The God Who Strengthens His People

Part 2

EFAC National Conference | Melbourne, Australia


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

These two things together, God’s being for himself and for us, that I suggested last night was God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I said that has two implications. One is that God is as committed to pursuing and upholding your satisfaction in him as he is in pursuing the glory of his name, which is an awesome commitment. God is as committed to pursuing your joy in him as he is committed to upholding the honor and the glory of his name.

The second implication was that it is your duty to pursue your joy in God to the fullest, and that it is sin if you are indifferent to whether you are satisfied in God. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). To be indifferent to that truth and to say that it doesn’t matter and that you ought not to make it your life’s passion to pursue that fullness of joy and those pleasures at God’s right hand is sin. Those were the two implications from last night.

An Analogy of Worship

I want to illustrate that with my wife and me, because I find that to state it theologically is one thing, to see it fleshed out in a concrete illustration is another and sometimes helps light to go on for people. I’ve been married this December 21, for 28 years.

Suppose on December 21 I go home and instead of just opening the door and walking in, saying hello as I usually do, I ring the doorbell and Noël, my wife, comes to the door, looks sort of funny at me as to why I rang the doorbell, and I pull out 28 red roses from behind my back. And I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why so much?” I say, “It’s my duty as a husband. I read the book. This is the way husbands are supposed to do it, and I am fulfilling the commitment I made to do things you’re supposed to do when you’re married. So I’m doing my duty.”

“The goal of all holiness, the goal of all ministry is love.”

She would not be impressed by that answer. You chortle because you’re uneasy with that answer. It’s the wrong answer. I shouldn’t have said it. And yet, what’s wrong with duty? Duty is a noble concept. Why is duty not the right answer? Let’s back up and rerun the tape and give the right answer.

Ding dong, I ring the doorbell. She comes to the door, looks funny. Pull out the roses, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why so much?” I say, “Because nothing makes me happier than to get you roses. By the way, I’ve arranged for a babysitter. Why don’t you go change clothes? We’re going out tonight because there’s nothing I would rather do tonight than spend the evening with you.”

Never in a million years would she say, “You are so selfish. All you ever think about is what will make you happy. Nothing you’d rather do than be with me. The next thing you’ll say is nothing you’d rather do than kiss me.” Now, why wouldn’t she accuse me of selfishness like that? I just said a very selfish thing, “There’s nothing I like better than buying you flowers. There’s nothing I’d rather do than spend the evening with you.” Why does she not accuse me of selfishness and say, “You ought to do things out of duty like a good, noble Christian pastor should”?

There’s a very simple reason, and you all know it intuitively. You don’t give articulation to it very often, but you know it intuitively. Delight in her honors her. She is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in her. This is just a little analogy of worship is all it is. It’s a little analogy of worship. She is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in her.

When you come to worship on Sunday morning and God says, “Why are you here?” the wrong answer is, “I’m supposed to be here. I’m a Christian.” That’s the wrong answer for worship. The right answer is, “There is nothing in the world that satisfies my heart the way you do. In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That was last night’s message. I connected it to our theme, the God who strengthens his people, by saying on the basis of Nehemiah 8:10, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” that God strengthens you by working this joy in him in you.

Strengthened for What?

Now, the question I want to raise this morning, which we sort of took for granted last night, was strengthened for what? I wonder what the framers of the theme for the week had in mind specifically when they said, “This conference is about the God who strengthens his people.” For what? I didn’t ask, but here’s my answer. Here’s what I have in mind, strengthened for what. I’ll mention three things. They all boil down into one thing I think, but let me just mention them.

I think we are strengthened for a life of holiness. First Thessalonians 4:4: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” Or a life of service or ministry, strengthened for ministry, strengthened for giving your life away in servanthood. Mark 10:43: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” That takes strength to be a servant over and over and over again in lowliness and meekness.

Or a third, and I think this is the more encompassing one, strengthened for love, a life of sacrificial love. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Or 1 Corinthians 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Or 1st Corinthians 16:14, “Let all that you do be done in love.” Or 1 Timothy 1:5: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Right throughout the New Testament, the goal of all holiness, the goal of all ministry is love. I think we could say the reason we’re here is to think, talk, and see the God who strengthens us for love. Pastoral ministry and all lay ministries are summed up in this, loving people and all of which that implies biblically.

Holiness, ministry, and love are strengthened, according to what I said last night, by our pursuit of joy in God. At least I posed a question last night, is that true? If God strengthens his people by stirring up joy and satisfaction in them in him, and I’m saying now that he strengthens us that way for love, then evidently the pursuit of your joy in God is the most loving thing you can do for other people.

Living by Faith

Now, that makes some thinking through. I want to test it this morning. I want to test it in a little different way. I’ve tried to think of things that are more familiar biblically than this paradigm I have of Christian hedonism. Let me try to test this not with the language of Christian Hedonism and delight, but rather the language of faith or the language of living by faith.

My text on which I hang this is Galatians 2:20, which many of you know by heart. It’s the verse that I counted my life verse back when I was in college. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” What is that? That’s what I want to talk about in relation to last night.

The life I now live, I live by faith. I hope right now that I’m talking by faith. I hope that in a little while I’ll answer questions by faith. I hope then I’ll eat a cookie by faith. I hope then that I’ll go and be a mentor by faith. I hope then that I’ll eat lunch by faith, and then I’ll visit my friends this afternoon by faith. I hope that I get on the plane on Monday by faith, and I hope that everything I do is by faith. By the time we’re done this morning, I hope that I can show that living by faith is the same as pursuing the fullness of your joy in God.

The Urgency of Holiness, Love, and Ministry

This is going to be kind of roundabout, so hang on and keep your thinking hat on. Let’s start by asking why holiness, or love, or ministry is so urgent and that we do it by faith is so crucial. Now, the answer to the question, “Why love or holiness is so crucial?” is because you won’t get to heaven without it. Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” There is a practical, lived out holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Or you could say it from Romans 8:13 where Paul says to believers, “or if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” A person who gives himself over to the flesh and does not by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body will go to hell, no matter what kind of professions of faith he has ever made. Perseverance in a life of godliness and holiness is the pathway to heaven.

Or we could say the same thing about love in 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” If you’re not a loving person, you are a dead person. Not saved, not born again. Love is the evidence of life in Christ. That’s why it’s urgent. That why the question, what are we being strengthened for, and how does living by faith lead to holiness and love an absolutely urgent question. This is not icing on the cake of justification by faith, which we’ll get to in a moment. This is urgent because your eternal life hangs on it.

First John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light.” It said walk, now. Mark this. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” That’s an amazing verse. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanses you from sin if you walk in the light. It’s an amazing verse.

Our final salvation passing muster at the judgment is contingent upon a life of holiness, a life of walking in the light, a life of love, not perfection because then we wouldn’t need any cleansing from sin. First John is written to say that we have not not sinned. Anyone who says that he has not sinned is a liar, makes a liar out of God (1 John 1:8, 10). But a new direction if not perfection is the prerequisite of passing muster at the judgment day.

Faith and Faith Alone?

Now, this is a massive problem in theology for those who believe in justification by faith alone, through grace alone, and the creeds have all wrestled with it. Theologians have all wrestled with it. If we are justified once for all at a point in time by grace through faith alone and thus winning the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, how can the Bible so often and so clearly say that our final salvation in glory is contingent upon a transformed life of holiness and love?

I’ll read for you just one from chapter 11 of the Westminster Confession to handle the problem of how works, that is genuine acts of obedience, love, and holiness, can be made indispensable while faith is the sole means by which we are justified:

“Perseverance in a life of godliness and holiness is the pathway to heaven.”

Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone . . . Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the only instrument of justification.

So far, so good, and yet here comes the sentence. You find it in all the major Reformation creeds.

Yet it [faith] is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces and is not dead faith, but worketh by love.

In other words, faith alone justifies, but the faith which justifies is never alone. It is always accompanied by a transformed life. Therefore, at the judgment in the end, we will be judged according to works, not simply to determine what relative rewards will be given in the age to come, but as evidence of our being justified by faith. Works will bear witness to the validity of faith in the last day. Works will not justify. Works will not merit. Works will evidence faith, which wins the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The Evidence of a Relationship

Now, let me use an illustration. When I’m trying to get this across to laypeople who are scratching their heads saying, “This is so heavy. You’re saying we’re justified by faith, and yet you’re saying final salvation is contingent upon a life of obedience beyond faith. I don’t get it. How can it be both?” Here’s an illustration that has seemed to shed light for many people in my ministry.

Do you remember from 1 Kings 3 when Solomon prayed for wisdom? “Lord, I’m like a little child. I don’t know my right hand from my left. I have this great people to rule. I don’t want wealth. I don’t want a long life. I don’t want vengeance over my enemies. I want one thing. Would you give me wisdom to rule the people?”

Before the chapter’s over, you get an illustration of what that looks like, namely two harlots come to him. They’ve gotten pregnant. They’ve had little baby boys. In their house of prostitution, they’re raising, keeping these little infants. One of them rolls over on her infant and smothers him during the night. She wakes up, she sees her baby is dead. She sneaks over, gets the live baby from her fellow prostitute, puts her dead baby in her arms, goes back to bed holding the live baby. They get up in the morning, the dead baby is looked at by the prostitute, and she says, “This isn’t my baby. That’s my baby.” She says, “Oh, no. This is my baby,” and there’s a dispute. Who’s going to settle that? Nobody was there. Nobody saw these little babies. Nobody can vouch for them.

They get all the way to the king with this problem. Pastors, poor pastors, we think we’ve got problems. What if you were a king and you had to settle things like that? Now, what does he do? Solomon, in this God-given wisdom in answer to prayer, says, “Bring me a sword.” They bring him a sword, and he tells his assistant, cut the live baby in half and we’ll settle this thing quick. Just give half to the mother and half to the mother.” The real mother says, “Don’t do that. She can have the baby.” The other mother says, “That’s a good idea.” Really dumb answer. Solomon takes the baby, gives it to the real mother who says, “Don’t do that.” He says, “She is the mother.”

Now, that’s a picture of the judgment and the way God will handle works, in this way. When God looks for works, he’s not looking for that which created a relationship or that which earns anything. Your works will never earn you anything and your works do not create a saving relationship with God. In that situation, the motherhood was not created by this woman’s response, “Let her have the baby.” That act of love toward the baby did not create her motherhood of the baby. It evidenced her motherhood of the baby. All the king wanted was evidence of a relationship. He didn’t want an act by which she earned the baby or by which she created a relationship with the baby. He knew something already existed beneath the act of, “She can have the baby,” and that’s what he was fishing for.

What God will be fishing for, as it were, at the last judgment is did you trust Jesus Christ savingly? But he will put on the table a life of obedience. I think he will sweep off the table all your failures, all your shortcomings, burn them in the file of the cross, and what is left by way of your C-plus, B-minus, B-plus, A-minus good works, he will say, “There is the evidence that you were trusting me. Because you trusted my Son, his righteousness has been imputed to you, and on that basis, you’re in.” I wonder if that makes sense. You jot down your question if that doesn’t work for you.

The answer to how good works, or obedience, or love, or a life of service can be a prerequisite that doesn’t earn you anything but is nevertheless a prerequisite of final glory and yet justification can be by faith alone, the answer is that the works evidence the faith. They don’t add any worth or merit to it.

Sanctified by Faith

Now, here’s the question that I have. That’s about as far as I have seen Reformation thinkers go. You read the creeds of the Reformation time and they simply say that faith is always accompanied by good works, and therefore good works are the evidence of faith, and therefore they are necessary as evidence. But they don’t explain why faith is always accompanied by good works. What is it about faith that yields love? Galatians 5:6: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” How does faith work love? They simply are content in the creeds basically to say faith is accompanied by works.

I wrote the book, Future Grace, to answer the next question. At least it’s a crucial question for me in my pastoral ministry. How and why does faith produce good works? Faith is the worker here. It’s not stressed very often, but let me try to stress it for you now. Faith is not just accompanied by good works. Faith produces good works.

Here’s where I get that. First Thessalonians 1:3: “Remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Work of faith. Take that little phrase and keep it in your mind, work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope. Same thing in 2nd Thessalonians 1:11: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.” Work of faith. The work comes from faith.

Here’s another one, even more clear. Second Thessalonians 2:13: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Salvation comes through sanctification, which comes by the Spirit and by faith in the truth. Sanctification is by faith. Not only are you justified by faith, you are sanctified by faith. The faith which justifies is always accompanied by works because that same faith inevitably sanctifies. There is something about saving faith that sanctifies.

In Acts 26:17–18, Jesus says to Paul on the Damascus road, “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

First Timothy 1:5: “The goal of our instruction is love.” Now where does it come from? “From a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” Love comes from sincere faith. Hebrews 11:8: “By faith Abraham obeyed God.” Obedience comes from faith.

One more text on this point and this one is the most important for me because it is paradigm-changing for covenant theologians, and I was one for a long time. I still am in some ways, but not the way that satisfies real doctrinaire covenant theologians because now my understanding of the law has been radically changed by Romans 9:31–32:

“Faith is not just accompanied by good works. Faith produces good works.”

Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Now that is a paradigm-shattering verse for a covenant theologian because it says the law was meant from the beginning to be obeyed by faith, not works. That’s the intention of the law, which comes from that little phrase, “they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works,” which it wasn’t and never was meant to be. The law was given on Mount Sinai not to be obeyed by works, but to be obeyed by faith. The obedience that comes from faith was to be expressed through the keeping of the Ten Commandments.

How Does Faith Transform Us?

Now the question is, if that’s true, if faith is the great worker, if faith is never alone, like the Westminster Confession says, but always accompanied by works, because that very faith is of such a nature that it works, it produces sanctification, the question becomes: How? Why? What is it about faith? What is it about saving faith that necessarily produces love, or holiness, or ministry?

Now, the key answer is I believe two things. First, it is the future orientation of faith in future grace. Then secondly, it’s going to be the nature of faith as satisfaction in God. But let me take them one at a time. The point I’m at now in my exposition is, what is the biblical nature of saving faith such that it inevitably transforms live into holiness and love? That’s my question.

1. The Future Orientation of Faith

My first answer is saving faith has a future orientation on the promises of future grace. Now, to make this plain, I need to explain what I mean by future grace. I find that in American evangelicalism of the conservative evangelistic variety that I hail from, saving faith is almost always considered in a past tense. You ask somebody if they’re a Christian and they say, “I believe. I once upon a time trusted Christ. I, when I was 6 or 26, put my faith in Jesus.” They look back to a point, which is an absolutely crucial point, but I fear that for many of them they do not understand that saving faith is not merely a backward look at the atonement and the resurrection, but a forward look at grace coming to them moment by moment on which they must rely as a part of their saving faith.

Let me try to illustrate this for some text so you can see what I mean by future grace. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “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.”

Every time Paul stretches forth to lay hold on that for which he has been laid hold on, that stretching, that accepting the whip on his back, that shipwreck willingness to sacrifice, that being in danger on the roads and in the cities, that obedience is a laying hold on and a receiving of grace. It is not I doing this. It is the future grace of God coming to me moment by moment.

When I say future, I mean the grace that I will need to finish this sentence and the grace that I will need to live forever in God’s presence in heaven. Future grace is ever grace that arrives from now, and that one’s now passed. I’m still alive. Until now, and that one’s now passed. I’m alive still, still believing.

Isn’t that amazing? I’m still a Christian, and I was five seconds ago, and I still am. That’s grace, all grace. What I’ll need this afternoon, what I’ll need on Monday to keep the plane up, and what I’ll need that night to greet my wife in love, and what I’ll need to stay in the ministry, this is all grace, and I must have it, and I must depend on it to be a Christian. If I live in the power of my flesh and not on the power of future grace, I’m not a believer. Therefore, faith is fundamentally future-oriented.

We’ll talk maybe a little bit tomorrow about the crucial place of bygone grace, especially the cross and the resurrection, but I’m stressing now that the life-changing power that produces love, and holiness, and ministry in faith is its future orientation on the grace of God that’s promised to us.

Grace to You, Grace Be with You

Let me give you another illustration from the text. This hit me a couple of years ago just when I was getting that book ready. I had never noticed this before, that at the beginning of every single one of Paul’s letters without exception, there is some form of the phrase grace to you? “Grace to you.” Sometimes it says grace and peace. Sometimes it says grace and mercy. Always grace to you. Have you noticed, which I didn’t, that at the end of every letter without exception it says some form of grace be with you? Never to you. It’s never with you at the beginning of the letter. It’s never to you at the end of a letter. It’s always grace to you at the beginning and grace be with you at the end. Why?

I mean that is so consistent, it is so amazing, it calls for an explanation. I’ve never seen that commented on in any commentary I’ve ever read. It was one of those exciting discoveries, and I’ve never heard anybody address why that is. Now, I’m sure they have, and I don’t know everything in the universe, but I’d never seen anybody, so I tried to figure it out. Here’s my little suggestion. You test it.

Paul writes the letter. He knows that it’ll be opened in Ephesus, or Thessalonica, or Colossae, and they will begin to read it before this congregation that has no Bible. What he’s saying is as you gather under the word, the apostolic word, to hear it read, grace is coming to you right now through this book. Grace through the word of God is coming to you. He begins the letter, “Grace to you.” It’s flowing to you in the exposition. It’s flowing to you in the reading of the word.

Now they read it, takes a half an hour or so, they pause for exposition, maybe a little longer, and they come to the end of the letter as they’re reading it in the worship or in the assembly. He’s there as it were in his apostolic word and he realizes soon the service will be over, and all these people will enter back to the first-century pagan world with broken homes, recusant teenagers, sick bodies, difficult times at work, and crises in their lives. Will grace go with them when they leave? He says, “Grace be with you. It’s going to go with you now.”

Ever Present Grace

Now, the only point of my stressing this is that grace is not merely an attitude in the mind of God that prompts him to do things, nor is it merely an expression of saving power in the cross. Grace is an outpouring of beneficence and power now. Now in the preaching of this word and as you leave from here and go back to your parishes, grace be with you. Grace will be with you. It’ll keep showering down. It’ll just keep coming down.

“A work of faith is an act of obedience that flows from our delight in God.”

My point is saving faith is faith in that. Do you believe that? When you leave here, will faith be reaching out one moment into the future in the crisis that you’re going to have as that couple is arriving in your office ready to divorce? Will you believe, “When you open your mouth, I will fill it. I’ll give you the wisdom you need”? Do you believe in future grace for counseling, future grace for crises, future grace for your own health, future grace for your own marriage, future grace for that kid that’s not where he ought to be? Saving faith is not different from that faith. There is one faith that saves, and it is faith in grace past and future.

There are so many texts here that I could read. I think those are enough perhaps, except maybe one more, 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that always having sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” Grace is the abundant supply of enablement for every good deed. Therefore, when Paul says in Romans 9:32 that we are to obey the law by faith, he means: Do you trust the enabling power of God according to the new covenant promise that he will be there to help you, and enable you, and sustain you in all of your crises and challenges of obedience?

My first answer to the question: “How it is that saving faith always changes life, always produces love and holiness?” is that it has a future orientation on future grace. In trusting that grace, you are freed from the power of sin. Now, I’m jumping ahead here. Let me bring in my second answer before I finish explaining that. Then we’re almost done.

2. Satisfied with God in Christ

The second answer to why faith produces love, or ministry, or holiness is that faith is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. Faith is at its essence a being satisfied with all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. Not only does faith have a future orientation on grace, that future orientation is a being satisfied in that grace that is held out in the promises of God for this afternoon, and tomorrow, and your eternity. This means that faith is not merely intellectual. Faith is also affective. It is a resting in, and an enjoying of and a being satisfied by all that God promises to be for you in Jesus.

Now, you should ask, where do you get that? What is your textual warrant for such a definition of faith? Let me just mention maybe a few texts and then we’ll wind it up. John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

Now, compare the two halves of that verse. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In Johannine theology, coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus area virtually synonymous. This text says, therefore, I believe, that faith or believing in Jesus is a coming to Jesus to find our thirst satisfied in him. “He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in me shall never thirst.” Come to me.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Faith is a coming to God for satisfaction. It is a coming to God for himself as the Rewarder of all things. He sums up all reward in himself.

Here’s another text. In Philippians 3:8, Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Now let’s just stop there and notice. How does he mean to gain Christ? By having Christ as his surpassing value and counting everything else as rubbish. I count everything as rubbish because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ that I may gain Christ. I take that to mean that no one will gain Christ who does not count Christ to be a superior value than everything else in the world, which is rubbish by comparison. That’s the way we gain Christ.

But now, verse 9 says, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Now, how do you get right with God and gain Christ according to verse 9? Answer: by faith. There is a righteousness imputed to you that comes from God through faith.

Now, how can both verse 8 and verse 9 be true? Verse 9 says we are accepted by God, received by God, welcomed into the fellowship of God, and the righteousness of his Son imputed to us so that we’re acceptable to God by faith. Verse 8 says I gain Christ by counting him my superior value and by counting everything else as rubbish. The answer is that is the definition of faith. Faith is a coming to Christ to be so satisfied by all that God promises to be for us that we count everything else as rubbish.

This is why I have such a problem with so much cheap, simple, decisionistic evangelism. Oh how many people are misled by telling them that one simple intellectual act of signing a card or praying a prayer will make them a Christian. A Christian is a new creature, supernaturally brought from death to life and given values radically different than the old man, such that we say Christ is my superior value above all things and I count everything as rubbish because of the surpassing value of knowing him. I have other texts here I could use, but let me just stop with those. Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.

Living by Faith Is Living by Joy

Now I can go back and answer the question that I posed way back at the beginning and draw this to a close. The question halfway through was, why does saving faith always produce a life of transformation, always produce a life of holiness and love? I answered two things. It has a future orientation, and now secondly that orientation is a being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.

Now, that doesn’t quite answer it yet. To answer it, I need to go back and connect it with our first question. How does last night’s message relate to this one? Last night I said that you are strengthened for holiness by God’s inspiring in you the pursuit of your pleasure in God. Now I have defined faith as a being satisfied in God and all that he promises to be for you. Those two things are the same. I’m not arguing that saving faith is a resting in, a pursuit of, a reliance upon God to satisfy our hearts in him. And a living by faith, an obedience of faith, a work of faith is an act of obedience that flows from our delight in God.

Now, here’s the way it works. This is the bottom line. Sin, which is the opposite of holiness, and lack of love, which is the opposite of love, have their power in your life because of one thing, the promises they make to you. None of you sin out of duty, not one. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “I’m feeling especially holy today, but I guess I ought to sin, so I’ll sin.” Nobody sins out of duty. We only sin for one reason — sin makes promises of happiness. That’s the only reason anybody sins. It makes promises of superior satisfaction. It’s a lie.

How do you triumph over that lie and over that power that sin has by making promises to you? The answer is now living by faith in future grace. That is you fight promises with promises. You fight the promise of satisfaction that sin gives you with the promise of a superior satisfaction. Therefore, the root of sin, which is the promise of joy, or the promise of happiness, or the promise of satisfaction, is severed. You sever the root of sin with the acts of faith in future grace.

“No one will gain Christ who does not count Christ to be a superior value than everything else in the world.”

I mentioned yesterday these movies that were on the TV screen in the planes. What do you do with the temptation to look, and dwell, and fantasize about what’s there? What do you look? The promise that is coming out of the screen is, “I’ll make you happy. You’ll be more comfortable. You’ll have thrills. You’ll have bodily sensations that will be so good you’ll feel better if you look, dwell, and then fantasize some more.” What do you do with that?

If you try to fight that with the raw power of duty, you will fail in the long run or you will become a brittle, hard-nosed legalist. The way you fight it is that you close your eyes and you remind yourself of superior promises and superior satisfaction. You say, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.” You say, “Jesus said better to gouge out your eye than to lust because it’s better to go to heaven and enjoy the bliss of eternity than to go to hell with two eyes.” You say, “He’s pursuing me with goodness and mercy all of my days. How can I ram the sword into Christ’s side for he died for my purity?” You remind yourself of all the blessings that come from walking in the light of the Lord. Then, that promise coming out of that screen is severed in its power by the power of a superior promise and a superior satisfaction. Last night’s message and this morning’s message are one message. Living by faith and pursuing satisfaction in God, which glorifies God, is the same thing because faith is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.

An Overview of the Following Messages

Now, the next time we meet, I’m going to pose these questions. What about faith in Christ’s death and resurrection? What does bygone grace mean here? If you have this future orientation, what’s the role of the past-ward look? Here’s the second, very crucial. I’ve argued in that book that most Christians think of gratitude as the main power of holiness. I think it’s not. In fact, I think a debtor’s ethic grows out of a focus on gratitude as the power of sanctification and is dead wrong.

A third question I’ll ask is where’s the Holy Spirit? How does the power of the Holy Spirit function in producing the fruit of love? You seem to make faith something you do in your satisfaction the power that produces love. Doesn’t Galatians 5:22 say love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Where’s the Holy Spirit in this theology? There will be several other questions, but those are the three at least that will take up, what is it.

Then in the last two, the fourth and fifth, messages, we will simply tackle sample practical temptations and sins and show how this paradigm of holiness, paradigm of strength in love, and ministry, and holiness through pursuing our joy works in the case of greed, in the case of anxiety, in the case of depression. We’ve seen some in the case of lust and just deal with them. If you have others that you want to ask about, we’ll tackle them as well.