The Pleasure of God in Peacemaking

Peacemaker Ministries Keynote Address

The following is a lightly edited transcript.

Thank you so much for letting me come. It’s a real important thing for me to be here because every time a new issue comes up, like peacemaking, and I’m asked, “What do you think about that,” I have to then take the whole system of Christian Hedonism and living by faith in future grace, and ask whether it works with that. And that’s real healthy for me to do. So this is a great thing for me to have to think through what I was asked to do tonight.

Grace Empowers

I’m coming off of some things that make this talk tonight real relevant for me too. I got in the mail today a new book that I wrote called a Godward Life. And I’m disappointed with it. I don’t like what they did with it, in just a few ways. And so I feel like a conflict is brewing between me and Multnomah Press. “Why did you slice off a quarter-inch at the top of this book? I’m sitting there, and I saw the book for the first time this afternoon. I went upstairs, I opened it up, and my heart sank. I said, “This is not attractive like it should be.” Now, other people aren’t as picky as I am, but I was disappointed. And I’m sitting there thinking now, “Future grace is supposed to work here, and I’m supposed to be really satisfied with God, and I’m not supposed to get angry and hold grudges and be unforgiving and go after these rascals who messed up this book.”

So I just say that because I really battled; I was angry. I know a little bit about small conflicts, and I know a little bit about some big ones that we’ve walked through together. The other thing that puts this on the front burner — this issue tonight, for me — is because of a divorce in the offing that’s real close to me because a friend of mine has a daughter whose wedding I did a couple years ago who is leaving her husband for no biblical reason. And I’ve pleaded with her.

And there is a paradigm of self-justification that is so predictable you can write the script. And it all has to do with grace. And it goes something like this: God can’t want me to be this miserable the rest of my life, and I am feeling so bad I even contemplate suicide, and so I am going to step out for a season. And then a few associates, who have already walked through divorce say, “What are you doing hanging on like that for? Just end it.” And that infects, and then finally the papers are served, a breath is taken, and they say, “I have never felt more relieved in my life. God means more to me now than ever. I have tasted grace. I’m a failure, and that’s OK with God.” Blah, blah, blah. And that’s the way I feel: Blah, blah, blah. Because it’s just a script; I could write it.

Here’s the point about grace: I’m going to talk a lot about future grace in the few minutes I have — living by faith in future grace. Grace today in America is fundamentally the leniency of God with people who are walking into sin, and have no intention of turning around and doing what 2 Peter 2:2–3 calls turning grace into licentiousness or sinning that grace may abound, as Paul put it in (Romans 6:1. And my whole book, Future Grace, is an attempt to recover the biblical view of grace as empowerment for obedience, not just grace as leniency for disobedience. And if we don’t get that, we will have no way to live the Christian life. All of that is just to say I’m glad to be here and to have wrestled with the issue of peacemaking.

Three Driving Passions

I have three passions as I come.

Supremacy of God

The first one is a passion for the supremacy of God. Now you’ve got to know that our church went through a master-planning process in 1995 and part of 1996, and we worked hard, and we came up with a mission statement. And when you’ve been in a church for seventeen years, your church’s mission statement and your life’s mission statement tend to become one. It’s a glorious thing to be in a ministry and in a church where the mission statement of the church and the mission statement of your life are identical. And our mission statement goes like this: We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. That’s our mission statement.

And if I were to carry a piece of paper in my wallet to remind me of what my life is about, which I don’t have to because it’s in my head, I would have that sentence on the piece of paper. John Piper exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. And so if you read just a little bit of what I write, you don’t have to read anything else, because all I do is say the same thing over and over again under a lot of covers — namely, God is supreme, let’s recognize it, and let’s enjoy it.

Joy of All Peoples

Now that’s passion number two: a passion for joy. I want to be happy. And I cannot any more not want to be happy than not get hungry. That was a huge problem for me in college because in the air of evangelicalism is this unwritten statement that the pursuit of your own happiness, especially in high religious affairs, is an infection to be destroyed because it diminishes the morality of any act that’s motivated by that desire. That was a huge problem for me at Wheaton College. And when I discovered, in 1968, what I now call Christian Hedonism, it was one of the most freeing things — perhaps the most freeing thing — I have ever discovered.

And it’s all expressed in the sentence that’s on the little display back there: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him — meaning, there’s no conflict between these two passions. A passion for the supremacy of God and a passion to be happy are not at odds, and you don’t have to choose. That came to me like the absolute best news in all the world.

Your Will Be Done

Because, frankly, owing to the wrong way I was hearing — I’m sure, I hope — rather than what was actually being said, I grew up in a church where the message of missions that I heard was, “Stop doing your will, and do God’s.” And I thought, “Really? Is that the only alternative?” I couldn’t articulate it then, but I think if I had to ask some of those people now, I’d say, “Is there any possibility that my will be changed to love God’s will, so that God’s will was my will? Is that a possibility that I would delight to do thy will, O my God? That I would delight in mercy? That I would love laying down my life for Christ because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord? Would anybody please tell me the good news that I might be so wrought upon by God that my longings and passions and desires that are like a Vesuvius undeniably inside of me might be brought into line with the supremacy of God?” And nobody was saying that. Nobody was saying that.

A lot of people were saying, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), but nobody was telling me, or at least I don’t remember anybody telling me, that you can be so changed in your value structure, that you can love the glory of God. The glory of God can be your treasure: It can be your delight. It can be your Niagara Falls and your sunsets and your little babies. It can be so precious to you that to do everything for the glory of God is inevitable because you love the glory of God so much, and he satisfied you so deeply by revealing it to you. I wasn’t getting the message. These two passions — a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, and a passion for John Piper’s happiness — came together in the discovery that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.

Glorified and Satisfied

Now, I know a lot of you have read some of what I have written, and therefore, a lot of you know my favorite story to illustrate this. But I’m going to tell it to you anyway because I love to tell this story about me and Noël.

We’ve been married now, this December, 29 years. And we do have a two-year-old baby, believe it or not. We adopted her, and I’ll be 65 when she’s 15. That’s true. So I believe in future grace with all my might. For ten days between the phone call when the woman said, “We think we have a baby for you,” and Noël said, “Could we?” And when I finally, with tears, signed away the rest of my life to soccer games (I thought the soccer phase was over) — I signed that away, and with tears, looked into her eyes and said, “We can have our little girl.” We have four boys and she wept every time one of them was born. And I finally said, “You can have your little girl.”

We’ve been married 29 years. And suppose this December I come home and I have 29 roses behind my back, and I ring the doorbell on the anniversary. And she comes to the door and looks funny because I don’t usually ring the doorbell. And I pull the roses out and I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” And she says, “Oh, they’re beautiful! Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty. This is what you’re supposed to do. I’ve read the books.” That’s the wrong answer. So you replay the tape, you ring the doorbell, she comes to the door, she says, “They’re beautiful! Why did you?” And you say, “I couldn’t help it. Nothing makes me happier than buying roses for you. And why don’t you go get changed because I’ve arranged for a babysitter, and we’re going to go out tonight because there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend the night with you.” That’s the right answer.

And the reason it’s the right answer is because it’s pure hedonism. Did you hear it? “There’s nothing I’d rather do.” Not in a million years would she say, “All you ever do is think about yourself. ‘Nothing you’d rather do than spend the night with me.’ Why don’t you think about me sometimes?” Now why wouldn’t she say that? Why wouldn’t she get upset at my selfishness, at my hedonism? “Nothing I’d rather do tonight than spend the evening with you.” Very simple reason. All you women know it. All you men know it. To the degree that I am satisfied in her, she is glorified. Do you get it? This is not hard. This is marriage 101, theology 101, and it doesn’t get any more profound. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. If your motive for going to church on Sunday morning is duty, God’s not impressed, nor is he as glorified as if you delighted to worship him. In fact, I argue, delight is worship because his worth is reflected in your delight.

Those are my first two passions: a passion for the supremacy of God, and a passion for my happiness. They are not at odds. My joy in God is that which reflects his value and his preciousness and his beauty and his glory most clearly. And therefore, my vocation in life is to be as happy as I can be in God.

Holiness and Peace

Now the third passion: if I weren’t at a Peacemaker’s conference, I would say holiness. But since I’m here, I’m going to say peacemaking. And I have a verse to justify that replacement — namely, Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Now I take that connection as epexegetical, meaning that the holiness embraces the peacemaking. Holiness is the big term, peacemaking is a small subset of being a holy person. And when this verse says that there is a holiness without which you will not see God and makes peacemaking a piece of it, that elevates peacemaking cataclysmically high. If you’re not a peacemaker, you won’t go to heaven.

I believe that — that is, if you are an unforgiving person, if you have a spirit that is unforgiving, retaliatory, vengeful, vindictive, and does not move toward wholeness, but moves away from it and is content to live with strife and animosity and winning, you’re not a believer.

Faith in Future Grace

I want to develop for you how living by faith in future grace takes these three passions — a passion for God, a passion for joy in God, and a passion for holiness that embraces peacemaking — as the necessary lifestyle that leads to heaven. There is a narrow way. There is a narrow way and a broad way. And if you’re on the broad way, it leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14). If you’re on the narrow way, it leads to life Jesus said. The narrow way is the way of holiness. And the broad way is the way of sin. Now do not interpret me as a perfectionist; I sin every day. And I have lurking loves of strife and winning arguments and holding grudges. I battle with those things. If I were to lay down that battle, I would bear witness that the Holy Spirit is not in me.

What kind of life sustains those three passions? My answer is: living by faith in future grace. And so let’s just spend a few minutes on what that is, and a couple of illustrations for how it relates to peacemaking — living by faith in future grace.

Now and Forever

Let me take the word grace and tell you, just like I did at the beginning with this divorce issue that bothers me so much, why I’m talking about future grace, when in fact the greatest act of grace that’s ever been performed is the cross in its past. Future grace is what God promises to be for us in Jesus for the rest of our lives. That’s what I mean by it. I mean, the grace that will enable me to keep on breathing, thinking, and loving God until this message is over; as well as the grace that will see me through the death of friends and see me through my own death and see me into eternity with him. Future grace begins right now and goes forever. So five seconds of it is past now. And I was sustained. I’m alive, by grace. And I count on that day in and day out. That’s future grace.

Do not interpret future grace as the sweet by and by only — though I think that’s absolutely crucial for peacemaking. I mean, the grace to get me home tonight and to help me get my sermon ready tomorrow as well as go to my son’s football game tomorrow morning and squeeze the sermon preparation in tomorrow afternoon and have something for my people. All that’s future grace. I’ll go to sleep tonight when I get home with no sermon begun because I believe in future grace. I believe it’s the key to sleep deprivation problems. Every problem is worked on by faith in future grace.

Daily Intrusion of Power

Here are a couple of texts to show you what I mean by future grace. I don’t make this up.

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Do you see what grace is in that verse? Grace is a daily intrusion of the power of God into the life of the apostle to enable him to do what he’s got to do. That’s grace — including staying married when it’s awful. That’s future grace. Grace is not just forgiveness for sins you plan to do. Grace is power, trusted to do what’s hard and what will be really costly — and in the end will make you the happiest person on your deathbed that you can imagine.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Could it be clearer where tomorrow’s good deed is coming from? It’s coming from tomorrow’s grace. Tomorrow’s grace. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” So tomorrow’s has its set of evils. They’re coming folks, believe it. You could have a flat tire tomorrow. You might be killed tomorrow. There are troubles that are sufficient to tomorrow. Lamentations 3:23 says that God’s mercies are new every morning.

Today’s mercies will not work for tomorrow’s evils. So don’t lose sleep tonight saying, “If I have to meet that person that I don’t want to talk to tomorrow on the basis of the resources I feel right now, I can’t do it,” and therefore, stay up all night worrying. Of course, you can’t do it. Tomorrow’s engine isn’t designed to be run on today’s gas. But faith is what embraces those graces that aren’t here yet. They’re coming tomorrow — not today.

That’s why when you think about whether you could be a martyr or not, when you read about some of the suffering in the church today, and you say, “Could I ever do that?” the answer is: not today, but when it comes. I believe that will all my heart, from I Peter 4:17, that there is a dying grace for you. None of you is ready to die the way you’re going to have to die. You will be if you just keep trusting him. It’ll come; just in time, it’ll come. And that’s what enables you to sleep today or make peace today, when you wonder how it would possibly work for the rest of your life if this were the solution. And you just say, “It’ll work. God will give grace in this situation.” So grace, in my mind, as a way of living, is primarily future.

Fountain of All Blessing

Please don’t hear this as a minimizing of the cross. The cross is the greatest event in human history without which nothing counts. It purchased all future grace. The cross purchased all future grace. So if that’s the future and that’s the past, the way you live your life when you get up in the morning is this. You go, “Jesus, thank you. I love you. You are great. That’s all sufficient. ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’” (Romans 8:32).

You stand on him. You stand on grace. You’re crucified with him, and your eyes are fixed on the coming glory and all these daily graces that are bought by that.

Things Hoped For

But evangelicals today, I fear they have not been taught sanctification by faith in future grace. They’ve been taught sanctification that somehow happens in an amorphous way by looking backward. And they just keep looking at Jesus, and they keep thinking about how they’re forgiven. And then they know they’ve got to do something today for good, and they turn and it’s all behind them here. And they’re grasping for it. And they’re told, “Gratitude is the way to do this thing. Gratitude is the way to live your life.” No way. We are meant to live by the power of the grace that’s arriving out of the future every moment, not out of gratitude for past grace.

Now this is heavy and I’m going to skip over it because I’m swimming against a stream here that’s got all the big names in it. And I do not believe what most people say when they say the fundamental way to live the Christian life is out of gratitude. I don’t believe that. See if this doesn’t help: I think that gratitude is what you feel overwhelming you when you see the cross and all that he’s purchased. But as you take gratitude and begin to shift toward the future, gratitude becomes the feeding of faith in future grace. Faith in future grace is gratitude in the future tense — that is, gratitude is what you feel looking backward at what Christ did for you. Faith in future grace is what you feel about all the good things that he’s promised to be for you in Jesus. And there’s where the power is for making peace with people whom you don’t like, and you can’t get along with.

Faith is, in the New Testament, I believe, fundamentally future oriented. Just take one verse. Hebrews 11:1:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.

I think that’s plain. That’s plain. Faith is looking into the future, seeing the promises of God that he’ll be there for you, and being assured of it, feeling it: “Yes, I can do this. I can walk into this impossible future. He’s going to be there for me. I believe that.” That’s faith in future grace.

Faith in the Promises

It’s a little more than that though. My effort to spread a passion for the supremacy of God is fundamentally an effort to help people understand what faith is. Faith is not only future-oriented; it is fundamentally being satisfied. It is emotional as well as intellectual. It is not just an act of will. I don’t think feelings are a caboose on the end of the train. I think the whole emotional dimension of the human being is of the essence in believing promises, so that when I say, “Have faith in future grace,” I mean, “Be satisfied with the God who is making promises to be there for you tomorrow.” And if you don’t feel that satisfaction, your power’s gone. You can call it faith, but it’s not effectual. It doesn’t do anything in your life. Because what’s really satisfying you is money’s promises. Money’s making you a promise. Health is making you a promise. Marriage is making you a promise. Schools are making you a promise. Retirement’s making you promises. And those are the promises you are satisfied by.

If you’re not satisfied by the promises of God, they won’t make a change in your life. And that’s why we have a whole evangelical movement that says Hebrews 12:14 can’t mean what it means — namely, that eternal life is contingent upon being a peacemaker. Because “that’s just works.” “That’s works.” If you make eternal life contingent on a holiness without which you won’t see the Lord, you’re a legalist. And my whole effort in this book Future Grace is to try help people understand that that is not true, that genuine saving faith in future grace is of such a nature that it cannot but revolutionize your life into holiness, as imperfect as that is.

And the reason that it can’t is very simple. Strife and vindictiveness and jealousy and resentment and vengeance — the only power that those feelings have in your life is that they make promises to you that your future will be better if you hold onto that grudge, and if you get your part of this suit, and it just whispers promises, “Life will be better. You’ll have more money. You’ll have this deep sense of satisfaction that you beat them, and you didn’t let them get away with murder.” And those things will be seething inside of you and the whispering will be, “It’ll be better. It’ll be better.” And the only way to triumph over those lies is with the power of a superior promise — namely, the promises of God.

Superior Promises

So let me close with just an illustration or two practically of how this works.

‘The Lord Is My Helper’

I’ve been preaching through Hebrews for a couple of years. And we’ve arrived at chapter 13 now. And chapter 13 commands: love one another, welcome strangers into your house, visit prisoners, keep your marriage vows, keep your life free from the love of money.

Now I would say that I’m no expert in peacekeeping or making ministries, but I would guess, given the role of discontent and contentment that the key to peacemaking is the power for people to be content in very difficult circumstances. If you can have contentment without money, contentment without looking like a slick winner, contentment without the punishment of somebody and forgiveness instead — if you can have contentment, you will have the key of peacemaking. Hebrews 13:5–6 says,

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?”

Now did you get the logic? That’s a logic woven all through the book of Hebrews (10:34;11:24–26; 12:1–2; 13:5–6). The logic is this: in order to love each other, keep your marriage vows, go to visit people in prison, entertain strangers, be free from the love money, and thus, have all the resources that you need to walk through hard times — that comes from believing “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Future grace. “We can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper.’” That’s future grace: he’s my helper.

What we have to do in these ministries and all of our churches is help people get their eyes, not off the cross (I want to be careful not to say that), but get their whole selves on the cross and their eyes on promises — promises that God will work it out; he’ll work it out. Do you believe Romans 8:28? Do you believe Romans 8:32? Do you believe he pursues you with goodness and mercy all your days? (Psalm 23:6) Do you believe that he’s a sword and a shield? (Psalm 28:7). Do you believe that he works for those who wait for him? (Isaiah 64:4). Do you believe the hundreds of promises in the Bible so that you can walk into a tough future contented and therefore freed from vindictiveness towards Multnomah Press when they botch your book? You see, this is real stuff for me. I was battling at 5 o’clock this afternoon to believe what I preach and do it.

God Meant It for Good

Let me close with this one more text. Do you remember the fear that the brothers of Joseph had when their father died? Now there’s a conflict that we’re talking about here, a conflict between eleven boys and another boy. And they ripped him off something royal. They threw him into a pit. They sold him into slavery. He thought things were going well, and a woman lied about it and he gets thrown into jail.

And seventeen years later, God vindicates his faithfulness and he makes him the vice-president of Egypt. And in his providence, God brings these whippersnapper brothers down there to Egypt, and Joseph reveals himself to them. The father dies. And do you remember what they say in Genesis 50:15? They say, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” Now the question is: Will Joseph be a peacemaker or will he say, “I’ve got you and you’re going to pay; you are going to pay.” And he didn’t. And do you know what reason he gave that he didn’t? He said,

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)

“With a God like that, who works horrendous sin and evil together for your and my good, I cannot turn on you. I can enter this future with that God confident that he’ll take care of us.” And so I plead with you to get a handle on living by faith in future grace for three reasons.

  1. It will satisfy your heart because faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus — all he promises to be for us.

  2. It will magnify God because God is most magnified when you are most glorified in him through trusting him.

  3. And it will bring about the holiness or the peacemaking resources of your heart because it is the one way by which the powerful promises of sin are severed by a superior satisfaction.