Future Grace: Its Purifying Power

Part 4

Newfrontiers Conference

We have about three hours together today or so and I’m picking up where we left off last night. I began to try to get at the dynamic of living by faith in future grace by showing how the faith which justifies is also the faith that sanctifies. And the way it does it is by severing the root of sin and taking away the power of the dominance and the compulsion of sin because the power of sin is in the promises that it makes: the deceitful lies that life will go better, even if only tonight.

If you ask the average alcoholic, Don’t you know you’re ruining your life? They’ll say yes. I watched just about ten minutes of TV last night on a drug program interviewing these guys who need about 50–150 British pounds a day to do their drug thing. And they were asking them, Don’t you know that you’re going to get caught some day and that you’re ruining your life and you’re ruining your family? Yes. The drug is the bottom line.

The power of sin is absolutely terrifying and awesome — and it’s through sin’s promise: “At least today, you’ll go better.” “At least this afternoon you’ll have a high; you don’t know what’s coming in the future.” The hopelessness of the future is what makes most teenagers do stupid things: drink themselves crazy, or smoke themselves into cancer, or drug themselves into a fried brain. They don’t have any tomorrow in inner-city America. So future grace and the confidence that it’s going to be there with a better future — that confidence — severs the power of sin’s lying.

So we began to unpack that then by saying faith is the great worker and gave you texts on that. Then we shifted over to faith as power, not just pardon. The great mistake I think is thinking of saving faith as faith in the pardon of the cross — period. That’s not what saving faith is — period. That’s saving faith, but not period. Saving faith is the embracing of the whole Christ and all that God is for us in him, especially the future that he is for us in him.

Future-Oriented Faith

So my first point this morning is that faith is future-oriented mainly. Now you might have been taught that it’s mainly backward-oriented on the cross. I want to try to make a case that it’s mainly future-oriented and then we’ll relate it to the backward orientation on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith has a future orientation. By faith Abraham did this and by faith Sarah did that and the faith is always in a promise. So I’m arguing that saving faith is essentially trusting Christ for promises that he makes — that he’ll fulfill them. That’s saving faith mainly.

You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (Colossians 1:21–23)

Do you see how those two coordinate? Continue in the faith; don’t be moved from the hope of the gospel. So faith is a faith in promises for the hope of the gospel. When Christ comes to a person, he doesn’t just say, “I did something for you: look at it, think about it, believe in it,” and then walk away, saying, “Good, you’ve got your eyes fixed on the act.” He doesn’t do that. He comes in and says, “There’s a life to be lived, there’s a future to be experienced, and I’ve got grace for every minute of it and every age of it. Trust me for that.”

So what are you facing this week? What are you facing? Saving faith looks at it and says, “He’s going to work together for good. He’s going to show his might on my behalf. He’s never going to leave me. He’s never going to forsake me. He will be my helper.” That’s saving faith. That’s not another thing. That’s faith; that’s life in Christ; that’s union with the Lord; that’s what he offers: that’s the gospel. “I will be there for you to work everything together for your good forever and ever and ever.” So faith is future-oriented.

Bygone Grace

Now then, what’s the function of bygone grace? We have future grace and we have bygone grace (or past grace). The key verse here is Romans 8:32. It is probably my favorite verse in all the Bible. It’s hard to pick favorite verses, but I go back to it again and again. If there’s a pinnacle in the Bible, it’s Romans. And if there’s a pinnacle in Romans, it’s chapter 8, and if there’s a pinnacle in chapter 8, I think it’s verse 32.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Now there’s a logic there. There’s a fancy logical name for this kind of logic: a fortiori. Let’s change it into a statement instead of a rhetorical question. There is a past half to the verse, and there’s a future half to the verse, and they are logically correlated: if he did that, surely he’ll do that. So the past half of the verse says, “He did not spare his only Son.” He gave Christ, as though that was the hardest thing in the universe to do. And then it draws this logical inference: if he did that, which must have been the hardest thing to do (and then the shift goes to the future), certainly he will now freely, because of that, do this — namely, give you all things. And the all things means: whatever you need for your fullest enjoyment of God forever and ever; he will do all things for you most certainly.

So if you asked me now, How does past grace poured out at the cross and future grace poured out from right now to eternity in your life relate to each other? I would say that when a person becomes a Christian, they are to look at the cross and God says, “Look what I did. Look what I did for sinners. Be moved by that, be stirred by that, fall in love with me because of that, and then come over and stand on it here. But when you stand on it, don’t look down; look forward and walk on it forward.” The point of past grace is not to fixate on it, and all of your life is just looking back, looking at the cross, looking at the resurrection — even in worship. The point of the cross, according to Romans 8:32, is to empower you with confidence to know that tomorrow, he’s for you. And if God is for you, who can be against you tomorrow or this afternoon or five minutes from now, where all of your anxieties are coming from?

Who is anxious about yesterday? Raise your hand if you’re anxious about yesterday. Nobody. There’s no problem with yesterday. There’s only one problem in the world: tomorrow. If God is not there tomorrow, there is no gospel. All my problems are tomorrow. Even if I’m sick as a dog now the question is, Will I stay sick forever? That’s the question. Even if I feel damned now, that’s not the question. The question is: For eternity? Tomorrow is the big issue in life. “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:34).

Please do not say I’ve minimized the cross. I have no future without the cross. All my future was purchased by the cross. All my forgiveness, all God’s help, all future grace was purchased by past grace. Is that clear? We are not minimizing the cross by saying that faith is future-oriented. Everything that faith trusts in for tomorrow was purchased by one, single, finished sacrifice; and vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus. But don’t stay there. Don’t stay there. Walk into life, knowing that’s where you’re going to meet God. All the promises are out there waiting for you: “I’ll do it. I’ll be in there. I’ll help you. I’ll strengthen you. I’ll hold you with my victorious right hand. Have I not charged you? Be strong and be of courage, be not frightened, neither be dismayed; I will be with you.” That’s future grace: “I will be with you. Walk into that future with me, and without anxiety.”

So that’s the first two points. Faith is future-oriented, and it orients on the future because the cross has purchased the future for us, and God will be there with future grace abounding for every need that you have. You’ve got to trust that: this is the power to sever sin; this is the power to sever sin.

Satisfied in Jesus

This faith that is oriented on the future is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus in the future — a being satisfied. I am going to stress now the affectional dimension of faith: affectional, emotional, feeling — whatever you want to call it. I wish I had some words that didn’t have connotations of superficiality. The word emotion , the word feeling — maybe not so much the word affection — tend to connote to people whether you’ve had a good meal or not, whether your stomach is troubled, or whether the sun is shining. And so they don’t quite do the trick in communication to get at the fact that faith is more than a mental assent to facts.

So I’m groping for language here and just help me by being a sympathetic listener that when I say the affectional dimension of faith, I don’t mean anything superficial. I mean something quite profound, and yet not something that isn’t involving something like emotion or something like feeling. And so I’ve chosen the word satisfaction — a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus, not just an ascent to truth, past or future; but a heartfelt valuing or treasuring of all that God is for us in Jesus.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

Now, if we had time, I would just love to spend several hours developing Johannine faith with you. Faith in the gospel of John is an awesome thing. But in this verse, which comes close to getting at it briefly, he says, “He who comes to me will never hunger.” (And coming to Jesus in the Gospel of John is a synonym of belief or faith.) “He who comes to me will never hunger,” and then he switches, and the parallel of the verse shows that faith and coming are virtually synonymous: “And he who believes in me will never thirst.”

So my definition of faith in the Gospel of John would be: faith is a coming to Jesus so as to have the soul-thirst satisfied. See today he’s not on the earth to come to physically. So this is a spiritual reality. This is a drawing near by a spiritual phenomenon in the heart. This is an embracing with invisible arms. This is a walking with invisible soul legs toward Jesus. And coming into him and up to him for the satisfaction of soul hunger and the satisfaction of soul thirst. And when faith closes with Christ (that’s the way the Puritans used to talk about it), the soul has reached the end of its quest, and it rests, it reposes, it is satisfied: it has drunk and it has eaten, and now those cravings of life have found the endpoint and they rest in him. That’s faith.

So don’t equate faith just with: here a series of facts about the death of Jesus, here are some facts about the resurrection, or here are some facts about promises in the future that he’s going to be with you. Now, do you ascent to those facts? Yes. But that is not yet saving faith. Saving faith is to hear those facts — we must hear the facts. I believe in biblical scholarship, for example, hard study and reading books like Gordon Fee’s; that’s not an easy book. That’s wonderful that he held that book up for you all to read. That’s tough sledding. And I believe in that. God gave us brains for a reason. Love God with all your mind. But that’s not yet saving faith.

Saving faith is when something happens by way of an illumination or an enlightenment or a light going on such that there stands forth from the known reality, a beauty, a glory, a satisfying treasure that just draws you irresistibly into it because it is satisfying now to your soul and you embrace it. And then it becomes saving faith and a relationship is established.

If you buy that, you have bought into something very controversial and very powerful. The reason it’s controversial is that it will make your evangelism difficult: Signatures on a card won’t cut it anymore. Decisions alone won’t cut it anymore. Walking to the front won’t cut it anymore. Praying a prayer alone won’t cut it anymore. You have made evangelism a miraculous affair. And we’re not talking about any particular demonstrations of the miraculous like you just talked about. There’s a miracle before those miracles that everybody has to experience. If you even want to begin in the Christian life, you’ve got to have a miracle whereby you don’t just hear a fact and say, “I believe that fact,” and call that salvation and then start gutting out your duties of Bible reading and church attendance and song singing; there has to be a miraculous work whereby a satisfaction — something emotional, something deep and affectional — embraces Christ as beautiful, as a treasure. Now, that’s why it is miraculous.

The reason it’s powerful is because that’s the means by which the root of sin is severed. Because if that’s justifying faith, you can see immediately why it is sanctifying faith. Sanctification means the old bondages of desire begin to start falling. They don’t have to all happen at once; I’m not in a big hurry to get anybody off all their bad habits. But the affection is shifting over. Christ is beginning to ooze down into every crevice of the heart.

I picture the heart as a void, and it has many crevices inside, and the shape of it is for God the Spirit to satisfy. Sin has packed putty and mud into many of those crevices and smoothed it over — made it nice and smooth so it feels good. And so when there’s enough freedom — that is, gouging out some of this earthly satisfaction in health and wealth and relationships and money and all that stuff — and there’s some dissatisfaction — that is, craving — and God comes in, and he inserts himself perfectly where he was designed in you to fit, and you suddenly you go, “Yes, that’s what I’m living for. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Well, he’s got some more work to do. It’s like you go to the dentist for a tooth cleaning, they take that awful thing and they stick it up under your gum: that’s sanctification. The process of becoming satisfied with God is not all roses. Some things die, and the death is painful. And when that happens in power, sins begin to go. It’s a process our whole life long.

So my third point, if I’m counting right here, is that faith is a being satisfied in all that God is for us in Jesus.

Spirit-Enabled Obedience

What is the role of the Holy spirit in enabling obedience? To this point I have only described the dynamic of saving faith and sanctifying faith in terms of seeing the beauty of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ and the glory of Christ, and being drawn into it because it’s true as you assess it with your mind. And it is satisfying as you assess it with your heart and you close with it and you rest in it. And then you hear its promises of future grace, and you say yes, and you walk in it.

Faith, or the Spirit?

And I haven’t even mentioned the Holy Spirit in that dynamic. What’s his role? Let me draw out something from Galatians here that might be the most important fresh insight I got in writing the whole book Future Grace. In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit: love and joy and peace and patience and goodness and kindness and faithfulness.

And I have just said that the key to severing the root of impatience or lack of love or lack of joy is faith in future grace. Being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus severs the root of impatience, for example. The text says it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So which is it? Or how do they coordinate? Is it faith that yields triumph over impatience or lust or lack of self-control? Or is it the Holy Spirit that works triumph over impatience and lack of self-control or lovelessness? The text says those are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Further setting up the tension within Galatians itself (so it’s not between me and Galatians; it’s between Paul and Paul), you have Galatians 5:6:

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

So faith works through love, and the Holy Spirit produces love. Faith produces love, and the Holy Spirit produces love. Well does faith do it sometimes and does the Holy Spirit do it sometimes? How do they connect? Now the link also comes from Galatians 3:5:

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you [including all the fruit of the Spirit] do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?

By works of the law? No. By hearing with faith? Yes. Now we’ve got the Spirit and faith coordinated in Galatians 3:5. If the Spirit is moving among you, if he is doing these works, if he is producing love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, like 5:22 says he is, does he do that in response to works of law? No. Well then when and how and along what channels does he do it? Answer: by hearing with faith; by hearing with faith.

That is a very interesting phrase: hearing with faith — not just faith. He didn’t say, “Does he do it by works, or does he do it by faith?” He could have said that, but he said, “Does he do it by works of the law, or does he do it by hearing of faith?” Why does he say that? Why does he coordinate the work of the Holy Spirit with the hearing of faith? I believe the reason is because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). When promises are given — “I’ll be with you,” “I’ll help you,” “I’ll strengthen you,” “I’ll uphold you” — the heart is drawn out in faith, and the Holy Spirit moves on the channel of that faith, and therefore, both are true: the Holy spirit is giving peace, and faith is giving peace. Consciously, it feels like faith.

Together in Motion

If you were to ask me, What have you done to get peace? I would say: I believe promises. Somebody says, “How can you have so much peace?” “I’m trusting God with my I am doing that. I am trusting God.” But another answer would also be: along the channel of that trust is flowing God Almighty. They’re always coordinate. Where faith moves, the Holy Spirit moves; where the Holy spirit moves, faith moves. You can’t separate the two.

Why does God ordain things such that he grants the Spirit to work things like peace, love, joy patience, only where the mind is apprehending word or truth from Christ. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Why does he coordinate power with a heard word from Christ? Why? The answer is that the Holy Spirit is a very humble member of the Trinity. He is very self-effacing. He loves to get behind Jesus. The whole thesis of J.I. Packer’s book Keep in Step With the Spirit is that the Holy Spirit was sent to glorify Christ. If the pulpit were Jesus, the Holy Spirit would just be pumping Jesus, pushing Jesus. Which means that when the Holy spirit wants to do a work in your life, he wants Jesus to get the credit; and therefore, he coordinates his work with trusting the promise of Jesus. He wants your eyes to be on cross, he wants your ears to be on the word, and so he’s a quiet member of the Trinity. He’s pushing Jesus all the time. He’s pushing the Word.

And mentally, the framework of our thinking about the work of the Holy Spirit should be: we think and we focus on objective words from the Lord Jesus, and we trust those. “This precious, awesome promise has been given to me by an infallible and loving Savior; I will trust it.” That very act is the work of the Holy Spirit. And through that act, flows the Holy Spirit because there Jesus is being exalted. And where Jesus is being exalted, the Holy Spirit is moving.

So the concept of living by faith in future grace — that is, promises — is no different than walking by the Spirit. They are synonymous concepts: the one describing it from God’s sovereign side of what he does, the other describing it from my conscious side of what I must do and experience.

Debtor’s Ethic

The next point is the role of gratitude. This is controversial in the book. In fact, I begin the book Future Grace with two chapters on what I call “the debtor’s ethic.” What I’m opposed to here is the almost universal assumption that the primary motive of obedience in the Christian life is gratitude. I don’t think that’s true. This is an amazing statement for me to make, and I say it with some fear and trembling: nowhere in the Bible is gratitude connected explicitly with obedience. You can make it connected, but nowhere is it explicitly connect. We do not find the phrase out of gratitude — “I acted out of gratitude.” You don’t find that in the Bible or in gratitude for acts toward God.

Christian obedience is called the work of faith, never the work of gratitude. We find expressions like “live by faith,” “walk by faith,” but never “live by gratitude” or “walk by gratitude.” We find “faith working through love,” but not “gratitude working through love.” We find sanctification is by “faith in the truth,” not by “gratitude for the truth.” We find “faith without works is dead,” not “gratitude without works is dead.” We find “men of little faith,” not “men of little gratitude” when they don’t do what they ought to do.

Why is that? This is sort of devastating to me. Why is the most prevalent argument for how obedience is brought about consciously — namely, gratitude — the most prevalent argument in evangelicalism in America absent from the Bible? Totally — at least at the explicit level. And I’m not sure about that. I think it’s a failure to understand everything I’ve said for the last thirty minutes — namely, that faith is future oriented, not past oriented. When you face back and you look at the cross, you feel gratitude. Or when I look at yesterday and your wonderful response to me, I feel gratitude — and I should; I’d be wicked not to.

In fact, Romans 1 says you’re not saved if you don’t feel gratitude: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Thanks is essential; gratitude is essential. But it’s not, in the Bible, the key motive for obedience. It is a key — an indispensable element — in worship. But it is not the key to obedience. Faith in future grace is the key to obedience.

Now, let me argue for that for a minute. What I’m arguing against here is a subtle thing that I’m afraid has crept in over the years through hymnology and ways of talking. We say things like: “Look what he gave to me! Now, as I turn with that at my back, feeling gratitude, my life becomes a giving to him to repay, if possible, some measure of that grace that he gave to me.” Many people conceive of the Christian life that way. “He gave so much for me. He did so much for me. How can I not do more for him?” They use the word gratitude: gratitude will get you to the mission field, or gratitude will help you to stay up late discipling somebody, or gratitude will break a sin. And it’s just not in the Bible. I’ll give you three reasons here that trouble me with this concept of how to live the Christian life.

1. You can never pay God back.

You can never pay God back by doing anything for him. In fact, if you do things for him as you ought to do them, you go deeper in debt — not pay back part of the debt. If you’ve understood everything I’ve said, or mainly what I’ve said up till now, you will understand that for me to walk from here to the edge of the platform is a gift of grace. Suppose God said, “John Piper, walk to the edge of the platform.” “I did it for you, Lord. I did it for you. I’m so thankful for everything you’ve done in the past, that I have now, out of gratitude, done what you told me to do, and therefore, I have paid back some of the debt of grace that you gave me.” And God would say to me, “Who got you here? Who sustained your molecules while you were walking across here? Who inclined your heart to obey me?”

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

You can’t pay back one millimeter of grace. You can only go deeper in debt — and you should go deeper in debt because the giver gets the glory. Therefore, as you contemplate what should motivate you to go from here to there, don’t think: “I’ve got to repay some of the debt of grace, and he told me to go, and he’s done so much good in the past, how can I not do anything he tells me to do?” Don’t think that way. Think: “He’s calling me to cross here into more grace. Oh, more of God, more grace; here it comes. Look at this: I’m walking in obedience. Grace is just abounding everywhere, and I’m here now, and it’s more blessed to have crossed it than to stay over there.” This is a really different way of looking at life here and I think it’s big. I think it’s important. You can’t pay grace back: grace pays debts; it doesn’t create them.

I don’t want to be too hard on this because there are tens of thousands of godly people whose hearts are better than their theology. If that weren’t true, we’d all be in a big fix. Our efforts to articulate the reality need to be brought as closely into conformity with biblical truth as they can be. When someone asked J.I. Packer why God was pleased to bless, for conversions, movements in England, say, or America — which seem so diverse theologically that somebody has got to be wrong — he said it isn’t because God is indifferent to theology, but it’s because “God loves to honor the needle of truth in a haystack of error.” That’s a quote from J.I Packer. You can find it in Keep in Step with the Spirit, which I highly recommend.

2. Repayment relinquishes grace.

My second reason for being troubled by this debtor’s ethic way of living the Christian life is: if you could, by crossing from here to there or by doing some good work, you could pay back part of the debt of grace, it would cease to be grace and become a business transaction: tit for tat — he gave me; I give to him. We’re even, right? I don’t want to be even; I need grace. He has not set up a world in which there can be a transaction between me and him that way. It’s all of God, and he means for it to be all of God forever and ever and ever.

I’m just blown away by Luke 12:35–40. It pictures a banquet at the second coming, and the glorious Christ, who was once humbled on the earth as a servant, and we expect him to come in mighty power with flaming fire and we sit and be quiet. But the picture there is: he will bind himself with a towel, and we’ll sit at table, and he’ll serve us. That’s the second coming.

He will never relinquish the right to serve you. You will never be put in the position to make him look needy — ever. You’ll sit at table, and he’ll have the apron on, and you’ll look needy because you are — forever. And he will always get the glory of baking the bread perfectly, and making the meat perfectly, and setting the table perfectly, and standing on the correct side of the restaurant perfectly. He’ll never relinquished those Creator-rights to be the all sufficient servant of our need. So if you could pay it back, it’d be a bad deal because it would no longer be grace.

Faith orients toward the future.

And my third problem is that I think a life that tries to live in terms of a motivation of gratitude will be a past-oriented life when it needs to be a future-oriented life.

My little saying doesn’t work in Britain because you don’t use the word gas for petrol. We use the word gas for what you put in your car, and so I like to say American English: you can’t run your car on gratitude for yesterday’s gas. Petrol just doesn’t sound as good; I like alliteration. But you can hear the point: you can’t run your car from here to there on gratitude for yesterday’s gas. You’ve got to have more gas.

I’m running from here to there, and all my good deeds, all my walk with Christ, is enabled by future grace. And I mean future: five seconds from now and five million years from now. All that grace is my enablement and my motivation for obedience.

Narrow Path

I want to stress that what I have been saying up till now, especially that point about faith being a matter of being satisfied with all the God is in Jesus — that’s real threatening to people. You see, if you keep faith at the mere decisional level, if you make faith real easy, if you just make it a signing or a prayer or some mental ascent or something simple like what you can manage — see we Americans, we manage; we are consummate managers: building big things, being efficient, getting them done. And so if you let an American get his hand on the gospel, he “fixes” it so it’s manageable. “We’ve got to do X number of conversions on this campus.” “We can do that. We know percentages. It’s about 25 precent. So you want 200 conversions? Get this thing into the hands of eight hundred people, and say these words, and get these signatures, and we got it. We can do these things.”

Now if you think that sounds a little unbiblical and you agree with me that what you’re asking for and calling for is something that only the Holy Spirit can do, then you cannot manage. You can be a means and a blessing.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7)

I can plant and I can water, but only God creates life. If you agree with that, then you make life scary for people, and you raise the specter of assurance. The harder you make faith, the more you define faith in terms of a life-transforming power, the more you jeopardize assurance. That’s what I’ve done this morning. You’ve walked into it. You’re in a trap right now.

Daily Battle

I believe the Christian life and assurance — resting in the grace of God and having a deep, sweet confidence that he’s for me — is a daily battle. “Fight the good fight of faith, Timothy” (1 Timothy 6:12). Fight the good fight, not the bad fight. If you fight, it’s not a bad fight; it’s a good fight. Fighting the fight of faith: we’re not talking about some peripheral thing here; this is the fight to stay a believer.

I overstate it sometimes with my people by saying, “I’ve got to get saved every morning.” Now they know my theology well enough to know I don’t think you drop in and out of salvation. Romans 8:30 has settled that for me a long time ago:

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

There are no dropouts between justification and glorification. But I also believe that perseverance between justification and glorification is essential, and that if you drop out, you were not truly saved — not truly justified.

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.

So the evidence of genuineness is perseverance. Hebrews is the great book of assurance. It contains the texts that seem to threaten assurance most and demand it most. The book of Hebrews is written to help you have assurance. But it says some things that are very strange.

Now, you’ve got to have some Greek scholars in your midst. Every movement has to have some scholars. Be sure over time that you recognize some gifts in this room and encourage the study of Greek and Hebrew for some. Every group has to have some scholars who can test what I’m about to tell you because if you don’t read Greek and you have a translation that’s different from mine, you won’t know whether I’m telling you the truth or not. And there’s nobody in your movement to check it out. So what are you going to do? Every movement needs to grow with a cluster of people who are careful, biblical scholars who can read the Greek and Hebrew and test all things. The tenses of verbs in Hebrews 3:14 are all-important, so I’m going to translate it very literally here and you judge by your version whether I’m suspicious or not.

For we have come to share [perfect tense] in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Now, what that says is the test and proof of a past reality of coming to share in Christ is perseverance. It doesn’t say, “We will come to share in Christ if we persevere.” That would be unbiblical. It says, “You came freely, by grace through faith, to share in Christ, at a point in the past, and were united to him.” What’s the evidence of that? If you hold first your confidence firm to the end. So perseverance is the evidence of initial reality. How can you be sure you’re holding fast tight enough to give warrant to your initial faith?

Already Perfect — Still Being Sanctified

Now, go with me to Hebrews 10:14:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

We’re talking “perfected for all time.” We’re talking security — mega security here. Now the question is, Who’s he talking about? And look what he says in answer to that question. Here again, the tenses are important: “those who are being sanctified.” This is present tense now, not past — ongoing, present, continuous action.

So what is your warrant for believing that you are a perfect person? The process that you are becoming perfect is the warrant for believing you are perfect. Isn’t that strange? If you are now in the process of being sanctified — you’re not there yet; nobody’s there yet. But if you are in the process of having sins slain in your life, and fighting them back, and confessing your sins, and making progress, and then falling back, and making some more progress, you’re perfect in Christ. That’s what I see in that verse.