, but it really helps me to do that out of sung worship. Word worship follows sung worship. I don’t ever divide my services up into worship and teaching or worship and preaching. Preaching is worship — at least, I try. I’m worshiping whether you are or not. We’re going to go to the word one more time together, and we do it with hearts just brimming with gratitude this morning and there’s good news here in Hebrews this morning for us.

The God Who Rewards

I want to preface our time together with another basic foundational truth in the book of Hebrews that I didn’t get to in my introductory remarks yesterday. I left it out so we could handle the text in 11:28–39. Let’s look at Hebrews 11:6, because there’s something very, very foundational here. You know this verse by heart probably, but let’s look at it for a moment.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

This verse says nobody can please God without faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. You can’t please God unless you come to him to get. You can’t please God unless you come to him as rewarder.

Come to God to Get

I told the teenagers I spoke with the night before last that if you try to reverse those roles, you blaspheme. If you try to come to give and not to get, you offend. God will not be the beneficiary in his relationship with human beings. He will always be the benefactor, or be blasphemed. If you would please God, you must go to him to be pleased. The way you please God is by counting him your highest pleasure, and going to him to get it and nowhere else. That’s all I’ve been trying to say all this week.

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. He will be dishonored if you come to him any other way than to be rewarded by him, with him. If I had time, I would unpack from this whole book that he is the reward. When it talks about him as the rewarder, ultimately it’s he who is the reward. He’s the essence of the new covenant: “I will walk with him. I will be their God. They will be my people.” That’s what I’m looking forward to: when that is finally fulfilled.

You need to take a verse like verse 6, and just mull on it for about ten years. Delight yourself in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night, and you’ll become like a tree (Psalm 1:1–3). So take something like verse 6: that you can’t please God without faith. And faith is a coming to him as our reward to get him, to be satisfied in him. And if you come any other way, if you come with the presumption that you’re going to meet his needs, or you’re going to do a favor for him, you offend him; you put him in the place of a needy God.

Not to Be Served

Now I want to dwell on this for a moment with you before we go on because this is absolutely foundational for biblical theology, and the theology of Hebrews, and the living of the Christian life on the mission field and at home. We are always beneficiaries, never benefactors of God. We must constantly keep that in mind. To live by faith is to be a getter, getter, getter, and never a giver, in such a way that you enrich God.

Let me give you a couple of verses to support that besides this one, so that you see the breadth of this in the Bible. Acts 17:25: God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” He will be the giver; you will never be the giver in this relationship with him. God is not served by human hands. So I told the teenagers as they went home that if their parents asked them, “What did the pastor say tonight?” tell them he said, “Not to serve God. That’s what he said.” And I gave them one more text to support that — namely, Mark 10:45: “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” So don’t serve the Son of Man, or you contradict the incarnation. God will be the servant in this relationship.

Do you see how the Bible jars us, and kind of shocks us? If you’re not shocking your people, you’re not preaching the Bible. Of course, I know what you’re thinking: there are all kinds of texts that say we should serve God. Paul calls himself a servant of the Lord. Or “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2). So what’s the solution to that. How would you finish this little pre-message message? Would you try to smooth it over real quick so your people don’t get nervous? I’m into making people nervous. The only way you can change people, and get their attention, and maybe bring some new dimension to their weak, paltry, boring Christian lives is to shock them and keep them shocked for a while before you fix it.

Strength He Supplies

But I want to give you an answer because the answer, is the key to life. It’s just the key to life. And the answer is probably one of the topmost important verses in my philosophy of ministry as a pastor. And it’s 1 Peter 4:11: Let him who serves serve “as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

That’s the answer to the two pieces that didn’t seem to fit at first. Do you serve, or don’t you serve? No, you don’t. And yes, you do. Because there are two ways to serve. There’s a blasphemous way to serve that puts him in the position of the beneficiary of your service as though he needed you. That’s wrong. Don’t ever teach anybody to serve that way. And then there’s the service that Peter says is a serving in the strength that he supplies, which means you’re the getter in this service. Do you get it? Serving God is always a getting from God. Serving God is always a getting from God. I’m basing that sentence on 1 Peter 4:11.

That means that as I do my missionary work, or preach, lay my life down for AIDS victims, I’m getting strength; I’m under the waterfall. Grace is falling down for every effort I make. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). And today, moment by moment, through future grace, he is pouring out enabling power on me, so that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives through me. Or to use 1 Corinthians 15:10 again: “But 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.”

We must learn this mystery of the Christian life: that you dare not serve the Lord. If you contemplate going to serve the Lord on the mission field because he needs you, forget it — wrong motive, bad. You go to the mission field because that is where God says, “I mean for the waterfall to fall.” You go to the mission field because, in your case, God has said, “I have blessings for you there, not here.” It is more blessed to give than to receive where God calls you to give. And some of you he calls to give here, and some of you he calls to give there, and you go where the waterfall is pouring — or don’t go. Because if you presume to go to give the buckets of water to him, in Kazakhstan or wherever, you offend him. And the people will not be helped, by the way. They’ll be turned into colossal legalists, just like you are. That’s not why you want to go.

You want to go and tell them when they say, “Why did you come here?” You want to say, “Because I’m happier by pouring God’s blessing into your life here, than anywhere else. I’m happier being a channel here of what’s coming down on me than there. There’s more blessing for me to serve you here than there is for me to serve you there. So I’m here to enjoy the blessing of God coming down on me for your sake. Would you like to have some of this? It’s amazing, just amazing. Would you like to open your life to have God serve you for the rest of your life?”

Structure of the Bible

You need to feel the missionary impact of this. Because the Bible describes our serving God as unique among all the gods that you are going to be competing with on the mission field. Do you know where he does that? Several places, but let me give you two from Isaiah.

God Works

From of old no one has heard
     or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
     who acts for those who wait for him.

Now, just stop and realize what he’s saying there. Nobody has ever seen a God like this. No Hindu’s ever seen a God like this. No Muslim’s ever seen a God like this. No Babylonian idol-worshiper has ever seen a God like this? And what does he have in mind particularly when he’s describing this God as unique among all the gods of the nations? And the answer is: “who acts for those who wait for him.” Nobody’s ever seen a God who works for those who wait for him. All the other religions have you working for God. No other religion besides Christianity, and a fulfilled Judaism says, “God works for you; you don’t work for him.” You better rest in that or you die. If you think you’re going to come and commit yourself to God with your works, you lose. He will not be impressed because you offend him, you put him in the place of a needy God. All religions have a needy God. Muslims don’t sound like they have a needy God, but if you analyze it to the core, they.

God Carries

Isaiah 46 gets really explicit about the gods of the nations. Listen to these gods and how they relate to the true God. So here’s the picture: these gods are on carts being pulled by cows. Impressive, huh? Whoa, that’s a big God that’s being carried around on a cart.

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
     their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
     as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
     they cannot save the burden,
     but themselves go into captivity.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
     all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
     carried from the womb; . . . (Isaiah 46:1–3)

Do you get the reversal? “I carry you, you don’t carry me.” Do you see the difference between Bel and Nebo being carried on carts, and God who carries his people?

even to your old age I am he,
     and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
     I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46:4)

Don’t get the roles reversed. I’m God. I carry, you ride. That’s the mission field. We have a God to commend to the world who works for those who wait for him like little helpless children. It is the sick who need a physician, not the well. Oh, what a gospel we have. What a God we have to commend to the nations, and it’s all through Jesus Christ. No way would a God ever stoop to carry a sinner to everlasting glory and joy with him had Christ not come to be our righteousness and to share this blood on our behalf.

God Shows Off

Oh, how many texts we could look at. Let me just mention a few more. You need to get about six or eight of these into your head, so that every day, as Satan comes to tempt you to carry God, you say, “No, I will be carried, thank you,” and you’ll rest again in him. For example, Psalm 37:5:

Commit your way to the Lord;
     trust in him, and he will act.

Or 2 Chronicles 16:9. This is one of my favorites. Kids can get a handle on these. They kind of look at you funny when you say it.

The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

So what is God looking for in the world? A place to show off his muscles. That’s exactly what it says. So what’s he looking for? He’s looking for helpless people. He’s looking for weak people. He’s looking for broken people who are ready to trust him, so that he can show off his muscles. He loves to show off his broad shoulders by carrying your burden. Why in 1 Peter 5:6–7 is there a link between humility and casting your burdens on the Lord because he cares for you?

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Why is there a link between humbling and God carrying your cares? Answer: because if you try to carry your own cares, you’re proud. And God gets no glory when you try to carry your own cares. He’s got shoulders made for cares. That’s how they’re designed. That’s who he is. He is designed to carry your cares. So don’t be anxious. Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” Why? Because he loves his glory. We’re so self-centered that we think: “Because he loves me. I’m so precious in his sight.” Well, that’s true. But that’s not the main point.

God Delivers

Now we’re back to the first night here where I got blank stares everywhere. God loves his glory, and that’s the foundation of his love for you. And if you don’t get the love for his own glory, you won’t have the foundation under his love for you, because you don’t deserve his love, and so, if there’s something more foundational under his love for you, like his love for himself, you won’t have any foundation ultimately. And he loves his glory in the sense that he shows off his power by carrying burdens for his people. That’s the kind of God we have.

That’s the nature of grace. Grace is not highlighting your worth; grace is highlighting his sufficiency to carry your burdens — even your sins. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Oh, he’s good. He’s really good at it. He’s so good at it that he sent his Son to carry it all, buy it all, purchase everything for you.

Here’s another one: Psalm 50:15. This is Robinson Crusoe’s text again. But first remember what preceded this text. God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you” (Psalm 50:12). “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). Do you get the mindset here? People are bringing their cattle, slaughtering their cattle, and some of them have the mindset about sacrifices, “He eats this stuff and needs it.” That’s not the point of the Old Testament sacrifices. He does not need these cattle. He does not need these lambs. He doesn’t need these pigeons. He doesn’t need that meat. He doesn’t need that blood.

Call upon me in the day of trouble;
     I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:15)

Do you see the structure of the Bible? This is the essence of the Bible. God works for you. You cry out for help, you trust in future grace, you get the help, and he gets the glory. And that’s the most precious news in the world.

God Pursues

Here’s another one: Psalm 23. Everybody in this room knows Psalm 23 by heart, but you know what? There’s a bad translation in Psalm 23. It’s in every version, and I don’t know why. At the end of Psalm 23, comes this wonderful statement, where in verse 6, it says,

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
     forever.

Maybe the word follow was different in Elizabethan English; I don’t know. But follow in English, creates a picture in my mind — like, there goes John, and he’s out there doing what he’s supposed to be doing or something. And here comes mercy, trying to catch up, following him. That’s not a helpful image to me. “Come on, come on, mercy. Get up here. I need you now.” The Hebrew word is radaf, and it means everywhere else to pursue — not just trot along behind.

So here’s my understanding of that verse: “Surely, goodness and mercy will pursue you.” The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, pursuing people with goodness and mercy. He’s after you. The red light is flashing on the police car behind you, as he’s tracking you down, and he’s going to catch you because he has a big Crown Victoria. And he’s going to pull you over, and he’s going to lay in front of you the new covenant signed with the blood of his Son.

“Got any needs that I can meet for you?”

“Oh, I thought you were going to fine me. That’s my view of God: God fines me. My God fines me every day. I feel him. He’s breathing down my shoulder every day.”

How many people have a view of God like that? “He’s always after me to spank me.” That’s not what the text says. I want to change your vision of who the biblical God is. He is pursuing his children, pursuing them with goodness and mercy all their days. Don’t run away from it. Stop, rest, receive. He works for those who wait for him. So if he’s pursuing you, stop, receive; it won’t be a ticket — except to heaven.

‘Fear Not’

One more: My father is an evangelist and loves me much, and I love him. He’s 81 now and my mother is with Jesus. And in 1971, I was leaving the states to go to Germany to study for three years. And we were at Radio City Music Hall in New York, waiting for the plane because it was several hours before it left from JFK. My mother, and my grandmother, and I think my sister was there with us; I can’t remember for sure. My father was in an evangelistic crusade in California or somewhere. That’s the way it always was. My dad was almost never around.

And by the way, I never grew up resenting that. If you’re a missionary, and you worry about your kids, and if you and your wife or you and your husband are together in this, and you love what you’re doing, and you both support each other and think it’s the greatest thing in the world, I don’t think your kids will grow up hurt by that. My dad was home maybe a fourth of the time while I was growing up. He’d come home on Monday, which was the best of all days for me. He’d bring two new jokes and tell twenty triumphs of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, and I would rejoice. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world to have an evangelist for a dad. And then he’d leave on Saturday for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, and then he’d come back on a Monday. And we would all go to the airport. It was the greatest day in the week. It never entered my mind that I should be mad at him for this.

There was one key reason: My mother wasn’t. She was thrilled. Maybe she had her pain. And I’m sure she did when I became fourteen especially. Because I was about six inches taller than she was. She was real teeny. And to smack me, she could hardly reach my face. And I deserved to be smacked more than once. And she did smack me more than once. And I never resented her for that either. It took me about five minutes to get over my anger because I loved her so much. She was such a servant to me. But I never resented Daddy being away.

So he wasn’t there that day I was leaving for Germany, and it was time to leave for three years. And Mama had something planned. She went into a phone booth in Radio City Music Hall and called him. She had the time set up, and called him. And so I took the phone. Now my dad was scared to death that I’m going to study theology in Germany, you see. And my dad’s a fundamentalist Baptist evangelist. And to study at Fuller was bad enough. To study in Germany — he thought he was going to lose me. He’s a very happy person today. He said, “I pray for you every day of your life, and I want to give you a verse: Isaiah 41:10: ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ He’ll be there to help you. Trust him. Goodbye.”

That verse, Isaiah 41:10, has become the whir in the gears of my brain since that day. In Germany, I recited it to myself a thousand times in intense moments when I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the answer, I didn’t know where we’re going to live, I didn’t know how I was going to choose a doctoral dissertation topic; I didn’t know anything. I felt like I had been accepted into this program without even being known, and I’d be kicked out in the minutes if I really knew how dumb I was, and how I didn’t know German at all, and didn’t know Latin or French, and I just had so many anxieties as I went.

And over and over again: “Fear not, for I am with you. Fear not, for I am with you.” And let every one of those words sink in: “I’ll help you. I’ll strengthen you. I’ll hold you up.” This is God working for us. They’re all over the Bible. They’re just all over the Bible. So if you take away anything, take away this notion that God is our treasure, God is our servant, God is the one who will be glorious by working for us not letting us work for him.

What Motivates True Holiness

Now, look with me at Hebrews 11:24–25, and then we’ll jump to 12:1–2, and then we’ll close with 13:11–13. And the main reason I’m going to jump like this rather than going into deeper efforts with these verses is because I’m so eager for you to see that living by faith and future grace is the structure of the Bible, or the book of Hebrews in particular, rather than Piper’s little thing. I don’t want you to go away thinking, “Well, that’s a neat little thing. Now, another speaker has another neat little thing.” I really would like you to see that the structure of thought, inspired by God in this book, is what I’m saying.

Looking to the Reward

So let’s look at verses Hebrews 11:24–25. Now remember what faith is. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is a coming to God to get; it’s a coming to God as rewarder” (Hebrews 11:6). You’ll hear the word reward here in just a minute. There’s a very crucial connection between verse 6 and verse 25.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

So he chooses ill treatment, with the people of God, rather than the pleasures of Egypt where he could be a son of Pharaoh, as it were, because he began to regard them as passing and fleeting — like, they only last for forty years or so. Verse 26:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, . . . (Hebrews 11:26)

Well, that’s strange. So he counts ill treatment as more to be desired than passing, fleeting pleasures, and he counts reproach for the Messiah as greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. So in two ways, he describes this Christian Hedonist. This hedonist, who will have real riches, and won’t settle for mere gold and silver in Egypt. And he’s going to have real pleasures rather than the fleeting pleasures. I think the fact that he sticks in “fleeting” shows that he means for this ill treatment he’s going to get, to be the means by which he will attain higher, greater, non-fleeting pleasures with and in God.

Then here’s the key. (Remember that most important of all theological words for.)

. . . for he was looking to the reward.

So if you say, “How can a man facing ill treatment and facing reproach, when he could have long pleasure, say forty, fifty, or sixty years in Egypt, and much acclaim, and he could have great riches in Egypt. How can a man walk away from that, and go to the mission field? That’s the application. How can he walk away from that? Answer: he’s looking to the reward. You can’t please God, if you don’t come to him as a rewarder.

It’s the structure of the book. It’s the structure of the chapter. We’re moving back to Friday night, with three passions: (1) a passion for the supremacy of God, (2) a passion for joy, and (3) a passion for holiness. We see holiness here. This is holiness. This is what I mean by holiness: Leave riches, join the people to share ill treatment. Leave fleeting pleasures, join the approach of Christ. This is what I mean by radical Christian living.

That’s what I want in my church. That’s what I want for you. That’s what I want on the mission field. That’s what I want as you go home. You leave the riches, you leave the fleeting pleasures of the television or the computer or whatever, and you embrace reproach and you embrace ill treatment. How can you do it? Because you’re going to start getting your joy and your satisfaction by looking to the reward.

Joy Set Before Him

Let’s go to chapter 12:1–2. This is a quest for holiness, right? We’re going to leave sin, we’re going to leave entanglements, we’re going to embrace the hard road of love and radical obedience, that we may get the world’s attention for God.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

If you have ever felt the notion that what I’m describing as living by faith in future grace or Christian Hedonism is kind of a low motive — “I want a higher motive than the pursuit of joy in God” — watch out, because Jesus had no higher motive. If you ask to be above Jesus, you’re asking something real offensive to God. For the joy that was set before him, knowing his Father, having obeyed his Father, having redeemed an untold number of people from every tongue and tribe and people nation, assembling with those people before the throne of the Father, taking a seat in the lap of the Father at the right hand of the Father, and having all those people praise him and the Father — this was a joy Jesus could see so clearly, he could do anything to bring it about. You are called, in Hebrews, to follow him in this. Fix your eyes on this when it gets hard for you and seems cling to you, and the fleeting pleasures of Egypt start to look not so fleeting, and the riches of Egypt start to look very wealthy, look to Jesus and think how he pulled it off. How did he pull missionary service off for 33 years? Answer: he looked to the reward — just like Moses, just like the saints in 10:34, who when their houses were being plundered, rejoiced because they had a better and a lasting possession. Do you see the structure of the book? And now one more, and we’ll be done.

Lasting City

Let’s go to Hebrews 13:13–14. If you ever doubted that this is a theological, God-exalting, Christian-life, missionary-oriented, Christ-bought, blood-bought program that he’s trying to get into our heads and hearts, I hope this closing verse will disabuse you of the though that it’s not such a program.

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

How can you embrace reproach? This is so contrary to human nature: to embrace ill treatment, and embrace reproach, and go with Jesus to Calvary. He’s outside the camp. He’s outside Jerusalem, he’s on the garbage heap of the universe, and Paul considered his life to be the off-scouring of the world — the stuff you get with a Brillo pad after you’re done cooking and it’s black and greasy. That’s the way the Christian life is in many ways. How can you do that? How can you embrace that as joy?

Verse 14: here’s that most important theological word again: “For here, we have no lasting city, but we are seeking the city that is to come.” It’s the same argument, same reason, same foundation.

Leave It Behind

So, let me wrap it up. I just want to say again what an honor it is to speak these things to you. I do not feel myself as a servant here — not to God anyway. I have enjoyed every minute of this. I love to talk about this. I love to give articulation to the best news in all the world: that we have a God who works for those who wait for him. Yes, missionaries, you are called to embrace reproach, embrace ill treatment, leave the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, leave the riches of Egypt, go outside the camp.

Satisfied in the Reward

This is for every one of us. This text is addressed to every believer. The camp is wherever you’re starting to feel too comfortable, too isolated, too secure, and you know love is beckoning you and calling you to do something bold, something risky, something strange, in order to be loving and kind toward the nations, or toward your neighbors who need Christ, or toward some broken person in the hospital, or some AIDS victim, or some orphan. God is calling you to get out of that comfortable camp and lead and go out there and embrace reproach, and embrace ill treatment, and take some risk that you might get pricked with a needle, or somebody might bite you with AIDS.

Yeah, that’s where we’re called. But the call is a call to first get yourself so satisfied in the reward, and in the God who will be there for you — not just the reward way down there. Yes, that’s coming, and that’s the final answer, especially if you’ve got to feel the pickax go through your chest. That’s the final answer. But in the meantime, he’s pursuing with goodness and mercy, meeting all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Why? And I’m going to end on this note because it’s where I began. It’s the passion of my life; I hope it’s the passion of yours to spread a passion for the supremacy of God. He’s doing that for you so that he gets the glory.

Working in Us

So here’s what I want to close with: the benediction at the end of Hebrews. So instead of looking at it, you look at me, I’m going to pronounce the benediction with the text, and you’ll hear it all. It’s all in the benediction. It’s one of the richest benedictions in all the New Testament, and the whole theology is in the benediction. I mean, the whole biblical theology is in this benediction. And then you can find it and check it out in your Bible later.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us [who’s the worker?] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Oh, I hope you get it. I really hope you do. So let me have the privilege of doing what this God delights to smell. Do you know what the incense is in God’s nostrils? Prayer. And the reason prayer is such a sweet aroma to God is because we need, and he’s rich. He loves prayer. So let’s do it.