Future Grace: Its Purifying Power

Part 1

Newfrontiers Conference

When I couldn’t, in the eighth or ninth or tenth grade, stand before any group whatsoever without locking up completely, my mother took me to a psychologist to find out what the problem was. The psychologist hinted that it was her problem and I left and never came back because I loved my mother. About my freshman and sophomore years in college, God did a work that is still bearing fruit and still amazes me. This is the part that I remember most preciously, I think.

There was a summer and it was the summer that I met Noël, 1966. My wife is here with me and we fell in love. That summer, one other thing happened. Well more than one, but here’s the one that’s feeling big right now. I was asked by the chaplain of Wheaton College to pray at the summer school. Now there would’ve been probably 500 students there. Just being asked made my heart beat so hard that I could see it in my shirt. For some reason the Lord put in my mouth, “How long do I have to pray?” He said, “30 seconds would be fine. Just open us in prayer.” To my amazement, I said, “Yes.”

Then I went out on front campus and walked the lawn and really cried out to the Lord. Unless you’ve been through this and some of you may already may still be in it, you cannot imagine what an utterly frightening thing it was to be able to stand in front of people and pray. People joke about wobbly knees and they joke about shaking hands. It’s not in that category, it’s in another category. It’s a physiological thing that you cannot speak for whatever reason.

I said, “Yes.” And I made a deal with the Lord and I think it’s okay up to a point to make deals with God. They’re called vows in the Psalms. It says, “I will pay my vows to the Most High.” I made a vow. I said, “Lord, if you will let me get through this 30 prayer, just get through it, I will never turn down another opportunity to speak for you out of fear.” And he did it, and I think I’ve kept the vow for 32 years. So in me, in a moment like this, there’s always a lot more gratitude than there is in you. When I sing “What a Faithful God Have I” it’s easy for me to fill it up with personal meaning.

Impulses Driving the Theme of Future Grace

For that reason among others, what a wonderful thing I feel it is to be with you, and I thank Terry for trusting me with your friends, that we can be together for these hours. It’s a risk to bring in somebody you’ve never heard before, and I hope that the Lord will be with us to strengthen our hands in the work that he’s called us to do. The theme of the morning is Future Grace: The Purifying Power. I feel bad for the sound-tech folks who’ve been on my case for titles for these tapes for some time. Basically now what they have is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six. That’s what you’ll get.

Because as I try to take these 400 pages and 25 years of reflection on this theme and boil it down, I’ve boiled it into an hour and I’ve boiled it into 15 hours, and we have six or so times together. I don’t know how it’s going to break out yet because there may be some time for questions and we’ll just have to see. So it’ll all hang together, I hope.

Now what I thought I would do in the beginning is to share with you some impulses behind the theme. Where did it come from? Why am I concerned about this? Why is it a big issue for me? Why would I devote time as a pastor to writing a book about it? I am a pastor. I don’t do this sort of thing full-time. I’ve been a pastor for 18 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I’m eager to get back on Thursday and preach next Sunday and preach for 10 weeks in a row and then take some vacation and preach through Christmas. It is very rare for me to be away on a Sunday like this. I just figured if I was going to cross the ocean, I better do all I could while I’m here.

I’m a pastor, and so why would I take time amidst a busy schedule of ministering to my people and write a book about Living By Faith In Future Grace? The whole title is The Purifying Power of Living By Faith In Future Grace. Let me tell you some of the impulses feeding into this theme and why it is so important to me and I hope it will be important to you.

I have three big impulses but a little bit of biography. The Bible says, “Honor your father and mother.” I wonder if you still do that? Most of you are out of the home. Do you still do that? Do you still look for ways to honor your father and mother? Do you write? Do you call? Do you email? Do you send things? Do you pray and thank God for them? Do you hold them up before the Lord? Some of you came from Christian homes and have made the huge mistake of assuming that your parents are going to finish well. Did you know that 60-year-olds fail? 70-year-olds fail? So honor your parents with continual prayer.

The Formation of Godly Impulses

I want to honor my parents here by saying, I think I am here believing what I believe, feeling what I feel, loving what I love because of the means of grace given to me in Bill and Ruth Piper. My dad is an evangelist. My mother is with Jesus. She was killed in a bus accident in 1974, but this is what I would like to say about them to pay tribute publicly to probably the greatest influences in my life. Though they don’t feel like that because their influences are in a period of time when we don’t remember.

You remember reading a book by John Piper, but that doesn’t mean it’s the biggest influence. You don’t remember the first five years of your life. That’s the biggest influence, or the next five. That’s huge, what kind of mother you had and how she prayed and how she nurtured and how she disciplined you and how she read to you. These things we don’t remember but they’re all influencing. My mother, when I left home at 18 until she died when I was 28, for those 10 years wrote to me almost weekly wherever I was around the world. I went to school in Munich, I went to school in Illinois, and I went to school in California, so I was moving all around and hardly ever went home.

These letters kept coming and at the end of the letter there was always a Bible verse. My mother was not a theologian. I wondered sometimes if she ever read the book of Romans. It seemed like she only read Proverbs. And I think that’s because she probably worried about her son so much and Proverbs is all about sons and how they should keep their nose clean and stay out of bed with women and not love money. And so she quoted Proverbs and the Proverb she quoted most often was:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
     and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
     and he will make straight your paths.

Now that’s a summary of Living By Faith In Future Grace. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” is faith, and he will direct your paths, future tense. He’ll do that gracious thing. You don’t deserve that. He’ll do that grace. She was saying, “Trust him, son, he’ll do that. Trust him, he’ll do that.”

Get in your head the future grace is not merely an eschatological thing. First Peter 1:13, the grace coming to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ is the great eschatological grace. It’s going to crash in on this world someday when the heavens are split and the trumpet sounds and the angels are sent and the elector gathered from the four winds. That’s going to be one grace. I have in mind that and far more than that, namely the grace that gets me to the end of this talk. If I have a heart that beats in 30 minutes it’ll be grace. If I have a mind that can bring to memory things that you need to hear, that’ll be grace. If the language hangs together, it’ll be grace. Future grace starts now. That grace is past grace now and should create thanksgiving. Thank you Lord for those five seconds.

That’s the way I live my life. I’m walking into future grace. I’m leaving a way to past grace. There’s faith in future grace, there’s gratitude for past grace, and your life is like a waterfall. There is a big reservoir on one side, a big lake below, and grace is just cascading over your waterfall from future to past. There is no present in my life.

A Father’s Example

This is a philosophical problem I have. It’s like geometry. How many dimensions does a line have? It has one dimension, it goes from point A to point B, so this way it doesn’t exist. You try to step across it, it’s not there to step across. Well, the line between future and past is like that in my life. I don’t know where the present is because as soon as I put my finger on it it’s passed, a millisecond is gone. We can close that parenthesis. Don’t worry about that philosophical problem. That’s just the way I think about life. My mother, unbeknownst to her, was teaching me faith in future grace.

Now my father was by far the powerful leader in our family, though he wasn’t there three-fourths of the time because he was an evangelist traveling around the country, preaching the gospel, leading people to Christ. I carry around this letter here. This is a handwritten letter that my father sent me, a very precious letter. When I wrote the book Future Grace, I sent him a copy, which I do with the other things that I’ve done.

He’s remarried now and has a good Christian wife and I’m thrilled about that. But when I sent him Future Grace he did an amazing thing. He wrote me this letter in 1995. He said:

Dear Johnny, concerning Future Grace. On December 14th, 1974, I was lying near death in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem having just been rescued by a Jewish blood transfusion . . .

I think he was really proud of that, his Jewish blood in his veins. He knows from Pauline theology that he’s a true Jew by faith, but now he’s a physical Jew too. That’s as Jewish as he can get. He continues:

Having just been rescued by Jewish blood transfusion and having just been told that my precious wife of 36 years had been crushed to death, I was passing through the deepest, darkest valley in my life. In the midst of the pain and the darkness, God gave me an unusual verse, Psalm 121:8: “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” I knew then that God had a further purpose for me, and that his grace would sustain me and be sufficient for me until that purpose was fulfilled (this is being written 21 years after his wife, my mother died). How wonderfully he has fulfilled that promise to this very hour.

And then he makes some nice comments about the book. But what I realized when I read that was I grew up in a home where my father lived that way. When there were no meetings on the horizon, that was our daily bread. If he didn’t have revival meetings or evangelistic crusades scheduled, we would gather as a family and we would ask God to bring some. We would pray, “Bring an invitation, put it in the mail.” I grew up in a home watching a father live by faith in future grace. When his wife was killed, his lungs collapsed, and his back was lacerated. I took a month off work to tape my father’s lacerations together until they healed from the inside. When that happened, I watched faith in future grace in an awesome display of trust.

You can see how fortunate I’ve been. Many of you grew up in homes with nothing like that. You never saw it in your parents to this day. You had to discover it much later in other people and in the word and the gospel. But there it was just lavished before me all of my life until my mother was taken and my father is still lavishing it on me at age 79, and he’s flourishing in his work to this day. That’s not one of the three main impulses I wanted to mention, but a tribute of where future grace and my faith in it comes from. Realistically, I am who I am because of the grace of God in my parents, I believe.

A Passion for the Glory of God

Now let me tell you the three theologically-driven passions that feed into this series of talks and this book and this idea, this passion of Living By Faith In Future Grace. The first one is this: a passion for the supremacy of God. One of the great advantages of being in a church for 18 years is that the mission of the church and the mission of the pastor tend to become one. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m sure it’s happened here under Terry’s work over the years. It’s very, very hard to have conflicting passions or vision between the church and a leader of 18 years. It’s very difficult and that’s a wonderful thing.

We have a mission statement and the mission statement of our church is the mission statement of my life, and the mission statement goes like this: we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. That’s it. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, and every syllable of that was worked on for weeks. It took a year-and-a-half to craft that sentence. The “S” on the end of peoples has a megaton behind it and passion is chosen against many people’s objections with a purpose. It’s a good, up-to-date rendering of zeal. “Never flag in zeal” (Romans 12:12). Be aglow with the Spirit. Never flag in zeal. Zeal is the old word. Passion is the new word.

“The supremacy of God” — that’s Calvinism in modern dress. “In all things” is the comprehensiveness of a worldview, whether you eat or whether you drink Pepsi or eat pizza, do it to the glory of God. Supremacy in all things. Look out over the roofs, every roof, every arch in the bridge, every automobile, every decorating center, the supremacy of God exult over it, thinking it through, praying it through. It should be breeding the kind of disciple that if they work there it’ll make all the difference in the world for the glory of Christ.

I’m released from the church to go and speak, the elders say, if I am you going to do this. They ask, “Are you going to spread this passion for the supremacy of God in England at Caystar, at East London Baptist Tabernacle, and with NFI? If you are, that fits your job description so go. If you’re not, you stay here and preach here the Sunday after Easter and we’ll work on you some more.”

To have a partnership like that where the church believes in this vision is a wonderful thing. Don’t rush that in your churches. Really, this was 15 years in the making. We had other statements groping along the way of why we exist, but that one came in 1995 and 1996, and it took that long. I came there in 1980. Don’t begrudge your people the time it takes to catch on to the supremacy of God in all things. We’re still struggling with what it means.

God’s Supremacy in All Things

Now, I’ll tell you the other two, but then we’ve got to come back and spend the rest of this message on that point and where it came from and why it’s so important to me, the passion for the supremacy of God. The next one is going to be a passion for joy and the last one’s going to be a passion for holiness. Those are the three passions that create this book. Because what I’m asking is what kind of living, what kind of daily walking accomplish these three passions? What satisfies them? A passion for the supremacy of God, a passion for joy, and a passion for holiness. Is there a way of life that would encompass those three passions in my life, and then through me in my church’s life and perhaps in some ripple effect in your life as well? Let’s dwell on the first one for a few minutes because this is the most important one, a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.

You need to know though he’s not a British saint, he is an American one, that I have been massively influenced by Jonathan Edwards. Now, it was a delight to walk into your bookstore yesterday. It was an embarrassment to see piles of Piper everywhere, but it was a tremendous joy to see how many Edwards books you have. Now there’s one you don’t have because you can’t get it. It’s not in print except in the hugely expensive Yale Critical Edition. They are $75 books that nobody but libraries are going to buy, so it’s of no use to anyone.

The book is Dissertation Concerning The End For Which God Created The World. That’s the short title. They didn’t have tables of contents in those days, so they put it all in the title. The short version is, why did God create the world? It’s a short book. I just spent the month of March on a writing leave preparing it for publication. I numbered every paragraph. I wrote 118 footnotes to explain the hard words. And then I wrote about 80 pages of how this book had impacted my life and thought at the front end and the book will be called Lord willing, God’s Passion for His Glory. Crossway in America will do it and whether anybody will pick it up in England, I don’t know. But you need to know that book is the book out of which I am speaking. I read it back in Germany in a pantry off our little apartment while I was studying, and Edwards was my food while I was struggling with German higher criticism and things like that in my doctoral studies. Edwards was my food, my spiritual food.

I sat Sunday night after Sunday night after Sunday night reading a book you can get down there, called Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. Every Sunday night I just read 5, 10, or 15 pages, and it was so dense and so thick with God that I couldn’t handle too much more than that. I would savor it. Then in my pantry in the morning I would be reading The End For Which God Created The World and it was changing me profoundly. I want to share with you a little bit of why here.

Edwards on God’s Purpose in All Things

Here’s the thesis of that book. It’s biblical through and through, I believe. The first half of that book is philosophical. The second half is biblical. It was the biblical half that just blew me away as text after text after text broke like waves over me in that pantry. The thesis is that God is infinitely and perfectly and beautifully and gloriously satisfied in the Trinitarian Fellowship and has always been forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. He says, “I am who I am. I never came into being. I never was in the process of becoming. I will never go out of being. I am absolute reality. You come to terms with me, I don’t come to terms with you.”

The sheer being of God blows me away. I used to go up on my roof as a little 12-year-old boy and lie down on my parents’ roof on my back. And look into the sky and shake with fear about eternity and the never-beginningness and never-endingness of God. It’s little children who ask the hard questions, not theologians. Theologians learn to ask answerable questions. It’s the children who say, “Where did God come from?” And they force us to either worship or lie. He didn’t come from anywhere, he just was always. Is that not awesome? Nothing made him the way he was. He just is the way he is. That’s reality. Ultimate reality is God. This reality, this building, these clothes, these bodies, is not a big reality. God is big reality. All things are from him and through him and to him. God is absolute, ultimate reality.

Now then the question is, why would he create what is not God? Why would he bring anything into being that is not God? It’s a huge issue in theology and Edwards’s answer is, “There is something in infinite joy in God’s glory that is disposed to overflow.” There is something about fullness that is disposed to share itself, to overflow. If you use the word need, you must put inverted commas around it and I think I should not use it. Don’t think you talk about a need to create any more than there is a deficiency in a fountain because it is prone to overflow. You shouldn’t talk about how the poor fountain needs to overflow to meet its needs. Yet so many evangelicals answer their children’s questions with, “He needed friends,” or something heretical like that. He has friends, thank you — the Son and the Father and the Spirit are infinitely satisfied in that fellowship. They don’t need me. My coming into being is radical, complete, free grace that overflows out of no need or compulsion in God to improve upon a defect that he has, that I might fix. And this is where the wonder starts.

Rather, I was brought into being that there might be someone outside him to expand the delight that he has in himself. So God is very self-centered here. God is passionate about the glory of God. God is not an idolater. He has a zeal for his name and for his glory that is unparalleled by any other zeal that he has, and that’s what we need to dwell on for a few minutes in the Scriptures.

God’s God-Centeredness

Probably the most God-centered, God exalting two verses in the Bible are Isaiah 48:9–11. I’ll read them to you:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
     for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
     that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
     I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
     for how should my name be profaned?
     My glory I will not give to another.

There are six hammer blows of God’s God-centeredness. One, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger.” Two, “For the sake of my praise, I restrain it for you.” Three, “For my own sake.” Four, “For my own sake I do it.” Five, “How should my name be profane?” Six, “My glory I will not give to another.” That’s six times. Can you miss the point that God is passionate for God?

I began to discover that in about 1968 or so. You see I’d grown up in this home with my dad hearing 1 Corinthians 10:31 all my life, “Whatever you do whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” He said, “You John Piper, do everything to the glory of God,” but my dad never said something that changed my life even more. It was one of these conscious changes. My dad never said, “God does everything for God’s glory.” Nor did I ever bring home a Sunday School paper that said, “God loves God more than he loves you.” Never did I read any words that the foundation of God’s love for you is God’s love for his glory; that the rock on which a sinner can stand to have the assurance that God loves him is something deeper than our value, namely it’s value to him. I didn’t pick that up between the ages of zero and 22. It all began to happen with the introduction of Jonathan Edwards and Dan Fuller and C.S. Lewis had a share in it. It was a life-changing series of years right there in Pasadena, California.

High Points of Redemption History

Let me walk with you through some of the high points of redemptive history, just to make sure you feel the force of God’s God-centeredness and his love for his glory, which is so foundational in my thinking.


This is Ephesians 1:4-6:

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

All election and all predestination is unto the praise of the glory of his grace. You see it in Ephesians 1:6, you see it in Ephesians 1:12, and you see it in Ephesians 1:14. Everything God designed about our salvation before the world was he designed for himself.

You were chosen to the praise of his glory. You were predestined for the praise of his glory. You were redeemed for the praise of his glory. You were sealed for the praise of his glory. God is radically, thoroughly, relentlessly, unstoppably, God-centered.


He created us then after all that planning in eternity went into place. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:

Bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.

You were created for God’s glory or if you just use Genesis 1:27, which says:

So God created man in his own image,
     in the image of God he created him;
     male and female he created them.

What does “in his own image” mean? Theologians argue about, “Oh, is it the moral capacity of man or is it the rational capacity of man or is it the volitional capacity of man? What is it that makes us in the image of God?” In all of that, don’t miss the forest for those trees. The forest is to be in the image of God means you were created to image God. It’s to image God. Images exist to image. This is simple and profound.

Everybody in this room, if you want to talk about yourself as being in the image of God, you are defining a destiny, not just an attribute of humanity. If you are in the image of God, when you walk out of here down on the street you know why you’re going — it’s to image God. It’s to image forth God. I picture it like a mirror. Adam and Eve were created with a beautiful, clean front of a mirror at a 45-degree angle with the glory and beauty and fullness of God shining down, satisfying their hearts. Then like light does, it was angling out horizontally and filling the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God. And the temptation came, “You can be like God. You don’t have to be a second-hander here just reflecting, you can do it. Try it. You can do it. Look at the light shining out of you. You can do this. You don’t need to wait at this 45-degree angle angled towards God. Do it, become like God. Be your own source of independent reliance. Don’t trust him for everything. Don’t rely on future grace. Take matters into your own hands. Rule your own lives. Decide what’s good for you and what’s bad for you.”

They flipped the mirror and you know what’s on the back of a mirror? It’s just a dull, black finish and it reflects nothing. It casts a shadow, and the shadow on the ground which they saw was the shape of the mirror, the image, and they fell in love with it and we’ve been in love with it ever since. We humans are something. We’re not looking at God. We’re looking at the shadow of human nature and we can get to the moon. We can heal diseases. We can build buildings. We can split the atom. We can fly through the air. We are god, and that’s the way we’ve lived our lives ever since and we’ve built gospels of self-esteem around it and so on. We were creative for his glory, not for ours.

The Exodus

And he called Israel. Why did he choose Israel? Isaiah 49:3 says:

You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified.

Jeremiah 13:11 says:

I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

He says, “I have cloaked myself with Israel that they might be for me, glory. That is, that they might display my wonder and my glory in the world.”

Or what about the exodus? That’s a great high point for the people of Israel and for the Christian Church. It’s what God did in Egypt to rescue his people. Psalm 106:7 says:

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
     did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
     but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
     that he might make known his mighty power.

Kingship in Israel

Jump ahead a few hundred years, pass the judges to Samuel at this crisis moment in Israel’s history where they say, “We want a king, we want to be like the nations.” This is a great insult to God. It’s a great offense to God who was their king to have them say, “We want to be like the nations. We want a human king.” But God told Samuel to go to them and give them a king. Samuel went and he announced the king and then he told them what a huge sin they had committed in rejecting God to be their king and wanting a man, and they were terrified at what he said.

Then Samuel said these words, which are as close to gospel as you can get in the Old Testament because they are gospel:

And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil (that’s an illogical connection of words) . . . For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself (1 Samuel 12:20–22).

God’s love for God is the foundation of God’s faithfulness to his sinful people. If you don’t understand the God-centeredness of God, you won’t have a Gibraltar rock under your feet to stand on when the waves break over you and make you wonder if there’s any reliability in the universe.

The Life and Death of Jesus

Maybe we should jump over to the New Testament and look at just a few passages to highlight this in the life of Jesus and the death of Jesus. Jesus sought the glory of God as he came in all that he did. John 7:18 says:

The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

The mark of truth in Jesus is that he lives for the glory of God. Or in the final hours of his life in John 13–17, he said:

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27–28).

As Jesus moved to the cross and everything in him (almost) said, “Leave it. It’s going to hurt.” He said, “No, for this purpose I have come.” Then the purpose he chose to highlight at that point was, “Father, glorify thy name. That’s why I’ve come. That’s why I’ve come.” And the Father said from heaven, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again” (John 12:28). Then he says:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . . (John 17:1).

Do you see that Trinitarian conspiracy to get glory for God? He says, “Father, glorify the Son that the Son may glorify thee.” They got together on this and they arranged a covenant of glory. Jesus says, “I will glorify you through the cross and you will glorify me with a gathered, redeemed, praising people.” The universe is one great movement of the glory of God, for the sake of the glory of God.

The Incarnation

Paul puts it this way, “Why did Christ come and become a Jew incarnate as the Son of God?” He says in Romans 15:8–9:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Now sometimes when I’m dealing with people who have tried to get an arch over the whole Bible and discover its one main point, we will get into an argument about this. Because here I am and I’m saying the one, main overarching point of the Bible is that God does everything for his glory. Everything without exception he does to magnify his glory. And they’ll say, “Oh no. I think the main point of the Bible is the mercy of God.” Look at Romans 15:9 again and see how Paul orders the mercy of God and the glory of God. There is an order here. God is not a God of ambiguity or confusion. We don’t have to be left in the dark about how he orders things. It says:

Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Now if you ordered those two things — the glory of God and the mercy of God — how would you order them? Paul orders them as mercy happening in order that people would glorify God for the mercy. So mercy is penultimate and glory is ultimate. That doesn’t mean mercy is not essential and precious beyond words. It means that God has mercy so that we will glorify him.

An Infection in Evangelicalism

Now, maybe this is a place to put in a newer way that God gave me, I believe, last January when I was at a conference in Austin, Texas to talk about this. I’ve been thinking about these things for so long that I’m continually asking the Lord to bring to my mind ways of articulating this. I was speaking to about 5,000 18 to 22 year olds. I said, “Lord, I have to have something fresh that’ll go home to this group here.” And this is what came to my mind as I reflected. It’s not new in content, it’s just new in phraseology and that made a big difference for me personally and I think for them. I’m very disturbed by the infection of evangelicalism with what I regard as a secularized form of the gospel that bottoms a sense of being loved on a sense of self-esteem, or of being valued or being valuable.

So many people, when they hear, “God loves you,” that you should draw an inference between that and your infinite joy. And the inference you should draw is, “Oh, if he loves me and he gave his Son for me, then I must be somebody and therefore I can be happy.” So you can see what the bottom of the happiness is. The bottom where you’re standing, where you really want to dig down into the very foundations is me and my value and my esteem for who I am. The thought is, “Thank you God for telling me that you love me. But I will now infer from that something about me, and that’s where I will stand because that’s where I feel happy.” To the degree that the gospel then becomes a stroking of my value and a heightening of my esteem, it sounds like good news in America. I will love the God-centeredness of God as long as he is centered on me. As long as God is man-centered, I’ll be God-centered. I will exalt his supremacy as long as he exalts my supremacy. It’s a very tricky shift.

Now, I took 20 or 30 minutes to try to get this across, because I know that every one of those students has grown up in a therapeutic atmosphere where that’s the gospel. The good news in America, inside and outside the church, comes from the halls and the counseling rooms of psychologists. Not all psychology is bad. I’m not on a crusade against psychology or Christian counseling. I’m tremendously thankful for my partners in ministry in that regard. But in general, coming from those rooms is a gospel that says all your problems will be solved to the degree that you can feel content and satisfied in being somebody, in being valuable.

When the gospel of the cross — I don’t like to hear this and I probably am stepping on some toes here though I hope not — is turned into an echo of my excellence, if he pays this much you must be a diamond, it is so distorting of Romans 5. It says, “While we were yet helpless, while we were yet sinners, while we were yet weak, Christ died for the ungodly.” There’s a skewing of emphasis there. There’s probably a grain of truth in it. I’ll get to that in a minute, but it’s such a skewing of emphasis as to whether our joy and our happiness and our contentment and our satisfaction has to find a self-esteem spot to stand, a value of John Piper and everything in the Bible feeds that.

I asked them this. This is my new phraseology. I said, “Test yourself. When God says to you, ‘I love you. I love you,’ which he does, do you hear that God is making much of you and that’s what makes you happy? Or do you hear in that, that God is freely forgiving and enabling you to enjoy making much of him forever?” That’s my new question and I find it devastating in America. I don’t know how it is here. Let me ask it again. When you sense the love of God or when the Word comes to you from the Bible through the spirit, “I love you,” do you compute that in your spirit, “That means I must be somebody, and therefore because I’m somebody I can be happy.” Or in other words, “I am happy now because the love of God means he’s making much of me on the cross. He makes much of me and that’s the bottom of my happiness.”

Or do you hear and feel and compute in your mind and your heart, “I am now forgiving all your sins past, present, and future, and I’m putting my Spirit within you to enable you to see and know and enjoy and make much of me forever.” If that’s the way you compute the love of God, then I think you will understand Romans 15:9, which says that God sent his Son, yes to show mercy. And that mercy is the forgiveness of sins and the empowering by the Holy Spirit to know God and enjoy God and make much of God forever.”

There are so many evangelical Christians in America who do not bottom their lives on God and I fear for them. I fear for them. I mean, I fear for their ultimate destiny. I am fearful of the infection of the gospel through secular, man-centered, self-esteem, corruption. You weigh that. You test that. You take that home and be good Bereans and ask whether that way of asking the question gets at the heart of what the Bible is about.

The Return of Christ

Here’s one last text on this first point of the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Why is Jesus coming back, the second coming? In 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10 it says:

[Those who do not obey the gospel] 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 . . .

He puts it two ways. He’s coming to be glorified in his saints, or to put it another way, he’s coming to be marveled at by all who have believed. In other words, Christ came the first time to show mercy, that we might glorify him for his mercy (Romans 15:9). And he’s coming the second time to finish the whole thing and wrap it up, so that we will go right on glorifying him and marveling at him forever, right on into eternity. God is God-centered from eternity past to eternity future. From creation to consummation, he has one driving, overarching motive, namely to magnify his name, to glorify himself.

The question I have then is, what kind of life day by day, step by step, will join God in that goal? I want to join God. If that’s the reason he created the universe, if that’s what he’s doing, all he’s doing to accomplish, then the last thing I want to do is be opposed to that purpose. And the greatest thing I could ever do is get on board with that train and keep moving with him, and that’s where Future Grace is coming from. That’s where this conference is coming from. This theme about Living by Faith in Future Grace is coming from that.

A Life of Constant Dependence

Let me go five or six more minutes. This is good. This is a warning that question time is coming, so jot them down, be ready, and I’ll repeat them for the tape. It can be about anything that this has triggered in your minds. Clarification. Disagreement. If I don’t understand or know, I’ll say so. Let me go for just a few more minutes. That might help turn a corner toward my next point on joy, which we’ll do when we come back after lunch.

How do you join God in his pursuit of his own glory, so that you’re on board with this eternal purpose of God in all that he does? It becomes very, very plain to me that I must so live in a way that highlights his self-sufficiency. He didn’t need me to start. He didn’t create me out of a sense of defect that would improve upon himself. He is totally, totally, totally self-sufficient. How then shall I live if he doesn’t need me?

The answer is to live with a constant dependence on him moment by moment, so that at every moment he’s the giver and you’re the getter. Now here are just a few verses to highlight why I’m saying this and what I mean. Acts 17:25 says:

[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Pastors, lay workers, evangelists wherever you are, you must not serve God as though he needed anything. You must think through a manner of life and a style of life and a way of relating to him and ministering to his people that puts him always in the position of giver and you always in the position of getter. That is a wonderful way to live, believe me. That is so freeing. You cannot add anything to God that he doesn’t already own and possess. You cannot meet any needs that he has because he has none. God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.

Here’s another shocking verse that we tend to pass over. Mark 10:45 says:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, so don’t serve Jesus. Okay? You will contradict the meaning of the incarnation, according to Mark 10:45, if you serve Jesus. The Son of man did not come to be served. Don’t do that. Well, Paul calls himself a doulos of Christ in every epistle, a servant and the service of God is all over the Bible. So what in the world did Jesus mean? It’s those kinds of jarring texts that prompt me to speak jarring language. I like to jar people. I like to say things the way the Bible does. The Bible is a shocking book. It just says awful things and you have to stop and scratch your head and try to work it together, and then you go deep with God when you do that.

The Giver Gets the Glory

Instead of taking the old shibboleths of our tradition, we just read right over Mark 10:45. We never even saw that problem before that you’re not supposed to serve Jesus. I never heard a sermon on that, really. I’ve never heard a sermon on Mark 10:45 that says don’t serve Jesus. At least the first half of the sermon ought to be spent warning people not to serve Jesus. There must be a way of serving Jesus that’s blasphemy, and indeed there is. Pharisees aren’t in the Bible for nothing. Here’s the clue. If you want to see it in inspired writing, it’s in 1 Peter 4:11. This is almost a philosophy of ministry for us at Bethlehem where I minister. It says:

Whoever serves, [let him serve] by the strength that God supplies . . . (1 Peter 4:11).

Here you have service. This is good service. What’s good about it and how does it avoid the blasphemy of whatever service is bad?

Whoever serves, [let him serve] 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 (1 Peter 4:11).

Now what I read off of this verse is this, all serving is receiving, not giving. Do you see that? Am I abusing this verse? Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies. If you pull yourself out of bed in the morning, God pulled you out of bed and you better thank him. It felt like you did it, because God does mysteriously use the human will to do his work, but God did it. God got you out of bed.

If you spent some time this morning over the Bible and prayer to get your heart ready for this, God got you over the Bible. Apart from God, our hearts are going after breakfast. And there are a lot of people who if they only have 20 minutes say, “I’ve got to eat. I don’t have time for the Bible.” Huh, that’s an odd choice. Don’t you think that’s an odd choice? Eat God or eat eggs? What do you mean you don’t have time? You don’t have to eat breakfast. You do have to eat God. He’s the bread from heaven. You can’t live without him. You can live without breakfast.

If you did that, God brought you to that point. If you’re sitting here and you’re alive, God gives you that. All serving is receiving the strength which God supplies. Now here’s the key thing, “so that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11). See, I’ve just spent an hour with you saying that God does everything for his glory and you want to now join him in that and we’re asking how. I’m pointing you to a verse that says, “When you serve not in your strength, but in the strength that he supplies, he gets the glory.” Which I paraphrase like this: The giver gets the glory. So every minute of your life you are on a quest to get, so that you don’t get the glory. God gets the glory, you get the help. God gets the glory, you get the joy. God gets the glory, you get the power.

This is very humbling. I’m a welfare case every minute of my life. I am totally dependent at every minute to be under the waterfall of grace.

Resting on the Promises

In Romans 4:20, Paul says:

No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God . . .

God gives promises. When we were praying together before we came in here, I let out one of the promises that I’m resting in this morning. I love Hebrews 13:5–6, which says:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

When I walk into this unknown crowd wondering how it will go, I’m just resting and receiving and depending on God saying, “I’m your helper. I’m your helper. I’m your helper. Believe me. Trust me.” This is what I call faith in future grace. We’ve just spent about an hour-and-a-half of it and now it’s past grace, and God is answering prayer right now.

I’m jumping way ahead here into our talks by giving you a little taste of what kind of life accomplishes this first passion, a passion for the supremacy of God. I’m saying it’s a life that’s lived not to give anything to God but to continually receive the supply that God promises, so that he gets the glory and I get the help and therefore everything I am enabled to do clearly reflects that it came from God. Have you ever wondered why Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and give glory to God” (Matthew 5:16). Why God? The answer is there is a way to do good deeds that either gets glory for you or gets glory for God, and I’m after the second one. I want to know what the difference is and I’m calling it “living by faith in future grace.” We’ve just eased up to it here in these verses — Acts 17:25, 1 Peter 4:11, and Romans 4:20.

Questions and Answers

Let’s pause here and see if you have questions about what I’ve said, that something I’ve said didn’t make sense or a verse I used. If you get my attention with your hand, I’ll call upon you.

Do you agree with the statement, “If I were the only person living, Jesus would have died for me?”

Now that’s a universe that God did not create and therefore my answer would be wholly hypothetical. It would have no bearing on the real world whatsoever. Because if he had created a universe with one volition in it, John Piper’s, one mind, one heart — I’ll just put myself in that hypothetical world — my guess is that he wouldn’t have created me for hell, so probably, but I’m not sure how that helps us any with anything. I think what you’re really fishing for is, is that a legitimate way of highlighting my value? If God had chosen to create the universe in order to have one voice praising him, yes, Christ would’ve died to get that one voice to praise him.

Nothing has changed there in the question that I ask about, did Christ die in order to make much of me or did Christ die in order to enable me to make much of him? Nothing has changed, whether it’s one person or five billion people, the same dynamic is at work. I can either make much of myself as the lone person on the planet or I can make much of God being the lone person on the planet. For me to say yes to that question can still be distorted into a man-centered, false gospel. It can still be rendered as a glorious thing that he wanted one voice praising him and delighting in him authentically forever. Then he becomes the center rather than my value. You can follow up on that or go in another direction.

I’ve heard people say, “You can’t like everybody but you should love everybody.” I’m not happy with the way that’s spoken because it seems like genuine love ought to include a liking or an enjoyment of the person’s presence. God loved David, a man after God’s own heart. And God enjoys us. God sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

How shall we balance this? Clearly in the church, let’s just start there, the command is to love one another with brotherly affection (Romans 12:10). That’s more than not liking, so you are right. We should not all look around this room and say, “These people disgust me, but I will love them. I will do good to those who persecute me.” If we find believers who really make us angry, we don’t like their personality, and we don’t like the way they rear their kids. They never spank their kids and they’re a terror at church and they are unkempt, or they put their foot in their mouth and ruin prayer meetings. Whatever. If we find that rising in us, we shouldn’t say, “Oh, that doesn’t matter because I can still love them.” I’m trying to say everything I can to agree with you before I back off and say, “Hmm.”

Yes, loving should include liking. That’s the goal towards which we’re moving. But you would agree, I am sure, that in the real world Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” These enemies may have just cut your wife’s head off. Think of John and Betty Stam, though he went first.

Now at that moment when you’ve just beheld that, “liking” loses its meaning. Loving does not have to lose its meaning because she could say, as Jesus did and Stephen, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” Now that would be love. Inside the emotions are ripping her to shreds at anger and sorrow and grief. Jesus in the synagogue healed a man with a withered hand. These rascals got mad at him on the Sabbath. They thought, “You’re working on the Sabbath making people’s hands good.” It says, “He looked around upon them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5).

Now there’s a balance there. Do you hear that balance? Anger is not liking. He is thinking, “I hate what these guys are doing. I don’t like their personalities. They are legalists. They don’t even want hand healed on the Lord’s day,” but inside he was also broken. He was grieved and that means these are my people. These are Jews, they’re supposed to get it. That was a loving response to be grieved over their inadequacy. I suppose in the greatest saints, coming back now to agreement, there probably is not only a goodwill toward our enemies but some measure of affection for the image of God that they are and the potential that they have.

How has your concern for the supremacy of God in the gospel and your misgivings about the self-centeredness of some of the ways that the gospel has presented, affected my own presentation of the gospel? Especially regarding evangelism.

First of all, let me say that even though I can articulate for you how it’s affected that it may sound like I do, but I’m generally not on a crusade to shoot down evangelistic enterprises because God uses the most crazy means to get people saved. I mean, people come through every shape door in the world, every theological shape and every music-style shape, and every crazy street-preacher shape. Once people get in, I like to fix them. But when I answer your question I’m not saying, “Okay, all you people, you’ve blown it if you didn’t do it this way.” But as I thought more about this, I thought, well now I should develop a little brochure and help my people get onto how to share the gospel so I’ve developed one. It’s called Quest for Joy.

I preached on Easter an evangelistic message. We encourage our people to bring unbelievers on Easter morning because that’s when they might come to church. Never go to church any other time, I preached an evangelistic message on the resurrection and we had little cards to fill out at the end. The cards had a lot of options and one of the options was a class. It said, “If you’re new to the faith or don’t know anything about Jesus, and you’d like to come back next Sunday at nine o’clock to a wide-open, free-for-all question, it’s called Quest for Joy.” I’ll be really eager when I get home to see if anybody came last Sunday. In that class, it’ll go for six weeks and it’ll have six points and here are my six points. Campus crusade has four laws. I have six laws and here they are with a verse to go with each one.

Here I am over lunch. Picture me over lunch with an unbeliever. That means that you have to know where they are, and you have to say a lot more than I’m going to say here because I know that some of this is religious language. But frankly, I think if you spend time with people and talk about language like “glory,” they know what you’re talking about.

It’s a goal when Manchester is playing Munich. I don’t know anything about what I’m talking about. Is that possible? With 30 seconds left and it’s zero/zero and a guy does a bicycle kick in front of the goal with a beautiful sideline pass. That’s glory and everybody knows it because everybody’s got their hands in the air screaming their lungs out. You can get glory across. It’s not just a religious word.

Number one, I look him right in the eye. I say, “God created you for his glory.” It says so in the prophets, one of the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah 43:6–7 says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” There’s a destiny for you to reflect. Then you’d go into this mirror thing maybe or whatever would make it sensible.

Secondly, therefore, your duty, your destiny, your call, your reason for being is to live for the glory of God. Now, those almost sound the same, I know, but one is talking about God’s design and the other is talking about our destiny. It’s like it says in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 10:31, that’s one of Paul’s letters. You might open your Bible and read, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” They’d probably be cynical and say, “Oh yeah, right. How do you drink tea to the glory of God?” I mean, you could answer that. You could say, “Well, by thanking him that you can swallow.” There’s a woman in my church who has throat cancer and she may not be alive right now. That’s going to be a hard death. You don’t have that. Why? God could have judged you a long time ago. He lets you swallow. We’ve been eating together for 30 minutes, you didn’t choke once.

Third, nobody has ever glorified God as they ought, neither you nor I. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now that tips you off. See, that verse makes its way into almost all evangelistic presentations. But you can see now with the word “glory” why I began where I began because now I’ve got something to work with. Well, what is sin? What is sin? They say, “Well, sin is not drinking, not smoking.” No. No. No. That’s not sin. Sin is not reflecting the glory of God, not loving him, not trusting him, not enjoying him, not following him. He’s a nobody. He’s a zero. Has he been anything in your life? Have you loved him? They know right off the bat, he’s nothing to them. They don’t give him any time of day.

Fourth, therefore, you are in big trouble with God, because a holy and just God is going to condemn people who don’t get right with him. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death and the free gift of God is eternal life.” So it’s death over against eternal life. So take seriously your plight, brother, because God is not only good at designing a great future for us, but he’s holy and just and he does not cotton to people dishonoring him through unbelief.

Fifth, this God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners like you. First Timothy 1:15 says, “It is a faithful saying that Christ came into the world to save sinners.” You’re a sinner. I’m a sinner. My only hope is that somebody died in my place to get this wrath off of me. Then you could take a few more wonderful gospel verses like 1 Peter 3:18, which says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . .” Your only hope is that somebody just took your place. Isn’t that awesome that somebody has taken the place of sinners and now you’ve got to have some closure here.

Sixth, you say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:32).

We’ll stop here in a minute, but the rest of these sessions is the unpacking of that statement. The book, Living By Faith In Future Grace is my effort to define what “belief” means. I live in the inner city. I live in the poorest neighborhood in Minneapolis called Phillips Neighborhoods. It’s an eight-minute walk from my downtown church. There are drunks who sleep in my front lawn. There’s drug dealing one block over. There are prostitutes about three blocks away. We’ve seen several bars close on Franklin Avenue as well as a porno Theater, which is wonderful. There’s been some renewal there.

Do you know what? When I do street evangelism, when I just walk up to people and they know I’m the rev who lives nearby. They say, “Hi Rev.” I try to strike up a conversation with these folks. They all believe. They all believe. That language doesn’t work, believe it or not. I suppose wherever you have a state church it’s even worse probably because everybody knows the language, everybody knows the content, and they all do this thing where they say, “Oh, I believe.” Drunks believe. Prostitutes believe. Everybody believes that Jesus will forgive them someday because God is good. They say, “Thank you Rev, that’s an encouraging word.”

I’ve written books like Desiring God and I invent crazy things like Christian Hedonism. I’m after language that will clap people right up the side of the head and say, “Whoa, I don’t know if I’d do that.” I say, “Good, now we can get down to business.” Maybe you don’t do that and you need to decide whether you do that because it matters that you do that. It matters that you delight in God and not just say you believe in God. Something’s got to go on in the heart. Something profound called new birth. Nicodemus said, “Whoa, how’d you do that, crawl into a womb?” That’s the way Nicodemus talked and then the same thing will happen, the same stuff comes back today.

Those are my six points but you’ve got to do it. You have to fix it for your people and every given conversation it’s got to be unique and Spirit-driven or nobody is going to get it, let alone be cataclysmically revolutionized by new birth through faith. Maybe one more and then we’ll break for lunch.

Is there such a thing as once saved always saved?

Yes. What other questions do you have? I can talk for half-an-hour on that. Ask it another way. Make it hard.

Are you then saved if you do not glorify God in your life?

No. That wasn’t hard but this is huge.