How Does It Work Against Sin?

Session 8 – Part 2

The Pursuit of Holiness in Life and Ministry

We have a little saying at Bethlehem: “No Bible, no breakfast.” And it’s a commitment on our part, some of us anyway, that if you have to choose because you’re a little bit behind schedule, you choose Bible, not breakfast. It is interesting that most people don’t make that choice. They say, “I didn’t have time for Bible this morning,” but they ate breakfast. That’s an odd choice isn’t it? Which food is more important?

All Things Added to You

So as I was reflecting this morning in my own soul preparation — which is as important as overhead preparation — it occurred to me that I should probably clarify something from one of the last sessions, and then make that the stepping stone into where we’re going in this session. And the clarification regards the promise in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. and all these things will be added to you.” And one couple came to talk to me about that. And they are in a milieu where that verse is usually taken to justify the health, wealth, prosperity, name-it-claim-it, word-of-faith, Christian living. And it sounded like I was saying that to them.

And so let me say what I was saying and then give you a verse or two and then move into this session. “All things” there and in 2 Corinthians 9:8 and in Philippians 4:19 does not refer to everything you want from time to time; it refers to everything you need in order to glorify God. And God calls some people to glorify him by dying. And so if you’re dying in a prison or in the guillotine or on the rack or of a disease, clearly some of the “all things” like food and clothing and drink to sustain life are missing.

So when he promises “all these things will be added to you,” he means: “exactly the amount you need in order to do what I want you to do.” Could be die, could be live, could be prosper, could be have a very simple spartan lifestyle in the city for the sake of the kingdom. It’s not clear from that text that you can apply it to “I want a BMW, and God says that all things will be given to me if I seek the kingdom. And so for the sake of the BMW, we lay hold on it.”

So clarification. The text that I quoted in a recent sermon, which my wife and I chose for our wedding is crucial:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
     nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
     and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
     and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
     I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

That’s an amazing statement: food is missing both, on the vine and in the field, and this farm is devastated, and I will rejoice. And he didn’t say “in the sure accomplishment of rescue.” He said, “I will rejoice in God — the God of my salvation. There will be a salvation, whether on this side or the other side of the grave. God is God, and he is mine.” And when God is your God, you will live forever with ever-increasing joy, but you won’t necessarily prosper here.

Seminar Overview

Let me give you an overview of where we’ve been so that you can see where we’re going more clearly.

Three Foundational Passions

There were three foundations or passions underneath this seminar.

  1. A passion for the supremacy of God in all things — “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Your whole life, every moment of every day, should be making God look good. That’s the point of it. That’s the passion we should have.

  2. A passion for joy in the Lord — “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). A passion for joy in the Lord should be a moment-by-moment, steady-state, daily passion and desire. I want to be more content in God, more satisfied in God, more happy in God, delighting more in God. That should burn as a passion in our lives.

  3. A passion for practical holiness or love — “Strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). We’re going to talk about both in these sessions.

Faith in Future Grace

So the question we asked then: What lifestyle, what way of living, fulfills a passion for God’s supremacy, fulfills a passion for joy, and fulfills a quest to be a wholly and radically sacrificially loving person? My answer is: living by faith in future grace has a key in it that does all three of those.

And how that works is the aim of this seminar. How is it that living by faith in future grace does that? But what we focused on last time was the biblical dynamics, the biblical foundations of it. Let me just summarize those for you, and then we move into the how questions in this session and beyond.

Faith, Grace, and Gratitude

We talked about the nature of faith. It works. It’s not dormant. It works. It produces. “Works of faith,” Paul talks about. We talked about its future nature. It’s not just looking past to Jesus. It’s looking future to his promises. In fact, the dynamic that severs the root of sin is the future orientation of faith. And we said it is being satisfied in all the God is for us in Jesus. So faith has a future orientation on the promises of God. It has an affectional essence, which is a being satisfied in all that God promises to be for us; and therefore, it severs the root of sin, which has power by virtue of lying promises. And it does works of love.

Then we talked about grace. Grace is not just God’s disposition to send Jesus. It is power arriving moment by moment. We said it is good to look back at past grace: this river coming to us of promises from the future, breaking over the present waterfall of our lives, and gathering in a great reservoir of memory and history, so that we stand here, looking back with gratitude, looking forward with faith in future grace, ever arriving to get us through this seminar and through eternity. So grace is power arriving.

And we talked about the function of gratitude and the dangers of trying to make gratitude do what it was never designed to do, namely empower your life in future obedience. We need the assurance that there will be fresh grace for this hour, lest we try to take past grace and make gratitude our engine for sustaining life. We can’t do it by gratitude or any other means. We can only do it with fresh grace, and the human act that embraces and receives that grace is faith: faith in ever arriving future grace offered to us in the promises of God in the Bible. We talked about that.

Spirit-Empowered Obedience

And then we talked about the role of the Holy Spirit, got a little clarification on the agency of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a role in this dynamic of how faith produces the works of love. And he does so by being the agent that bears the fruit, but he has an instrument through which he works, and it is faith. “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:5)

This is hearing promises, hearing gospel and believing. Does the Spirit work in you love and miracles, hope, power, holiness by works or by hearing by faith? So the fight to hear the word of God — “no Bible, no breakfast” — lest I not be filled with the Holy Spirit today because the Spirit works by hearing with faith.

Why does the Holy Spirit do it that way? We said because he wants to glorify Jesus. He doesn’t want to arrive and become the main actor. He wants to arrive and be the quiet, humble, invisible member of the Trinity, calling attention to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came to glorify the Son; therefore, the Son and all that the Son accomplished, purchased, and promised is to be the conscious focus of our minds. And the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to that point.

And so we pray, “O Holy Spirit, open my eyes to see the glory of the Son of God. Open my eyes to see the all-sufficiency of his purchase as a great foundation, and open my eyes to see the magnificence of his promises, especially the promise of fellowship with himself and the Holy Spirit.” When he hears a prayer like that, he says, “That’s my job description. Of course, I’m going to do that. Yes, I will do that if that’s what you want.” And so he is absolutely essential in our living by faith in future grace. We do not minimize the essentiality of the function of the Holy Spirit, even though we will make much now of the power of faith to sever the root of sin. I never mean that apart from the Holy Spirit.

How Does Faith in Future Grace Work Against Sin?

So that’s a summary of where we’ve been. And I close by saying it’s a fight, the fight of faith. And join me in it. I just confronted a guy the other day. I wanted to know how he’s doing and just said, “Talk to me about your devotional life.” So he gave me general comments, and I just felt to say, “OK, this morning, tell me what you did before we met. Did you have a season of prayer?” And he said no.

Asking general questions does not always tell you where people are. They generalize about their life. “I try, I read the Bible . . .” “How about this morning before you came here? Just give me the breakdown of the minutes.” You need to be in each other’s lives like that because we deceive ourselves and each other. And I need people in my life to say, “OK, you talk a lot about ‘no Bible, no breakfast.’ How about this morning, Piper? How about this morning?”

How to Battle Covetousness

Let’s go to covetousness. This is big for Americans — and everybody — but we have a lot of stuff in America. So what’s the definition of covetousness, and how does living by faith in future grace defeat covetousness? Covetousness is desiring something not for God’s glory or in such a way that we lose our contentment in God. And it can be anything innocent or bad. It can be a wife or a potential wife. And it can be ministry. There are desires that are out of whack; they’re out of proportion to the value of the stuff desired. And it’s called covetousness when we are not desiring something for God’s glory, and when the desire for it, and not having it, tends to make us lose our contentment in God, or the desire for it and having it makes us lose our contentment in God.

What You Value

So is it idolatry? It is. Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Isn’t that remarkable? Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed that the connection between covetousness and idolatry is in the Ten Commandments as a bracket. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me.” Don’t commit idolatry. And the last of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not covet.” What’s the relationship between those two? Don’t commit idolatry; don’t desire or cherish or treasure anything above me. And that’s the definition of “don’t covet.” It’s the same commandment, I think. And it puts the Ten Commandments in a living-by-faith-in future-grace sandwich — a Christian Hedonist sandwich.

The big battle in these stealing, lying, adulterous issues — the big battle in here — is: Do you value God more than stuff? Don’t let anything become your God. Don’t covet. If you succeed at those two, the ones in the middle are going to happen. That’s the reason they don’t happen: because we are not trusting, resting, delighting in God.

Freee from the Love of Money

Hebrews 13:5–6 is one of the clearest illustrations of the dynamic of living by faith in future grace in regard to covetousness in the Bible, probably the clearest in the Bible.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
     I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

How do you battle for contentment that frees you from the love of money, which makes you a loving person for others rather than a greedy covetous person? Ground: for God has said something. We’re talking promises here that defeat covetousness. He said, “I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.” So we, on the basis of that, can confidently say, and then he quotes scripture again, “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

So if you are tempted to love money, tempted to be greedy, tempted to lay up treasures on earth, one of the verses in your arsenal by which you put to death the deeds of the body is: “No, he’s told me something. He said, ‘I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you. People can’t do anything to you. I’m on your side. I’ll meet your needs.’”

What You Really Need

I said that I was going to show you a text for why in Philippians 4:13 and Matthew 6:33, the “all things” does not imply everything that you want, but everything you need. Matthew 6:33 says “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” And I said that’s talking about all you need to be a martyr or all you need to minister in the city or what you need to do God’s will. Now watch this: Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” So this is all your needs absolutely promised, no qualification. The question is: What’s that? What’s needs?

Now back up six verses in the chapter so that we are in Paul’s mind as we read that verse. Don’t take verses so out of context you don’t know what’s flowing in and what’s flowing out. So let’s back it up to look at Philippians 4:11–13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I can remember the early days when I saw this. I was teaching at Bethel and I would use it in devotions, in class to teach contextual interpretation. Make sure you don’t take a verse out of context. And so I would quote a text that almost all my students knew: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And I would say to the class, “Give me some examples of ‘all things’” They would say, “Finish my homework” or “Be a faithful witness” — all kinds of triumphs. They’re all triumphs because that’s the way we learn the verse. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I triumph, and half of the ones he mentions here are not triumph at the external level. What does this all things include? I can do all things: I can suffer need. I can go hungry. I can live in humble means. I can do all things through him who strengthens me, even die.

Now, knowing that he has just said that, when I get to chapter Philippians 4:19, and he says, “My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” I take this all` to be the same as that all. It would be totally unwarranted of me, having just read this, to say, “He will give you the car you want. He’ll give you the ring you want. He’ll give you the suit you want. He’ll give you the house you want. He’ll give you, give you, give you all this stuff” — when, in fact, the all things includes being without things and going hungry because material things are not necessarily what needs are here.

That’s why I go to numerous other texts in the Bible, and I’m ready to be careful now, so that when Jesus says, “Seek my kingdom first, and all these things will be added to you,” I’m real slow to say that everything I want will be added to me, and I’m very quick to say that very likely, he means something like Philippians 4. And then you read the rest of the things Jesus said, and you know that’s what he means because he promises we’re going to get killed. We’re going to get thrown into prison. We’re going to be beaten in synagogue. And so the all things, this prosperity thing, don’t count on it. In fact, don’t even want it. Don’t have covetousness because he’s going to meet everything you need; he’s going to do it.

Pray for the Heart

Pray for a heart for the truth and not money. Pray for a heart that falls out of love with money. Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Do you pray about the inclinations of your heart mostly? Teach your children, model for your spouse, how to pray about spiritual things, because most people who are either unbelievers or immature believers or carnal believers don’t pray about spiritual things. They do pray, but they pray about material things. “Lord, help us to be healthy. Lord, give us safety on our trip. Lord, help the visit with Joe to go well,” and on and on — all things that the devil would ask for. They’re not wrong. There’s just no evidence that you’re a Christian.

So what do Christians pray for mainly? Teach your nine-year-old to pray like this because nine-year-olds by default do not pray like this. There has to be a spiritual awakening and some instructional pouring into the awakening, so that a nine-year-old will learn how to pray about her little bent heart. She should learn how to pray about her heart, not about her stuff. You don’t condemn her for praying about her stuff. That’s fine. Yes, we pray about our stuff, but mainly you want to say, “Lord, my heart is inclining toward gain, money. Please forgive me and take hold of my wayward heart, and incline it to your word.”

That’s the way Christians pray. They pray about their inclinations. They pray about their heart condition. They have language that is spiritual about what God needs to do on them to make them what they ought to be, and what their spouses and daughters and what their church should be. They don’t just say vague things like, “Make it go well” or “Give us a good service” or all these words that say nothing about what you really want to happen spiritually. Be spiritual in praying toward heart inclinations toward God’s word. So if you’re battling with covetousness, pray that, and go and get specific anti-covetous promises.