Future Grace (Q&A)

Desiring God 2013 Regional Conference

Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God

Scott Anderson: I’d like to introduce our panel before my voice gives out, and we’ll go ahead and start with some questions here in just a moment. Down on the far end there, we have Tullian Tchividjian. He is the senior pastor here at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He is also the author of several books, including his most recent book, Glorious Ruin. He is the founder of the Liberate Conference and the mission of Liberate is “to connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world.” Tullian is married to Kim and they have three children.

Then next to Tullian, we have Pastor Al Pino, he pastors Palm Vista Community Church in Miami Lakes. It was a church that he planted about 16 years ago with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Al is of Cuban descent and he’s married to Desiree. He has four children and four grandchildren. Next to Al, we have John Piper. John Piper is the former pastor for vision and preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Currently he serves as founder and teacher with us at Desiring God Ministries. He’s also the chancellor of Bethlehem College in seminary. He’s married to Noël. He has four sons and a daughter and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.

And then next to me we have Felipe Assis. He’s the founding pastor of Crossbridge Church in Miami. It’s a church plant associated with the Redeemer City to City network. Felipe is from Brazil, he’s married to Beth and they have two children.

What we’d like to do this morning to kick things off and the reason we’ve included some other panel members is to help you get some context for how this kind of teaching might be worked out in local churches, and particularly here in local churches in South Florida. So we’ll start with Tullian and then we’ll move to Al and Felipe. What I’d like you guys to do is give us a brief snapshot of your story and how this material has affected you personally through the years, and how it’s affected the way that you pastor your churches. Tullian?

Tullian Tchividjian: I’m not sure that I would phrase it in terms of how it uniquely shapes ministry in South Florida. Obviously, we are in a context that is relatively unchurched. I was telling some friends over lunch yesterday that it’s shocking at how large the South Florida area is, how heavily populated it is, and at the same time how unchurched it is. What I’ve learned over the years doing ministry down here is that — and Tim Keller was a huge help to me in this regard — one of the reasons people outside the church, from a human standpoint, reject Christianity is because it’s, in their minds, indistinguishable from moralism. When they hear Christianity, when they hear something about the Christian faith, they automatically assume a to-do list version of morality. So they reject it for whatever reason, a behavioristic version of Christianity.

So learning how to deconstruct moralism and legalism and show how it’s distinguished from the gospel of grace, I think has been a challenge. I say from time to time here in the church when I preach the gospel and distinguish it from moralism and legalism, “If you’re going to reject the Christian faith, reject what I just described. Don’t reject the caricature of what you have for whatever reason come to believe the Christian faith is about.” So I think an emphasis on God’s past, present, and future grace has been remarkably helpful in showing people what the Christian faith is really all about. The focus of the Christian faith is not the life of the Christian, it’s Christ and his person and his work, past, present, future. So that’s been hugely helpful.

In the introduction to Desiring God, which has been hugely helpful to me over the years, John says, “The only way I’ve learned to deal with the sin problem is to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God.” And I think unpacking that, what that looks like, showcasing the magnificence of Christ’s person and work, and his ongoing activity in our life and the promises he has made for our future is a huge help in helping people gain a distaste for the false gods and the idols that people are so addicted to, whether he or anywhere else.

Scott Anderson: That’s helpful. Thank you. Al?

Al Pino: I think early in my walk with the Lord, I was associated with a ministry that was very charismatic in every sense of the word, and saw faith acting powerfully in play, justifying and healing. They were filled with the Spirit, experiencing many of those things. But it would always seem like when it came to that sanctifying faith and people’s lives being changed there was that big question mark. You could see miracles happening and you could see auditoriums filled with people worshiping God with all of their might then, but when they went home they were doing things they knew they shouldn’t do. And the church was devastated by that. So the question was just really, really strong in my mind.

And then as I began to read about the doctrines of grace and went from this very charismatic ministry to Reformed theological seminary to study, I remember being in my Greek exegesis class studying Galatians 5:6 and trying to understand that. What is this faith that works through love? And how does that happen? I began to get into categories about the flesh and about the power of sin being broken, but the presence still being here. And I asked, “How does that work?” So personally, that’s been a journey for me since 1995 when the book first came out. I devoured it and began to try to apply it.

And then I have four children, so I’ve been relating it to raising children. I was just talking to my daughter back there at the break around the dinner table trying to understand these dynamics. So personally, it’s been a blessing with my kids. And then of course as we prayed earlier today in South Florida, it’s not unique but I think it just seems to be more on the surface, that pulsating sensuality, whatever you want to call it, can just be shocking almost. But the power of God is greater. So it’s applied to my life in church. That’s how we’ve sought to apply it and see it work.

Scott Anderson: Thank you, Al. Felipe?

Felipe Assis: I just read the book a couple of months ago when you guys sent me a copy.

Scott Anderson: Excellent. What’d you think?

Felipe Assis: It was great. It was almost like I was reading a new, contextualized version of some of John Owen’s writings, like Mortification of Sin. I appreciated how John was really practical with this book, especially towards the end. It also sounded very familiar with what I was exposed to when I was in seminary. I’m from Brazil and my dad is a pastor. He’s actually here today visiting, and I grew up in a denomination that was TR, you guys know what that means? It means Totally Reformed. It was filled with mean TRs, where the doctrines of grace were not necessarily transferred in a very practical way.

When I went to seminary in Brazil and then later on to RTS, while I was in RTS, I was studying under Dr. Doug Kelly — I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr. Doug Kelly — and he said, “I have a project for you guys. I want you guys to look into this material, the sonship seminars, and I want you to write a paper on it,” because it was very controversial back then, especially within the PCA and EPC circles. I decided actually to take the seminars, pay for the counseling that comes with the materials, and I think I really understood the gospel there because they were able to explain it in very practical ways, which most Reformed people have a very hard time explaining, like the doctrines of adoption, justification, and sanctification.

As I was reading your book the last few days, I was just thinking about that. There’s a different terminology to all of that, but it’s the same thing. It’s a practical application of the doctrines of adoption, justification, and sanctification, which have really changed my life, my approach to everything. My wife and I have been affected in the way that we relate to each other, the way we relate to our finances, to our children, to our ministry, etc. So it’s a very good work. The core of the doctrine that John develops in the book has been very important to me. Scott Anderson: Excellent. That’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing men. What we’d like to do as we continue this panel is that we’ve had a lot of folks submit questions on the cards and over Twitter and texting and such. We have what we think is a really helpful batch of questions, representative of the group. But as we’re going over these questions, if you men want to jump in at any time, feel free to as well. If there are some questions in your own mind about what you’ve maybe recently read in the book or what you’ve heard in the seminar, we’d love for you all to just interrupt or follow up on a question and tee up something else. But let’s start here. We had a question that came in, and I think this is probably playing off of last night, John. The question is this: “I’m confused by the use of the terms* salvation* and final salvation. I’ve not heard of that distinction before. Is that equal to justification and sanctification or something else?”

John Piper: That’s a very good question. The word salvation in the Bible is the big word that includes every part of God’s saving work from justification, adoption, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification, and glorification. I use salvation to cover that. So when I say final salvation, I simply mean the last act of it — glorification, eternal life, being in the kingdom, and passing muster at the judgment day. What I think throws people off is that the criteria for justification and the criteria at the end for final salvation at the judgment are not the same. In order to be justified, one needs to throw himself wholly on the mercy of God and the righteousness and blood of Jesus with no fruit at all, just trust. As soon as he’s born again, the evidence of his being a new creature in Christ and being justified, accepted, loved, and forgiven once for all, is that he begins to perform the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Those are required. The Bible says, “Pursue the holiness without which you won’t see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). So if you don’t use some phrase like final salvation is an evidence, or a result, of those acts distinguished from justification, then you’re going to confuse people about the ground of justification and the instrument of justification. The ground is the blood of Jesus and the instrument is faith alone, not any works at all. But the Bible is clear that at the end works have two functions. They evidence the reality of faith and they will be the means by which we are differently rewarded. So that’s the distinction. Final salvation is passing muster at the judgment and what you will need there is both justification and the evidence that you are justified. I’d love to know if there’s any better way to say that here or if anyone has any misgiving.

Felipe Assis: I would just like to ask you, in what ways do you see people being differently rewarded? I know that that’s a question that I get asked a lot in terms of good works.

John Piper: I’ll answer that. But if you have a question about the other, be sure to ask it. The best I can determine about the nature of the rewards is that some will be granted a higher capacity for joy than others. Edwards talks about it this way and Keller talks about it this way. I think if you ask what the parable of the cities means — you will get two cities, you’ll get five cities, and you’ll get 10 cities in the kingdom — I think at the root of it, at the bottom of it, in the performance of those acts in the kingdom, those different acts, you will have different capacities to enjoy him. The reason it’s a problem is because there will be no sadness. In other words, nobody’s cup will be three quarters full and therefore they will have an eternity of frustration. Well, if everybody is full, how can there be any distinctions if everybody is fully happy? And the answer is that they have different size cups, different capacities for joy, and everybody is as happy as he can be, and everybody is happy in the other person’s degree of happiness. What’s your view?

Felipe Assis: I’ve always had trouble understanding that precisely. But I was even thinking about the passage that you quoted this morning from the Sermon of the Mount, when Jesus is saying, “Rejoice because your reward is in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). To me, I don’t see different levels of reward. I see Jesus filling all in all. Going back to the words of the prophets, it says that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). And when I think of my reward in heaven as a future aspect of grace, I think of, “Who’s my reward in heaven?” When Stephen was being stoned to death, he looked, he had a vision of heaven, and he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God the Father. So my reward in heaven is an advocate. My reward in heaven is a representative. He’s there, and he’s my reward. He represents me before the Father. And to me, that’s what I see. Now, like Paul says, I see it like in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12), which back then was a fuzzy sort of object made of metal, but in the future I will see my reward face to face. It’s Jesus himself. So that’s how I see it.

John Piper: Well there’s no doubt that Jesus is the reward. The question is, what do the other texts mean that speak of varied rewards being recompensed according to the good or the evil that we have done? Examples would be 2 Corinthians 5:8, Romans 14:10, and 1 Corinthians 3:10–15, where if you build on this foundation with wood, hay and stubble, that will be burned up, but if you build of silver and gold, it will be rewarded. Whether those texts are sufficiently dealt with in just saying, “We all get Jesus,” I’m not sure. We do all get Jesus and Jesus is the sum. So the way I’ve tried to say yes to that and yes to those texts is to say that your capacity to enjoy Jesus might be bigger than mine. It’s the same reward and the same satisfaction, but I’m trying to come to terms with all the texts that deal with differences in rewards. That’s the way Edwards and others have tried to do it and that’s my best shot. So it doesn’t at all disagree with saying Jesus is it. But it’s then saying, okay, what are these differences then? And I think the capacity to enjoy Jesus might be different.

Tullian Tchividjian: I have two quotes. One is going back to the first answer you gave regarding the relationship of faith and works and final salvation. One simple Reformation phrase that has always helped me is simply “faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” It is as the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks about. It is the nature of faith to produce good works, which is always described as loving, sacrificial service to our neighbor. So that’s always been helpful, that distinction.

Then I think regardless of what one might say about rewards, that is a thorny, sticky subject for at least the numerous people that I have talked to. Everyone seems to have a question about that. It’s hard for people to come to terms with those texts. Referring back to what Augustine said, he stated, “Even the rewards received are God crowning his own gifts.” So the reward that is received, however it’s described or defined, is not something that we have accomplished independent of who Christ is and what he has accomplished and will accomplish on our behalf. It’s God recognizing his work in and through us and therefore receiving all the glory.

John Piper: That’s good. Totally.

Scott Anderson: Let me tag on a follow-up question to that first question about salvation and final salvation. This question came in: “If believers are judged according to works, what assurance do we have of final salvation in light of a text like Matthew 7:23. This text seems to indicate that Jesus will say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you,’ to some who both profess faith and manifest that faith through good works, like casting out demons, doing mighty works, and that type of thing. So how can we know whether our works are the result of saving faith or whether we are simply self-deceived and not really known by the Father?”

John Piper: What he said in that verse was, “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of iniquity,” not, “you workers of good.” They cast out demons. That’s not a good work. The devil can cast out demons. They heal the sick. The devil can heal the sick. The working of iniquity is doing unloving things to people. So the question of assurance is a real question no matter what your view of works and the role they have in the final judgment is, because the question reduces to, “How do you know you have faith?” If you say, “I don’t think you have to give any evidence of your faith in works.” I would say, okay, fine, but how do you know you have faith? They might say, “Well, I just have it.” BUt I would say, “Well, you could be self-deceived.” So all of us wrestle with assurance. There are late night moments for the most veteran saint who says, “Am I real?” There are a lot of perks in the ministry. You write books, you have audiences, and you don’t need to be saved to do that.

The devil can whisper in our ear, “You’re not real, you just love the strokes. That’s why you’re in it.” So the problem of assurance is there for everybody. And the answer of 1 John is to point us to transformation in our lives. That’s not the only answer in the New Testament. Romans 8:15 is the bottom line answer, I think, where it says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God when we cry, Abba Father. So when you cry out in your dark night, “Oh God, you’re my Father,” at that moment the Spirit is going to testify you are real. That’s a real statement to say “you’re my Father.” You’re real, or it’s not there. And if it doesn’t, there isn’t any trick to assurance. There isn’t any list you can check off. There isn’t any deed you can do. There isn’t anything. It is a profoundly spiritually subjective experience.

The other thing that’s so helpful for me is 1 Corinthians 12:3, which says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” So you have two statements, “You are my Father,” and, “Jesus, you are Lord.” If you mean those statements, you can have assurance. But the devil will make you crazy asking, “Did I really mean it when I said ‘Jesus is Lord’? Did I really mean it when I said ‘God, you are my Father’? And the only answer is look to the cross and hope it happens.

Tullian Tchividjian: I think the Matthew 7 passage is one that has haunted people for a long, long time because Jesus says there will be many on that last day who cry out, “Lord, lord.” These are not outside the church people. These are not atheists and agnostics. These are people who are crying out, “Lord, Lord,” who are doing works in Jesus’s name, the passage says. These are people where you get to the end and Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” C.S. Lewis’s remarkable words on this was, “Banished from the presence of him who is everywhere, and erased from the knowledge of him who knows all.” It’s an amazing statement regarding that passage. But you get to the end where he says, “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of iniquity,” and it begs the question in context, well what are works of iniquity?

Within the context of those verses, works of iniquity are works of trusting in me and my doing and not Christ and his doing. They say, “I did this in your name and I did that in your name. Look at all these remarkable things I’ve done in your name.” In other words, it’s ultimately about faith. The reason those people are ultimately cast away is because their ultimate trust, their ultimate faith was in what they were doing, not what Christ has done. I think that’s super important to keep in mind because otherwise “you workers of iniquity” is left undefined and you go, “Well what does that mean?” And we all attach different descriptions of what works of iniquity look like. Within that context, I think the bottom line is that a worker of iniquity is someone who is ultimately trusting in what they have done instead of what Jesus has done for them. I think that’s important.

Felipe Assis: This reminds me of a passage in the Bible where Peter and John are preaching the gospel and they’re healing the sick. And then Simon, the magician, comes in and the text says that he’s baptized, he believes, and he receives the word. And then the apostles came from Jerusalem to witness what was going on there. And then he asked them, “Hey, can you give me some of the gift so that I can use that as well when I lay my hands on people, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit?” And he’s reproached. There are many people, I think, in the context of the church, especially in America, that are doing a lot of good in Jesus’s name, but it’s flowing out of a sense of self-confidence. In fact, a lot of the teaching in the churches is how to build your self-confidence, how to boost it up, and how to have a victorious life, and this sort of thing. But they depart from a true understanding of who they truly are in Jesus Christ and they’re standing in God.

Scott Anderson: That’s very helpful. John, another question has come in, and actually it came in a couple of forms and I’ll see if I can fuse these together. One question read this way: “How does a Christian grow? Is it by faith in future grace or by faith in one’s justification? Is there a difference?” That’s related to another question that came in, and I’m assuming this is maybe from somebody here at Coral Ridge: “Noting that Pastor Tullian often emphasizes the role of past grace (justification) in our current sanctification. Pastor John, you seem to emphasize the role of future grace. So how do these two emphases work together and are they in competition or not?”

John Piper: Well, those are two very different questions. Let me start with the second one. How do we grow, and then how to past grace and future grace go together. I gave five minutes to that, but I’ll put it in a minute. The essence and heart of past grace is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for undeserving people. If that hadn’t happened, there’d be no future grace for anybody. There would be hell for everybody. Therefore, all hopes of future grace are built upon the confidence of the past grace of the cross, and therefore, you never leave the cross behind. I love the renewed gospel emphasis of our day, which produces book after book after book of focus on the center, which is Christ crucified. All I’m doing is drawing out the necessary and explicit biblical implication that what happened there to sanctify me was the purchase of present and future power. That’s what he bought when he died for me. Otherwise, it would make no difference in my life at all.

But 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).

That grace was bought by Jesus, and therefore my heart should sing over the cross with every step I take in future grace because it was bought by the blood of Jesus. So there’s the connection.

He who did not spare his own Son (past grace), but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things (future grace)? (Romans 8:32).

That’s the logic. The logic is, if he did that much, would he not do this? But this is where we live and I’m not sure people get that. That’s why I teach on it. In order to put your foot in the next step of obedience is done in the power of a grace that arises for that which was bought back there. But it’s a grace that arrives for this moment and this is what you need. This is what you trust right now: the power of the grace to help you make the phone call, or stay in the marriage, or discipline the kid, or forgive the kid, or whatever. These are present experiences of ever-arriving grace and there would be none of them if there weren’t the cross.

Now regarding the question of you grow, I don’t think either of the answers that were suggested there is what I would say. There’s another seminar to be given called How to Grow in Faith in Future Grace. I haven’t said hardly a word about it, not a word. And the answer is read your Bible.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

And that’s not just when you got saved, but every day of your life. The only way faith grows is by God speaking to you, saying, “I’ll do this for you.” And when he says, “I’ll do this for you,” faith rises. And if you don’t hear him talking from the Bible to you, your faith is going to get smaller and smaller and smaller. Faith is a response to revelation. So hearing with faith is the way the Holy Spirit comes. So the task of growing involves walking out of here and saying, “Okay, I think I got the logical structure of all that and the way faith is supposed to work. Now, where does it come from tomorrow morning?” And my answer is, John Piper got up this morning at 6:30 a.m., not 7:30 a.m., in order that I might read four chapters in the Bible and cry out to God for him to show himself to me so that my faith would rise. That’s the way I live my life.

Scott Anderson: That’s very helpful. Let me ask another question here. “Is living for the promise of future reward selfish? Why would God seek to motivate us this way? Shouldn’t we be motivated toward holiness for the love of holiness?”

John Piper: No, no. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Enduring the cross was the most holy act that was ever performed on the planet. It was the most loving act that was ever performed. This is Immanuel Kant, not the Bible. Doing right for right’s sake is a philosophical atheism. Doing what’s right because it’s right is atheism. Doing what’s right because God has given it to you as a pathway to him and joy is godward and theistic. It is not morally defective to want to be happy in God. It’s morally defective to want to be happy in money and alternatives to God, any of them, morality or immorality. Alternatives to God as a path to happiness are the essence of sin. What God calls you to be is happy in him and that’s the way you defeat all other promises of happiness. So that is such an important question to ask.

There’s a seminar before this one. There’s one after this one and one before it, and the one before this is to persuade you that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. In other words, the pursuit of your satisfaction is the only way ultimately to glorify God as fully as he should be. If you do obedience for obedience’s sake, or holiness for holiness’s sake, why would God be honored at that? God is honored because he satisfies your soul. He’s seen to be beautiful and valuable and you treasure him above all things. That delight in him is not a sin. It’s the right motivation.

Al Pino: I was just thinking about that passage in Hebrews 11:6 that he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him. So I think the Bible gives us that motivation and it makes sense.

Scott Anderson: Very good. Let me ask a different one. John, you alluded in one of your answers just a few moments ago to what Satan can do in our sanctification, and this question sharpens that a little bit more. This person writes, “I appreciate the talks on fighting for faith and the emphasis on fighting against our remaining and indwelling sin. The Scripture also seems to put significant emphasis on the believer fighting against the enemy, Satan. Could you speak to that a little bit? What is the connection between our fighting for faith against indwelling sin and our fighting against the enemy of our souls in this quest for joy?”

John Piper: It’s the same fight and he’s real. Jesus modeled for us how to fight the devil, right? The devil says, “If you’re the son of God, turn the stone into bread. If you’re the son of God, jump off the temple. If you’re the Son of God, bow and worship me.” And what does he do every time? He quotes the Bible and he believes it, he believes it. He says, “Man should not live by bread alone. Live by me. Every word that comes out of my mouth.” And he says, “I believe you, Father, I’m not going to do what this devil is saying.”

I believe the devil is a murderer and a liar fundamentally from the beginning, and the way he murders is by lying. Therefore, everything I’ve been talking about is demonic. It’s all having to do with the devil. The devil is behind every temptation. I didn’t talk about the devil much, a little bit, because I think he is fought not by power encounters mainly, but by truth encounters mainly. I think the devil is put to flight by trusting Christ. He cannot abide faith, he cannot stand joy. I participated in one exorcism in my life. I think I’ve put the devil to flight every day of my life. But I’ve participated in one ugly and amazing exorcism. And just to put a long story in. It came to a crisis after about two hours of demonic encounter with a demon possessed woman. It came to a crisis by singing truth. We sang over her until she went mad.

The devil hated our singing. She flopped on the floor, flailed around like a fish screaming to stop it. And then she went unconscious, could not stand the singing, the joy of truth. And when she woke up, she was a totally different person. Her face was different and her voice was different. She had knocked the Bible out of my hand over and over again as I tried to read it and I put it in her hand when she woke up and I said, “Read Romans 8 to me.” She read the whole chapter and came to our church after that for months. The heart of that deliverance at that moment was a truth issue, truth enjoyed.

We used the tune, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.” Somebody just started singing that. We had about eight people in the room and we wouldn’t let her out. She had a pen knife and she was trying to stick people with it. They wouldn’t let her out. So I knew God was powerfully present. We just sang that song and when the hallelujahs were over, people just began to put other biblical truths in there. It drove him out of her. So Satan hates truth. He hates joy in the truth, and therefore, if you bump into him, which you do every day, live in the truth, the sword of the Spirit is the one offensive weapon to stick the devil with. And it’s called the word of God.

Felipe Assis: I remember Keller once said something that was really helpful. He said that the devil does two things. The two ways in which he attacks us is by tempting and by accusing. When tempting, he magnifies the pleasures outside of God. When accusing, he minimizes your status before God. And so you fight with the truth. When he accuses you, you remind yourself through the Scriptures of who you are in Christ. You’re a new creation, you are a child, etc. That’s what the Spirit does, right? The Spirit reminds us of that gospel. But the Scripture has to be read, it has to be memorized, and it has to be in you. And in temptation you fight it by what you were talking about these last two sessions, remind yourself that the pleasures in God are greater and they’re long-lasting and they’re eternal. That was helpful to me.

Al Pino: I’m not sure that this would be appropriate at this moment. If not, cut me off and we’ll go to the next one.

Tullian Tchividjian: You’re not going to perform an exorcism, are you? I just wanted to get out of the way.

Al Pino: I’m coming from the charismatic world and oftentimes sanctification might be couched in terms of a spiritual warfare, and casting out the demon of fill in the blank. Obviously, I’ve seen for years that it isn’t effective. And then I realized that spiritual warfare often is this truth encounter. For example, we can look at warfare in Colossians 3. You have the objective truth, the indicative of what’s happened in Colossians 3:1–4, and you have this spiritual warfare that’s applying the future grace, faith in God’s power, to be able to enable me to say no to these horrific things in Colossians 3:5–9, to be able to put them to death. He’s writing to Christians and speaks about sexual immorality, lust, covetousness, which is idolatry, anger, wrath, etc. So there is a battle there.

It’s a truth battle. It’s applying that grace, the indicative, as we begin to have faith for the imperative, and then putting it on as God’s holy people, dearly beloved. So the battle is believing that, putting on compassion, mercy, patience, and kindness, and letting the word dwell richly within us. I’m just realizing that probably is the context of spiritual warfare for most of us. I’m not denying the other can’t happen occasionally. But probably every day, it’s that battle. It’s that Colossians 3:1–17 battle.

Scott Anderson: That’s very helpful. Thanks for pointing us to that text. Well as we round for home in the next couple of minutes, I’ll see if we can get in two more questions here. Someone asks, “Pastor John, you said that faith in future grace is necessary because gratitude is not enough to empower a Christian in pressing forward. Could you just go over this one more time? Why is a heart of gratitude not enough?”

John Piper: Because the Bible, not John Piper, says that we are to live by faith. It never says “live by gratitude.” It says live by faith. In fact, it is stunning to me that remarkably well-respected theologians can sum up the main motive for Christian living as gratitude when the Bible never does. I mean, it never explicitly says “live by gratitude.” It’s always talking about living by faith. Now, to say it negatively like that makes me sound like I’m dumping on gratitude. You can’t be saved without gratitude. In fact, Romans 1 says the reason these Gentiles are lost is because they did not give thanks to God or glorify him (Romans 1:21). We cannot be saved if we’re not thankful people. And I could preach a whole series of messages on the ethical effects of gratitude on the Christian life. Let all foul talk be put away from you and replace it with gratitude (Colossians 3:8). Gratitude pushes out certain kinds of ugliness from your mouth. You can’t be a thankful husband and a bitter, mean-spirited husband at the same time. So amen to the necessity of gratitude and the moral importance of gratitude.

However, gratitude is a focus on past grace and what I need for the next hour is more power. I need power, and gratitude isn’t what I need. I need the Holy Spirit to arrive. Does he who supplies the Holy Spirit to you do so by works of the law (Galatians 3:5), or by gratitude? No, he does it by hearing with faith. So I’m just a desperate person. That’s why I talk about the inadequacy of gratitude. I think a morality that only is argued for in terms of “this is what you do if you’re grateful” will lead to a works religion. It will lead to a payback religion.

Thy life was given for me; What have I given for thee?

We know the tune and it did not serve me well growing up. I didn’t have what I needed. I would say, “Okay, he did that much for you, now what do I do?” It just didn’t click. It misses something so profound, namely, he’s arriving with grace every day, so trust and believe in it. That’s a different kind of orientation towards doing the next thing than saying, “Okay, I’m supposed to do the next thing. He did that much for me. Now I will perform.” It shouldn’t lead to that. It doesn’t have to lead to that. A gratitude ethic doesn’t have to go there, but it can. And I think a good antidote to keep it from going there is a little two-hour seminar on future grace.

Felipe Assis: And you can never pay back to the level that Christ has paid. It frustrates you, it disappoints you. You think, “Ah I can’t ever do it like you did it.”

John Piper: In fact, you can’t pay back anything. Here’s the reason. Can I stand up? I’m required to take a step of obedience in gratitude for grace, but the step of obedience is reliance upon grace. So I’m going deeper into debt with every step. I’m going deeper into debt with every step of reliance upon future grace, and I am simply happy to have it so. I will be a debtor to grace increasingly forever. Every step I take in heaven will be a step of reliance upon undeserved grace. I don’t deserve to be there, which means my debt is getting bigger forever. So all thought of payback is insane. It’s dishonoring to the Lord. It’s a contradiction of what grace is. Grace can’t be paid back by definition. If you pay it back, it’s a mortgage payment.

Felipe Assis: The hymn writer says, “A debtor to mercy alone,” right?

John Piper: Yeah, and no payback.

Scott Anderson: That was great. That was very, very helpful. Little mini conference in that one answer question. Thank you Pastor John. Let’s end with this question. You mentioned the desperation you have, and this perhaps is coming from someone with a desperate heart. They’ve written this to us: “My heart, it feels like, has been hardened to the point that I don’t have emotional feelings of love for what Jesus did for me. Having heard this seminar, what is my next step? What should I do?” It’s open to any of you men.

Al Pino: Well, it sounds like they’ve done it. They wrote that question, and that’s the first step of humble, desperate, crying out. If you’re listening, if you’re here, I think the next step would be beginning to review some of these texts. I think the Romans 5 passage would be appropriate. If we look at biblically, Hebrews would describe that hardness of heart, like in Hebrews 3 and 4, as unbelief. And we all battle it. And so as the water of the word begins to just drip on it, it will soften. Perhaps listen to scripture. Maybe you can’t even read it. Just listen to it or grab a friend and say, “Read it to me.” They’re doing it. I just pray for that person, and I’d love to pray for them before we’re done here. God is faithful. Like John said, he’s the one initiating, he’s the one reaching out.

Tullian Tchividjian: For me, I think that there is not a Christian that has ever lived or will ever live that won’t experience what this person is saying. And when I hear that and I reflect back on times in my life when I have felt that way, it brings me tremendous comfort to know that God’s love for me is ultimately dependent on Christ’s infallible devotion to me, not my fallible devotion to him. If ultimately my comfort came from how well I’m doing or how much I feel love in my heart for God today, I would live in a constant state of despair. Or I would be deceiving myself into believing that I’m actually better than I am. For me, that’s where you preach the gospel to yourself and you go back to those familiar passages, like Romans 8:1. James Montgomery Boice said that Romans 8:1 is not simply the central thesis of Romans 8, and it’s not simply the central thesis of Romans; it’s the central thesis of the Bible."

I go back all the time to Romans 8:31–39 to the idea that there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love because of what Jesus has done and continues to do for me. Our ultimate rest, our ultimate hope, our ultimate comfort comes from Christ’s work for us, not our work for him. If it was based on my work for him, I’d be in big trouble. We’d all be in big trouble. If it was based on my feelings for God, I’d be in big trouble, because my feelings for God fluctuate. Sometimes they’re high and sometimes they’re low. But God’s feelings for me because of what Christ has done, clothed in his righteousness, is unfluctuating.

Felipe Assis: I think it always starts, from here onward, with repentance, right? That’s how the Christian life starts, and that’s how it’s rebirthed every day. It’s through repentance and realizing that. What has gotten me out of the bed and what keeps me going? Is it grace, past and future, or is it not? And whatever else is taking that place, let there be repentance. That’s how sin is killed, I think. It’s faith applied in the context of repentance.

John Piper: For that person in particular, two texts come to mind. First, Psalm 40:1–3 says:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
     he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
     out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
 ​​    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth . . .

Now for you, you’re in the bog. So what the text says is, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Just don’t kill yourself, don’t leave your marriage, and don’t curse Christ. Wait. That’s the first thing. Sometimes it’s just so dark all you can do is not destroy yourself. Just wait. Have that much faith. Just wait.

And the second thing that comes to my mind, because you used the word hardness, is Hebrews 3:12–13, which says:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

So invite someone into your life to love you. Sometimes when we don’t have the strength to read the Bible or pray or do anything, we’re just numb with hardness, like a stone, another person can read to us, pray for us, sing over us, and just sit with us. So don’t isolate yourself. Go ahead, draw near to another person, and then we’ll pray that God will cause the darkness and the hardness to lift.

Scott Anderson: Amen. Let me tell you what’s going to happen next. I’m going to have Pastor John close this session out in prayer, and then as the panel dismisses back to their seats, I have a few closing announcements. But if you’re able to stay, we’re going to have the worship team come back and we’re all going to stand and sing one final song to one another and to the Lord. So Pastor John, would you close us in prayer please?

John Piper: Father in heaven, beginning with the person who confessed their hardness, we pray for him or her and how representative they are of all of us at some time, like Tullian said. We pray that by your grace, the truth that this panel has spoken and that I’ve tried to speak would be used by the Holy Spirit to grant faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. The Holy Spirit is supplied by hearing with faith. And I pray that all the hearing that’s happened here would now be pressed by the Holy Spirit into life, into awakening, into joy, and into hope. Then don’t let anyone despair, Lord. Don’t let anyone give up on you or your word. Come to them, I pray, in Jesus’s name. Amen.