Sustained By Sovereign Grace

How to Endure to the End

Treasuring Christ Church | Raleigh, North Carolina


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

One of the descriptions of this generation (I’m thinking of people younger than me when I say what I’m about to say) is that it’s not a generation that would typically be characterized as enduring or marked by the gift of endurance. So if people wrote down baby boomer, or baby buster, or generation X traits, then enduring, durable, strong, persevering, sticking it out, staying in it wouldn’t be on the list near the top. And I want to get it on the list. That’s my goal, that I would be used by God to help the other things that will come into your life to get it on your list.

For the generation older than us, endurance is generally on the list. The Great Depression generation, the World War generations, that tends to be on the list. Now they had other weaknesses. Perhaps they’re not all that great relationally.

Now I’m assuming that when Jesus Christ comes into a person’s life by the gospel, and they see him as their substitutionary punishment, and all of their sins are on him, and because of their union with him by faith, that burden is lifted, and they see him as the righteousness that God requires and they can’t produce. I’m assuming that has a really profound effect on whether you can last, whether you can endure. So, this is a gospel issue.

New Covenant Mercy

Our text is about the new covenant. The new covenant is the agreement between God, Christ, and you that Jesus lifted up at the Last Supper. Remember, he lifted up the cup, representing his blood and he said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). So, when you believe in Jesus, the agreement is, “I’m going to give you eternal life.”

And there’s more to it than that, and that’s where we’re going to go eventually. But my goal in getting in the new-covenant mindset is all about helping you to become more enduring, tougher in the hard times, and less likely to bail on faith.

Endurance in Every Season

When there’s a hard time in ministry or a lean season in ministry, will you bail? Will you quit? If you have a hard marriage, will you stay or will you say, “I’m done. I’m out of here.”? If there’s a hard church situation or an imperfect church — which is every church — are you going to constantly jump from imperfect church to imperfect church? What about an embattled friendship? It was good for a while, but now it’s just not as good as it was. So, you say, “Okay, I’m just not going to invest in that anymore.”

“God's going to keep you a believer. It’s called sovereign grace.”

Or consider the mission field. This is one of the hardest things. Will we stay? Somebody asked me last night at dinner, “Do you think that the era of giving a life is over and you can just give ten years now?” I said, “No, it’s not over. No, it’s not over. People can grow up, they can become like trees planted by streams of water. They don’t always have to be cut flowers.”

So I’m here on a little crusade to toughen you up, and make you last, and send your roots down, and keep you in your marriages, and keep you in jobs where you ought to be even though they’re hard. Or churches, or ministries, or friendships, and the faith — to make you a kind of rugged saint.

Laying the Foundation for Endurance

Our church is 138 years old, and I’ve been there for 29 of those 138 years. This church is four years old — a little baby church. When I think of the blessings that have come to me and my family for 29 years at this 138-year-old church, and that flow out from Bethlehem to many, I thank God for 26 Swedes who in 1871 did this. They did this. I’m just so thankful.

So my mindset here is to lay a good, two-decade foundation for the centuries. I don’t know when Jesus is coming. Just plan as though he’s not, and want him like crazy. He may not be here for a couple hundred years, and my hope is that this church would be full of faith, full of power, full of joy, and full of fruitfulness in a couple of hundred years because of the foundations that were laid here.

There’s just so much change in the mindset of America. Everybody’s going to have five jobs, and every computer is outdated within about two years. It’s just all change, change, change.

The first thing I’m going to do is give you a little overview of the idea of endurance in the New Testament. Then we’re going to tackle this text through some stories that I’ll tell you. Then we’re going to do some pretty serious picking apart of those verses.

Endurance in the New Testament

I’m just going to douse you with some endurance texts. Then you will be able to answer, “Well what do you mean biblically? When you use that word what do you have in mind?” I’ll just read you some sample texts.

And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:13)

That’s the sort of thing I have in mind. So, if you’re hated for being a Christian, are you just going to quit? “I didn’t sign up for this. I’m out of here. I’m going to do something easier than Christianity.”

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:17)

So there’s the opposite. Do it for a little while because suddenly persecution comes.

Endurance Produces Loving Character

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

When reviled, we bless; When persecuted, we endure. (1 Corinthians 4:12)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

So, you’re not going to get anything God won’t enable you to endure.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

It does. Love does that. This is a love message. Or in Colossians 1:11 Paul prays that we would be

strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

If we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12)

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:10)

Shade for Sunny Days

Another closely related word is the word steadfast. We don’t use that word as often.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12)

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Paul wouldn’t say that if it didn’t look like endurance was in vain sometimes. And so steadfast, immovable, always abounding. If trees are moved every year, they’re not going to be like that. Trees stay and they get big and strong, and hundreds of people can sit in their shade. That’s what I want to be.

When the sun is blasting away at people’s lives and burning them up, I want them to come under my wings. Don’t you want to get old and be like that? It’s like being in the shade on a hot day. And look, there’s some fruit on those limbs. I think I’ll try that. That’s good. Don’t you just want to be that for people? Well, you can’t if you just jump around all the time. It won’t happen.

The Grace to Endure

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

Endurance of the Scriptures, endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures you will have hope. That’s why we’re in Jeremiah because that’s one of those Scriptures that give you hope and endurance.

I’m going to give you a four-line poem I wrote, and probably going to say it in this sermon eight times. We might actually memorize it. And I still remember it. So here’s the summary of the sermon and it’s all about endurance without using the word.

What is sustaining grace? That is the question. What is the grace that enables you to last, enables you to endure? What’s enduring sustaining grace?

Not grace that bars what is not bliss,
   nor flight from all distress, but this.
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
   and then in the darkness is there to sustain.

Now the first one, it’s got a lot of negatives in it, so it’s hard to understand what in the world did he just say. I’ll say it again.

So what is sustaining grace, what is enduring grace?

Not grace that bars what is not bliss.

Now I’ll stop there just to make sure you know what I’m saying. If I believed grace were that which barred, stopped, or hindered what is not bliss I would be unrealistic, naïve, and unbiblical. Grace does not stop what is not bliss. It doesn’t. It does not stop what is not bliss from coming into your life. So let’s start over.

Not that which bars what is not bliss,
   nor flight from all distress, but this.
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
   and then in the darkness is there to sustain.

That’s my definition of sustaining grace.

Stories of Sustaining Grace

And I’m going to tell you three or four stories to illustrate what I mean and why God’s sovereign, sustaining grace is so encouraging and such good news.

Grace Sustains Through Pain

Bob Ricker, former president of the Baptist General Conference that we’re a part of, told this story when he came to our church at the 125th anniversary of our church in 1996. His daughter was driving, had an accident, was thrown from the car, and was lying unconscious on the side of the road, turning blue. She couldn’t breathe.

“Do you pray like that? My heart is prone to wander, Lord chain me to yourself.”

Behind her car was another car that quickly pulled over when the accident happened. It was a doctor. And the doctor had in his pocket an emergency trach thing. He risked his practice, legally, and thrust it into her throat, and she was able to breathe, and she lived.

Now Bob Ricker is standing at her marriage, probably four or five years later. He’s marrying his daughter, who’s alive and fine. And during it, he reached over, and he touched the side her neck and he said, “Those little scars there are tokens of sovereign grace.” In other words, “God did that. God had that doctor back there. God had that device in his pocket. God gave him the courage to use it. And God brought you through.”

Now, here’s the puzzling, provocative thing. If God can see to it that a doctor is driving behind the daughter, if God can see to it that he’s got a little trach thing in his pocket, and if God can give this man the courage, then he could have prevented the accident. The exact same providence, the exact same power, that we’re praising him for, “You arranged for a doctor, you arranged for a trach, you arranged for hands, you arranged. Why didn’t you just arrange for the accident not to happen?” Because,

Sustaining grace is not grace that bars what is not bliss,
   nor flight from all distress, but this.
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
   and then in the darkness is there to sustain.

Grace Sustains Through Problems

So Abraham, my son, was sixteen years old. Barnabas was twelve I think, and Talitha was one. They’re driving with their mother. They’re driving to South Carolina from Minneapolis, and they’re about an hour south of Indianapolis on a Saturday afternoon trying to make it all the way to Knoxville. The car breaks down on the freeway, and the radiator is shot. It’s Saturday afternoon and there’s no man to be a man here and the solve the problem.

It’s my wife, and three kids. She’s sitting there thinking, “Oh my what am I going to do?” A man pulls up behind her. It’s a farmer, and he looks at the car and she says to him, “I just think we need a motel, because probably nothing is going to be open until Monday morning. Could you help us maybe get to a motel?”

And he said, “Well, you want to stay with me and my wife?” Now, what would you do? A total stranger. He could tell her hesitancy, and he says, “You know, the Lord says that if you do this to people it’s like doing it to him.” This raises Noël’s interest. And she said, “Well, could we go to church with you in the morning?” Like a test. And he says, “Well, if you can stand a Baptist church.”

So, they go to the house and get put up at the house. He drives Monday morning all the way to Indianapolis, buys a radiator, and puts it in. He’s a retired air mechanic. Puts it in, for free. In the meantime, my son Barnabas, who’s the only one of my sons who likes to fish, pulls out his fishing rod from the car and goes to this dinky little pond on the farm, and catches a nineteen-inch catfish, which made his entire summer.

They’re off and on their way mid-morning on Monday, having gone to church, made a friend, caught a fish, and not paid a big bill. You look at that and you say, “If God could arrange for a farmer to show up, if he could be a mechanic, if he was generous, if he’s even a Baptist, has a pond with a big fish at the bottom of it, then God could have arranged for the radiator to just last until Knoxville. The same providence that puts all those pieces together could have arranged for that.” But,

Sustaining grace is not grace that bars what is not bliss,
   nor flight from all distress, but this.
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
   and then in the darkness is there to sustain.

Grace Sustains Through Pitfalls

Now I want to tell you a story about Bethlehem Baptist Church. Founded 1871 and in 1885 burned down. This is a test. So you get your first building in a year or two, and five or six years later it burns down.

If God takes his hand off — his sustaining, keeping, preserving, enduring grace — I'm done for.”

Not only did it burn down, but the fire department came and the men — this is 1885, so there are no fire hydrants with automatic water pressure — they’re up on the roof, and the entire roof caves in except for the little patch where the firemen are standing. Add to that, that within a year, in fact, I think it was six months, the Second Congregational Church one block away, which is where we are today, sold them their building for $13,000. They had a building within a year, and they stayed there for 117 years till we tore it down and built a different one on the same site.

Now God kept the roof up for the firemen, and he provided a building perfectly suited for them for the next hundred years, so he could have prevented the fire. But,

Sustaining grace is not grace that bars what is not bliss,
   nor flight from all distress, but this.
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
   and then in the darkness is there to sustain.

Grace with You

The thing that makes you last, the thing that gives you sustaining grace, is not protecting from the difficulties of life. It’s being there in them. You’ve got to believe that he’s going to work this for good. I don’t see the catfish right now. I don’t see the radiator being fixed right now.

That’s what faith is. Faith can’t see there’s a catfish down there someday to be caught, or that there’s a farmer that’s going to show up some day, or that I’m going to get married and this little scar’s going to be beautiful to everybody because it’s life. You can’t see those things when you’re unconscious on the side of the road, which is where some of you are right now.

God Drove Them to Babylon

Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, “It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” (Jeremiah 32:36)

You say this people is given into the hands of the King of Babylon. Well, that’s true. By whom? Given into his hands by whom?

Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. (Jeremiah 32:37)

This is God talking, so now we know who did it. Now we know why there was an accident, and why the radiator broke down.

This people are in bondage in Babylon because God sent them there. In this case, it’s punitive. Not all the bad things that happen in your life are punishment. Some are, some aren’t. Some are chastisement and some are testings and don’t correspond to anything particular that you did. So God has his people in a hard place. He did that.

And he says he’s going to reverse it, he’s going to bring them out. “I have driven them to these foreign lands,” God says. I have sent them there.

How Do You Know You Will Keep the Faith?

Grace is going to triumph, shortly. My question practically now is to apply this at our personal level, since this is a new-covenant text. The people in this room, most of you I presume are trusting Jesus to forgive your sins, and provide you eternal life and the righteousness needed for acceptance with God. You are trusting. You’re in.

How do you know that you will last? How do you know that you will be sustained? How do you know that you will wake up a believer tomorrow morning? What’s your confidence? He who endures to the end will be saved. He who throws his faith away and makes shipwreck and goes off and lives like the devil the rest of his life won’t be saved. He proves that he never was saved.

So right now you’ve got faith, or as far as you know you’ve got faith. What makes you think tomorrow you’ll have faith? Where’s your confidence in that?

God Must Keep You

And if you try to say, “Well, I’ve been on this trajectory a good long while and the likelihood of me being off of it is pretty small,” then it’s really a probability judgment. That’s not going to carry you very far.

The answer surely will need to be sustaining grace. God’s going to keep you a believer. That’s what we’re going to see here. It’s called sovereign grace. Sustaining grace is sovereign grace. It gets you over all the obstacles, and it keeps you believing. I wonder if you’ve ever sung here,

O to grace how great a debtor, Daily I’m constrained to be. Let that grace now like a fetter . . .

What’s a fetter? What’s the most common word for fetter? Like a chain. Whatever binds you. It binds something.

Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above.

Pray Like You Need Him

What an amazing prayer. What an amazing prayer. Do you pray like that? “My heart is prone to wander. Lord, chain me to yourself.” Do you pray like this? “Seal my heart. Make an unbreakable bond, keep me. Preserve me. Defeat every rising rebellion in me. Overcome my niggling doubts. Deliver me from every destructive temptation. Nullify every fatal argument against you. Expose every demonic deception in my heart. Tear down every arrogant argument that starts rising up. Shape me, incline me, mold me, master me. Do whatever you’ve got to do to keep me.”

“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.”

That’s a whole theology to be prayed right there, and it says, “Without your keeping, I’m a goner. My heart is just leaning away because that’s the fallen person I am, in my own nature. By grace, I’m being drawn always back to God. If he takes his hand off — his sustaining, keeping, persevering, enduring grace — I’m done for.”

The trait of endurance in the Christian life is not a native-born character trait, like oh maybe Swedes are good at it and others aren’t. That’s not what’s being talked about. This is God, relentlessly building into you a holding that keeps you in him.

God Pledges Awesome Things to His People

So here we are at Jeremiah 32:38–41:

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

I’ve got to tell you, this is one of my favorite passages of scripture. This is awesome. What God pledges to do for his own is awesome. I’ve got four quick observations.

1. God promises to be our God.

They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Jeremiah 32:38)

In other words, I will use all of my Godness to be for them. When God is your God, when God says, “I am your God,” he means, “I’m there for you.” All of me — all of my power, all of my wisdom, all of my love, all of my universe-controlling authority — is for you. “I’m your God.

Don’t go after any idols. Don’t go after money. Don’t go after power, and prestige, and praise. I am God. I’m for you, I’m there, I’m working.” That’s what I am your God means.

2. God promises to change our hearts.

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever.

Then look at the second half of verse 40.

And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

God does not deliver the message of his grace to you and then fold his arms and say, “Now I will see what they make of it. Let’s see if they believe it. Let’s see if they fear. Let’s see if they love. Let’s see what their response is.”

That’s not what this text says. This text says, “I will give them one heart.” He’s doing heart transplant surgery here. “I’m putting a heart in these people, that they may fear me always. That’s my design and my deed.”

“I will put the fear of me in their hearts.” He is not watching. He’s not waiting. “I wonder if they’re going to fear me.” He’s putting. This is the meaning of the new covenant. In the old covenant, God gave the law and the people broke it.

He says, “It’s not going to be like that. I’m going to make a covenant and it can’t be broken because I’m controlling the power to break. I’m putting the fear of me in their heart. I am securing all the conditions of the covenant. I make them happen.” When God says you must believe, you must fear, you must love, and then he says you are totally secure, there’s only one way to do that. “I’ll secure the conditions.” That’s exactly what this text says. “I will put the fear of me in their hearts.”

3. God promises we will never be separated.

God promises that he will not turn away from us, and we will not turn away from him. These are real words in the Bible. These are not my words, these are right there. “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good.” That is, “I will stay with them and do them good. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me.

He’s not folding his arms and saying, “Okay, they came to me. I’m going to watch and see if they persevere. I’m going to see whether they stay with me or not.” He says, “I am going to not let them turn away from me so that they will not turn away from me.” That’s the meaning of the new covenant. That’s what Jesus died to accomplish in your life, new-covenant believer.

No Mere Human Relationship

So many Christians have a theology that’s basically ignorant of the new covenant. They just function in the old way. Here’s God, he’s got some rules and some laws and some commandments. He gives them to me, and he watches to see what I’ll do with them. If I keep them, I’m okay. And if I don’t, I’m not. It’s just a simple human to human relationship. That’s all it is. There’s no divine power in it.

“God rejoices over you to do you good with all his heart and with all his soul.”

This text is saying, “Wait a minute, that’s the old covenant. That’s like the old covenant.” The new covenant is, “I require that you fear me. I’m going to give it to you. I’m putting it in your heart.” So if you’re a believer you need to be taught by this text that that’s how you got saved and that’s how you stay saved.

It’s the stay saved I’m concerned about here mainly. How do you know you’re going to be a believer tomorrow? How do you know you’re going to wake up not spitting in the Lord’s face? I mean why wouldn’t you? Because he’s going to see to it that you’re fearing him. “I will not let them turn from me. I will put the fear of me in their hearts. They will not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40).

Let your goodness like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.

God Will Turn You Again

Do you remember Luke 22:32? Jesus says to Peter that he’s going to deny him three times. Then he says, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Do you remember the next thing out of his mouth? “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

How do you know he’s going to turn? “I prayed for him and God’s going to make him turn. That’s what I asked God to do.” I mean what did he say when he prayed for him? He didn’t say, “Father, don’t be too strong with him now. Don’t really get totally in his life, just do a whisper. Don’t do a shout." That’s not the way he prayed.

He said, “God, I love this man. We’ve ordained that he’s going to deny me three times, and he’s going to deny me three times. But Father, keep him. And when I look at him — I’m going to look at him — when I look at him, break him, and then take him, and make him a rock.” Then he did.

Jesus intercedes for you everyday like that. What do you think he’s doing up there when it says in Romans 8:33–34, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

What’s he doing? He’s saying, “Father, see these hands? That’s what I bought for them. Keep them, keep them. Today, they’re going to be so tested, we have ordained that they be tested today. I’m asking you Father, just like Peter — remember Peter, Father? You kept him; keep them.”

4. God promises to keep you with all his heart and soul.

Finally, God promises to do this for you with the greatest intensity imaginable. This is where it gets off-the-charts good. I’m going to challenge your imagination here to contradict me. I want you to try.

I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:41)

So, he’s going to put the fear of God in us so that we cannot leave him. He’s going to make us sustained, enduring, strong, abiding, unflinching, unwavering, abounding in the work of the Lord, steadfast, immovable.

And how’s he doing it? He’s doing it with joy. That’s the first thing it says. See that at the beginning of Jeremiah 32:41? He rejoices over them to do them good. So God is not halfhearted in keeping you. No, he keeps you “with all his heart and with all his soul.”

Now here’s my provocation, my challenge. I challenge you right now to conceive of a power of emotion, a height of emotion greater than this. The joy of an infinite God is being exerted with all of his heart and all of his soul. Raise your hand right now and stand up and tell me if you have even a possible greater emotional energy than that.

Any takers? I’m happy to discuss this. I think I’ve got such a closed case here that I’m not the slightest concerned that anybody’s even going to come close to saying, “I can imagine an emotional engagement that’s bigger than all of an infinite heart and all of an infinite soul.” That’s the meaning of infinite and all.

No Better Than This

Believer, unbeliever, it doesn’t get any better than this. The God who made the universe is saying that, “In the new covenant I am for you with a keeping, sustaining grace to order all of your troubles and all your pain, and there in the darkness to be there and sustain you. I am for you. And I am for you with emotional joy that is beyond your imagination.”

“Righteousness of Jesus, be my clothing. I am hopeless in myself.”

So many of you struggle with whether God is for you. You might say, like someone recently expressed to me, “I just feel so beat down by the law. How can I get into the gospel so that I’m more hopeful and happy as a Christian, instead of just constantly feeling God is against me, and telling me to do stuff, and disappointed with me and so on?”

I’m just pointing you to one of the most glorious verses in the Bible: Jeremiah 32:41. Understand that it’s in the new covenant and understand that Jesus lifted the cup and said, “This is the new covenant in my blood.” This means that it is for anybody here who is willing to just say, “Blood of Jesus, be my all. Blood of Jesus, cover all of my sins. Blood of Jesus, forgive me. Righteousness of Jesus, be my clothing. I am hopeless in myself. I’m a loser in myself. I’m prone to wander in myself, but Jesus you offer yourself.”

Throw Yourself on God’s Mercy

If that’s what you do, just give up on yourself and throw yourself on him for mercy. Then that verse counts for you. The whole Bible counts for you and this is one of the best verses of all. God rejoices over you to do you good with all his heart and with all his soul inside the blood-bought new covenant.

If Satan gets in your face this week and tries to lie about you, and discourage you, and accuse you, then stick him with this sword. “Get out of here! Piper didn’t say this, God said this. And you can’t stand before him. God is completely and totally for me this text says — all his heart, all his soul rejoices to keep me from you, Satan. So be gone!” Then sing a hymn and go out and love somebody.