Future Grace (Part 1)
Desiring God 2013 Regional Conference
Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God
Thank you, Tullian and Kim, for your hospitality to us. We’re really, really happy to be here. I was asked by Tullian today over lunch, “How does it feel to have just finished 33 years in the pastorate?” because I am now five days out of that role for the first time in 33 years. I had an answer for him, but I want to tell you how I feel and make it a bridge into our topic tonight.
Number one: as I have for the last couple of years of transition, I feel amazed and thankful for how God has shepherded this process of concluding that 33-year ministry. Be praised, Lord Jesus, for your kindness to us as a church.
Number two: I said over lunch that I’ve been too busy to feel anything. I have the Gospel Coalition coming up, I talk at RTS after that, and I have this talk. I’ve just been blitzing on new preparations and haven’t hardly come up for any leisurely air. It’s leisure where you tend to start feeling things instead of hurriedness. I’m expecting something to click in soon, but it hasn’t happened yet. You can pray about that.
Number three: I said to my wife when I came down midway through one of my talk preparations for next week, “When I pause in the middle of this pressured preparation, it feels different because a significant pressure has been lifted.” It feels so different to just have one pressure because when you’re a pastor and you’re pressing to do one thing like this, you know is Sunday is coming, and the elder meeting is coming. The crises never go away. That’s been there for 33 years, operating under that kind of relentless pressure, and it’s gone. I thought, “I just have three messages to prepare for next week at the Gospel Coalition.” There’s no weekend coming, which felt amazing and happy, not that I didn’t like to preach.
Lastly, I’m excited to talk to you because you’re the first group I’ve ever spoken to in 33 years not as a pastor. What I want to talk to you about is how I tried to live those years. How do you try to live as a pastor, that is, as a human being? As we were singing the song about 10,000 years and how he’s going to come and it is still well with my soul, that had a very special meaning for me at that moment. It is still well with my soul. I thought, “I just want to be a humble, holy man ready to meet Jesus if this is the week.”
Lives of Holiness and the Glory of Glory
I think holiness of life is a very high priority for God and the life that glorifies him, and how you pursue it makes all the difference in whether you make or break your own soul or whether you honor him or not. That’s what living by faith in future grace is meant to tackle. How do you live under pressure? How do you live a life battling sin successfully? I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I think I wrote the book Future Grace in 1995 or so. I’ve been at it awhile, and I want to talk to you about it.
Here’s where we’re going to go. This evening will be mainly foundation. Foundations are always full of implications. It won’t feel theoretical, I promise you. Then tomorrow, it will be all application. By application, I mean, I’ll be taking the foundations that we’ve put in place tonight and answer the questions, how does that way of approaching life produce love? How does it overcome the sins of anxiety? It could be anxiety about uselessness, weakness, decision-making, afflictions, aging, not having guidance, and dying. How does it overcome the sin of covetousness, the sin of lust, the sin of bitterness and unforgiveness, and the sin of impatience? That’s what I’m attempting to tackle tomorrow — to take these foundations and then get into the nitty-gritty of everyday temptations. How do we sever the powerful root of sin?
Oh, sin is powerful. It is so powerful. You don’t have a chance against sin on your own. You will always fall without power from another source. It’s all about appropriating that power, and that’s what living by faith in future grace is intended to address. Let me give you right off my front burner from an hour or so ago. How do you, John Piper, get ready to do a seminar so that you do it by faith in future grace? Am I now doing this seminar in that way? That is, is my soul acting in faith in future grace?
Ready for Every Good Work
Now, part of what I do to get myself ready is I go looking for a promise of future grace. By that, I mean about a four-hour-long grace. If not a promise of it, then I at least look for an illustration of it that’s intended to be for me. The Lord, I believe, led me an hour and a half ago in a hotel room to Colossians, not for the first time. I was looking in Colossians for it because I’ve been reading it in my devotions. I just finished Colossians two days ago. I knew I had enjoyed Colossians, so I reminded myself of these words. This is Colossians 1:28–29:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil (kopiō), struggling (agōnizomenos) with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Here’s the Greek. I wrote it in Greek because I really, really want to get this right:
agōnizomenos kata tēn energeian autou tēn energoumenēn en emoi en dynamei
You don’t know what I just said, so I’ll translate it for you. This is Paul’s testimony to me. You’re here tonight for me to do a little bit in your life of what Paul tried to do for everybody he met; warn, teach, and present them to Christ full, complete, and perfect. That’s what I’m after. He says:
For this I toil (kopiō), striving (agōnizomenos) according to the inworking (kata tēn energeian) which is being worked (tēn energoumenēn) in me (en emoi) by power (en dynamei).
That’s just amazing. Those words are amazing and stunning to me. I want us to make it a little more smooth:
For this I toil, striving according to his energy, which he is energizing in me by power.
Now, how do you appropriate that, so that it’s happening at this moment — no sham, no play, no officiality. It’s either supernatural or you’re playing games. My answer is that you trust him for it because it is an ever-arriving grace for the next 55 minutes, or not. That’s future grace. This is real. This is the way I’ve tried to live my life, every moment of my life. Of course, I’ve failed 10,000 times. I want you to fail less. I have some overheads, 61 of them. We’ll get through, Lord willing, about 29 of them this evening. We will see what we can do tomorrow.
Let’s start with definitions. You wouldn’t think you’d have to define the future, but it’s that part of time yet to be experienced. The reason I define it is because I want you to know that when I speak of future grace, you shouldn’t think of heaven first. That’s part of it, but you should think of the next five seconds of life that you are given. The next 10 minutes of faith that you have because you might not have it in 10 minutes if God doesn’t show up and keep you believing. I don’t know what your doctrine of eternal security is. I think the saints are totally secure for one reason: God shows up every second of their lives. If he decided not to, they’d become an unbeliever. Every moment grace is arriving, sustaining, providing, and helping. So when you think future, think from now until eternity.
Now, five seconds of that has become past grace. There’s a reservoir of grace that’s accumulating behind your life. You’re walking into future grace and you have a reservoir accumulating behind your life. You look in both directions, biblically, all the time because that reservoir has meaning for you. Thirty-three years of God’s faithfulness has meaning for me big-time. I’m not oblivious to those past graces. They are wonderfully empowering for my confidence in future grace.
Will I finish this talk? He has helped me many times. Why wouldn’t he again? Well, it might be time to die, which would be fine. I’ve already made arrangements. They’re having a special service for me in about 10 days. It’s called a farewell service. I told them in my last sermon, “You’ve already got my funeral planned. If the Lord would just take me now in the next 10 days you wouldn’t have to plan anything else. Just do the service you were going to do.”
The second word to define is grace, which is God’s omnipotent commitment to do only what is good for his unworthy people, bringing them into glorified conformity to Christ and all-satisfying joy and fellowship with him — that is, fulfilling all God’s promises to them because of Christ. This includes the help arriving in the next 10 seconds, our inheritance in the resurrection — arriving possibly centuries from now — and everlasting demonstrations of his kindness in Christ.
Grace is not only God’s willingness, readiness, and accomplishment in forgiving you for all your sins. That’s foundational. It is also his ever-present readiness, willingness, and activity to do everything you need.
My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
It is going to happen. Will you trust him for it? That would be faith in future grace.
Here’s my definition for faith. It’s about receiving Christ all the time. Yes, you receive him at conversion decisively, but you’re welcoming him right now, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus. Help me.” So faith is receiving Christ as the supremely valuable treasure that he is and being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in him. That’s a very unusual definition of faith. If you buy that, your life changes. I’ll try to show later the textual basis for it.
My understanding of saving faith is that it’s a moment-by-moment welcoming of Christ as your supreme treasure and a being satisfied in all that God is for you in him. If that happens moment by moment, powerful severing of the attractiveness of sin happens. That’s holiness or purity.
Let’s just keep going with definitions. What do I mean by living by faith in future grace? Here are some biblical expressions of it. Hebrews 11:1 says:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for . . .
There’s a definition. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and I’m summing it up as all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. In that passage, faith is given a very explicit future orientation. Faith has a past orientation. We look back, and we believe what Jesus did. But if that’s all you did and it had zero connection to the future, you wouldn’t be a believer because what Jesus did was purchase a perfect future someday for you.
If you don’t buy the purchase, what’s the point of the price? You’re just mocking him, thinking, “Oh, I believe you for the forgiveness of all my sins” if all you do is look to the future and think of it as bleak, bad, with no help and no grace arriving. If that’s the case, you don’t believe in what he did. Past is crucial, but the future is also essential.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance . . . For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8, 10).
As he went, he didn’t say, “I’m bold. I’m courageous. I’m walking into the unknown.” He said, “I don’t know what’s coming, but I know it’s good because it’s a city God made for me. I’m trusting my God. Here we go from Ur.” That’s what faith does. Faith is a very risk-taking thing because it trusts.
The Giver Gets the Glory
First Peter 4:11 may be the text that I have used more often than any other text before I preach to help me do this. It says:
Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies . . .
All of you are called to some service. Do you do it in the strength that God supplies? What I’ve been trying to do for years is just figure out psychologically what that feels like. We can mouth these things until we’re blue in the face — “Serve in the strength that God supplies” — and not have a clue what we’re saying. If somebody said, “Tell me. Did you just do that when you taught that Sunday school class? When you worked in the nursery, did you just do that? How did you do that? What was that like? What did it feel like?”
I want so much for this stuff to be real for me. I hate nominalism. I hate words that have no real meaning in my life and your life. That’s what I’ve been working on all this time. That’s what we’re working on together in these two hours. Why does it matter? Because God says all our behavior, all our living, should make him look supremely glorious:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
There’s another challenge. It says everything you do. He picks out nitty-gritty things like eating and drinking just so you know that he means everything. He means eat pizza, drink diet pop, play golf, and surf to the glory of God. Everything you do, do it to the glory of God.
I wrote an article for our church newsletter one time called How To Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God just because the Bible says you’re supposed to. It says, “Whether you eat or drink . . .” Really, I mean, if it says that, it ought to have some meaning, right? You should be able to say, “When I drank my juice this morning, I did it to the glory of God.” Well, how did you do that? What was that like? Describe that to me, really. That’s what we’re working on.
Good Works for God’s Renown
Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
It matters. Good works matter. Eating and drinking in a certain way matters because they make God look good. That’s why we’re on the planet. We will see in this seminar, Lord willing, that living by faith in future grace draws attention to the glory of God. In other words, I’ve just argued that your behavior is important because it is intended to reflect the glory of God in the world. Now I’m arguing that a life lived by faith in future grace does that. I just began to quote 1 Peter 4:11, but let me finish it. I only quoted half of it.
Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Do you get the logic here? If you’re going to serve somebody, and Bob Dylan says you have to, then you should be trusting in power coming down from heaven. Why? Because the giver gets the glory, right? Isn’t that what it says? It says, “In order that in everything, God may be glorified.” Serve in his strength so that he can be glorified. If you could find a way to lean on this ever-arriving power so that what you do is done in the strength of that ever-arriving power, God will be glorified through that. It says so. To him belongs glory and dominion forever (1 Peter 4:11).
There’s a mystery here that I want so badly to live. I’ve been trying to teach my people to savor this mystery and live in this mystery. It’s the mystery of living in the power of another so that the other gets the glory. Oh, don’t you want to know what that is? Don’t you want the miracle to be wrought in your life so that you could come to the end of your days and say, “That’s pretty much the way I lived. I failed a lot, but that’s the way I lived”?
I’m still on the question why does it matter? God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him. We will see that living by faith in future grace means being satisfied in God’s future grace. If you’re satisfied in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus, and if my thesis that I’ve given my life to is right — God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him — then you will be glorifying God by being satisfied in all that he promises to be for you.
How to Be Happy When Slandered
Now, look at Matthew 5:11–12:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (they will increasingly do that in America for Christians who take biblical stands, as you know). Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What’s the key to being a happy person when you are being slandered? I’ll tell you. I mean, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10, picking up on this, “All the more gladly will I boast in insults.” I hate to be insulted. I just hate it, right? Who loves to be sneered at and called something you’re not? You know you’re not what they’re saying, but they say you are.
Paul and Jesus said, “I’m going to rejoice when that happens.” The answer is given: “For your reward is great in heaven.” I would argue from 2 Corinthians 4:17 that there’s not just a temporal connection to this, meaning good things are coming on the other side of the slander in 100 years. Rather, there’s a causal connection, and there’s some correlation between your willingness to suffer in faith in that promise and that promise being bigger for you. This momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). It’s working. It’s somehow causing that, connecting, and making it bigger.
I am so glad the martyrs can count on some rewards in heaven bigger than mine. I’ve had such an easy life in America, and others have died. They died for my Savior. They’ve been tortured to death. I want them to be blessed in a deep way. In fact, Jonathan Edwards argues that when the rewards in heaven are parceled out, and some are more deep and big in their capacities for joy in others, these two things will work for each other’s good. There will be no envy. There will be no covetousness. Your greater joy in heaven than mine will make mine bigger, but that’s another talk, another seminar.
I have to tackle that on Sunday up at the Gospel Coalition because they assigned me this text from 2 Corinthians 5:10 where we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what we have done in the body, whether good or evil. I have to close that parenthesis or else I’m going to get carried away and preach that sermon instead of this one. You can all come up on Sunday if you want.
The Need for Personal Holiness
Another reason why this matters is that practical holiness — that is, the purifying effect of living by faith in future grace — is necessary for final salvation. Now, this is theologically a little sticky because it causes people to worry about eternal security. It causes people to worry about works salvation and all kinds of things. They think, “I don’t want to go there. That sounds way too conditional.”
Let me just show you the texts, then if you want to say it a better way, I’m happy for that. I’m talking about final salvation, not past salvation. You did not come into Christ by doing anything. You received. You were dragged, kicking and screaming. That’s a paraphrase of John 6:44, which says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws (drags) him.” Everybody in this room who is a Christian was put in Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 1:30. It says, “From God are you in Christ Jesus.” You didn’t crawl in, jump in, work in, or climb in. You were very unattractive until the moment you were in.
Now having laid that foundation, what I’m saying here is, whether you will be saved at the end depends — choose your words carefully here — on whether your life bears witness to that reality.
Striving for Holiness
Let me show you the texts. This is Hebrews 12:14:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
There’s a holiness, and you’re to pursue it with all your might by faith in future grace. And I’m arguing that without it, you won’t see him.
Now I said a minute ago, and let me say it again lest you think I’m not as Calvinistic as some people think I am, that I’m a seven-point Calvinist. No born-again child of God will be lost. Contingency does not equal uncertainty. That’s fancy language. That you must walk according to the gospel does not mean you will fail. God won’t let you fail. He’s faithful, but let’s keep going.
James 2:17 says:
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James would say, “You’re not saved if you have a life that is void of the pursuit of holiness by faith in future grace.”
Galatians 6:8 says:
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
These are not rewards here. This is life. This is eternal life. You will inherit and you will receive eternal life. You will reap eternal life if you sow to the Spirit. If you sow to the flesh, you won’t. Then it says:
And let us not grow weary of doing good (that’s what sowing involves), for in due season we will reap (eternal life), if we do not give up.
Paul talked this way to believers. He said, “If you sow to the Spirit, you will receive eternal life. If you don’t, you perish.”
I look out on my church, and I talk like that. Then I assume that all the elect, regenerate, secure believers will take it to heart, and it will become God’s means of keeping them. Those who are playing games and are not born again or are not elect, which only God knows, will blow that off. They’ll think, “That shouldn’t be addressed to us church members.”
Keeping His Commandments
First John 2:4 says:
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him . . .
I just don’t know how John could get it more clear. It doesn’t matter if you say, “I know him,” if there’s no evidence that, by faith in future grace, you are laying hold on the commandments in obedience — all too imperfectly, I know at age 67. In fact, I would say this: all my obedience needs cleansing. Zero implications of perfectionism here, all right? All my faith in future grace needs the blood of Jesus Christ to cover its imperfections.
Nevertheless, that does not nullify these texts that say it’s also real obedience by the power of the Spirit, and it’s essential.
First John 3:14 says:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.
That’s how you know you’re born again. That’s how you know you’re not dead. Whoever does not love hasn’t been born again, abides in death.
Justification and Sanctification
Now here is a problem that is raised by all those texts: if we are justified once for all time by grace through faith apart from works at the point of true conversion, then how can our final salvation be conditional upon a transformed life of holiness? Let me just lay out those ifs. They really are real. Romans 3:28 says:
For we hold that one is justified (and I would add, once for all time counted righteous in Christ) by faith apart from works of the law.
You didn’t do anything to get yourself justified. If you’re justified, it was by faith alone. The reason Martin Luther added the word alone when he exposited this text is that the phrase “apart from works of the law” implies alone. It’s not an overstatement. There isn’t anything you can add to faith as the instrument of your union with Christ where you are counted righteous. Nothing.
Romans 5:1 says:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Works Accompany Faith
Now how are we to think about the relationship between that act of justification and this whole area of sanctification, or the purity and holiness of life, that I’ve argued is essential for final salvation? How did the Westminster Confession say it? Let’s read this. This is true. I’m going to argue we can go behind it and see some more:
Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them (that’s Roman Catholicism), but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them (that’s Roman Catholicism), but for Christ’s sake alone . . .
Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification (amen and amen with glorious joy); yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).
That’s the Westminster standard, and it is absolutely right and biblical. We believe these things because the Bible teaches them.
Why Faith Works
This is what drove me, goodness, 30 years ago. Then finally, it ended in the book Future Grace. What I wanted to know was, why is that the case? Why is this faith “ever accompanied by all other saving graces and is not dead but worketh”? Why? If there’s any way I participate in that, I need to know how because that’s the sign and seal of my reality, and I want to be real.
Now here’s my question: why does practical holiness — that is, works of love — inevitably accompany justifying faith? Here’s my answer, which this whole seminar is designed to justify and then illustrate: faith itself is the agent of the works. We’ll get to the Holy Spirit shortly, but faith itself is the agent of the works. In other words, I’m arguing that the word accompany may just imply to you, here’s faith going along here, and here’s renewed life and new good works going along here, and they just run on parallel tracks. I’m saying, no, no, no. Faith is jumping over here and working by love. They’re not just accompanying each other. They do not merely accompany faith. They come through or by faith. Faith is the agent that produces the works. It does so necessarily. I want to know why. Thus, the works are evidence of true faith and are not means of our salvation the way faith is.
They are the evidence that faith is real and thus are necessary for final salvation, but they are not the ground of our salvation the way the death and righteousness of Christ are, nor are our works the means of our salvation the way faith is. Christ is in a unique grounding position, and faith is in a unique instrumentality in putting us in Christ. After both of those, Christ laying this foundation that cannot be replaced, and faith doing its unique work of uniting us to Christ by trusting him alone and all he’s done, now out of that newness of life come these works, which are evidentiary in the court of heaven at the last day.
Evidence of True Faith
I think I’ve got an illustration here that has helped me, but first, be assured that the judgment will be according to works:
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life . . . (Romans 2:7–8).
You have to take a deep breath, and consider, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That just doesn’t sound like justification by faith.” It is because these works are evidence of the faith that unites us to Christ who is alone our justifying ground.
Now, why does this little story about these two prostitutes with King Solomon help? They both had babies, right? You remember this story from 1 Kings 3:16–28. One of them rolls over on her baby and kills it during the night. She sees it. The baby is dead. She takes the dead baby, puts it in the arms of the other prostitute, takes her live baby, and goes back to bed. When they get up in the morning, the mother of the live baby who has the dead baby in her arms is terrified, looks down and cries, and then notices, “This is not my baby. That’s my baby.” And the other woman says, “No, it’s not your baby. This is my baby.” Who’s going to settle that issue? I mean, how in the world could you settle that issue? That’s the kind of stuff pastors face all the time, imponderable situations that make you say, “I don’t know what to do now.”
Well, Solomon was given a cut-the-baby-in-half kind of wisdom. That’s what we call it at my church. We say, “We need a cut-the-baby-in-half wisdom at this moment.” He said, “Okay. I don’t know who’s the mother here, but let’s just cut the baby in half and give half to each one.” Like an absolute idiot, this mother who was not the mother said, “That’s a good idea.” God sometimes causes a wise word to make people become irrational so they expose themselves. She says, “That’s a great idea.” The true mother says, “She can have the baby. Don’t cut my baby in half.” Solomon takes the baby and says, “I know who the mother is.”
Now at the moment, the action of the true mother, saying, “Don’t cut my baby in half,” did not make her a mother. It just showed she is the mother. That’s the way judgment is going to work. None of your behavior makes you a Christian. None of your good deeds makes you born again. None of your good deeds put you into a right standing with God. This church believes in the gospel. Nobody works his way into Christ. Rather, at the judgment day when works are assessed, they will be assessed for one reason: do they show that you’re the mother, that is, born of God?
Confirmation of the New Birth
Here’s another illustration that I find really helps. The thief on the cross will be judged according to his works because the Bible says we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and we are judged according to our works. The works will either be witnessing of our reality or not. Well, this man’s lived — let’s say he’s 40 years old — and spent 39.99 years of his life sinning. All he’s been doing is sin. He’s been stealing and ripping people off. He deserves to be crucified. He said so.
In the last hour, he watches Jesus, saying, “Father, forgive them. Take care of my mom,” and God saves him. God saves him as he is watching Jesus. He looks over at Jesus, and says, “Have mercy upon me when you come into your kingdom. Remember me.” Jesus recognizes his life and faith and says, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” That’s an awesome statement.
Now he’s at the judgment. He’s going to be judged by his works. God opens his filing cabinet of works. There is a very deep, long group of folders of sin. And here’s this tiny, little thin folder at the back with about three good works in it: he treated Jesus with kindness, and he scolded his fellow thief and said, “What are you mocking this man for? We deserve to be here, and he doesn’t.”
What God will do is take all those files of sin, and he’ll throw them in the garbage and cover them with the blood of Jesus. And he’ll put out this other folder, which has one or two good works, and he’ll put them on the table in the courtroom and say, “Sufficient evidence that he was new and in me.”
I don’t want you to have a kind of quantitative view of good works here, as if you’ll get a scale going on here. Don’t think, “I’m piling up on the scale here, and then, oh, I blew it yesterday, so the scale is out of whack today.” It’s not like that. Real, genuine fruit of faith is real, and it shows reality. They will be laid on the table to the glory of God’s grace. Therefore, we will be judged according to and not on the basis of our works.
Superior Satisfaction in God
How then does faith do this great work of sanctification? This is my summary answer. Then we’re going to look at texts. Faith severs the root of sin. Sin has power by promising a better tomorrow, or at least a better this evening. Sexual sin is especially short-lived. The promises of sexual sin are very powerful and irrational because they promise such irrationally short-lived pleasure and huge trouble beyond, but we believe that lie. We believe it, and that’s why we do what we do.
True faith is of such a nature that it severs the root of sin by embracing a better future and providing a deeper satisfaction. The future grace of God is better, a better future, and faith in future grace is that deeper satisfaction in that future. When you live by faith in future grace, the power of sin is broken by the power of a superior satisfaction in all that God promises to be for us in Christ.
Let me say it again in my own words here. Nobody sins out of duty, right? Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “I don’t want to sin today, but I will because I should.” Nobody thinks that way. We only sin because we want to do what sin is telling us will make us happy.
It’s tax reporting time. I just filled out my taxes. I finished filling them out Sunday night. I’ve got unbelievably good ways to cheat the government because I get honorariums. I don’t keep any of them, but every now and then, there are incomes that come that the government wouldn’t know about. Sin says to me, “You’ve never been audited. Your record is so clean. You pay so much tax that $100 here and there is just not going to make a difference.”
Why would sin talk to me that way? He thinks I’m an idiot. He thinks I don’t have a superior satisfaction than what a $100 offers me. So I can say, “Get out of here. Be gone, Satan. Be gone, liar. You’re a liar, sin.” Now how can I say that? Where does that come from? It comes from a superior satisfaction in God. I fight fire with fire. Jonathan Edwards taught me to do this. C.S. Lewis taught me to do this. Dan Fuller taught me to do this. The Bible taught me to do this. I fight fire with fire, meaning, I fight pleasure with pleasure.
You can’t kill the pleasures of money, fame, acclaim, and sex with mere, “Don’t, don’t, don’t. Mama said don’t.” That’s a peashooter against a Sherman tank. I’ll tell you, if God comes down and gives you a glimpse of his glory and the preciousness of a close walk with Jesus — if he does that for you, and that’s what you should be crying out for — then these lies of the internet, these lies of covetousness, and these lies of self-promotion will lose their power by the power of a superior satisfaction. That’s what that paragraph was intended to say.
The Obedience of Faith
Let’s look at texts. Faith, I’m arguing, is the great worker of holiness, the great worker of love. Here are texts that show that because Bible texts have more power and clearly more authority than I do. First Thessalonians 1:2–3 says:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I think those are three ways of saying the same thing from different angles. Just focus on the phrase “work of faith.” What does “work of faith” mean? It means a work. Paul saw deeds being done so differently from what their idolatrous deeds were, and they were coming out of faith. Faith produces them.
Second Thessalonians 1:11 says:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power . . .
Paul’s praying down power into the lives of believers so that the resolves that they’re forming will not be legalism. Resolves can be legalistic. You can have all kinds of screwy motives for good resolves. You can have good resolves to read your Bible, good resolves to go to church, and good resolves to keep your nose sexually clean that have nothing to do with faith.
He’s praying for the opposite. He’s praying that power would come so that these good resolves would be fulfilled as works of faith, so that as you resolve to read your Bible, you say, “Lord, I can’t read my Bible. My heart, left to itself, wants to just look at the internet, track down some news stories, or read the Twitter feed. Your book is just not attractive. I cannot do this. I have to have power. I have to have a miracle happen. I’m going to trust you for that. I’m going to do it in the confidence that’s going to come.”
Acting in Faith of Future Grace
Oh, I’ve done this a thousand times in all kinds of unsavory aspects of the pastoral ministry. It’s the stuff you have to do but you don’t want to do and you know you ought to want to do. You set your face like flint and you’re right at the razor’s edge there between legalism where you’re trying to show off, or improve your standing with God, and crying out like a little kid who needs help to go to the hospital.
Let’s say I’m playing with my own kids and Mabel has had a heart attack, and I think the associate of mine should do this. You’re being all kinds of horrible. You get in the car, and you go. You know your heart is not right but you’re going. You’re doing the right thing. The razor’s edge of why you’re doing it is being played out.
I have seen this happen, I can’t tell you how many times, praying, “God, please, please,” in the elevator, going to the fourth floor of Abbott Hospital. I say, “God, please give me what I need here so that I can love this woman out of a heart of faith, out of a heart of trust, out of a heart of resting in you, out of a heart of being satisfied in all that you are for me in Jesus.” As I open the door and I see Mabel lying there with her eyes shut without knowing how close she is to death, I walk over and put my hand on her arm, and she opens her eyes. And like all the old people do in my church — young people never talk this — she says. “Oh, pastor, you shouldn’t have come.” Young people say, “It’s about time.” She says, “You shouldn’t have come. You’ve got more important things to do.”
In that moment, either in the paces between the door, or from the elevator, or from the car, God has worked a miracle so I can say to her authentically, “I know I didn’t have to, Mabel, but I want to be here because it will complete my joy if I could in any way just pour out some hope on you that God has given me in his own glory, and I could extend my pleasures in him into your life right now and help you either recover or get ready to meet Jesus.”
I do believe in walking into a path of obedience even before your heart is right. There is a hypocritical way to do that. We all know what hypocrisy is — walking in the path of obedience so others will think you’re something, kind of like the Pharisees. Instead of that, this would be walking in there brokenhearted, knowing that your heart is not what it ought to be, and crying out, “Oh God, come, come. While I’m walking in the path, come. Fill me with the sense of what I ought to be doing so this deed is not an empty shell — a mere legal compliance to rightness — but is a work of faith empowered.” That’s like this text says, empowered.
Sanctified by Faith
In Acts 26:18, Jesus is talking to Paul and says:
[I am sending you] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.
That’s one of the clearest phrases in the New Testament to state what I’m saying. How are we sanctified, made holy, and brought into conformity to Jesus? It’s by faith in Jesus. Or Galatians 5:6 says:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Faith is the great worker.
Not I, but the Grace of God with Me
Here’s one or two more, and then we’ll stop. Grace is a future power. The grace in which we trust is not only God’s disposition to save the unworthy. If it weren’t that, we would have no hope, but it’s more. It’s also the power of God exerted to bless us in the future with all that we need. Here’s a couple of illustrations of that, and then we’ll save the rest for tomorrow.
I love this text in 1 Corinthians 15:
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).
Now I want you to picture this in process, all right? Here’s Paul saved, and God gives him work to do. We just read about it in Acts 26. God gives him work to do, which is to spread the gospel all through Asia Minor, Greece, and get to Rome, then God will take him home. God is saying, “I want you to do this work. There will be a lot of sleepless nights, shipwrecks, dangers, imprisonments, and beatings. I have work for you to do. I want you to go do it.”
Paul says, “His grace that came to me there wasn’t in vain,” meaning, it produced work. So he worked. He worked one day. He worked the next day. He worked the next day. He got up again. When they let him out of jail, he went to another city to get imprisoned. He worked, and he worked, and he worked. Then he stops, steps back, and says, “But it was not I, but grace.”
Now what I mean by future grace is that between the time of the assignment and when he wrote this, grace arrived a thousand times. Grace arrived a thousand times. The working each day wasn’t Paul; it was grace. The working the next day wasn’t Paul; it was grace. The working the next day wasn’t Paul; it was grace. That’s what he says.
Grace has to be more than the disposition to save him. Grace is the ever-arriving power that Paul becomes a maniac for Jesus. He knew, “This is not me. In my flesh dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). The fact that I’m willing to be imprisoned is a miracle. I have counted on this miracle every hour of my life.”
All Grace for All Sufficiency at All Times
Here are a couple more examples of that grace. Second Corinthians 9:8 says:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
That’s the future, right? He’s able to do that for you tomorrow and tonight. Grace abounds for every good work. Where are those works coming from? They’re coming from the arrival of grace tonight and the arrival of grace tomorrow. This is the power of future grace. Grace is a power. This is what we’re counting on. This is what we’re banking on hour by hour.
Do you have a hard thing to do tonight, maybe tomorrow? Is there a phone call you really ought to make but you don’t want to make? What do you do? Do you run away from the hard thing? No. You say to him, “God, I can’t do it. I need power. I need you. I’m going to start dialing now.” Well, maybe you don’t dial anymore, but faith trusts the arrival of grace when you need it.
How many times he has done this. For Peter to get out of the boat on the water, he had to do that. What does faith do? Faith takes the step and receives power. With each step it arrived. It arrived. It wasn’t there in the boat. You can’t run your car on gratitude for yesterday’s gas. I have a few more things to say about gratitude. I love gratitude. You can’t be a Christian without gratitude. But a lot of people talk about being a Christian motivated solely by gratitude. It doesn’t work, I promise you.
Second Corinthians 12:9 says:
But he said to me, “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.
This grace that he’s promised as sufficient is coming in the future.
My conclusion of that little unit is, therefore, that though grace was given to us “before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9), and though it was the disposition of God that moved him to send his Son to die for us (Romans 3:24), it is also a divine power promised for our entire moment-by-moment future and given for our present experience. This would be a good place to stop. We’ll pick it up here in the morning, Lord willing, and see some examples of how it really works when it comes to being a patient person, a person who can kill lust, a person who can kill covetousness, and a person who can be free from anxiety. That’s where we’re going to try to go.