The following is a lightly edited transcript.
These little vignettes that I’m going to give you now, are all taken from the application parts of the book. There are eight application chapters scattered throughout Future Grace, so you can go back and get the full treatment in the book someday if you want to.
How to Combat Covetousness
Covetousness — what is it, first of all? It’s the last of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17). In Colossians 3:5, it’s called idolatry, which means that it’s also the first of the Ten Commandments. “Don’t have any other gods before me” and “don’t covet” are the same commandment, according to Colossians 3:5.
So “don’t covet” and “don’t have other gods” is the same commandment. The commandments begin and end with this: “Be so satisfied in me, and let your allegiance to me be so completely all-consuming, that there are no competitors in your life.” That’s the meaning of the law. That’s the meaning of the Ten Commandments. Love God and love your neighbor by being satisfied in me.
So here’s my definition of covetousness: desiring something so much that we lose our contentment in God. It’s OK to want to eat. It’s OK to want to have sex with your wife. It’s OK to want to be healthy. But it’s not OK to want any of those to a degree that it puts you out of contentment with God. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). The opposite of covetousness is contentment in God. A peaceful, restful satisfaction in God is the opposite of covetousness. Covetousness is that stewing inside you want something, and since you can’t get it, you’re miserable. It might be a spouse, might be health, might be a new job or a job, and it destroys your contentment, destroys your ability to walk through the day with a sweet, quiet, contented spirit.
So the battle is: Where does contentment or the opposite of covetousness come from? How do you slay the dragon of covetousness, sever the root of it? And how do you embrace contentment? My answer, generically for all of these, is: live by faith in future grace. This is the way my mind works about living the Christian life: Where in the Bible can I go to find some description of future grace, that when I embrace it and believe it, will destroy covetousness in my life?
And the answer (there more than one), is Hebrews 13:5–6.
Be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
Now there’s the argument. Living the Christian life, walking by the Spirit is not a mindless affair. If it were a mindless affair, this would be redundant. This is a book. One must go to school or have good parents to make any sense out of those black marks on this page. And one must go to a little bit of a higher education to make consistent meaning out of all these pages. Now you may not have liked the fact that God did it with a book. A lot of people are resentful of that. When you tell them there’s a correlation between reading and study and spiritual intensity and growth, they don’t like that. That sounds too intellectualistic, and not experiential. He did it with a book. He did it with a book. If you try to lay this book aside and live off experiences, you’ll have them; and you’ll be sorry in the end.
So when you want to get rid of covetousness, you don’t just say, “Do it Spirit.” You don’t do that — only. Of course, it’s the Spirit who’s going to do it, but he gave you a book with a command: “Be content” — with reasons. What are you supposed do with those reasons? “We don’t need reasons; we’ve got the Spirit.” The Spirit said, “I gave you the reasons. I wrote this book. Listen to me; talk to me here.” This is the Holy Spirit talking: “Listen to me. I said, ‘Be content for God has said, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”’ Put your faith in that promise, and that’s the channel along which I, the Holy Spirit, will take away your covetousness.”
It feels very much like you are doing this: I open my Bible. I read the command. I see the argumentation. And then I get the connection (and this is all grace). I embrace it. I believe it. And I defined faith as a being satisfied with all that God is for us. And one of the things he is for us is: “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” Therefore, you can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper.”
So here I am covetous for a spouse, or here I am covetous for a job, or here I am covetous for a new car — it always breaks down. And I’m seething inside because I’m not content. When you come to this word from the Holy Spirit, and it says, “He’ll never leave you; he’ll never forsake you, and in this he will help you — he will help you be content. Do you trust me? The issue of the Christian life over and over and over is: Do you trust him? Do you trust his promises?
Love of Money
I think warnings are a gracious gift to send us back to the promises. There are many warnings about the danger of covetousness.
- “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). * “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word” (Mark 4:19). So don’t desire them; that is, don’t be covetous. And the warning sobers us and sends us to the promises.
- “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). So don’t love it. You will pierce your heart with many pains. It destroys the soul.
- “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Don’t desire to be rich; it is suicide.
- “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:7–8)
Let Go of Luxury
So in the West, like America and England, we live in palaces. The poorest person in Minneapolis lives in a palace compared to about eight hundred million people. We need to hear a warning because many of us think we’re poor, when we’re filthy rich and bent on being richer. More, more, more things we want.
So let Newfrontiers stand for a war-time simplicity. We are at war in the world. Most Christians do not believe we’re at war; they believe we’re at peace. So they live a peacetime lifestyle instead of a war-time lifestyle. Some of you — not many — are old enough to have lived through World War II in this country. Believe me, it was different. You didn’t get new tires in America during World War II. The rubber went for the cause. They made things out of different materials. Your lifestyle changed because of war. We’re in a war, and people are dropping into eternity — about fifty thousand of them a minute. To live a peacetime lifestyle is to just say, “We don’t believe it. We don’t believe in hell. We don’t love people. “We don’t think we can make a difference no matter how we live.”
Ralph Winter, the great missions statesman, loves to tell the story of the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary, which is parked in Southern California harbor — it’s huge, three football fields long — was conscripted for the cause during World War II. It was a great, luxury ocean liner, and it was conscripted by the army. You can walk into the museum now on the Queen Mary, and see a room divided in half. And on one side of the room is what it looked like during World War II. And on the other side of the room is what it looked like as a luxury liner. And over here, there are bunks beside each other. And over here, there are bunks, three tall on top of each other and beside each other. Over here there’s place settings with who knows how many forks and spoons, dishes. And over here, there’s a tin pan and a cup. It carried 18,000 troops, and it carried 3,000 luxury liner passengers. And Ralph Winter held it up, and he said, “Here’s a war-time lifestyle, and here’s a luxury lifestyle.”
And I’m not here to tell you what your lifestyle should be in detail, but I am here to say that the danger of loving money and loving leisure and loving comfort in the West is about the biggest danger there is — probably bigger than sex, probably bigger than drink, probably bigger than drugs. Jesus addressed more about money than he did anything: the kingdom, and then money. So it’s huge. Don’t be covetous. Believe in future grace instead.
How to Battle Anxiety
Let’s go to anxiety. Anxiety is penetrating all these things, but Jesus directly addresses the issue of anxiety. Anxiety is a sin, and it leads to sins — many sins, most sins. I want to put together two texts for you that came together in our church with really quite a thunderclap of significance for our people. Most people had not put these texts together in Lamentations 3 and Matthew 6.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)
So he gives a command, and then he gives a reason. Use your brain. And there’s a logical connecting word: for or because. The Holy Spirit, in inspiring these words, assumes that logic will change your life, because he uses logical connecting words between his commands and his reasons. Now that because should have powerful spiritual effect in your life. And if it doesn’t, you need to ask for the spiritual gift of reading. There’s something wrong with your brain. That should help you; that’s supposed to help you not be anxious. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. Are you helped? Are you feeling less anxious right now because of that argument? You’re supposed to be. So we’ve got to understand it. That’s why study is important for spiritual life and transformed hearts.
Trouble for Each Day
I take that to mean that God has apportioned a certain amount of trouble for each day. And each day has its quantity, and you’re not supposed to pile it up; you’re supposed to spread it out. That’s exactly what it says: there’s some trouble for today, and let that be enough. Don’t stockpile tomorrow’s trouble into today. I wrote a little paper on this, and I asked my teacher in the paper, “If it’s 11:59 at night, when does today’s trouble stop and tomorrow’s start?” I made trouble for a lot of teachers. And that is a troubling thought to me. When does tomorrow start, if you work at night and you don’t sleep through the transition? And there’s no answer to that question. There must be a principle here, not a quantification by hours. But there must be something about the fact that now there’s a trouble for you, and later there’ll be a trouble for you, and don’t stockpile it into one place.
Now why? He doesn’t answer that here. He answers that in Lamentations 3:22, which is an absolutely staggering set of verses in the middle of this horrendous book of pain and lamentation. Because here’s Jerusalem under judgment and siege so bad that they’re eating their children. That’s bad. And if there ever was a time when you should reject God, it’s when you’re boiling your children. So this is not light; this is heavy. And in the middle of this book, which is the most crafted book in the Bible. It’s an acrostic; the whole book is. Every paragraph begins with a different Hebrew letter. So this pain that’s being experienced here was forced into the channel of an acrostic.
This is warrant, by the way, for songwriting and poem writing with some sense of excellence and form. Some people say, “Oh, when the Spirit’s moving, you just write what he gives you.” You don’t think about rhyme or meter or whether you have to cram eighteen syllables into one note; you just let it flow. Well, look, I think the Holy Spirit created Bezalels and artists who, in the most intense emotional experience of pain, labored to say it beautifully and well, so that it can be shared by a big group — not just one isolated person having an experience with God. If you’re going to write songs — and I know you’re a songwriting congregation — write them well so that we can sing them too. And you’re doing that.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22)
Why? Because trouble is new every morning. Do you see the connection? When we saw that as a congregation, it was as though lights went on for everybody: that all the pain, all the trouble that God has in his sovereign providence spread out over your life (a lot still to come; a lot passed), he spread it out in perfect correlation with mercies designed to help you with it. So when you get up tomorrow, or when you get home and you find something is not at all what you expected it was going to be; there’s more trouble. Think: every day’s trouble has a new mercy appointed for; and therefore, don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s mercies are designed by God to fit tomorrow’s troubles. And they will be there; it will be there. You will not be tested beyond what you are able (1 Corinthians 10:13).
First Peter 4:14 says that when you suffer, the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” I think the implication of that is that there’s a dying grace. You fear sometimes: Could I endure torture? Will I be faithful to the very end of my life? Or what if I get a terrible disease like? Or what if I have to endure persecution? Will I be able to endure it? And the answer to that is: not with today’s grace. Therefore, don’t let the panic of this afternoon determine your faith about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s grace — future grace — is for tomorrow’s troubles.
Sufficient for the Day
Corrie ten Boom, when she wondered if she’d be able to endure suffering, and her father said, “Now, when you’re going to take a train up to Amsterdam, when does your daddy give you the ticket?” “Well, when I get on the train — not three weeks before.” “Why?” “Well, you’ll lose it.” So when you have to get onto the death-camp train, you’ve got to get on the train. The mercy will be there, but not today. You don’t have a grace today to suffer for Jesus in some persecution camp, but you will. You will, if you keep on trusting in future grace; it is perfectly designed for the trouble that God will permit in your life.
There’s an old Swedish hymn. I don’t know if you ever sing this. I commend it to you that you learn it as a church and put it to a new tune maybe. It goes like this:
Day by day and with each passing moment,
strength I find to meet my trials here;
trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
gives unto each day what he deems best —
lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
mingling toil with peace and rest.
You’ve got to believe that is loving, or you will be an anxious person. You’ll just be so anxious whether God’s going to let too much suffering or too much privation come into your life tomorrow that you won’t be able to stand it. And then anxiety feeds off of that uncertainty. But if you take the word, the promise of future grace or future mercy, then you can rest content.
Find a Promise
I don’t know how you do devotions in the morning, or private time, quiet time, or whatever. But I believe everybody needs to do these things. Morning, noon, evening, wherever. It’s got to be done. It’s got to be done daily, I believe. The way you do it is by ransacking the Bible for promises of future grace that correlate to the troubles you know are coming. Now, you can’t do it for the ones you don’t know are coming, but for the ones you know are coming, you can ransack the Bible for promises that are tailor-made for that challenge to your faith. I’ll give you some examples.
If you fear lacking, going without, then you go to Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” And you believe that promise of future grace, and therefore, you sever the root of anxiety about whether you’ll have enough for your needs.
If you worry about being useless in the ministry, go to Isaiah 55:11: “My word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” “Sow it. Sow it. Believe me. Trust me.” Nothing done in the name of Jesus, through the word of Jesus is done in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
If you fear weakness, you go to 2 Corinthians 12:9. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” And you believe it, and you sever the root of anxiety about weakness.
If you are worried or anxious about decisions you have to make (“I don’t know which to do: right or left?) you go to Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you, I will teach you. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Or you go to Psalm 25:8–9: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right.” And you believe him. He doesn’t lie. You trust in future grace.
If you fear opponents in your life — there are enemies, people slandering you, ready to do you in, in some way, you trust Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If you worry about affliction, you go to Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Not from them all — out of them all. Or Romans 5:3–5: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” Believe that, and know that God’s going to work good things for you in it, and do away with that worry.
Do you worry about getting old? There are so many women who worry about what’s going to happen to their looks when the wrinkles come, and whether anybody — or even their husband —will be attracted to you anymore. Or you worry about whether you’ll get arthritis, or whether your mind will go too quickly and you start doing stupid things by your forgetfulness, and people will have to treat you like a little child. You worry about that. If you do, you should go to Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” I love getting old with that verse. I see pictures taken of me while I’m preaching: it’s just a big glare right off the top of my head here, and wrinkles, and trifocals now. And when I get out of bed, I have to do little stretches and kind of sit back, and I’m just — I’m dying. It says in the Bible “our outer self is wasting away” 2 Corinthians 4:16. Do you worry about that? If you worry about it, find a promise. Find a promise that says God loves gray hair and no hair. I don’t know if that’s in the Bible, but there was a bald prophet, and God sent bears to eat up children who mocked him.
Or lastly: Do you fear dying? Are you afraid of dying? R.C. Sproul, a Reformed teacher in America, says, “I’m not afraid of death; I’m afraid of dying.” And then the answer is what I told you this morning, and Romans 14:7–9: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” And you fight with the word.
Why does Ephesians 6 call the Bible “the sword of the Spirit? It’s because of this: Every time anxiety rears its head you, you lop it off with the Bible, with promises.
How to Fight Lust
Let’s talk about lust: short of adultery and fornication, but what you do with your mind in the process of feeding on pornography or fantasies. There are warnings. Remember I said that warnings are a gift of grace to send us away from sin to promises. And thus, they are so merciful when the Bible gives us warnings. This story is amazing to me. I read this in the newspaper several years ago.
On July 20th, 1993, Donald Wyman was clearing land near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as part of his work for a mining company. In the process, a tree rolled over on his shin, causing a severe break, and pinning Wyman to the ground. He cried for help for an hour and no one came. He concluded that the only way to save his life would be to cut off his leg. So he made a tourniquet out of a shoestring and tightened it with a wrench. Then he took his pocketknife and cut through the skin and muscle and bone just below the knee, and freed himself from the tree. He crawled 30 yards to a bulldozer, drove a quarter of a mile to his truck, then maneuvered the standard transmission with his good leg and a hand until he reached a farmer’s house one and a half miles away, with his leg bleeding profusely. Farmer John Huber Jr. helped him get to a hospital, where his life was spared.
So when Jesus says that if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out; or if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off that story shows what you will do when something you value is about to be lost — namely, your life. And Jesus says that the value that is about to be lost when you give away yourself to lust is your life.” Better to enter life maimed than to go to hell with two good eyes lusting. That’s the kind of warning you read (Matthew 5:28–30).
- Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
- “They are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
- “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” (Romans 8:13).
“Put to death the deeds of the body” means, put to death lust — among other things. And you do it by the Spirit. And I would unpack that by saying: by the sword of the Spirit. Reliance upon the Spirit’s power and the use of the Spirit’s sword to run through Satan’s lies about lust: “It’s not a big deal. You’re not a Puritan, Victorian type. You’re a free American. And Galatians said, ‘For freedom, Christ has set you free’” (Galatians 5:1). And he kind of quietly pushes aside, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”
So there are many warnings, but the most powerful and positive thing are not the warnings, but the promises. Second Peter 1 is an amazing statement of the power of faith and future grace with regard to the corruption of lust. Start at 1:3:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence . . . (2 Peter 1:3)
So notice, first of all, that the power that pertains to godliness is mediated through knowledge. That’s what I’m arguing here about reading; it’s a book. It’s got logical connectors in it. Knowledge is the mediating agent of divine power for godliness. So you’ve got to know some things. And the more you know about what God has revealed about himself and his promises, the more power you’re going to have. Verse 4 says:
. . . by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises . . . (2 Peter 1:4)
So now this is future grace. I could say, “By which he has granted us precious and very great future grace — assurances of future grace.
. . . so that through them [the promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:4)
Now that’s a complex sentence, and it is so rich. It’s worth an hour’s meditation on all the words and all the connections, and how it all fits together to deliver us from ungodliness. But you can see what the bottom line is: the aim here is to help us escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion or lust. So how do you escape from lust? Some of you are in bondage to it. Some of you go to X- and R-rated movies (or however you rate them here in this country) regularly. Some of you do it by justifying it that you’re a pastor and you need to be in touch with culture. Some of you go onto the Internet, your wife is downstairs, doing something else, and you just hit the button, and there she is. You can even do stuff with her. She can talk to you now. You just do that. You’re in bondage to this. You feel rotten when you’re done, and then you do it the next day. Others of you buy stuff. And some of you women are hooked on the kinds of romances where the real stuff happens that isn’t happening at home.
How do you break free? I assume you want to be free. How do you get free? It says that he has granted to us precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape. Don’t over-spiritualize this. God can do it by knocking you to the floor and you get up never desiring pornography again. He can. That’s not what the Bible says he usually does. The normal way he does it is by promises — very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world through lust and become partakers of God.
So I take this to mean that the divine power referred to in 2 Peter 1:3, just like we saw in Galatians 3:5 — “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of law, or by hearing with faith” — that is, hearing the promise of 2 Peter 1:4 with faith. And the answer is: the Spirit moves through faith. So the battle this afternoon and tonight will be: When the temptation comes, are you willing to ransack the Bible for promises that are so superior in the satisfaction that they bring that the powerful root of lust is severed? Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to begin that battle right now? Are you willing to resolve right now as I talk: “I’m going to do that”? Or does it have such a hold on you right now that, like a mistress, you can’t let her go — not even right now? And if that’s the case, perhaps all you can do is cry, “Open my eyes. ‘Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,’ so that I will be drawn to your word (Psalm 119:18). Because right now I love lust more than I love the Bible.”
There are promises that are superior. There’s a magazine in America called Leadership Magazine. It’s for church leaders published by Christianity Today. When it was first published about eighteen years ago, one of the first articles that appeared was an article called “The Anatomy of Lust.” And it was the story of a pastor who, for twelve years, was living lustfully. He preached. He did seminars like this. And in the afternoons, he would quietly disappear and go to the red-light district. He never got in bed with anybody. He just did more and more gross things right up to live-nude interactive stuff. And he was a pastor. And he was writing this article of how he got free.
Since then, about ten years later, he’s written a subsequent article, and now it’s a book. You can get it as a book. And the book is still unsigned. Which is probably wise. It’s too heavy to just lay on your church. You need to lay it on your elders maybe. Here’s the way he described his experience of freedom. He said, “I had cried out often and nothing had happened.” He got ahold of a novel by François Mauriac. I think it was The Red and the Black. And in it there was a scene in which purity of heart is described in such magnificent, compelling beauty that he felt overwhelmed at what he had been missing. And the text in the Bible that exploded with power was: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And that broke it: the hope of having what he was missing — namely, a pure heart that would see and know all that God could give to him.
In my own struggles, it isn’t so much the negative — “Don’t think that way” or whatever — that helps me. It is the having experienced and seen enough of God to know that if I continue in this path — this low road, ugly, low path — I’m going to lose it; I’m not going to be able to see sunrises. I’m not going to be able to look in my wife’s eyes. I’m not going to be able to embrace my little daughter. I’m going to be filthy — and lose so much of beauty and of glory and of good, and maybe eternal life. And it’s the positive missing, and the resting in and the being satisfied with what God will be for me in Jesus that breaks the power of lust.
Fight with All Your Might
So very practically, let’s tell you how I do this. I’m 52 now and I’m pretty experienced at this and have relatively high success at it. Here’s the way a man works. I’ve never been a woman, and so I will not presume to say how it works for women. But my guess is if women are honest, they know they have similar kinds of things. They have to find similar strategies. We were watching a soccer game last week in a little half-hour window. Well, a woman ran onto the field totally nude. Now, they didn’t show it until they got the coat around her. And then this cameraman thought he’d be cool, and as she walks off, he swings down onto this, and just part of her rear end was exposed. That is still in my mind. I don’t go to movies like that. I won’t go to see Titanic. I will not go where there’s nudity, if I know about it ahead of time.
You can give me as much violence as you want, and I’ll watch it. Give me one millimeter of nudity, and I won’t. And if you say, “Why? That seems like a skewed value system.” Simple reason: All the violence is fake. All the nudity is somebody’s daughter really taking off her clothes in front of the cameraman and millions of people. The former is fake; the latter is wicked. That’s a big difference. Fake violence does not bother me. Go ahead. Give me Henry the Fifth or Braveheart — except I didn’t know: there was that one scene in Braveheart, and I won’t go back. There’s a very simple reason: my male brain is wired so that when that pushes on it, it’s there for months. As a teenager, the first Playboy I found in a laundromat is emblazoned on my brain forty years later. I don’t know what you do if you regularly do this. I don’t know how you can preach or how you can do anything spiritual if you feed on this week in and week out.
So at that moment, there she went, and the jacket was just a little high, and I thought, “Wow, if he’d swung the camera down there earlier” — and then the fantasies start to go. And what did she do while she was out there? And did she jump on one of those guys? Now, I don’t usually get that far. That took about ten seconds. I don’t give myself ten seconds. I used to. I’m more successful now than I was at age twenty. But now I’ve got the sword in my hand almost immediately, and I am ruthless with these things. If Noël’s not in the room or nobody’s around, I’ll say, “No” — maybe not that loud in the hotel room. I’m talking to Satan. I’m talking to my flesh. I’m talking to sin. And I say, “No” — out loud. Because my ministry hangs on this, my power hangs on this, my anointing hangs on this, my family hangs on this, my fathering hangs on this. I say No. Maybe my eternity hangs on this.
But here’s the second thing I do about a second later. I shift my mind into an immediate, positive gear — usually the cross. I’ve got to get to something beautiful. I’ve got to get to something precious. The mind will not tolerate a void, especially a void created by the eviction of lust. It will be back there in a minute. It’s like: “Don’t think of white elephants. Don’t think of white elephants. Don’t think of white elephants. Don’t think of white elephants.” And all you do then is think of white elephants. “Keep her out. Keep her out. Keep her out. Keep her out.” And there she is every time you say it. So you can’t do it that way. You have to say no decisively. “I will not pursue the fantasy.” “I will not keep the TV on.” “I will not turn another page.” “I will not go into this theater.” That’s not enough. That’s not enough. No triumph’s going to happen that way. You have to now fill it with promises. He has given precious and very great promises that we may escape.
So you pour promises into your mind about how precious Christ is. Or you picture the suffering of Christ on the cross, his gasping and his heaving and his torn back going up and down on the cross, and his wrists shredding, and the sword pierced up under his rubs, and his blood and his face, and his screaming — that I might be pure. That’s the way I fight. I think that’s what he meant by gouging out your eye. Some people enter the kingdom violently: by cutting off their hands and gouging out their eyes. You know it must mean something like that, because it says, “If your right eye offend you, gouge it out,” which is of no use whatsoever if you have your left eye left. So when he says to gouge out your right eye and you’ve got your left eye to keep looking, you’ve missed the point. The point is do what you’ve got to do to be free. And the key is the positive trust or faith in future grace.
The Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
Won’t that carry you through a battle with lust? No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly, and turn it off. You will be repaid ten thousand-fold for turning it off.
What about the principles of accountability, prayer, confession to one another, as well as what I’ve just said? I totally agree that if I had a man who came to me in my study, laid out his bondage, and I preached to him these things, and we’ve talked about them and he goes back, and he keeps coming back and says, “It doesn’t work.” I wouldn’t have waited that long, but a next step or a step alongside would be: “Look, you’ve got to get in a group with some other guys who are sharing your burden, and let’s make some covenants with one another, and let’s pray for each other. Let’s call each other on the phone. Let’s have a hotline number here so that when you are feeling drawn to that secretary, you just punch that button and call and say, ‘I’m feeling it,’ and they all pray for you.”
Because even though the effectual agent of the liberty is the truth of God according to 2 Peter 1:4, the booster behind the promises is the power of God that’s unleashed by prayer.
Repentance and Future Grace
The situation in 2 Corinthians there, I think, is that there’s been discipline, and there’s been sin in the life of the church, and Paul has issued the requirement that there be some tough discipline. And it has happened, and it has produced sorrow and turning, repenting, a change of mind, which leads now to life. There is another kind of sorrow that does not produce repentance and leads to death, and that’s just being overwhelmed by guilt or condemnation from others — no genuine grief that you have offended God and man, and a perception of the adequacy of grace which embraced leads to repentance in life.
So I think the distinction Paul’s drawing there is that when two people fall into sin, there are two possible routes you can follow. Both may pass through grief or sorrow: one is godly grief, and one is ungodly grief. Godly grief leads to the recognition of the sufficiency of grace and the awakening of repentance — the turning and the coming back into sync with God and life. This one is a crushing down and instead of being open to the beauty of grace and the sufficiency of God to forgive, it becomes more deeply resentful at people or God, and though it may weep its eyes out in your study — there is no correlation to weeping and repentance necessarily. I have seen people weep their eyes out over the misery that sin has brought into their lives, their own sin. And if you had just taken a movie of that moment, you would’ve said, “This is a broken person.” And all they cried about is the consequences; that’s all they’re crying about. It’s like a criminal who is told life imprisonment, and he breaks down and cries not because he is sorry about sin but because he’s sorry he is losing the freedom to sin. So he can cry and cry and cry, and go right into destruction.
You should be sorrowful for your sins; you’re right. I just leave some things out, and I’m assuming they’re coming between the lines. And I’ll tell you, when I don’t succeed in my warfare against sin, I feel awful and should feel awful, and if I have the grace, should cry about it. And then that, as you’re pointing out, should lead me not to despair, but to repentance. Maybe my excessive focus on joy has clouded that issue.
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:9–10)
There are seasons of failure in the Christian life that make that the command of the hour: be wretched, mourn, weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection so that you humble yourself unto the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you. That’s the stepping-stone through repentance to recovery.
How to Fight Impatience
Impatience is a form of unbelief as are all sins a form of unbelief in the wisdom and the power and the goodness of God when we have to go at an unplanned pace in an unplanned place. The frustration of having to go slower than you want to go, or be in a place you don’t want to be, at a time you don’t want to be there, can make you seize with impatience and get angry — especially if you’re a missionary where nothing goes right. Everything breaks. The day’s plan never works. The red tape is unbelievable. It takes two weeks to get your water turned on or get a telephone. It took six months in Germany when we were there in 1971.
Americans are not patient people — believe me. We want it yesterday and faster, so we need faith in future grace. The only thing I know to do here is to commend to you faith in God’s sovereignty to work out things that you didn’t expect for good, better than you could have hoped for.
All for Good
The story of Joseph in the Bible is written to make you patient, isn’t it? Joseph, from chapter 37–50, here he starts with great triumphalistic dreams of being a ruler. It’s true, but he’s just a little too pushy though. His dad and his mom and his brothers are upset, so he sinks in their esteem, and his brothers hate it. Then his father sends him down to his brothers to find out how they’re doing, and they say, “Ah, let’s kill him.” They grab him and throw him in a pit. That’s bad. That’s low. It could be impatient at the bottom of that pit; it is not planned. Then they start to draw him up, and he says, “Oh, there’s hope. They’re drawing me up out of the pit.” They sell him into slavery.
Now, he’s on his way to Egypt. “Oh, that’s bad. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in Egypt.” He gets there, and God is good to him, and he gets a good job with Potiphar. He feels like he’s rising a little bit. And then this woman frames him, and lies about him, and Potiphar throws him in prison. Years go by, and he wins the approval of the jailer. He has some responsibility for the other prisoners, and it feels like there might be some favor happening here in my life for a change. Along comes a butler and a baker, and he tells their dreams. The baker gets hanged, and the butler is elevated. Joseph says, “Remember me.” And the butler totally forgets him for two more years.
Now we’re at the bottom. That took about seventeen years. Where are you in relation to this? Fifteen years into it? I mean this. Some of you are in a marriage, or divorce situation, or a sickness situation, or three prodigal children that are breaking your hearts. You think, “They can’t do anything more to me. They can’t hurt me any worse.” But then they do another crazy thing, and you think it can’t get any worse. We’re all on a graph like this — those periods of our lives that seem like things just don’t get any worse.
This story is told to give you hope so that in the midst of that downward spiral of circumstantial misery, you will overcome impatience. The key verses are Genesis 45:7 and Chapter 50:20. Joseph was elevated to be be vice-president of Egypt, saved his people from starvation, got a wonderful wife, I presume, gave birth to children who became heirs of the promise. He said to his brothers, when they were scared to death that he would take vengeance on them,
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)
God meant those seventeen years, God meant the hostility of the brothers, God meant the pit, God meant the selling into slavery, God meant the lousy experience in Potiphar’s house, God meant the imprisonment, God meant the being forgotten by the butler — for good? “If I had known I wouldn’t have murmured so much.” Don’t murmur. Philippians 2:14–15 says:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
Reap only Good
Have you ever heard of Benjamin Warfield, a great old Princeton theologian from about eighty years ago? Warfield married Annie Kincaid as a young man in 1876. The parents gave them money to take a honeymoon in Switzerland in 1876. While they were skiing, she was struck by lightning, and was an invalid in bed the rest of her life. In 1915, 39 years later, she died.
Warfield never went more than two hours from his house. He turned down every denominational post that was offered to him so that he could be near his wife. This was an unplanned place at an unplanned pace. When I learned that about Warfield — I didn’t know this; I had only known him as a theologian. I went to get his little book of devotional readings, and I looked for what he would write on Romans 8:28, and this is what he wrote: “God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.” Now, he didn’t write that at the beginning. He wrote it at the end after 39 years of faithfulness to an invalid wife. That’s patience. That’s love. It came from faith in Romans 8:28, which is the great promise of future grace. “I will work all things together for your good.”
Suppose you’re planning a trip to Switzerland to ski. It’s your fifteenth anniversary. Just as you’re making your final plans, you are crossing an intersection in your car — maybe the day before the airport departure. And a car broadsides you right in the front. It just smashes you and crushes your left leg — compound fractures. It didn’t kill you, but Switzerland is history. You’re lying there in the hospital, and they say, “This is really serious. We’re going to have to go in there and do some reconstruction, but we think we can do it.” They go in there, give you some local anesthesia, and when they’re done, the doctor comes around to you and he says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is your bones are going to be fine, and we’ve got you sewn up. The bad news is we found a tumor of a pretty aggressive kind in there. This is very unusual for us to find these before it’s too late, but this one is totally new. We took it all, and there’s no reason to think you will not live out a normal life.
Now, think back about your murmuring at the accident: “Why did this happen? Why do we have to miss our trip to Switzerland?” Murmur, murmur, murmur. Grumble, grumble, grumble — until you learn that God exposed a tumor, which, had it not been exposed, you’d be dead in two years. It transforms your whole way of looking at the event. Every single thing that befalls you, according to Warfield’s understanding of Romans 8:28, is for your good. If you believe that promise of future grace, you won’t commit the sin of grumbling. But you must fight with faith in future grace.
It’s not easy to believe Romans 8:28. Now if I’m visitng someone who’s dying from cancer, I don’t waltz in there and say, “Well, God’s got it now brother. God works everything together for good. Praise God anyhow.” You can really abuse this truth. But if you have a people that you love, and you teach them faithfully over the years, in the good times and the bad times: You teach them about the big issues. You have a common, deep profound understanding of God’s sovereignty, and the place of suffering, and how God works all things together for good. Then when you’re a right-hand loving partner is laid low with cancer, or hit by a car, or has an awful marital problem, and you go in, and you look him right in the eye, you don’t have to say a word. Thousands of words are going back and forth. You do the hug, and you do the tears, and you do the silence.
Somebody once told me that for Job’s comforters, their glory period was the first seven days because they didn’t say a word. It was only when they opened their mouths that they ruined everything. Sit with your people. Love your people. But don’t leave undone the years of teaching so you don’t have to teach at the bedside. You shouldn’t have to theologize at the bedside. Theologize week in and week out about the nature of God. Then you can just pray and cry.
Well, thank you so much for allowing me to come. It’s been a little bit scattered, but we have a passion for the supremacy of God. We have a passion for joy. We have a passion for holiness, and we now have a way of life called living by faith in future grace, which means that we’re going to walk into the future with our mind stilled and overflowing with promises of what God will do for us, and what God will be for us. Faith is a being satisfied in all that God will be for us. And so we get the help, he gives the help, and he gets the glory. The bottom line of it all is so live, so that God gets the glory by your enjoying him through faith in future grace.