Future Grace: Its Purifying Power

Part 5

Newfrontiers Conference

In view of the questions that have been raised with regard to assurance, it might be good for me to try to say something by way of a summary about the ground of assurance as I see it growing out of living by faith in future grace. I’ll speak about where you look when you don’t have assurance and how you fight that fight.

The Ground of Our Assurance

I do think that assurance does rise and fall in the Christian life, and it would be ideal if it never fell, but I think history teaches us and I think the Bible shows us that we must be restored often. “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation,” is a common prayer, I believe, in the Christian life. And he restores my soul (Psalm 23) is a common theme. It’s not as though we live on a straight line trajectory toward glory.

I heard someone say the other day, the Christian life is like a yo-yo in the hands of a man going upstairs. And I think that’s accurate. Every day has its downer, but it may not in the whole scheme of things be as low comparatively to the whole possibility of lowness that it was the day before. At least my own testimony is given the way I’m wired, I have a lot of low seasons. In fact, I mentioned I think in one of the chapters in Desiring God that there are those Thursdays (that’s my day off) where I can sit in the Nokomis Park in the grass and feel so depressed I can’t remember my children’s names. That’s low.

So, I think those seasons do happen and with them assurance rises and falls. I have a very dear friend at the church who went through about four months of very great darkness. I mean it was William Cowper who lived in this country. You all know William Cowper. Now, you talk about low. I do believe William Cooper was born again, though there were seasons when he certainly did not know that he was. And the worst cases are those kinds of cases where horrible depression will settle upon you and you can hardly be reasoned with in any way at all, and you wonder if there is a God and if you’re his, and God can bring us through those times. But for the ordinary ups and downs, especially deathbed wrestlings, that’s where we really want to be assured. Just before we die, we want to be assured that we’re going to meet a favorable God and not an angry God. That’s certainly Michael Eaton’s passion, to help people rest in a favorable God.

I think that the essence of saving faith is not first the assurance that God is on your side. In other words, you don’t say to an unbeliever, “What you need to know first is that God is on your side.” And the reason I say that is not just because I’m deducing from something, from an ironclad Calvinistic logic that says there’s election and I don’t know if he’s on their side — I don’t think that’s the way you have to think. You don’t have to think logically. All you have to do is think exegetically here and experientially. That is, in the Bible there are people who mistakenly thought God was on their side, mistakenly believed he was on their side and he wasn’t.

Matthew 7:22 says, “Did we not do many mighty works in your name?” They were stunned when they heard the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” That’s a very frightening departure. He says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” This is not rewards we’re talking about here. This is a departure from him because he never knew them, even though they thought and had some measure of assurance that he was on their side and they were working for him and doing many mighty works. So, I don’t think the first word of the gospel to impart life and assurance to people is that God is on your side. God is on the side of people who love him. Romans 8:28 says, “God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”

You can’t say indiscriminately in the world, “God will work everything together for your good.” I can’t walk out onto the street and go up to anybody and say, “Do you know what? Here’s good news for you. God will work everything together for your good,” without fastening a condition there of some kind. Because the Bible fastens a condition on there of some kind. The context of Romans 8 is in the context of following, “For those whom he foreknew he destined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). That’s what works together for good is that he’s going to now work together to bring you into the image of his Son.

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ

Well, what is then the beginning of Christian faith, saving faith, faith and future grace? What’s the beginning of it? It has two parts. The first is a seeing of the glory of Christ in the gospel.

When you evangelize, you must portray God in Christ as glorious through the cross in his provision for sinners. Now I’m getting this from 2 Corinthians 4:3–4, this is an unbelievably important passage I believe”

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The gospel that we preach in this verse, it says, is the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. And that gospel is light when by God’s grace the blinding effects of Satan are removed. So, the first thing that happens in conversion is the spiritual sight of glory in Christ in the gospel. Let’s read 2 Corinthians 4:6, because it puts it in different words but almost the same:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” (a reference to Genesis 1), has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Now compare verse four and verse six, you’ll see how similar they are. In verse four, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” In verse six, it is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Those are the same thing, just using different words. It’s only that in verse six we see the origin of it — namely, the God who once upon a time brought light into being in the universe, has now brought light into being in our hearts. So, if you ask, “Well, how can I get the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, or the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ who is the image of God? How can I get that?” The answer is that God gives that.

This is what drives my life. This is why I write books. This is why I preach. We do our dead-level best to portray Christ as glorious and beautiful and persuasive. Paul says, “I do everything to persuade men” (2 Christians 5:13). He says, “I want to persuade them.” Now he knows only God can do this, but we’ve got an absolutely indispensable role. Nobody gets saved apart from the preaching of the gospel.

Supernatural Light in the Soul

One of my chapters in the mission’s book is to argue against those who are saying today you can get saved out there somewhere in the deepest, darkest people groups without any revelation of God in the gospel. I don’t believe that’s true. So, you are essential in this dynamic, miraculous supernatural process of light going on in the heart in response to the gospel. So, the beginning of faith and assurance is a supernatural divine light. That’s a phrase from Jonathan Edwards. He says it’s “a divine and supernatural light being imparted to the heart,” which comes straight out of 2 Corinthians 4:6. That’s not 18th century language, that’s straight out of 2 Corinthians 4:6. Light must be imparted to the soul that is mediated through the preaching of the gospel where Christ is portrayed as irresistibly attractive, because of the grace of God that flows through him and the sufficiency of his cross for all who will see the light.

This is a huge theological thing to take here. The first warrant of assurance is light in the soul. You can’t give assurance to somebody who doesn’t have it. If they don’t see glory, if they don’t see beauty, if they don’t see desirability, if they don’t see treasure, if they don’t see satisfaction, if they’re not granted to have their eyes open like Lydia (the Lord opened her heart to give heed to the gospel), if that doesn’t happen, you can’t water down the gospel enough to give anybody assurance. You can’t strip away enough conditions to give anybody assurance. Assurance grows first out of a divinely-imparted supernatural light. And if people don’t have it, you can pray, you can persuade, and you can weep. Paul wept over his kinsman according to the flesh (Romans 9:3). You don’t just stand back. This is a distortion of Calvinism to say, “Well, if God’s going to choose him and if he has to do the miracle to get him saved, then I’ll just watch him and see if it’s going to happen.”

You weep. You say, “He’s beautiful, he’s glorious. How can you not see this?” And you persuade and you stay up late and you serve and you labor, because God has ordained to show his love through people. He’s ordained to show the beauty through beautiful people. Let your light so shine that men may see your good deeds and have the light go on. That’s why they give glory to God, because the light happens in their hearts when they see God in your life.

Resting in God’s Promises

The second stage in saving faith after the impartation of light and the spiritual seeing of glory in the gospel, is the resting of the soul in the forgiveness of sins and the promises of God. I don’t want to make things excessively complicated, but I would add the word at the front there a warranted resting, that is a justified resting, a valid resting. You see, if I say to somebody, “God saves sinners who believe in him,” belief is the condition. Then they ask me, “What is that? What is it to believe? What must I do to be saved?” They go behind the word “believe.” See the reason Paul said in Acts 16:32 to the jailer, when he cried out, “What must I do to be saved,” he said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” That’s earthquake shorthand. Then he went to his house all night and it says he opened the word to him. He basically explained what he meant when he said that in the prison.

What did you mean to believe? Who is Jesus? How do I get there? And he took two, three hours and then he baptized him and then he went back to jail. God can save anybody just like that, but we mustn’t be content with platitudes. We must help people grasp the weight of the words “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved.” And I’m just trying to unpack that so that you can understand the nature of saving faith and how it relates to assurance here. The first step is seeing glory in it. And then once you have been granted to see and be drawn into it, you know intuitively and spiritually, “I have a warrant to rest here because I’ve seen it and it’s glorious. It’s beautiful and therefore it’s mine.” How else can you help somebody feel that it’s theirs?

Now, I assume Michael Eaton will listen to these tapes. So, Michael, brother, when I read the chapter on the universality of the atonement, which was written to show that that point of Calvinism is not true, he says that Christ died for all, not just for some. The motive behind that was that now I can say to everybody on the street or to Christians, Christ died for you and help them have assurance. Because if I can’t look them in the face and say Christ died for you, how can I give them any assurance? I think I’ve got your heart there, though I think your theology is wrong there. And my question is, how does that help assurance to say now that the extensiveness of the atonement is universal? Now I can say to everybody on the street, “Christ died for you.”

All right? I do believe there is a sense in which you can say that. John 3:16, I think you can say to everybody in the world. Christ died for you in order that if you believe you might be saved. I can say that to every human being. However, now we have just pushed the problem of assurance back one step. All right, Christ died for me, do you believe everybody’s going to heaven? No. Although I don’t know what Michael Eaton believes about that, but I’m assuming he’s not a universalist. If everybody’s not going to heaven, then to say that Christ died for them doesn’t mean they’re saved by the death of Christ, which means they must still look for some qualification to have it take effect in their lives. And you have the problem of assurance again. So, I don’t see how we’re helped by peeling these things down to make saving faith and the provision of God so universal and saving faith so easy that assurance is guaranteed.

Seeking Assurance

I just can’t guarantee assurance. I think I can weep, I can teach, I can pray, and I can point people to the sufficiency. The sufficiency, not the effectualness for them necessarily, that happens through conversion. Christ’s saving death saves them when they are united with Christ through an experience of regeneration and faith. And that has to happen before they can be given assurance. I’ve just tried to show you the two steps by which it happens. It happens by the miracle of seeing glory and marveling at the sufficiency of God in the cross and standing in awe of the beauty of grace. This is before you have any interest in it, as the Puritans used to say. Before you’re saved by it, you’re seeing it as glorious. And then because you have been granted that sight, there is a warranted resting in it, embracing it as your own.

Because Romans 8:28 — and we could use other verses — says, “God will work all things together for you.” That is, he will conform you to his son and bring you to glory if you love him and are called. That’s the divine side and the human side of what I’ve just been describing here. Do you love him?

I took this sheet. I’ve been working off the back of this sheet. These are new fresh notes here. I took it to breakfast this morning and I read all this to Noël to get her feedback and she said, isn’t it like being married to you or being the child of my parents, that if somebody says, how do you know you’re married to John? How do you have assurance that you’re married to John? She probably would not first of all go look for the marriage certificate. She would say, “We have a relationship.” She’d look right at me and say, “He’s my husband, he’s faithful to me. We’ve lived together these years. There’s a bond here.”

Assurance is not something that can be boiled down to “I signed” or “I prayed” or “I said.” It is a relational, spiritual, supernatural dynamic between God and his people and we must ask for it. We must seek to live in it and cultivate it. And when it starts to sink, we look again to the cross, saying, “This cross is the place where the light of the glory of Christ shines (2 Corinthians 4:4–6). And God might be pleased, and I believe he will be pleased, to open my eyes again to see it and be refreshed and assured by it.”

Questions and Answers

Let’s take two or three minutes for questions here.

When Paul is arguing against the Judaizers who were saying, “You’ve got to be circumcised in order to be saved or sanctified or have assurance,” he responded by saying, “We have the Holy Spirit,” and isn’t the Holy Spirit the seal of our regeneration, our newness, and therefore don’t we rest in that as opposed to a mental work?”

Now, I think all I’ve done here is describe how the Holy Spirit does that. Back to that point about the Holy Spirit glorifying Jesus, I think the Holy Spirit imparts assurance by awakening us to the sufficiency and beauty of the glory of Christ in the gospel. I think that’s what 2 Corinthians 4:4–6 says. So, the Holy Spirit being the seal or the guarantee, the down payment of our lives is true. Assurance is a conscious reality. How he works that consciously I believe is by consciously awakening the soul to see glory, to see beauty, to see Christ, to see a self-evidencing efficacy that we then embrace. So, yes, I don’t think what I’ve said disagrees with that at all, that the Spirit is a guarantee and a seal and a down payment for us.

The battle for assurance doesn’t seem to come from the Bible but seems to be a preoccupation with Puritan experience.

I think there was a battle and maybe it wasn’t as prominent as some branches of Calvinism have made it, so there may be some distortions in the way we’ve handled grace in some branches of Calvinism. But at the end of 2 Corinthians, there is that word that says, “Test yourself, examine yourself to see if you are in Christ.” And I think the conditions that I listed yesterday, those dozen texts that describe what must happen in your life for you to receive from Christ, are texts that lead us to do self-examination. Michael Eaton is very concerned that we do not become excessive. Although, I think as I read the chapter on the faith of Christ, he would almost completely rule out introspection because he says, “When you see that Christ believed for you as well as dying for you and living for you, that virtually eliminates all introspection.”

That really troubles me, both to think of a substitutionary faith troubles me, because it might mean that a faithless Christianity can have assurance. There are people in America who say if you have one slight ascent to Christ on a beach in a moment of evangelism and then live the rest of your life as an atheist, you’re saved. I fear that particular chapter in the book. Substitutionary faith is a dangerous concept I think. But you’re pointing out — and let the point be heard — the preoccupation with introspection and the wrestling with assurance in periods and streams of Calvinism seems to be out of sync with the New Testament, that’s what you’re pointing at. He’s getting it from Gordon Fee, not referencing Michael Eaton here.

It’s a legitimate question, and you should all just weigh that. Do you find in the New Testament people wrestling with Christians wrestling with whether they have assurance or not? I want to affirm the fact that God wants you to have assurance. That’s why the book of Hebrews is written. Hebrews 6:12 says, “Be earnestly desirous of maintaining the full assurance of faith, in order that by faith and patience you may inherit the promises.” You should have assurance. Well, that’s probably enough. We could probably spend all the rest of our hour and a half together talking assurance, but we’re all in process and we’re all on the way. And so, just consider this a chapter in your pilgrimage and keep working on this and all the other things.

Applications of Faith in Future Grace

But let’s get to the yellow pages, which is the practical application of these things to particular sins and particular acts of righteousness. So, see if I can pose the question for you now that I’m after. My understanding is that when you maintain full assurance through the supernaturally imparted light and the resting in the sufficiency and efficacy of the cross for you so that you can say, “If God is for me, who can be against you,” and you believe now in all the future grace that it guarantees for you, that’s the key to purity. The title of the book is The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace.

So, now we’re going to talk about the dynamic practically of how it purifies, how it produces love, we’ll start with that, and then how it kills particular sins and thus how you make progress in sanctification. And I regard progress in sanctification as a subordinate means of assurance. The primary means of assurance is steadfast gazing at the cross with the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the glory that’s there, so that when you see it, you are drawn into it and the being drawn into it is the warrant that it is yours. When you feel it as satisfying to the soul, you may now rest in it. When that happens and you have that assurance and you’re walking in that faith in future grace, first thing that happens is the beginnings of love in your life toward people.

The Key to Enemy Love

Now just some illustrations of how this works practically. Let’s begin in Matthew 5. Matthew 5:43–48 says:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (that;s the kind of thing we’ve been talking about). For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Love is the evidence that you are a child of God. I think that would be a fair paraphrase — that is, so that you may be shown to be sons — because he’s talking about your father. He’s already your Father. He’s talked about “our Father who art in heaven” and so on. The Sermon on the Mount gives to the disciples the benefit of the doubt that God is their father, now tells them how to live. And he says, “Love your enemies and so you’ll prove to be, stay, persevere in sonship.” Now the question becomes, how do you love your enemy? What is the key? Is it gratitude? Is it that God has loved me when I was his enemy, therefore out of gratitude for that I will now love my enemy? Surely there’s a place for feeling overwhelmed with being loved by God as his enemy, and then being befriended and made his friend. But that’s not the way the Sermon on the Mount argues. To see how this works, go back to the beginning of Matthew 5. Now keep in mind that it said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” So, now you have persecutors in Matthew 5:44 and you have persecutors in Matthew 5:10. We’re told to love them and pray for them in Matthew 5:44. Now Mathew 5:10–12 says:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Which is harder, to pray for your enemy or to rejoice in the midst of persecution? I think it’s harder to rejoice. I can name an enemy and I can pray for them in a minute. I can pray, “Change them.” That’s easy and not too much transformation has to happen inside of me to do it. That may not be genuine love and prayer for them. For there to be genuine love and prayer, something deeper has to happen. And the deeper thing is this joy in Matthew 5:12. He says, “Rejoice and be glad when you are persecuted.” If you can do that, you can love. If you are seething with bitterness, anger, and rage at what they’ve done to your child, or what they’re about to do to you, or how they have misrepresented you, you can’t love them. That inner thing has to be overcome with a superior satisfaction and in this text it’s called joy. Rejoice in it.

A Great Reward in Heaven

And then the question comes, where does that joy come from? And Matthew 5:12 says, “For your reward is great in heaven.” That’s future grace. Where does love come from? Love comes from being satisfyingly overwhelmed that my future in heaven is going to so outstrip the temporary sufferings of this persecution that I do not need to get bent out of shape by it, but I can rejoice in God in it, and thus I have the emotional wherewithal to actually love my persecutors. That’s a different dynamic than saying, “God loved me when I was an enemy, now I have to love them because they’re my enemies.” We must be able to face the future and the persecution looks like life is going to be hard. They may torture me, they may lie about me, they may kill me, they may kill my children. How do you walk into that with a sense of profound satisfaction in God that overcomes rage, anger, and bitterness, and moves right forward into love? The answer is, “For your reward is great in heaven.”

I did a funeral Saturday a week ago, the day before Easter, for a 38-year-old mom of four in our church who died of cancer, agonizingly. The Tuesday before was a horrible death. I preached to 700 people and they had written me notes. Some of them said, “Say something about this suffering, say something about this suffering, because you’ve taught us that God is sovereign. You’ve taught us that nothing comes into our life in vain. You’ve taught us that God works everything together for good and she suffered to the last minute, horribly. To what end, pastor? There was no life left to live in fresh new holiness. To what end?”

Among other things that I said — her husband sitting here and her four children (3, 6, 8 and 12) listening to what I would say — the last thing I went to was this slight momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory. This was after about 15 minutes of other things that I was saying about what faith looks like when all you can do is gurgle through your horrible lungs and cry out, “My God, my God, where are you?” I argued from the cross that when Jesus said that it was faith. I don’t have time to argue that here from Psalm 22 and the fact that it’s, “My God,” not, “You, God.” But I came to the point where I said, the bottom line, Glen, is that your wife, for some purpose that only God has for her — and I don’t know why her and not others — he was working for her an eternal weight of glory.

The text says, “This slight momentary affliction,” and by that it means a lifetime of suffering. That’s what it means in Paul’s context. A lifetime of suffering is a slight momentary affliction. He didn’t mean one whipping, he meant years and years of persecution are a light and momentary affliction in comparison to an eternal (that corresponds to momentary) weight (that corresponds to light) of glory. And so, I just said over and over again to him, “Whatever she experienced, God was working through it an eternal weight of glory for her.” That’s the bottom line meaning here. The only source at that crisis moment of assurance and love to each other and to God is faith in future grace. The weight of glory is coming.

No Future, No Love

That’s all I had to say, because there was nothing on earth for her to experience after this. If you go through a tremendously hard thing now, you can say, according to Hebrews 12, it bears the peaceful fruit of righteousness. That’s why my Father is disciplining me. It’s for the peaceful fruit of righteousness. There was no peaceful fruit of righteousness at the end of his suffering, she died. She gurgled her way into glory, gasping and crying and screaming that her husband would kill her. All I know to say is that if there’s not a future grace that somehow corresponds in intensity to that, I have no gospel.

In fact, I put it like this. I pictured her in heaven. I stood beside that body with him weeping. I got there about three hours after she died and he said to me, “I think she suffered as much as Jesus.” And I said, “Maybe. If so, when they looked at each other three hours ago, they didn’t have to say very much.” And then at the funeral I said, “But suppose Jesus said to her at that moment, ‘Is it worth it?’ I think your wife, Glen, would’ve said, ‘It would be worth 10,000 deaths.’” When you come to that point of counting, not just death as gain, but the horror of suffering that is going on right now in this world for tens of thousands of people who are God’s children — not just others who may say, well, that’s judgment — because God’s children are being tortured today, God’s children are dying of cancer, and God’s children have big tumors eating away their voice boxes and making it unable for them to swallow.

When you believe that, that it’s gain, that you can rejoice in that, then you can love in that. That’s my point here. Love is born of faith in future grace. And if we don’t have a future beyond that, that compensates for it and is 10,000 times greater than it, we will panic, we will be horror stricken, we will be full of rage and there will be no sweet resting in the midst of persecution and no love either.

The Great Book of Assurance and Sacrificial Obedience

Let me illustrate that from Hebrews now. I said this was the great book of assurance. Turn with me to Hebrews 10. It is also the great book of sacrificial obedience. Probably no four sequential chapters have a greater impact on the theology that I write about then Hebrews 10, 11, 12, and 13. So, let me give you the high points in each of those chapters that have shaped my theology that I’m trying to get across at this point.

Joyfully Accepting the Plundering of Property

Hebrews 10:32–33 says:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

So, evidently some had been put in prison, others had not been. And those who had not been, had to decide whether to identify with them. Because Hebrews 10:34 says, “For you had compassion on the prisoners.” So, some were in prison, some were not. The decision had to be made, “Will we love them at the risk of our lives by going to visit them in the prison?” They did and look what it cost them. It says:

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property . . . (Hebrews 10:34).

Now, let’s think hard about this. Here they are in a little prayer meeting. Their wives, their children, their aunts, their uncles, their friends are down in a lockup. In those days, you didn’t have television in prison and probably no food, except what relatives brought you and slid under the door. They thought, “If we go, they’re going to know we are Christians too. And we might wind up there, or they might just kill us, or they might burn our house down, or there might be some mob violence. Shall we go underground here or shall we go there and love our friends and our relatives?”

They have a little argument and a little prayer session and somebody says, “Didn’t the Psalms say the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life? (Psalm 63:3). The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.” And another one sang (in a time warp), “Let goods and kindred go this mortal life also. The body they may kill, God’s truth, abideth still. His kingdom is forever. Let’s go.” And they went and they did burn their house down, or whatever plundering the property means. Do you see that? And they looked over their shoulders on the way to the prison in the path of love. I’m explaining, where does love come from? Where does love come from in Brighton?

The answer is that it comes from joy. They joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. And where does that come from? And that’s the end of the verse:

You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:34).

Fullness of Joy, Pleasures Forevermore

Future grace begets faith; faith in future grace begets joy; joy in the midst of persecution releases love. That’s what I see in these verses. Without that kind of love, the Great Commission is not going to be finished today. It’s going to cost you your life to finish the Great Commission. You want to be a part of that, you better learn how to live by faith and future grace because you’re going to die. Some of you in this room are going to die in obedience to Jesus. And you won’t stick it out if you don’t believe that you have a better possession and an abiding one, that it’s gain. You won’t stick it out. You’ll go to the suburbs, buy a nice little house, play church, and feel safe and awful.

I wonder if you hear the Psalm that I hear in Hebrews 10:34 when it says, you have a better possession and an abiding one, better and abiding, better and abiding. Ring any bells? “Better” implies there’s a quality to it that surpasses anything the world can give you. And “abiding” implies there’s a length to it that never ends. That’s Psalm 16:11, which says:

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fullness of joy;
     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

That’s better (full) and it’s forever (abiding). So, if you ask me what’s the possession in Hebrews 10:34, answer: God. It’s not streets of gold, nor everlasting golf. Sorry. It’s not restoration with my mother, but Jesus, God, face-to-face, growing in the capacity to know him and enjoy him forever.

Trading the Treasures of Egypt

Now look at Hebrews 11:24–26:

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

This is exactly what happened in Hebrews 10:32. They went to the prison and they showed compassion on the saints at great risk. So, here’s Moses choosing ill treatment. Now, you may say, “That doesn’t sound like Christian Hedonism,” to which my response almost always is, keep reading:

Choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt (why?), for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:25–26).

Where did Moses get the liberty and the power to embrace ill treatment in the path of love to serve and ornery people of God? Everything going well in your church? You live in another world. There are problems, problem people, problem relationships, problem schedules, problem parking, problems with offices, and problems with city officials. There are problems, problems, problems. Why would anybody want to be a pastor or the leader of Israel through the wilderness? Grumble, grumble, grumble. And it says, “He considered abuse suffered for the Christ as wealth.” Why? Because he looked into the future at the reward. That’s just another word for future grace. That’s what I mean by faith in future grace.

He looked at his life and thought, “I can have any woman in this palace I want.” He looked at the University of Egypt and thought, “I can have all the wisdom and status I want.” He looked at housing, he looked at clothing, and then he looked at those people, and he looked at the wilderness, and he looked somehow at some promised land out there somewhere, and he thought, “It sure would be nice here. It’s really safe, really comfortable. It’s another 80 years of ease and maximum earthly joys. I’ve got it all.” And he said, “Rubbish,” because he looked to the reward. He looked to Christ, he looked to the Messiah, he looked to the coming new age and he said, “That’s worth 10,000 wildernesses.”

If you don’t come to that position, I don’t know how you’ll stay in the ministry. I don’t know how you’ll love people when the going gets rough — if you don’t look to the reward, look to the kingdom.

For the Joy Set Before Us

Hebrews 12:1–2 says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . .

Now, running marathons is hard. It hurts. You hit the wall, different walls, and it hurts. Run it, run it. The passage continues:

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

The greatest act of love that has ever been performed was carried, sustained, and motivated by the hope of joy. Jesus didn’t rise above hedonism, because hedonism is the means by which God gets the glory. When you delight more in what God promises you than in running away from the cross or calling 12 legions of angels to rescue you, when you delight more in the joy offered you in God’s presence and fellowship surrounded by redeemed people than you delight in maximizing earthly comforts, God gets the glory. And that’s why Jesus would never dare to rise above Christian Hedonism, because God matters to him. What else should he be motivated by than to be with his Father? He said, “Restore to me the glory that I had with you before the foundation of the world. Bring me back to glory with my praising people.” That’s the glory, that’s the joy that I will endure this for.

He’s not some masochist. One pastor with tears in his eyes at Caster last week said to me, “You have rescued me from full commitment to Christian masochism into Christian Hedonism.”

No Lasting City

Do you see why these chapters matter so much to me? In Hebrews 10:32 you see it, in Hebrews 11:26 you see it, and in Hebrews 12:2 you see it. In Hebrews 13:13–14 says:

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

It’s exactly the same thing. Let’s go with him and bear abuse for him. Let’s go with him. Come on. He suffered outside the camp for us. He purchased the city. You don’t need a beautiful city here. Leave it. Go wherever he calls, because we have a city that’s coming. We have a city. You don’t need 80 years of comfort here; you have 80 trillion ages of years coming. Lay it down and love in the hope of future grace.

Well, this is a good break time. So, we’ll have an hour and a half or so, I’m sure, an hour, hour and a half to talk about covetousness and anxiety and lust and impatience and bitterness. I wanted to put the positive thing first, namely love, but now we need to get mean with these other sins after lunch.