Future Grace: Its Purifying Power

Part 2

Newfrontiers Conference

What I’m doing is I’m beginning with three impulses that have flowed into my reflection on living by faith and future grace that help account for where it came from and are in the process of defining what it is.

Impulses for Living by Faith in Future Grace

The first impulse was a passion for the supremacy of God, or sharing in God’s passion for God — a love for the glory of God above all things.

Now the second passion is a passion for joy. It’s the relationship between the two that we’ll get to in a minute that has shaped my life and what I’ve written and what I speak. I can remember back in college days not understanding some of the things I understand now and feeling inside that the desire to be happy is a defect. And this is very prevalent in the world and in the church, especially if anybody comes along and says, “If you let that desire to be happy be the motive for any good act, you contaminate the act by that motive. It’s a defective motive.”

That left me really perplexed as to why I should do what I do. It left me with a kind of duty religion that you try to pump up out of some kind of self-abandonment that didn’t want to be happy in what you were doing. And it didn’t make any sense, it didn’t work. Yet I think I had just absorbed from the air that we breathe in evangelicalism — and it’s not just evangelicalism but Christianity for the last 200 years since Immanuel Kant — that if you don’t do what you do just because it’s right to do it with no thought of any blessing, or any improvement, or any advantage, or any joy that might come in, then you contaminate the virtue of the act.

I had absorbed that and yet I could not deny, though I tried, that I wanted to be happy all the time. I wanted to pursue joy. It was like hunger. You don’t plan to get hungry at five or six or seven o’clock in the evening. You don’t choose to get hungry. I wasn’t choosing to want to be happy. It was just the way I was wired it seemed. So this particular ethic seemed to be out there that said to the degree that you’re driven like that, you contaminate worship, you contaminate love, you contaminate mission, you contaminate ministry. The thought was, “Buck up, find another motive, and be about it.” And it looked like everybody was trying to do that, which is why worship was pretty pitiful and love was pretty half-hearted. That set me on a journey to try to figure this out, whether or not a passion for joy is something that you ought to pursue and cultivate.

Relearning the Bible

Well that’s what I wrote Desiring God about. And the story is there. I think I’ll just jump over a lot of steps in 1968, 1969, and 1970 to the Bible and read you several texts that caused me to say, “Somebody is not reading their Bible here,” or, “Somebody is not understanding their Bible the way it looks like it should be understood.” For example, Psalm 100:1–2 says:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
     Serve the Lord with gladness!
     Come into his presence with singing!

“Serve the Lord with gladness” sounds like a command to me. The authority of Scripture started to work. We evangelicals say we believe in the authority of Scripture, but we forget “serve the Lord with gladness.” We remember, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” and, “Don’t kill.” But “serve the Lord with gladness” is a command. And yet it hadn’t registered as a command for years, but in fact a danger.

I’ll give you a little background. I have to be careful here that I don’t name names because you’d know this person. We were supposed to once upon a time do some work together somewhere, and I was charged with naming this conference we were going to do or seminar. And I named it something like “The Pursuit of Joy.” And then we had to write a paragraph for the blurb they were supposed to produce. I said that we will try to unpack the mission statement about, “We exalt the supremacy of God and everything for the joy of all peoples,” and so everybody should get together in this passion for joy.

This other evangelical leader who I love to work with called and said, “I don’t think we should talk about pursuing joy. I think we should talk about pursuing obedience and let joy be the byproduct. So I’m not sure we’re together on this.” Now, I wonder how you would respond to that. They said, “Don’t pursue joy, pursue obedience.” What I’ve said in public over and over again, because that objection raises its head often when I talk about the pursuit of joy, is, “That’s like saying don’t eat apples, eat fruit.”

Can you think that through? “Don’t pursue joy, pursue obedience” doesn’t make sense. Because obedience is doing what God tells you to do, and God tells you to pursue joy. “Serve the Lord with gladness.” So what is the obedience of Psalm 100:2? Indifference to joy? God says, “Here’s joy in my service. I offer to you. In fact, I tell you to do it this way.” And you say, “We don’t do that. We don’t do joy. Joy just kind of follows us around this. We do something else.” I think God would say, “Well, just do what I tell you to do. This is not an optional thing here. I’m telling you, serve the Lord with gladness. If you don’t like gladness, change your mind.”

What Kind of Happiness?

Psalm 32:11 says:

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
     and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

That’s another command. Matthew 5:12 says:

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now there is a little warning. Anytime you start saying things pointedly with definitions that sound a little different, people will distort what you say and they’ll go off and say, “Piper says we should all be Christian pornographers, or Christian prostitutes. That’s what Christian Hedonism means, doesn’t it?” And of course the answer is no. This text warns us against misunderstanding me in meaning that the call to joy is a call to joy in ease, or comfort, or prosperity, or wealth, or health. None of those is where joy comes from ultimately. This context in Matthew 5:12 is, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Rejoice in that day and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, where Christ is.

So the call to joy that I’m issuing right now is not a call for you to go out of here and buy a new car, some American giant of a car, or Land Rover type thing. In America today, these little Land Rover deals, purple and pink, are the newest thing for the wife in the suburb. They cost about $18,000, which may be cheap to you. I don’t know. That sounds expensive to me. I’ve never bought a new car in my life. There’s no more stupid investment than a new car in my job. And they buy them right and left and just drive to the shopping centers in these. And 10 years ago, they wouldn’t have been seen dead in these things. Their teenagers drove these things, four wheel drive and big fat wheels.

I’m not telling you to go out and buy the latest thing so that you can be happy because John Piper said, “Happiness is the bottom line. And I have to get happiness.” This is the line I hear most often: “I have to get a divorce to be happy.” Over and over and over, I hear the word, “I just can’t be happy with this spouse and I know we’re supposed to be happy. God wants me to be happy and therefore I’m leaving.”

So please do not take what I’m saying to mean that you can do anything you want to to get happy. But we’ll stay on the line here and not be afraid of these texts.

More Blessed to Give

For example, Romans 12:15 says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

It’s command to rejoice with those who rejoice. Or Romans 12:8 says:

Let him who does acts of mercy, do so with cheerfulness.

Yes, we should do acts of mercy. Yes, we should pursue obedience and love, but not just in any old way. We should pursue joy in it. This is one of the few quotes of Jesus outside the Gospels in Acts 20:35. Paul is concluding his address to the elders on the beach at Miletus. He’s trying to motivate them to care for the weak and to toil in order to serve the church. Then he adds this motivational sentence:

Remembering the words of the Lord, how he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Now, if Immanuel Kant and all the successors who say that the pursuit of joy contaminates love and virtue are right, Jesus or Paul got one word wrong there — the word remembering. He says, “Labor for the weak. Care for your church. Undertake it in any hardship. Get up in the middle of the night if you have to. Leave the children during playtime and go to the suicide threat, remembering the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” He should have said, “Forgetting the word of the Lord,” if remembering it contaminates the act. Got it? If you keep it in your head that this is blessed though you don’t want to go, and he gives you this promise that there’s blessing at the hospital when you go, and if you let that feed your soul and say, “There’s blessing in loving people. There’s blessing in serving people and there’s blessing in getting up in the middle of the night,” if it contaminates motivation, he shouldn’t have said that. He should have said, “It’s true, but forget it.” It has to be an unintended result, like waves following in the wake of a boat. So people say, “Don’t think about the blessing that comes. Don’t think about that.”

Have you ever heard anybody talk like that? I did a PhD in Munich on Love Your Enemies. I read gobs of ethical stuff and lots of it was of this stuff. They said, “All rewards or all joy or all blessedness is an unintended result from doing your duty because it’s your duty.” And all you have to do is read the Bible to know that’s not true. That’s philosophically born, not exegetically born. I have found that one of the differences between me and theological controversies around me is that I tend to be very exegetically driven, not very philosophically driven. So if somebody tells me — say on some big issue like sovereignty and free will — “Well philosophically that just can’t be,” I say, “Well, maybe that’s what you say, but this verse says this, and that’s where I stand.”

You let the Bible transform philosophy. You don’t take philosophy and squish it down onto the Bible. I believe in Christian philosophers. I was a minor in philosophy and college and loved Stuart Hackett. He taught me so much. I owe him so much because of the razor’s edge that he taught me how to hear illogical things. He taught me how to hear things in philosophical arguments that just were like a knife. You go right to the middle. And you just peel it away and you see what all the mumbo jumbo was about. And so a counter philosophy that builds a Christian worldview is a wonderful thing.

But philosophy is the best man can do with his brain assessing the world, and we’re fallen, and we desperately need special revelation to set us straight again and again. So on this issue, I’ll just keep reading the Bible.

The Union of Love and Joy

First Corinthians 13:6 says:

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness. Love rejoices in the truth.

Love rejoices. You don’t choose between love and joy. Love rejoices in the truth. That’s what love does. Love is happy when truth holds sway and therefore it pursues that happiness in the holding sway of truth.

The whole Book of Philippians is riddled with joy. Philippians 3:1 says:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Philippians 4:4 says:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

In Philippians 1:25, when he thought he was going to die, he said:

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith . . .

That’s the apostolic mission. It’s for your advancement and joy. Paul says, “That’s why I’m here.” And how that mission, namely your joy, relates to the other mission, the supremacy of God, is what we’re about here in these few minutes. Do you remember 2 Corinthians 1:24? If you leaders want a paradigm for how to work and how to labor for your people, take 2 Corinthians 1:24 as a possible model where Paul says:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

Woe to the church who has a leader who lords over their faith. What did he give as the alternative to lording it over their faith? He said, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we (literally) are workers with you for your joy.” Now there’s an apostolic mission. We are workers with you for your joy. I’m a Calvinist. I’m a seven-point Calvinist, and we Calvinists have a reputation of taking joy from churches. Just let us get a church and we’ll get their doctrine straight and all that joy goes right out the window. That’s a bad reputation. It isn’t the way Paul was, and he was a Calvinist. I don’t want to pull rank on anybody there. It isn’t the way it has to be. So at my church, I just tell them flat out, just like I tell you flat out, “I exist for your joy.” It’s just like Paul said — “For your advancement and joy of faith, I’m staying on the planet.”

First Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Rejoice always” Always? Wow, wow. First Peter 4:13 says:

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Now there’s an odd correlation. He is saying, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” You’d think just the opposite. You would think, “To the degree that you’re spared suffering, keep on rejoicing,” right? That’s the American way. To the degree that you can move out of the city of pain into the suburb of pleasure, keep on rejoicing. Christianity is an upside-down religion. It’s to the degree that you can move into need and move into sharing the sufferings of Christ that you should keep on rejoicing. It’s so that, keeping on in that verse, also at the revelation of his glory, you may rejoice with exaltation. Now, to stop and ponder that verse is really interesting because it said, “Rejoice now so that you will be able to rejoice when he comes.”

There is a correlation to whether the kingdom has broken in upon us, transformed us — at least in a measure — so that joy is now in Jesus, which is the pathway that will lead to the final great exultation when he comes. Maybe that’s enough text. That’s not all of them. There’s dozens and dozens of such texts in the Bible that call for us and indeed command us to rejoice.

Two Passions Fused into One

Now, here’s the question. We have two passions in front of us — a passion for the supremacy of God and a passion for joy. Indeed, it’s a biblical teaching, which I hope was persuasive, that God does everything that he does for his glory. And now I gave a whole list of biblical verses that say, I ought to be about the pursuit of my joy.

I should join God in doing everything I do for the glory of God and I’m commanded to pursue my joy in all of my service — serve the Lord with gladness. Now, that’s where I was in 1968. I knew this was here. I grew up in that house. My dad’s also probably the happiest man I’ve ever known. And in college, they were like oil and water. They were like oil and water. They did not fit. Nobody had articulated for me how they fit. My longing to be happy and God’s passion for his glory didn’t seem to fit. And then along came Jonathan Edwards, along came C.S. Lewis and his book, The Weight of Glory, which I commend to you. And now I see how they fit, and I have found various ways to say it. Some of them rhyme, even. Songwriters in our church write about it. And the rhyming one goes like this: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That means you don’t have to choose between being satisfied and glorifying God. In fact, if you try to choose between them, you fail in both of them. You must pursue God’s glory.

Now, here’s the second way I say it. I take the Westminster Catechism and the first question is, “What is man’s chief end?” And the answer is, in the traditional version, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s close, really close. So I ask the Westminster Divines, “What did you mean by and? It is sometimes you do one and sometimes you do the other? Is there something more interconnected between these two things? You did say chief end, not ends. Why did you say chief end, and then give me two answers?

What’s going on here? This sounds like good news. Well, I wish I had some of them here. Wasn’t Rutherford one of those guys? I don’t know if he was or not, but he has some letters that get at it. The word I put in the place of “and” is “by”. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. That’s the sum of everything I try to say everywhere I go. God’s passion for the supremacy of God and my passion to be satisfied are not two separate passions. This is the best news in all the world to me. God’s zeal for his glory and my zeal from my joy are the same zeal. I didn’t make this up. John Piper did not make this up. I got this straight out of Jonathan Edwards and then spent enough time reading my Bible that I can now find it all over the Bible.

I’m just dressing it up for the 20th century. I’m a 20th century Puritan. That’s all I am. And I think the Puritans got it right. They were a joyful lot. Consider The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. That sounds like Christian Hedonism to me. The rare jewel, the most precious thing, contentment. I wonder if he got whipped around like I do for this terminology, which is okay, I like that. It jars people and they wake up and they have to ask, “Christian Hedonism. That does not sound good. Wonder what’s behind that.” And then you dig and you dig and you discover there might be something behind that that changes your life that you’ve been so scared of all your life that you’ve never embraced it.

The Glory of God and Our Joy

Let me show you one of the places in the Bible where I’ve seen it because if you need — and you should need — exegetical support for something like God is most glorified in you and you are most satisfied in him. Why don’t you take your Bible and go with me to Philippians chapter one? We’ll take one glimpse. This is one of the texts we could use to show the relationship between a passion for God’s glory and a passion for joy.

Paul is in prison in Rome, probably. We know he’s in prison, and it’s very likely Rome. He says:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:18–20).

Now let’s just stop there before we read Philippians 1:21 to see what his goal is. He says his passion is that through his body, whether he lives or whether he dies, this one thing would happen: Christ would be magnified. I don’t know whether your version has “magnified” or “honored” or “glorified.” What’s the most common word out there? Exalted. Okay, that’s fine. That’s a good word. Exalted. Christ would be exalted or magnified.

Now, does he give us any clue as to how that might happen? How in his living would Christ be exalted or magnified, and possibly in his dying how would Christ be exalted. That’s the first passion. It’s a passion for the glory of God. How would that happen? Now let’s read Philippians 1:21:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Now, notice the correlation between the two words “life and death” at the end of Philippians 1:20, and “live and die” in Philippians 1:21. So you know Philippians 1:21 is somehow explaining, grounding, filling out, or supplying something that needs to be interpreted from that life and death in Philippians 1:20. There’s a correlation. “Life” in verse 20 corresponds to “live” in verse 21, and “death” in verse 20 corresponds to “die” in verse 21. Now I think what he’s doing is giving the ground or the explanation for how it is that Christ would be exalted (or magnified) in his death and in his life. So let’s take those one at a time.

Christ Magnified in Our Death

Let’s take the death pair because that’s the most obvious one. He says, “My longing and my desire is that Christ would be exalted and magnified by my death, for to me, to die is gain.” So I’m peeling off the life pair and just giving you the death pair. He is saying, “I want Christ to be magnified in my dying, and here’s how. Here’s the explanation. Here’s the ground for how such a thing can happen — For to me to die is gain.”

So Christ is exalted in my dying when my dying is counted as gain. Why? Why is death gain for Paul? The answer is Philippians 1:23. He says:

I am hard pressed between the two (the living and dying). My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

That’s gain. So the reason death is gain in Philippians 1:21 is because death brings you into a greater intimacy with Christ. Remember he said in 2 Corinthians 5:6, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord . . .” Even though the Spirit is here and we have a wonderful fellowship with the Lord here in this life, for Paul to be in the body was in a profound sense to be apart from the Lord. Oh, he knew there was so much more of Christ to be had one day. And to be apart from the body (2 Corinthians 5:8) is to be at home with the Lord. That’s why it’s gain.

Now, let’s go back and figure out the logic here. He says, “My desire is for Christ to be exalted when I die. I want him to be exalted and magnified in my death. The way that will happen is when my death is felt by me, known by me, and experienced by me as gain because I get more of Christ,” which to me translates like this: Christ is most magnified in my dying when I am most satisfied with him in my dying. Because what he’s really saying is, “When you die, in order to count dying as gain, in order to get me, you have to cherish me, treasure me, prize me more than everything this life can offer you — children, wife, job, health, sex, career, retirement, and reputation. In a moment, it’s gone. And you have to be able to say, ‘Gain.’”

And if you can say gain to Christ over all that, if he’s that precious, that satisfying, that delightful, he is magnified in your dying. Do you see that? Cherishing him and delighting in him and resting in him and being content in him and being satisfied by him so much at the hour of death that everything falls away and you count it gain to die, magnifies him like nothing else.

The Story of a Rose

This is my 30th year of marriage and December 21st is our anniversary. Noël is not here, so I’ll give this illustration and maybe I’ll actually do this. Suppose I come home with 30 long-stem red roses behind my back. It costs me a mint to buy them, and I ring the doorbell, which I wouldn’t ordinarily do. So she comes to the door and looks puzzled and I pull out the roses and say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” And she says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty.”

Now, every time I tell this story, anywhere in the world, people laugh at “duty.” Why do you laugh at duty? Duty is a great thing. Something is wrong with that answer. That’s not a good answer. Let’s replay the tape and give the right answer. Ding-dong. I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” I say, “I couldn’t help myself. I just love buying you roses. In fact, I’ve got a babysitter for tonight. Why don’t you go change clothes because I’ve got a plan. There’s nothing I’d rather do tonight than spend it with you.” That’s a good answer. Isn’t that a good answer? Not in a million years would she ever say back to me, “Nothing you’d rather do? You Christian Hedonist, why don’t you think about me sometime?”

You better believe what you’re laughing at because this is a massive indictment of duty worship and a duty religion here. Because what I’ve just portrayed for you is God on Sunday morning looking down at his people saying, “Why’d you come here?” His people say, “We’re Christians, this is Sunday. This is what you do on Sunday. This is our duty. We do this. The Bible says keep it holy. So we don’t go to the football game. We come here.” That’s not a good answer. God doesn’t like that answer. And the reason he doesn’t like it and the reason my wife would not like it is because it doesn’t honor them as precious, beautiful, delightful, and worthy. The answer on Sunday morning when God says, “Why are you here?” is, “There’s no other place that would make me happier than to be with you.”

Now, that’s Christian Hedonism through and through, and it is highly honoring to God. If you get this, then you will understand why I say that God’s passion for his glory and my passion for my joy are no longer (in my mind or in my heart) at odds. They are one. God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. I don’t choose between these anymore. I have learned that if I would magnify Christ in my dying, then I must count dying, that is getting him, as gain. I must feel it as gain. So my pursuit of my gain gives him glory. And now we’re back to Acts 17:25 and 1 Peter 4:11. The giver gets the glory. The gospel, the good news, is that I don’t have to muster up all my energies to make sure I improve upon God by my moral efforts in order to enjoy him.

He says, “Just open your hands, open your life.” It’s like the Psalm says, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). It’s when you’re closing your mouth, chewing your own cud, that you don’t get anything.

Living for Christ When Dying Is Gain

Now, I shut my Bible thinking maybe I shouldn’t take the time to work on the life half. But in a nutshell, when it says, “I want Christ to be magnified in my life, for to me to live is Christ,” what does that phrase mean? The best exposition of that is Philippians 3:8, which says, “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” That happens now. So in a sense, the Christian life is doing death now. With all that joy, we’re doing death now. We do death. Christians do death. Paul says:

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).

He keeps lavishing these things on me from hour to hour to give me strength to suffer, if I must. So the way you glorify God in your life is by so delighting in him and so being satisfied by him that everything is like rubbish by comparison. That’s Paul’s word. He says, “I count everything as rubbish because of the surpassing value of Christ.” We’re not talking about mega sacrifice here. All the Christians I have ever read who have suffered most, have come to the end of their life and said things like, “I’ve never made a sacrifice.” For David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Mary Slessor, that’s the language they talk. Suffering saints who’ve walked with Jesus deeply and profoundly for a long time, come to the end of their lives and say, “I never made a sacrifice.”

Samuel Zwemer, 50 years later, had gone to the Middle East back in 1905. In one week he lost both of his children, a seven and a five-year-old, I believe. It was 107 degrees in the shade every day. He endured, he ministered, and there were hardly any converts. He became the professor of missions at Princeton. And at the end of his life he wrote his memoirs and he said, “Looking back over the whole, I would do it again 1,000 times. God was so precious and the joys were so great.”

Great Suffering, Great Joy

The people that have suffered most and have been driven into God out of this crummy substitute that the world offers us with all of its pleasures and all of its comforts — driven out of that by cancer, driven out by arthritis, driven out by persecution, discovering the depths of God — those are the people that talk like Christian Hedonists most. People complain to me. I remember one professor and he was an Englishman. You would know his name too, probably. In seminary, he and I were hitting heads all the time, because evidently the British have a pedagogy that us Americans don’t get along with very well. The pedagogy was this: let’s give about seven options on views and then leave. Now, you think it through and pick one.

I grabbed him (almost), and I said, “What do you think? So what?” I was a “so what” guy. I really made life hard for him because he wasn’t used to mouthy Americans like me speaking in a lecture. Lecturers lecture, students listen. My hand was up like this and I said, “I don’t want to know seven options. I want to know your heart.” That didn’t go over well. And one of my papers was on suffering in 1 Peter. I argued, the little bit I could understand in those days, where it says, “Rejoice when your faith is tried like gold, because being more precious than gold because it’s going to redound into praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus. And so in your sufferings, rejoice.”

I wrote my paper. I thought it was okay. He gave it a C-plus and erased it and gave it a B-minus, I think, to make me feel like he was gracious. I went up to talk to him and I said, “What was wrong with my paper?” And he said, “I think you’re naive. I don’t think people who suffered would ever talk like that or believe what you’re trying to say. I think you’re a 23-year-old American who’s never had any problems. And if you knew people who suffered, you wouldn’t so glibly write about joy and suffering.” I thought, “Oh okay.” I had not known suffering. I mean, a little bit, but not much. So I always tried to let other people talk for me, these missionaries. He closed that talk by saying, “Would Richard Wurmbrand write a paper like this?”

Now, Richard Wurmbrand, some of you obviously know who he is. He’s a Romanian pastor who spent 14 years in prison. He was tortured so badly that when he speaks now, he sits down and takes off his shoes because his feet were beaten. He is a very godly, deep man. We had him at our church one time. He said, “Would Richard Wurmbrand write a paper like this?” I didn’t know who Richard Wurmbrand was in 1968 and 1969. I went off to the library and got his book called Soldier for Christ. I began to read it, and I found quotes all over the place about joy and how God met him and how God was more real to him at certain points of awful suffering — not to minimize it. I went back to my professor and said, “Look. He would. He would have.” He didn’t change my grade though.

So we glorify God or we magnify God in our lives right now by counting everything as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. That means not just head knowledge, but a sweet, warm fellowshiping kind of knowing. And that is so good and so satisfying that everything else should fall away like the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, as Moses said. So that’s the end of passion number two.

Passion one is passion for the supremacy of God, and passion two is a passion for joy in God. And the end of those two is that these are not contradictory, they’re not at odds, but rather we glorify God by enjoying him like you glorify your wife by telling your wife, “I’m here because it makes me happy to be here,” not, “I’m here because I read the book on marriage, or the book on worship, but because my heart delights in you.” It’s my delight and your glory, God.

A Passion for Holiness

Impulse, or passion number three, is a passion for holiness. Now here, we come to the question that was asked about the role of security and so on. This is moving real close to the heart of the book Future Grace. One of the reasons the passion for holiness is so high is because the Bible teaches, I believe, that without it, you won’t get to heaven. No holiness, no heaven. So let me, just like I did with the first two passions, walk through Scriptures with you to show you where I’m getting this and why I commend it to you, not from me, but from the word. It says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality . . .

Students come to me sometimes and they’ll say, “I’m trying to find the will of God for my life. Can you help me?” I say, “I already know the will of God for your life.” They say, “Oh, really? Tell me.” I say, “Holiness. It’s right here in the Bible.” It says, “This is the will of God for you, your holiness.” They say, “Oh yeah, I know that, but I mean marriage and job and school and a place to live and so on.” I say, “Look, you pass over it too quickly. Do you get up in the morning and want to be holy as much as you want to be married? Do you get up in the morning and want to be holy as much as you want a good job? Do you get up in the morning and want to be holy as much as you want to be accepted to university and get a scholarship?” And then they realize that what God has already revealed about his will for them is kind of just stuck in their back pocket as something that makes them say, “Oh yeah.” That’s one of the dangers on the charismatic side of things, that what God has already said, we just kind of stick it in our back pocket and say, “Now tell us something else. Give us something new.”

I’ll tell you, if your life is driven by the new stuff and not the old stuff, you’re going haywire. You’re going to go haywire. It’s the old stuff that’s the most precious. God can do new things. He can do anything he wants to do, but when God says the will of God for you is your holiness and your sanctification, that’s a mega agenda. That’s a passion worth getting up for and all day long thinking about and praying about. So let’s dwell on this and see what role it has.

The Need for Holiness

Hebrews 12:14 says:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

I know we could spend 10 or 15 minutes over every one of these texts looking carefully at the context and taking the pieces apart and putting them back together, but I’m just going to commend them to you and tell you what I believe they mean. Then you have to go test it as good Bereans to see if I’m right about that through your own study and reflection and prayer. I believe this verse teaches that there is a holiness without which no one will get to heaven. It says:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

John 5:28–29 says:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

The contrast there is between judgment and life, hell and heaven, eternal death and eternal life, and the difference is your deeds. Now, I’m going to spend another 15 minutes or so making this problem worse before I move toward the solution. The problem of course is justification by faith alone and assurance. Those are the big problems. So we’re coming back, but you have to get the data on the table so that you know what you’re working with before you begin to solve problems in ways that the Bible will not allow. There are people solving this problem today in ways that these verses won’t allow.

Matthew 5:9 says:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Nobody else will be called a son of God. Peacemakers. Matthew 5:29–30 says:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The issue is lust. This is scary, right? This is scary. It’s all over the Bible too, so we’ll keep going.

Holiness for Entrance into Heaven

Galatians 6:8 says:

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Corruption is balanced with eternal life. The passage continues:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

So again, doing good is the criterion at the judgment of who goes to eternal life and who goes to corruption. First Corinthians 16:22 amazes me. I heard a Reformed pastor, a very well-known one in America, preach through that text. He’d come to the end of preaching through 1 Corinthians and I was there at his church for the last sermon on 1 Corinthians. I was frankly appalled that he passed over this verse with barely a quip, because to me this verse is one of the most devastating and frightening verses in the Bible. It says:

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.

Now, I’ll just pose the problem here for you and then we’re coming back in a little while, maybe tonight, we’ll see, to solve it if we can.

Justification and Holiness

The problem is if we are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law, how can Paul say something like this? “He who does not love the Lord, let him be anathema (accursed).” It does not say, “He who does not believe in the Lord . . .” There’s no way to whitewash that word anathema. It means cursed, cut off from Christ, according to Romans 9:3. He says, “My kinsman, my Jews, according to the flesh, are anathema. They are cut off from Christ.” Pharisees are perishing. I’m tipping my hand here a little bit. There must be a relationship between the love of Christ and believing in Christ that enabled Paul without contradiction of any kind to say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” and to say, “If you don’t love Jesus, you’re damned.” There are no contradictions here.

James 2:17 says:

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Faith is dead if it has no works. So works, holiness, and love matter. In 1 John, every other verse in the book almost is like this, but let’s just take two or three of them. First John 1:7 says:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

What’s the criterion for being cleansed of all sin? Tell me. It’s walking in the light. If we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If the blood of Jesus doesn’t cleanse you from all sin, you’re lost. One sin uncleansed, and you’re lost. Therefore, walking in the light is necessary to get to heaven. I’ll stick it in now, just to make sure I don’t raise the tension in this room too high, the context immediately implies that does not mean perfectionism, because 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.” Those are back-to-back verses. You have to walk in the light to experience the cleansing blood of Jesus, and nobody is perfect. Everybody sins every day.

The difference between walking in the light and not walking in the light is that when you’re in the light, you see the dark and hate it and repent of it and fight it every day. I sin every day. I sin every hour. If the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” means everything within me, I fall short of that every hour. I have to have blood on me every hour. So we’re not talking perfectionism here, nothing like it.

First John 3:14 says:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

First John 2:4 says:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him . . .

You don’t know God if you don’t keep his commandments.

The Only Path of Salvation

Second Thessalonians 2:13 says:

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

He has chosen you for salvation through sanctification, and there is no other path. It’s salvation through sanctification. If you try to get off the path, it leads not to salvation but damnation.

Listen to Romans 8:13. I remember I did a course with Daniel Fuller 25-plus years ago on Romans. It was maybe the most important course I ever took in my life. Romans is like that. I’m going to start preaching on Romans next Sunday. Pray for me. I’m scared to death to preach cRomans. It is so big. It is so huge. Every problem is touched on in Romans. Everything is so weighty in Romans. I feel like there’s this mountain in front of me. I’m 52 years old and I’ve got 13 years to go, maybe. Maybe I have a little more, maybe a little less. We’ll see if they’ll let me go beyond 65. And I’m taking up Romans finally after 18 years, and it feels awesome to me, just awesome, because when I was studying it was verses like Romans 8:13 that just shook me to the foundations of my being. It says:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

In the context, it’s very clear we’re talking live eternally. We must, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body. We must be fighters. We must be what John Owen says are “those who mortify sin in their bodies.” John Owen’s books are powerful helpers. They rescued J. I. Packer from suicide back in the late 1940s, when people were preaching a perfectionistic gospel to him, and he could not understand the sin of his own life. He finally found somebody who understood the dynamic of these things that we’re talking about. John Owen is a good guy. Use John Owen’s book on The Mortification of Sin.

How Shall These Things Be Harmonized?

Well, maybe that’s enough texts. Let me pose the problem here, and then I think I’m going to stop and see if there are questions from any of you. If you ask questions on this one, I’ll just say, “Wait till tonight,” but we’ll see. We’ll see what kind of questions you have, but be thinking.

Let me crystallize the issue for you. This is really getting very close to the nub of the matter in living by faith in future grace and why I wrote the book and why I give the talks. I’ve been talking about a passion for holiness. How can I live a life that will have the holiness in it that satisfies these verses and thus puts me on a pathway that leads to heaven and not contradict historic, Protestant, Reformed teaching that justification is by faith alone apart from works of the law, and those who are justified are glorified? That’s why I believe in eternal security. That’s my answer to your question. That’s why I believe in eternal security, Romans 8:30. It says:

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

It’s as good as done for everybody who’s justified. Now the Westminster Confession, in Chapter 11, is great historic, Reformed confession, which I hope you study and love. I don’t love all of it since I’m a Baptist. I can’t love all of it or I’d change churches, which I have not yet felt compelled to do, but it’s a great, great confession. Everybody should read it and study it. In Chapter 11 it takes up this issue of faith and works and how they’re related. So let me read the key paragraph:

Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone . . .

All right. That’s paragraph one in Chapter 11. Here’s paragraph two:

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.

Now that’s the Westminster answer. The Westminster answer to these texts that I’ve just quoted and the doctrine of justification by faith alone is to say that it is faith alone which justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone. That’s Calvin. Calvin said that almost in those very words. I don’t have the quote down here, but the faith that justifies is never alone. It is always accompanied by other saving graces like love, obedience, holiness, or walking in the light, or however these verses describe it, and it works by love. That’s a quote from Galatians 5:6. It says:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

What Kind of Faith?

Now you may feel why I had to think and write about, what kind of faith then? My soul hangs on this. We’re not playing games here. If this faith is always accompanied by these graces, it must be a very special kind of thing. Something about this faith has a power in it that I have not heard yet expounded adequately, I used to say. But you know what’s inadequate about the Westminster Confession for me — though I’m not a specialist in church history by a long shot — and what seems inadequate in the way sanctification has been written about by Reformed folks especially is that I’ve never heard an adequate unpacking of how it is or what is it about faith that necessitates that it always be accompanied by these other graces.

You see, I think Calvin came really close to saying (as many evangelicals do today), “Belief is this. You do it at the beginning of your Christian life in the twinkling of an eye and you’re justified. And then obedience is another kind of thing. The living of the Christian life is another thing than that. That justifies you and now you do this.” And that’s what I’m after here. I don’t think that’s right. I think that’s really, really wrong and produces the wrong kind of striving, even if it’s just striving for rewards and not just for salvation. It produces all the wrong kinds of striving if it is not that extended, and if it’s that extended, then maybe that’s an explanation for how that can justify and the nature of it is such that the power produces holiness and they’re not separate things. This faith that begins your Christian life and this faith that sustains your Christian life are one and are such a nature that holiness comes.

If that’s true, then I want to know what it is. So that’s what we’re going to pursue tonight. What is that? In fact, we’ll be unpacking that for the rest of our time together. I think that’s a good place to stop and we’ve got 25 minutes or so. We don’t need to ask questions if you’re tired and want to go, but I’m willing to stand here for another 20 minutes or so and see if you have questions.

Questions and Answers

Are you familiar with Michael Eaton’s Theology of Encouragement?

As of yesterday, I am and I stayed up late understanding what I think he’s saying, which I very much disagree with. So I think you really don’t care whether I’m familiar with it. You’d rather know some more, wouldn’t you? How many of you read Theology of Encouragement by Michael Eaton? You know what we’re asking here, and you know the problem. For him, it’s the problem of assurance, a massive problem in his own pilgrimage of how to have assurance. If those verses that I just read mean what I say they mean, he thinks I’ve shot assurance in the heart, not just the foot.

If that’s true, then either the Bible or I have put us in a very awkward position. I don’t think it’s true. But I think maybe the best way to handle that would be to let me give you the whole package tonight rather than try to interact with him. And then at the end, if we haven’t sorted it out well enough, we’ll come back and there’ll be more time for questions at the end. Let me help those of you who haven’t read the book so you know what we’re talking about here and those of you who’ve read the book, you nail me if I don’t treat him fairly. Okay? I hate putting up straw men because I am put up as a straw man a lot.

Michael Eaton is pastor in Nairobi, and a godly man from everybody who testifies to me. He wants to have a theology of encouragement, that is, a theology that gives assurance. Now he believes that if you make holiness, or walking in the light, or love a condition for salvation — that is, for glorification at the end — you will ruin assurance because you never know whether you’ve been holy enough. And since you have to have assurance, those texts just can’t mean that there’s a measure of holiness that you have to have in order to get to heaven. Rather, his solution is that all those texts that relate to threats or warnings are threats or warnings that if you don’t fulfill them, you will fall short of rewards, not salvation. Is that a fair statement?

I don’t think exegetically, you can do that with dozens of texts. I read for a long time. I read about four hours of it yesterday and I’m not persuaded. This is not new to me. I don’t know whether he’s aware of the parallel in America. It’s been going on for 15 years, and it’s called the Lordship Controversy. And if you’ve seen my book, The Pleasures of God just go straight to the back to the appendix where it says “Letter to a Friend.” That’s my answer to Michael Eaton, and so is Future Grace. But there are many godly people, like Zane Hodges who teaches at Dallas Seminary, who have taken the same approach because they want to help people have assurance. That’s what’s driving them. They work with ordinary people. Now, Michael Eaton is unusual in the sense that he’s come out of a strongly Reformed tradition and as he looked over his tradition, he said, “I don’t even like the people I’m producing.”

I think that’s almost a direct quote. He said, “I don’t even like the people in my own church.” I mean that may have been two decades ago. But in the little Reformed churches that he was coming through, there was no joy. There was no assurance. There was no life. There was no power. And he said, “Is this the truth?” I felt the same thing. I’m trying to solve the same problem. We’re on similar quests and we’re answering questions in very different ways, so this is a good opportunity for you to get that book downstairs. I’m sure they’re going to run out now, but get it and just put it beside Future Grace. He sets up Arminianism and developed Calvinism as the two alternatives.

Arminianism makes works a ground of final salvation and developed Calvinism makes works a proof that you’re already saved, but it’s so much a proof that if you can’t produce the proof, you don’t have any assurance that you got saved, so it’s just as bad as Arminianism when it comes to assurance. I don’t want to be in either of those two categories. So whatever he would call Future Grace, I would like you to send him a copy or I’ll send him a copy and we can maybe correspond because Terry knows him personally. In fact, how many know him personally? Raise your hand. Just tell him I like him, not just love.

I don’t call his salvation into question, but I do think it’s an unhealthy way to solve the problem of assurance. I think exegetically too many texts have to be bent to make it work, but that’s my opinion and if he were here, he would graciously, I’m sure, disagree profoundly with me. So we’ll finish my effort to answer how to handle the problem and then at the end, if we still want to put the two views side by side, we’ll take it up. Let’s go to another question.

Did Ananias and Sapphira make it to heaven? And why are we still alive?

We are still alive because God is free to advance judgment into this life as far as he wants or postpone it as long as he wants by grace. He just advanced judgment on them further than he did on Peter. He could have struck Peter down when he denied him, but he didn’t do it out of pure grace. I’m alive because of pure grace. Did they go to heaven? I don’t know if they went to heaven, but I’m open to the possibility which tips you off a little bit about the quest for holiness. I do not think that the last act of life is the necessary determining act of who you are in Christ. Therefore, when I preach at suicides, they’re hard funerals, aren’t they? Suicides are hard funerals. I’ve done, I don’t know how many. They’re horrible. I’ve never ever come close to saying — because I don’t believe it’s biblical — if you kill somebody in your last second of life, you’re going to hell even though the Bible says murderers won’t go to heaven.

It’s for this reason: When God assesses a life on the last day, it’s not going to be anything like measuring good deeds against bad deeds and putting them on a scale. It’s nothing like that. It’s not going to be a Muslim thing. It’s not going to be that the last act was the most important — killing in the last act, yourself or anybody else. I mean how many men in the Second World War were blown to smithereens as they were killing others? Of course, that brings up the whole issue of a just war, but nevermind. I do believe in that. I’m not a pacifist. When he looks at us, he’s going to be looking at sufficient evidence that faith was real.

If it’s true, according to 1 John, that we all must confess our sins and the person who says, “I have no sin” is a liar, then at any given point in that sinning, you might die and the Bible does not hold out a picture of assurance or a picture of the Christian life that says, “We sin, we do righteousness, we do righteousness, we sin, and if you die here, you go to hell. If you die here, go to heaven.” That’s the furthest thing from what the Bible teaches. When we are justified, we are born again. The Spirit moves into our life. We are united with Christ and that is unshakeable. What emerges in our lives is enough that God and we and some others — Jesus says, you’ll know them by their fruits — can discern whether there’s some authenticity here.

Take the thief on the cross. Did he have any time to do holiness? Well, the answer is yes. He did for an hour. I don’t know how much time elapsed before they broke his legs and he gassed himself into paradise. But in that hour, in fact, in those moments, something miraculous happened. He watched Jesus, evidently. I wrote a poem about this one time, and I pictured this man railing first because Luke has both of them railing at him, and then he watches Jesus hand over his mother to John and he watches him say, “Father, forgive them.” And those sayings and those acts land on him like, “What is this reality I’m hanging next to?” And he says, “Jesus, is there hope for me?” Basically. He says, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom. You are not like any man I’ve ever seen.” Maybe he had had some dealings with Jesus earlier, I don’t know. But he just made an appeal. He said, “Jesus have mercy on me,” and just like this, in the last hour of his life, after a lifetime of murder and thievery, Jesus says, “Today, we’ll be in paradise.” That’s good news. To be able to say that to people on death row is amazing. We kill a lot of people in America. Did you know that? We kill 10,000 people a year?

Our children kill each other and you all wonder why we have guns, I know. And I don’t know the answer to that except it’s in the constitution, the right to bear firearms all has to do with our history and all that stuff, but we slaughter each other in America and then we have electric chairs and lethal injections and gas chambers and women are being put to death. I personally don’t oppose, in principle, capital punishment, but to be able to go to a person who’s slaughtered 16 people, killed them in cold blood the night before they were executed and say, “You can be saved,” and not have any long life of holiness to live to prove anything is amazing. The holiness that the thief on the cross produced was a life of reliance on Jesus as much as he could. He stopped cursing Jesus. That’s all he did. And he screamed his way into eternity with pain. So they may be in heaven. Ananias and Sapphira may be in heaven.

I don’t know if they were genuine believers. There were a lot of hypocrites in the New Testament. First John 2:19 says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

That’s one of the clearest passages on eternal security for those who are born again. If you’re born again, you won’t go out, or at least you won’t go out forever. You come back. I do believe in backsliding.