The following is a lightly edited transcript of the message.
My question this morning for this message is “How do you keep on going (for 130 years)?” And I know nobody in this room is going to live 130 years, so that is not a relevant question for you. Except congregationally, how can we keep on going for another 130 years? But the question I am asking is: How do I keep going until my time is up? And I have got a long list of obstacles for you to keep on going. But let me try to answer the question briefly. “How do you keep on going?”
And my answer is to go to our mission statement. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. And then to turn to our spiritual dynamic that says we are going to do this by treasuring all that God is, loving all whom he loves, praying for all his purposes, meditating on all his word. And then the last one is all-important. Sustained by all his grace.
So, the question: How do you keep on going in life, in marriage, in parenting, in mission, in jobs, through surgeries? How do you keep on going? And the answer: by grace, sustained by his grace. And so the question now is: How? How do you pay a tribute to grace this morning? How do you pay a tribute to 130 years of grace? How do you pay a tribute right now in your life sitting there to all the grace that got you here this morning? Believer or unbeliever, you are here by grace this morning. How do you honor God for that?
And many people would say — and they would be absolutely right — give him thanks. Give him thanks. Give him thanks. And we have. And we will forever and ever. We will give God thanks. But do you know what? That is the way you honor God for past grace. It is not the way you honor him for future grace.
Life Runs On Future Grace
In answer to the question: How do you keep on going at age 55 for another one year or two or five? The answer is not out of gratitude for past grace. That is not the right answer. I am going to run this car on gratitude for yesterday’s gas. That won’t work. Fumes won’t work. Instead, you have got to believe that the rest of this day, the rest of this week, the rest of this month, the rest of this year and the rest of this life there is going to be more and more and more future grace. I will tell you the verse I get that from, 2 Corinthians 9:8:
God is able to make all grace abound to you so that you may have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.
So something shocking emerges. Namely, if you were to try to do the rest of your life out of gratitude for past grace and think in terms of, “All right, he has done so much for me. Now I am going to render back to him what is owing to him so that I can make up some of the wonderful benefit I have received from him,” that would be a colossal mistake for a lot of reasons.
Good Works Put Us In Debt
Let me give you just one. It is impossible. Why try the impossible when it would dishonor God anyway if you did it? Now, here is why I say it is impossible for you to pay anything back to God. The verse we just read from 2 Corinthians 9:8 says: “God is able to make all grace abound to you that you may provide in abundance for every good work.”
So you get it in your head: “All right. God has been gracious to me for 55 years or 10 years or 30 years. I am going to now devote this afternoon to paying God back for that grace, at least a teeny bit in part. I know I never can fully, but a little bit I am going to pay back today. And so what will I do today? I will do some good works.”
“How do you repay God for all his gifts to you? Lift your empty cup and say: ‘O, God, please, more grace, more grace!’”
Wait a minute. The verse said God is able to make all grace abound to you so that you may provide in abundance for every good work. You know what happens when you do a good work this afternoon? You go deeper in debt to grace. You don’t crawl out one millimeter. You don’t pay back one dime of grace when you do a good work this afternoon. Why? Because that good work is a gift of grace to you. It is impossible to pay God back. Every good thing you do for his glory takes you deeper into debt. It doesn’t get you out of debt.
So you know how I am going to close this sermon this morning? I am going to say: Join me in the race into debt. To God, not the bank. No, no, no. Not the bank for that building. We are not going to do it that way, though we could. You all have house mortgages. I know. But we are going to race in this church into debt to grace. And I am going to say: Join me in praying for more grace. Join me in being desperate for more grace. Join me in crying out and depending on more grace.
Let’s get deep, deep, deep in debt to grace, forever and ever and ever. Oh, may the hole be deep, deep, deep. And may you be at the bottom of it with grace all over you. That is the way I live the Christian life. I am a debtor to grace. I intend to stay a debtor to grace.
What Do We Pay God?
I don’t intend to pay God back for any of this, to which somebody now objects: “Wait a minute. You are on a roll here, but be careful. What about Psalm 116:12?”
What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
Sounds like payback time. What shall I render? I am rendering. I am paying back. What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits to me. He gives to me. I give back to him. Well, the next verse says: here is the answer to my question, “What I will render to the Lord?”
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 112:13)
How do you render back to God for all of his benefits to you? You lift an empty cup and say: “Oh, God, please more grace, more grace. I am turning away from the world. I am turning away from sin. I am turning away from self. And I am leaning more and more on your grace. Fill it up, Lord.”
And the Lord looks at you and says: “That is an odd way to pay me back. Ask for more?” And then this big smile comes over his face and says: “That is exactly the right answer to that question.”
And it is. We pay God back by depending on him more and, thus, he gets glory. And that is what we are about here. We want to magnify Jesus and magnify God and it is real plain in 1 Peter 4:11 which is one of the verses that drives this church, namely, “Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God may get the glory.”
You want to give glory to God? Don’t pay him anything. Don’t pay God. You make him look needy when you pay God. Come to services to get more of God, to feed on God, to delight in God, to get strengthened by God. Serve God in the strength that he supplies. Then he will get the glory. You serve him in the strength that you supply, you will get the glory. And we are not about getting glory for ourselves. We want glory for Jesus. So we are bankrupt. We are poor. We are hungry. We are thirsty, really thirsty, right? And we are going to stay that way forever and ever and ever. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).
1. Future Grace Gives Hope To Sufferers
Now let me move through illustrations to the end. That is my point. And now the rest is illustration. Practical ways of living by faith in more grace — future grace. How do you keep going when you are sick? I opened up World magazine last week and I had to sit down. I had to sit down, because there was this picture of a man from 1973 in Africa with smallpox covering his face, chest, arms and legs with no space in between the horrid pox and boils. And I just said to Noel: Oh God, oh God, oh God. It was the worse picture I think I have ever seen of a human being in my life. And everything in me says: How do you keep going? How do you not kill yourself? How do you not jump off a cliff or just drown yourself? How do you begin to keep going? It is just one of these horrid, horrid faces.
Well, the next thing I thought as I sat there feeling the impossibility of life under those circumstances was: I am so glad I am a Christian pastor, because I have got a word for that man. I wonder if you would go to the same place I would to get the word. Two preliminary words that probably would not land on him with as much force as I hope the third one would.
Hope For Healing
The first word would be God heals. God heals (see 1 Corinthians 12:9). He gives gifts of healing to his Church and he intends in this crowd right now to touch people and heal people. And I just say: Lord, stretch out your hand across this people right now and heal cancer. Heal arthritis. Heal shingles. Heal iliac. Heal simple things like sore throats and colds and heal eyes and heal ears. God does that and I don’t doubt he will answer that prayer for some of you right now. I don’t want to minimize that. He does it for his great name’s sake.
Hope In Weakness
And then second thing I would say is he gives sustaining grace for this life when he doesn’t heal. 2 Corinthians 12:8:
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times: Take this thorn away from my life. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in your weakness.
No, I will not take this thorn away. I have another purpose in your life. I could heal it. I may heal it later. For now, trust me. Magnify my grace by your faith. I think those two things could minister to this man if God would grant him faith. But, you know, here is the thing that we have. Romans 8:23:
Not only this, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit groan in ourselves, eagerly awaiting our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
So right now in this — I want to say in this room. On this parking lot right now some of you are in conditions that simply yield groanings. Groanings are all you can get out. And God says: that is the Holy Spirit groaning within you, groaning within you. If you are believing, there is coming a day in which I will be complete in my adoption and my body — this broken, dying body — is going to be totally new, totally healed, totally beautiful and not pocked all over with horrid sores or leprosy.
That is my message. That is ultimately my message, because I know that in this fallen world there is always going to be brokenness of every kind. This church, no matter how big or small it is, is going to have broken, suffering, groaning people in it till the day Jesus comes or the day they die. And if we don’t have a message for those people of sustaining grace in pain and glorious reward after pain, we don’t have a gospel at all. But we have one and it is all bought by Jesus Christ.
So my answer: How do you keep on going in sickness? You believe in healing. You believe in sustaining grace and you believe in the resurrection and the resurrection is best of all. “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Corinthians 15:19), but if there is a resurrection coming, oh what a day is in front of us! For the Christian, the best is always to come. I will walk into a room where the person is about to breathe his last in Christ and say: “The best is yet to come.” Without any hesitation of being proven wrong whatsoever.
2. Future Grace Is for the Persecuted
Second application: How do you keep going when you are persecuted or threatened with danger? Answer: trust in the near future grace of God and the far future grace of God. The near one goes like this. Hebrews 13. God speaking: “I will never forsake you. I will never abandon you.”
“God raises the dead. God makes stones into people. And God takes out hearts of stone and puts in hearts of flesh.”
Therefore, we can confidently say: “The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me? We trust in the Lord.” He says, “They cannot hurt you any other way than what I permit them to hurt you, for your infinite good.”
So what is the word of distant grace to keep going through persecution at that moment? One of the answers of many in the Bible is “Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely. Rejoice in that day and be glad for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12).
Look, if we become worldly in our “Churchianity” and just treat Christianity as a way to have nice music, nice buildings, nice clothes, nice houses, nice cars, nice fellowship, we don’t have Christianity, we have a club. Anybody can do that. But reward in heaven that frees you to give up nice places and nice houses and nice cars and nice clothes and nice fellowship that is a miracle and that is Christianity. There is reward coming. 2 Corinthians 4:17:
This light, momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory.
Notice. It is working. It is not just following it. Get that. Jesus said in Matthew 5:12. It follows it. That is true. There is more truth, namely, this momentary affliction of persecution or sickness is working, producing an eternal weight of glory. If you think this is a glorious day, if you think God is declaring his glory through these, you ain’t seen nothing yet, because there is coming a glory when he stands forth. Imagine that blue up there just rolling up like a scroll some day. Then you will see glory.
3. Future Grace Is for the Disappointed
Third illustration: How do you keep going in painful disappointments in your family, a marriage that breaks up, a marriage that never happened, abandonment, unbelief in a family member, no children, unwanted children, all those kinds of things, disappointments in life? How do you keep going when you settle in and you say: I guess I will never be married? And you wanted to be married. Or I guess we will never have our own biological children and we wanted to have biological children. Or I thought this marriage would last until one of us died. How do you keep going? I mean those things are harder than sickness and persecution.
Grace Softens Hard Hearts
Well, you trust in the future grace. I have got three ideas. One, that God can change the hardest heart, an alienated spouse or a wayward child. Matthew 3:9. God can raise up from these stones children of Abraham. So there is a bed of stones right there under those green bushes. If God wanted to, he would say to one of those stones: Little stones, preach. And I would just vanish. And that little stone would hop up here and preach to you. That is not hard for God to do. And therefore he is able to bring back spouses. He is able to bring back children.
Ezekiel 11:19: “I will take out the heart of stone and I will put in the heart of flesh.” He can do that. He has to do that. There is no other hope. Ephesians 2:5: “Even when we were dead in trespasses and sins God in his great mercy made us alive in Christ Jesus. By grace you have been saved.” God raises the dead. God makes stones into people. And God takes out hearts of stone and puts in hearts of flesh.
So don’t give up hoping. Don’t give up praying. Pray for the marriage. Pray for the kids. Pray for the parents. Pray for each other. Let’s see miracles happen in the rest of this year.
Grace Empathizes With Weakness
Or here is another way to trust in future grace in those situations. Hebrews 4:15: “We don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every point was tempted like we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us come boldly before the throne of grace that we may receive grace, mercy to help in time of need, time of need, time of need.”
And when you come in the time of need — the marriage is painful and the kids are painful and the wider relatives are painful and it just feels like you are going to be torn in half inside — you come to the throne and it says you don’t find a high priest who says: oh, well, I was never was married, so I don’t really know what you are going through. That is not what you find. You find a Jesus who says: I know what it is to be betrayed in the worse time. I know what it is to be denied in the first worst time. I know what it is to be forsaken by everybody I thought who loved me and just vanished at the time when I needed them most. I know what that is. I know what that is. That is the kind of Christ you find.
Grace Provides Purpose For Single People
And if you are single and you wish it weren’t that way, that is ok to be happy and single. I know lots of contented, useful, energetic, fulfilled single people. And I know a bunch who would like it not to be that way. And there are a lot who are both. It is possible to do both. What do you do? How do you go on as you contemplate getting old by yourself? Isaiah 56:5:
To the eunuchs say: I will give him my house and within my walls a memorial to you, a name better than sons and a name better than daughters. I will give them an everlasting name, which will not be cut off.
You can say with the psalmist: “Whom have I in heaven but thee and on earth I don’t have anybody but thee. You are the strength of my heart.” You are my portion forever and I will not lick my wounds in perpetual self pity. I will throw my God given life into the ministry of his people and the ministry of neighborhoods and the ministry of nations until I marry the Lamb.
And there is no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven. It is a stop gap means of filling the world with people and a few delights along the way and a lot of pain along the way. But the main thing in this world is not marriage. The main thing is Christ and we will have him forever and ever and ever. That is a future grace everybody in Christ can know.
4. Future Grace Is for the Weary
Fourth, how do you keep on going when you are tired and weary? Just tired. And you know the answer to that. Fear not. I am with you. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Have you not seen? Have you not heard? I am the Lord God that created the ends of the earth. I don’t faint or grow weary. You shall faint. You shall fall and grow weary, but those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount of with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. So learn the secret of waiting on the Lord as a weary person.
I have been so tired in my life. Last night I was not as tired as I have been, but I was tired. I got in bed. Noël was on the way. I thought: I am not going to wait for her. I got in bed and I tried to stay awake long enough to pray. She walked in. I said: “Hurry, I am gone.” She sat on the bed. I said: “You pray. I am gone.” And I don’t think I heard her say, “Amen.”
So I have been tired in my life and I have had it mingled with a lot of discouragements, but God has never left me without just enough energy to say: “Help. Help. Strengthen me.” And somehow, I know not how, I survived. And you will, too. You will. That may be all you are able to get out — a groan and a “Help!”
5. Future Grace Is for Failures
How do you keep going when you fail, when you experience failure? It could be professional. It could be in sports. It could be whatever. You just feel horrible, like an absolute, no good failure. And it might be your fault. That would make it even worse, wouldn’t it? I blew it. I made stupid financial decisions or I just totally blew it. I am such a dummy. And you just want to crawl into a cave and disappear. And how do you keep going when you fail? Well, Psalm 107 is written for failures whose fault it is that they failed. Just one example, Psalm 107:11:
for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So somebody and God through them gave you good advice. You blew it. You didn’t take it. And you made an absolute mess of your job or your life. They spurned the counsel of the most high. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor. So you are not doing what you want to do, because what you wanted to do you failed at doing and here you are stuck with this rotten job that you hate or whatever. They fell down with none to help. Nobody is coming to your aid. Nobody seems to recognize your pain. Verse 13. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble. Now remember there it is their fault. They rebelled against the Lord.
“Every good work is a gift of grace — to you and to others.”
And many of you get into that fix and you say: there is no use in crying to the Lord, because I got myself into this fix. Why should he pay any attention to me, because I got myself into this problem? If somebody else got me into this problem, then I would cry to the Lord. He would pity me and be upset at them. That is not the situation here. We have ourselves in this fix. How will God respond to that cry? Psalm 107:13:
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.
In fact, when he delivers them, I think they hear words like this from Isaiah 54:7:
For a brief moment I forsook you.
Because you might say: Well, wait a minute. What happened to all that sustaining grace while I was trying to make the best of it I could in my job? What happened to all that sustaining grace? Is this God sovereign or isn’t he? Does he go on vacations? Does he drop the ball? Does he make mistakes? For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love, I will have compassion on you says the Lord God your redeemer. You know what I call the prayers that go to God in those terms? Gutsy guilt. Gutsy guilt, which leads me to my last point.
Future Grace Is for When You Don’t Desire God
This is basically an invitation to come back next week when we go back into Romans 7. How do you keep on going when you keep on sinning? That is Romans 7, right? How do you keep on going when you keep on sinning? And that is next week’s sermon.
So we will do Romans 7 again next week. But here is the short answer: You believe with all your might in justification by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone to the glory of God alone. And when you stumble and act inconsistently with that profession of glorious acceptance, you hate it. You get up. You confess your sins and you keep on going, because his righteous is the bottom line, not yours. His righteousness is the bottom line.
So I am back where I said I would be at the end, namely this. The answer to how you keep on going is by grace, by faith in future grace as God is going to be there for you in whatever the circumstance. There are promises tailor made so you admit that you can’t do it by yourself. You pray that God’s grace would be there. You trust in the specific promise in the Bible that it will be there. You act on the basis of that trust. And when you are done you thank and we call that at Bethlehem APTAT. And I just invite you now to race with me into debt to grace. Let us go together as a church for another 50, another 130 years, into deeper and deeper and deeper debt to grace, because he who serves in the strength which God supplies gives all the glory to God.