Solid Joys – Daily Devotionals by John Piper
Resources from the ministry of John Piper.
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
God is the decisive worker here. Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you, the willing and the working. God wills and he works for his good pleasure. But believing this does not make Christians passive. It makes them hopeful and energetic and courageous.
Each day there is a work to be done in our special ministry. Paul commands us to work at doing it. But he tells us how to do it in the power that God supplies: believe him! Believe the promise that in this day God will be at work in you to will and work for his good pleasure.
It is God himself, graciously at work each moment, that brings the promise of future grace into our present experience. It is not the gratitude for past grace that Paul focuses on when explaining how we work out our salvation. I mention this simply because so many Christians, when asked what the motive is for obedience, will say gratitude. But that is not what Paul emphasizes when he talks about motive and power for our working. He focuses on faith in what God is yet to do, not just what he has done. Work out your salvation! Why? How? For there is fresh grace for every moment from God. He is at work in your willing and doing every time you will and do. Believe that for the challenges of the next hour and the next thousand years.
The power of future grace is the power of the living Christ — always there to work for us at every future moment that we enter. So when Paul describes the effect of the grace of God that was with him, he says, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).
Therefore, since he would not dare to speak of anything but what Christ accomplished through his ministry, and yet he did, in fact, speak of what grace accomplished through his ministry (1 Corinthians 15:10), this must mean that the power of grace is the power of Christ.
Which means that the power we need for the next five minutes and the next five decades of ministry is the future grace of the omnipotent Christ, who will always be there for us — ready to will and ready to work for his good pleasure.
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)
Paul realized that the first part of this verse might be misunderstood: “I worked harder than any of them.” So he goes on to say, “Though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Paul does not trace his obedience back to his thankfulness for past grace. He traces it up to moment-by-moment, ever-arriving grace. He is banking on the promise of God’s future grace to arrive at every moment of need. In every instant of Paul’s intention and effort to obey Christ, grace was at work to produce that intention and that effort. Paul did not bring about his work merely out of gratitude for past grace, but in moment-by-moment reliance on the arrival of promised grace. Paul wants to emphasize that the ever-arriving grace of God is the decisive cause of his work.
Does it really say that? Doesn’t it just say that the grace of God worked with Paul? No, it says more. We have to come to terms with the words, “Though it was not I.” Paul wants to exalt the moment-by-moment grace of God in such a way that it is clear that he himself is not the decisive doer of this work.
Nevertheless, he is a doer of this work: “I worked harder than any of them.” He worked. But he said it was the grace of God “toward me.”
If we let all the parts of this verse stand, the end result is this: grace is the decisive doer in Paul’s work. Since Paul is also a doer of his work, the way grace becomes the decisive doer is by becoming the enabling power of Paul’s work.
I take this to mean that, as Paul faced each day’s ministry burden, he bowed his head and confessed that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, he would not be able to do it.
Perhaps he recalled the words of Jesus, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So he prayed for future grace for the day, and he trusted in the promise that it would come with power. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Then he acted with all his might.
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:24)
According to the New Testament, “ministry” is what all Christians do. According to Ephesians 4:11–12, pastors have the job of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. But ordinary Christians are the ones who do the ministry.
What ministry looks like is as varied as Christians are varied. It’s not an office like elder or deacon; it’s a lifestyle devoted to making much of Christ and meeting the needs of others.
It means that we “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Whether we are bankers or bricklayers, it means that we aim at advancing other people’s faith and holiness to the glory of God.
Fulfilling your ministry is more important than staying alive. This conviction is what makes the lives of radically devoted people so inspiring to watch. Most of them speak the way Paul did about his ministry here in Acts 20:24: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” Doing the ministry that God gives us to do is more important than life.
You may think you need to save your life in order to do your ministry. On the contrary, how you lose your life may be the capstone of your ministry. It certainly was for Jesus — only in his thirties.
We need not fret about keeping ourselves alive in order to finish our ministry. God alone knows the appointed time of our service. He will decide when our death is not an interruption of our ministry, but the last act of our ministry.
Henry Martyn was right when he said, “If [God] has work for me to do, I cannot die.” In other words, I am immortal until my work is done. Therefore, ministry is more important than life.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)
Faith has an insatiable appetite for experiencing as much of God’s grace as possible. Therefore, faith presses toward the river where God’s grace flows most freely, namely, the river of love.
What other force will move us out of our contented living rooms to take upon ourselves the inconveniences and suffering that love requires?
What will propel us . . .
to greet strangers when we feel shy?
to go to an enemy and plead for reconciliation when we feel indignant?
to tithe when we’ve never tried it?
to speak to our colleagues about Christ when we are timid?
to invite new neighbors to a Bible study?
to cross cultures with the gospel?
to create a new ministry for alcoholics?
to spend an evening driving a van?
to invest a morning praying for renewal?
None of these costly acts of love just happens. They are impelled by a new appetite — the appetite of faith for the fullest experience of God’s grace. We want more of God. And we want this more than we want our private, disturbance-free security and comfort.
Faith loves to rely on God and see him work miracles in us. Therefore, faith pushes us into the current where the power of God’s future grace flows most freely — the current of love.
I think this is what Paul meant when he said that we should sow to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8). By faith, we should put the seeds of our energy in the furrows where we know the Spirit is at work to bear fruit — the furrows of love.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)
Paul is aiming at love. And one of the essential sources of this great effect is sincere faith. The reason faith is such a sure source of love is that faith in God’s grace expels from the heart the sinful powers that hinder love.
If we feel guilty, we tend to wallow in self-centered depression and self-pity, unable to see, let alone care about, anyone else’s need. Or we play the hypocrite to cover our guilt, and so destroy all sincerity in relationships, which makes real love impossible. Or we talk about other people’s faults to minimize the guilt of our own, which love does not do. So, if we are going to love, the destructive effects of guilt must be overcome.
It’s the same with fear. If we feel fearful, we tend not to approach a stranger at church who might need a word of welcome and encouragement. Or we may reject frontier missions as a vocation, because it sounds too dangerous. Or we may waste money on excessive insurance, or get swallowed up in all manner of little phobias that make us preoccupied with ourselves and blind us to the needs of others. All of which are the opposite of love.
It’s the same with greed. If we are greedy, we may spend money on luxuries — money that ought to go to the spread of the gospel. We don’t undertake anything risky, lest our precious possessions and our financial future be jeopardized. We focus on things instead of people, or see people as resources for our material advantage. So love is ruined.
But faith in future grace produces love by pushing guilt and fear and greed out of the heart.
It pushes out guilt because it holds fast to the hope that the death of Christ is sufficient to secure acquittal and righteousness now and forever (Hebrews 10:14).
It pushes out fear because it banks on the promise, “Fear not, for I am with you. . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
And it pushes out greed because it is confident that Christ is greater wealth than all the world can offer (Matthew 13:44).
So when Paul says, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from . . . sincere faith,” he is speaking of the tremendous power of faith to overcome all the obstacles to love. When we fight the fight of faith — the fight to believe the promises of God that kill guilt and fear and greed — we are fighting for love.
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5)
Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul said, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). The Spirit came to you the first time when you believed in the blood-bought promises of God. And the Spirit keeps on coming, and keeps on working, by this same means.
So Paul asks, rhetorically in Galatians 3:5, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” Answer: “By hearing with faith.”
Therefore, the Spirit came the first time, and the Spirit keeps on being supplied, through the channel of faith. Whatever he accomplishes in and through us is by faith.
If you are like me, you may have strong longings from time to time for the mighty working of the Holy Spirit in your life. Perhaps you cry out to God for the outpouring of the Spirit in your life or in your family or church or city. Such cries are right and good. Jesus said, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
But what I have found most often in my own life is the failure to open myself to the full measure of the Spirit’s work by believing the specific promises of God. I don’t mean merely the promise that the Spirit will come when we ask. I mean all the other precious promises that are not directly about the Spirit but, perhaps, about God’s provision for my future — for example, “My God will supply every need of yours” (Philippians 4:19). God’s Spirit is supplied in an ongoing and powerful way precisely through specific acts of faith in specific promises for specific situations. Do I trust him right now to do what he has promised to do?
This is what is missing in the experience of so many Christians as they seek the power of the Spirit in their lives. The Spirit is supplied to us “by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:5) — not just faith in one or two promises about the Spirit himself, but about all the soul-satisfying presence of God in our future to do for us, and be for us, whatever we need.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” (Matthew 7:22)
Consider the difference between a heart of “faith” and a heart of “works.”
The heart of works gets satisfaction from the ego-boost of accomplishing something in its own power. It will attempt to scale a vertical rock face, or take on extra responsibilities at work, or risk life in a combat zone, or agonize through a marathon, or perform religious fasting for weeks — all for the satisfaction of conquering a challenge by the force of its own will and the stamina of its own body.
The heart with a works-orientation may also go in another direction and express its love of independence and self-direction and self-achievement by rebelling against courtesy and decency and morality (Galatians 5:19–21). But it’s the same self-determining, self-exalting works-orientation — whether it is being immoral or mounting a crusade against immoral behavior. The common denominator is self-direction, self-reliance, and self-exaltation. In all of this, the basic satisfaction of the works-orientation is the savor of being an assertive, autonomous, and, if possible, triumphant self.
The heart of faith is radically different. Its desires are no less strong as it looks to the future. But what it desires is the fullest satisfaction of experiencing all that God is for us in Jesus.
If “works” wants the satisfaction of feeling itself overcome an obstacle, “faith” savors the satisfaction of feeling God overcome an obstacle. Works longs for the joy of being glorified as capable, strong, and smart. Faith longs for the joy of seeing God glorified for his capability and strength and wisdom and grace.
In its religious form, works accepts the challenge of morality, conquers its obstacles through great exertion, and offers the victory to God as a payment for his approval and recompense. Faith, too, accepts the challenge of morality, but only as an occasion to become the instrument of God’s power. And when the victory comes, faith rejoices that all the glory and thanks belong to God.
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. (Matthew 26:37)
The Bible gives us an amazing glimpse into the soul of Jesus the night before he was crucified. Watch and learn from the way Jesus fought his strategic battle against despondency or depression.
He chose some close friends to be with him. “Taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 26:37).
He opened his soul to them. He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).
He asked for their intercession and partnership in the battle. “Remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38).
He poured out his heart to his Father in prayer. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39).
He rested his soul in the sovereign wisdom of God. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
He fixed his eye on the glorious future grace that awaited him on the other side of the cross. “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
When something drops into your life that seems to threaten your future, remember this: The first shock waves of the bomb in your heart, like the ones Jesus felt in Gethsemane, are not sin. The real danger is yielding to them. Giving in. Putting up no spiritual fight. And the root of that sinful surrender is unbelief — a failure to fight for faith in future grace. A failure to cherish all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.
In Gethsemane Jesus shows us another way. Not painless, and not passive. Follow him. Find your trusted spiritual friends. Open your soul to them. Ask them to watch with you and pray. Pour out your soul to the Father. Rest in the sovereign wisdom of God. And fix your eyes on the joy set before you in the precious and magnificent promises of God.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Saving faith is not merely believing that you are forgiven. Saving faith looks at the horror of sin, and then looks at the holiness of God, and apprehends spiritually that God’s forgiveness is unspeakably glorious, beautiful. We don’t just receive it; we admire it. We are satisfied with our new friendship with such a great, forgiving God.
Faith in God’s forgiveness does not merely mean a persuasion that I am off the hook. It means savoring the truth that a forgiving God is the most precious reality in the universe. Saving faith cherishes being forgiven by God, and from there rises to cherishing the God who forgives — and all that he is for us in Jesus. This experience has a tremendous effect on our becoming forgiving people.
The great act of purchasing our forgiveness is past — the cross of Christ. By this backward look, we learn of the grace in which we will ever stand (Romans 5:2). We learn that we are now, and always will be, loved and accepted. We learn that the living God is a forgiving God.
But the great act of experiencing our forgiveness goes on forever into the future. Our joyful fellowship with the great God who forgives lasts forever. Therefore, freedom for forgiveness, flowing from this all-satisfying fellowship with the forgiving God, lasts as long as we do.
I have learned that it is possible to go on holding a grudge if your faith simply means you have looked back to the cross and concluded that you are off the hook. That’s why I have been forced to go deeper into what true faith is — not just a relief that I’m off the hook, but also a profound satisfaction with all that God is for me in Jesus. This faith looks back not merely to discover that we are off the hook, but also to see and savor the kind of God who offers us a future of endless reconciled tomorrows in fellowship with him. Satisfied fellowship with such a forgiving God is crucial for our being forgiving people.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
What is the basis of our not holding grudges against Christian brothers and sisters who repent?
Our moral indignation because of a terrible offense done against us does not evaporate just because the offender is a Christian. In fact, we may feel even more betrayed. And a simple, “I’m sorry” will often seem utterly disproportionate to the painfulness and ugliness of the offense.
But in this case we are dealing with fellow Christians and the promise of God’s wrath against our offender does not apply, because there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “God has not destined [Christians] for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). It looks like they are going to get away with it!
Where shall we turn to assure ourselves that justice will be done — that Christianity is not a mockery of the seriousness of sin?
The answer is that we look to the cross of Christ. All the wrongs that have been done against us by genuine believers were avenged in the death of Jesus. This is implied in the simple but staggering fact that all the sins of all God’s people were laid on Jesus. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24).
The suffering of Christ was the real punishment and recompense of God on every hurt you have ever received from a fellow Christian. Therefore, Christianity does not make light of sin. It does not add insult to our injury.
On the contrary, it takes the sins against us so seriously that, to make them right, God gave his own Son to suffer more than we could ever make anyone suffer for what they have done to us. If we go on holding a grudge against a fellow believer, we are saying in effect that the cross of Christ was not a sufficient recompense for the sins of God’s people. This is an insult to Christ and his cross you do not want to give.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
No one was more grievously sinned against than Jesus. Every ounce of animosity against him was completely undeserved.
No one has ever lived who was more worthy of honor than Jesus; and no one has been dishonored more.
If anyone had a right to get angry and be bitter and vengeful, it was Jesus. How did he control himself when scoundrels, whose very existence he sustained, spit in his face? First Peter 2:23 gives the answer: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
What this verse means is that Jesus had faith in the future grace of God’s righteous judgment. He did not need to avenge himself for all the indignities he suffered, because he entrusted his cause to God. He left vengeance in God’s hands and prayed for his enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Peter gives us this glimpse into Jesus’s faith so that we would learn how to live this way ourselves. He said, “You have been called [to endure harsh treatment patiently] . . . because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
If Christ conquered bitterness and vengeance by faith in what God, the good Judge, had promised to do, how much more should we, since we have far less right to murmur for being mistreated than he did?
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
Why is this such a crucial promise in overcoming our bent toward bitterness and revenge? The reason is that this promise answers one of the most powerful impulses behind anger — an impulse that is not entirely wrong.
In many cases, real wrongs have been done to us. Therefore, it is not entirely wrong to feel that justice should be done. What’s wrong is to feel that we must make it happen and that we may feel bitter until it does. This would be a deadly mistake.
During my seminary days, Noël and I were in a small group for couples that began to relate at a fairly deep personal level. One evening we were discussing forgiveness and anger. One of the young wives said that she could not and would not forgive her mother for something she had done to her as a young girl.
We talked about some of the biblical commands and warnings concerning an unforgiving spirit.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
“If you do not forgive others . . . neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)
But she would not budge. So I warned her that her very soul was in danger if she kept on with such an attitude of unforgiving bitterness. But she was adamant that she would not forgive her mother.
The grace of God’s judgment is promised to us here in Romans 12 as a means of helping us overcome such a deadly spirit of revenge and bitterness.
Paul’s argument is that we can be sure that all wrongs will be dealt with by God and that we can leave the matter in his hands because vengeance belongs to the Lord. To motivate us to lay down our vengeful desires he gives us a promise: “I will repay, says the Lord.”
The promise that frees us from an unforgiving, bitter, vengeful spirit is the promise that God will settle our accounts. He will do it more justly and mercifully and more thoroughly than we ever could. He punishes all sin. Nobody gets away with anything. He punishes it either in Christ in the cross for those who repent and trust him, or in hell for those who don’t. Therefore, we can back off and leave room for God to do his perfect work.
“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
Imagine being able to enjoy what is most enjoyable with unbounded and increasing energy and passion forever.
This is not now our experience. Three things stand in the way of our complete satisfaction in this world.
Nothing in this world has a personal worth great enough to meet the deepest longings of our hearts.
We lack the strength to savor the best treasures to their maximum worth.
Our enjoyment of things here comes to an end. Nothing lasts.
But if the aim of Jesus in John 17:26 comes true, all this will change. He prays to his Father about us, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” God does not love the Son the way he loves sinners. He loves the Son because the Son is infinitely worthy of love. That is, he loves the Son because the Son is infinitely lovely. Which means that this love is totally pleasure. Jesus prays that this pleasure that God has in his Son will be the same pleasure we have in the Son.
If God’s pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating. No greater treasure can be conceived than the Son of God.
But add to this what Jesus prays for; namely, that our ability — our energy, our passion — to savor this inexhaustible treasure will not be limited by human weaknesses. We will enjoy the Son of God with the very enjoyment of his omnipotent Father.
God’s delight in his Son will be in us and it will be ours. And this will never end, because neither the Father nor the Son ever ends. Their love for each other will be our love for them and therefore our loving them will never die.
. . . the gospel of the glory of the blessed God . . . (1 Timothy 1:11)
This is a beautiful phrase in 1 Timothy, buried beneath the too-familiar surface of Bible buzzwords. But after you dig it up, it sounds like this: “the good news of the glory of the happy God.” The word “blessed” is not the one that means “praised,” but the one that means “happy.”
A great part of God’s glory is his happiness.
It was inconceivable to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be all-glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely happy. He used the phrase, “the glory of the happy God,” because it is a glorious thing for God to be happy the way he is.
God’s glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination. As the great eighteenth-century preacher, Jonathan Edwards, said, “Part of God’s fullness which he communicates is his happiness. This happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in himself; so does also the creature’s happiness.”
And this is a key part of the gospel, Paul says: “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.” It is good news that God is gloriously happy. No one would want to spend eternity with a gloomy, unhappy God.
If God is unhappy, then the goal of the gospel — to be with God forever — is not a happy goal, and that means it would be no gospel at all. But, in fact, Jesus invites us to spend eternity with a happy God when he says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Jesus said in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus spoke, and lived, and died that his joy — God’s joy — might be in us and our joy might be full. Therefore the gospel is “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.”
“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.” (Job 36:26)
It is impossible to know God too well.
He is the most important person who exists. And this is because he made all others, and any importance they have is owing to him.
Any strength or intelligence or skill or beauty that other beings have comes from him. On every scale of excellence, he is infinitely greater than the best person you ever knew or ever heard of.
Being infinite, he is inexhaustibly interesting. It is impossible, therefore, that God be boring. His continual demonstration of the most intelligent and interesting actions is volcanic.
As the source of every good pleasure, he himself pleases fully and finally. If that’s not how we experience him, we are either dead, or blind, or sleepwalking.
It is therefore astonishing how little effort in this world is put into knowing God.
It’s as though the President of the United States came to live with you for a month, and you only said hello in passing every day or so. Or as if you were flown at the speed of light for a couple of hours around the sun and the solar system, and instead of looking out the window, you played a computer game. Or as if you were invited to watch the best actors, singers, athletes, inventors, and scholars perform their best, but you declined to go, so you could watch the TV season’s final soap.
Let us pray together that our infinitely great God would incline our hearts, and open our eyes to see him as fully as we can and seek to know him more.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Jesus will not sit by and let us disbelieve without a fight. He takes up the weapon of the word and speaks it with power for all who struggle to believe.
His aim is to defeat the fear that God is not the kind of God who really wants to be good to us — that he is not really generous and helpful and kind and tender, but is basically irked with us — ill-disposed and angry.
Sometimes, even if we believe in our heads that God is good to us, we may feel in our hearts that his goodness is somehow forced or constrained, perhaps like a judge who has been maneuvered by a clever attorney into a corner on some technicality of court proceeding, so he has to dismiss the charges against the prisoner whom he really would rather send to jail.
But Jesus is at pains to help us not feel that way about God. He is striving in Luke 12:32 to describe for us the indescribable worth and excellency of God’s soul by showing the unbridled pleasure he takes in giving us the kingdom.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Every little word of this stunning sentence is intended to help take away the fear that Jesus knows we struggle with; namely, that God begrudges his benefits; that he is constrained and out of character when he does nice things; that at bottom he is angry and loves to vent his anger.
Luke 12:32 is a sentence about the nature of God. It’s about the kind of heart God has. It’s a verse about what makes God glad — not merely about what God will do or what he has to do, but what he delights to do, what he loves to do and takes pleasure in doing. Every word counts. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thessalonians 1:6–8)
There will come a time when the patience of God is over. When God has seen his people suffer for the allotted time, and the appointed number of martyrs is complete (Revelation 6:11), then a just and holy vengeance will come from heaven.
Notice that God’s vengeance on those who have afflicted his people is experienced by us as “relief.” “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted.” In other words, the judgment on “those who afflict” us is a form of grace toward us.
Perhaps the most remarkable picture of judgment as grace is the picture of Babylon’s destruction in Revelation 18. At her destruction, a great voice from heaven cries, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” (Revelation 18:20). Then a great multitude is heard saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (Revelation 19:1–2).
When God’s patience has run its long-suffering course, and this age is over, and judgment comes on the enemies of God’s people, the saints will not disapprove of God’s justice.
This means that the final destruction of the unrepentant will not be experienced as a misery for God’s people.
The unwillingness of others to repent will not hold the affections of the saints hostage. Hell will not be able to blackmail heaven into misery. God’s judgment will be approved, and the saints will experience the vindication of truth as a great grace.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. (1 John 3:14)
So, love is the evidence that we are born again — that we are Christians, that we are saved.
Sometimes the Bible makes our holiness and our love for people the condition of our final salvation. In other words, if we are not holy and not loving, we will not be saved at the judgment day (e.g., Hebrews 12:14; Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:10). This doesn’t mean that acts of love are how we get right with God. No, the Bible is clear again and again as Ephesians 2:8–9 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.” No, when the Bible says that we are saved by faith but that we must love people in order to finally be saved, it means that faith in God’s promises must be so real that the love it produces proves the reality of the faith.
So, love for others is a condition of future grace in the sense that it confirms that the primary condition, faith, is genuine. We could call love for others a secondary condition, which confirms the authenticity of the primary and essential condition of faith which alone unites us to Christ, and receives his power.
Faith perceives the glory of God in the promises of future grace and embraces all that the promises reveal of what God is for us in Jesus. That spiritual sight of God’s glory, and our delight in it, is the self-authenticating evidence that God has called us to be a beneficiary of his grace. This evidence frees us to bank on God’s promise as our own. And this banking on the promise empowers us to love. Which in turn confirms that our faith is real.
The world is desperate for a faith that combines two things: awestruck sight of unshakable divine Truth, and utterly practical, round-the-clock power to make a liberating difference in life. That’s what I want too. Which is why I am a Christian.
There is a great God of grace who magnifies his own infinite beauty and self-sufficiency by fulfilling promises to helpless people who trust him. And there is a power that comes from prizing this God that leaves no nook or cranny of life untouched. It empowers us to love in the most practical ways.
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)
What faith performs is sometimes unspeakably hard.
In his book Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of POWs working on the Burma Railway during World War II.
At the end of each day the tools were collected from the work party. On one occasion a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. “All die! All die!” he shrieked, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while he stood silently to attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again and no shovel was missing.
What can sustain the will to die for others, when you are innocent? Jesus was carried and sustained in his love for us by “the joy that was set before him.” He banked on a glorious future blessing and joy, and that carried and sustained him in love through his suffering.
Woe to us if we think we should or can be motivated and strengthened for radical, costly obedience by some higher motive than the joy that is set before us. When Jesus called for costly obedience that would require sacrifice in this life, he said in Luke 14:14, “You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” In other words, be strengthened now in all your losses for Christ’s sake, because of the joy set before you.
Peter said that, when Jesus suffered without retaliating, he was leaving us an example to follow — and that includes Jesus’s confidence in the joy set before him. He handed his cause over to God (1 Peter 2:21) and did not try to settle accounts with retaliation. He banked his hope on the resurrection and all the joys of reunion with his Father and the redemption of his people. So should we.
How abundant is your goodness, which you have . . . worked for those who take refuge in you. (Psalm 31:19)
The experience of future grace often hangs on whether we will take refuge in God, or whether we doubt his care and run for cover to other shelters.
For those who take refuge in God, the promises of future grace are many and rich.
None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:22)
He is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (2 Samuel 22:31)
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:12)
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7)
We do not earn or merit anything by taking refuge in God. Hiding, because we are weak and need protection, is not a work to commend our self-sufficiency. All it does is show that we regard ourselves as helpless and the hiding place as a place of rescue.
In all those promises I just quoted, the condition of great blessing from God is that we take refuge in him. That condition is not a meritorious one; it is the condition of desperation and acknowledged weakness and need and trust.
Desperation does not demand or deserve; it pleads for mercy and looks for grace.
“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20)
There is a fear that is slavish and drives us away from God, and there is a fear that is sweet and draws us to God. Moses warned against the one and called for the other in the very same verse, Exodus 20:20: “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’”
The clearest illustration I have ever seen of this kind of good fear was the time one of my sons looked a German shepherd in the eye. We were visiting a family from our church. My son Karsten was about seven years old. They had a huge dog that stood eye to eye with a seven-year-old.
He was friendly and Karsten had no problem making friends. But when we sent Karsten back to the car to get something we had forgotten, he started to run, and the dog galloped up behind him with a low growl. And of course, this frightened Karsten. But the owner said, “Karsten, why don’t you just walk? The dog doesn’t like it when people run away from him.”
If Karsten hugged the dog, he was friendly and would even lick his face. But if he ran from the dog, the dog would growl and fill Karsten with fear.
That’s a picture of what it means to fear the Lord. God means for his power and holiness to kindle fear in us, not to drive us from him, but to drive us to him. Fearing God means, first, fearing to abandon him as our great security and satisfaction.
Or another way to say it is that we should fear unbelief. Fear not trusting God’s goodness. Isn’t that the point of Romans 11:20? “You stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” That is, what we should fear is not believing, not having faith. Fear running away from God. But if we walk with him and hug his neck, he will be our friend and protector forever.
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9)
Covetousness can destroy the soul in hell forever.
The reason I am sure that this destruction is not some temporary financial fiasco, but final destruction in hell, is what Paul says three verses later in 1 Timothy 6:12. He says that covetousness is to be resisted with the fight of faith. Then he adds, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession.” What’s at stake in fleeing covetousness and fighting for contentment by faith in future grace is eternal life.
So, when Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:9 that the desire to be rich plunges people into ruin, he isn’t saying that greed can mess up your marriage or your business (which it certainly can!). He is saying that covetousness can mess up your eternity. Or, as 1 Timothy 6:10 says at the end, “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (literally: “impaled themselves on many pains”).
God has gone the extra mile in the Bible to warn us mercifully that the idolatry of covetousness is a no-win situation. It’s a dead-end street in the worst sense of the word. It’s a trick and a deadly trap.
So, my word to you is the word of 1 Timothy 6:11: “Flee these things.” When you see it coming (in a television ad or a Christmas catalog or an Internet pop-up or a neighbor’s purchase), run from it the way you would run from a roaring, starving lion escaped from the zoo. “Take hold of the eternal life.”
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
God’s provision of day-by-day future grace enables Paul to be filled or to be hungry, to prosper or suffer, to have abundance or go wanting.
“I can do all things” really means “all things,” not just easy things. “All things” means, “Through Christ I can hunger and suffer and be in want.” This puts the stunning promise of Philippians 4:19 in its proper light: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
What does “every need of yours” mean in view of Philippians 4:11–12? It means “all that you need for God-glorifying contentment.” Which may include times of hunger and need. Paul’s love for the Philippians flowed from his contentment in God, and his contentment flowed from his faith in the future grace of God’s infallible provision to be all he needed in times of plenty and want.
It’s obvious then that covetousness is exactly the opposite of faith. It’s the loss of contentment in Christ so that we start to crave other things to satisfy the longings of our hearts which only the presence of God himself can satisfy. And there’s no mistaking that the battle against covetousness is a battle against unbelief in God’s promise to be all we need in every circumstance.
This is so clear in Hebrews 13:5. Watch how the author argues for our freedom from the love of money — freedom from covetousness — the freedom of contentment in God: “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.’” Faith in this promise — “I will never leave you” — breaks the power of all God-dishonoring desire — all covetousness.
Whenever we sense the slightest rise of covetousness in our hearts, we must turn on it and fight it with all our might using the weapons of this faith.
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith giving glory to God. (Romans 4:20)
Oh, how I long for God to be glorified in our pursuit of holiness and love. But God is not glorified unless our pursuit is empowered by faith in his promises.
And the God who revealed himself most fully in Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25), is most glorified when we embrace his promises with joyful firmness because they are bought by the blood of his Son.
God is honored when we are humbled for our feebleness and failure, and when he is trusted for future grace. That’s the point of Romans 4:20 where Paul describes Abraham’s faith, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith giving glory to God.”
He grew strong in his faith, thus giving glory to God. Faith in God’s promises glorifies him as supremely wise and strong and good and trustworthy. So, unless we learn how to live by faith in the promises of God’s future grace, we may perform remarkable religious rigors, but not for God’s glory.
He is glorified when the power to be holy comes through humble faith in future grace.
Martin Luther said, “[Faith] honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers him truthful and trustworthy.” The trusted Giver gets the glory.
My great desire is that we learn how to live for God’s honor. And that means living by faith in future grace, which, in turn, means battling unbelief in all the ways it rears its head.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
There is a practical holiness without which we will not see the Lord. Many live as if this were not so.
There are professing Christians who live such unholy lives that they will hear Jesus’s dreadful words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Paul says to professing believers, “If you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13).
So, there is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord. And learning to fight for holiness by faith in future grace is supremely important.
There is another way to pursue holiness that backfires and leads to death. Paul warns us against serving God any other way than by faith in his enabling grace. God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Any effort to serve God that does not, in that very act, depend on him as the reward of our hearts and the power of our service, will dishonor him as a needy pagan god.
Peter describes the alternative to such self-reliant service of God, “Whoever serves, [let him do so] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). And Paul says, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Romans 15:18; see also 1 Corinthians 15:10).
Moment by moment, grace arrives to enable us to do “every good work” that God appoints for us. “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).
The fight for good works is a fight to believe the promises of future grace.
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.” (John 6:35)
What we need to see here is that the essence of faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ.
Defining faith this way emphasizes two things. One is the God-centeredness of faith. It is not merely the promises of God that satisfy us. It is all that God himself is for us in Jesus. Faith embraces God in Christ as our treasure — not just God’s promised gifts.
Faith banks its hope not just on the real estate of the age to come, but on the fact that God will be there (Revelation 21:3). “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”
And even now what faith embraces most earnestly is not just the reality of sins forgiven (as precious as that is), but the presence of the living Christ in our hearts and the fullness of God himself. In Ephesians 3:17–19 Paul prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The other thing emphasized in defining faith as being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus is the term “satisfaction.” Faith is the quenching of the soul’s thirst at the fountain of God. In John 6:35 we see that “believing” means “coming” to Jesus to eat and drink the “bread of life” and the “living water” (John 4:10, 14), which are nothing other than Jesus himself.
Here is the secret of the power of faith to break the enslaving force of sinful attractions. If the heart is satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus, the power of sin to lure us away from the wisdom of Christ is broken.
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)
Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift and power of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.
This is plain, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:10. Paul describes grace as the enabling power of his work. It is not simply the pardon of his sins; it is the power to press on in obedience. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Therefore, the effort we make to obey God is not an effort done in our own strength, but “by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11). It is the obedience of faith. Faith in God’s ever-arriving gracious power to enable us to do what we should.
Paul confirms this in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 by calling each of our acts of goodness a “work of faith,” and by saying that the glory this brings to Jesus is “according to the grace of our God” because it happens “by his power.” Listen for all those phrases:
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, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The obedience that gives God pleasure is produced by the power of God’s grace through faith. The same dynamic is at work at every stage of the Christian life. The power of God’s grace that saves through faith (Ephesians 2:8) is the same power of God’s grace that sanctifies through faith.
Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:24)
Why did Saul obey the people instead of God? Because he feared the people instead of God. He feared the human consequences of obedience more than he feared the divine consequences of disobedience. He feared the displeasure of the people more than the displeasure of God. And that is a great insult to God.
In fact, Isaiah says it is a kind of pride to be afraid of what man can do while we disregard the promises of God. He quotes God with this piercing question: “I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker?” (Isaiah 51:12–13).
Fear of man may not feel like pride, but that’s what God says it is, “Who do you think you are to fear man and forget me your Maker!”
The point is this: If you fear man, you have begun to deny the holiness, the worth of God and his Son, Jesus. God is infinitely stronger than man. He is infinitely wiser and infinitely more full of reward and joy.
To turn from him out of fear of what man can do is to discount all that God promises to be for those who fear him. It is a great insult. And in such an insult God can take no pleasure.
On the other hand, when we hear God’s promises and trust him with courage, fearing the reproach brought upon God by our unbelief, then he is greatly honored. And in that he has much pleasure.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)
Paul prays that God would convert Israel. He prays for her salvation! He does not pray for ineffectual influences, but for effectual influences. And that is how we should pray too.
We should take the new covenant promises of God and plead with God to bring them to pass in our children and our neighbors and on all the mission fields of the world.
God, take out of their flesh the heart of stone and give them a new heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
Circumcise their heart so that they love you! (Deuteronomy 30:6)
Father, put your Spirit within them and cause them to walk in your statutes. (Ezekiel 36:27)
Grant them repentance and a knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25–26)
Open their hearts so that they believe the gospel! (Acts 16:14)
When we believe in the sovereignty of God — in the right and power of God to elect and then bring hardened sinners to faith and salvation — then we will be able to pray with no inconsistency, and with the confidence of great biblical promises for the conversion of the lost.
Thus, God has pleasure in this kind of praying because it ascribes to him the right and honor to be the free and sovereign God that he is in election and salvation.
“This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
The first mark of the upright heart is that it trembles at the word of the Lord.
Isaiah 66 deals with the problem of some who worship in a way that pleases God and some who worship in a way that doesn’t. Verse 3 describes the wicked who bring their sacrifices, “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man.” Their sacrifices are an abomination to God — on a par with murder. Why?
In verse 4 God explains, “When I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen.” Their sacrifices were abominations to God because the people were deaf to his voice. But what about those whose prayers God heard? God says in verse 2, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
I conclude from this that the first mark of the upright, whose prayers are a delight to God, is that they tremble at God’s word. These are the people to whom the Lord will look.
So, the prayer of the upright that delights God comes from a heart that at first feels precarious in the presence of God. It trembles at the hearing of God’s word, because it feels so far from God’s ideal and so vulnerable to his judgment and so helpless and so sorry for its failings.
This is just what David said in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The first thing that makes a prayer acceptable to God is the brokenness and humility of the one who prays. They tremble at his word.
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
What if you discovered (like the Pharisees did) that you had devoted your whole life to trying to please God, but all the while had been doing things that in God’s sight were abominations (Luke 16:14–15)?
Someone may question this and say, “I don’t think that’s possible; God wouldn’t reject a person who has been trying to please him.” But do you see what this questioner has done? He has based his conviction about what would please God on his idea of what God is like. That is precisely why we must begin with the character of God revealed in Scripture.
God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket. So, the great question is: How do you serve a spring? And: How do you serve a watering trough? How do you glorify God the way he really is?
If you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough, you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring, you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart’s satisfaction, until you have the refreshment and strength to go back down in the valley and tell the people what you’ve found.
My hope as a desperate sinner hangs on this biblical truth: that God is the kind of God who will be pleased with the one thing I have to offer: my thirst. That’s why the sovereign freedom and self-sufficiency of God are so precious to me: they are the foundation of my hope that God is delighted not by the resourcefulness of bucket brigades, but by the bending down of broken sinners to drink at the fountain of grace.
By all means we should seek to please God, now and forever. But woe to us if our whole life proves to be based on a false view of what pleases God. The Lord is pleased not by those who treat him as a needy watering trough, but as an inexhaustible, all-satisfying spring. As Psalm 147:11 says, “The Lord takes pleasure . . . in those who hope in his steadfast love.”
As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)
When God does good to his people it is not so much like a reluctant judge showing kindness to a criminal whom he finds despicable; it is like a bridegroom showing affection to his bride.
Sometimes we joke and say about a marriage, “The honeymoon is over.” But that’s because we are finite. We can’t sustain a honeymoon level of intensity and affection. But God says that his joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. And he doesn’t mean it starts out that way and then fades.
He is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasures and honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is trying to get into our hearts what he means when he says he rejoices over us with all his heart. Jeremiah 32:41, “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.” Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
With God the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite in power and wisdom and creativity so that there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums.
“The Lord will again take delight in prospering you.” (Deuteronomy 30:9)
God does not bless us begrudgingly. There is a kind of eagerness about the beneficence of God. He does not wait for us to come to him. He seeks us out, because it is his pleasure to do us good. God is not waiting for us; he is pursuing us. That, in fact, is the literal translation of Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.”
God loves to show mercy. Let me say it again. God loves to show mercy. He is not hesitant or indecisive or tentative in his desires to do good to his people. His anger must be released by a stiff safety lock, but his mercy has a hair trigger. That’s what he meant when he came down on Mount Sinai and said to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6). It’s what he meant when he said in Jeremiah 9:24, “I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
God is never irritable or edgy. His anger never has a short fuse. Instead he is infinitely energetic with absolutely unbounded and unending enthusiasm for the fulfillment of his delights.
This is hard for us to comprehend, because we have to sleep every day just to cope, not to mention thrive. Our emotions go up and down. We get bored and discouraged one day and feel hopeful and excited another.
We are like little geysers that gurgle and sputter and pop erratically. But God is like a great Niagara Falls — you look at 186,000 tons of water crashing over the precipice every minute, and think: Surely this can’t keep going at this force year after year after year. Yet it does.
That’s the way God is about doing us good. He never grows weary of it. It never gets boring to him. The Niagara of his grace has no end.
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)
One of my friends who used to be a pastor in Illinois was preaching to a group of prisoners in a state prison during Holy Week several years ago. At one point in his message, he paused and asked the men if they knew who killed Jesus.
Some said the soldiers did. Some said the Jews did. Some said Pilate. After there was silence, my friend said simply, “His Father killed him.”
That’s what the first half of Romans 8:32 says: God did not spare his own Son but handed him over — to death. “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Isaiah 53 puts it even more bluntly, “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God. . . . It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he (his Father!) has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:4, 10).
Or as Romans 3:25 says, “God put [him] forward as a propitiation by his blood.” Just as Abraham lifted the knife over the chest of his son Isaac, but then spared his son because there was a ram in the thicket, so God the Father lifted his knife over the chest of his own Son, Jesus — but did not spare him, because he was the ram; he was the substitute.
God did not spare his own Son, because it was the only way he could spare us and still be a just and holy God. The guilt of our transgressions, the punishment of our iniquities, the curse of our sin would have brought us inescapably to the destruction of hell. But God did not spare his own Son; he gave him up to be pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities, and crucified for our sins.
This verse — Romans 8:32 — is the most precious verse in the Bible to me because the foundation of the all-encompassing promise of God’s future grace is that the Son of God bore in his body all my punishment and all my guilt and all my condemnation and all my blame and all my fault and all my corruption, so that I might stand before a great and holy God, forgiven, reconciled, justified, accepted, and the beneficiary of unspeakable promises of pleasure forever and ever at his right hand.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3)
In the context of this verse, Paul is concerned that people were thinking of themselves “more highly than [they] ought to think.” His final remedy for this pride is to say that not only are spiritual gifts a work of God’s free grace in our lives, but so also is the very faith with which we use those gifts. “. . . each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
This means that every possible ground of boasting is taken away from us. How can we boast if even the qualification for receiving gifts is also a gift?
This truth has a profound impact on how we pray. Jesus gives us the example in Luke 22:31–32. Before Peter denies him three times Jesus says to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus prays for Peter’s faith to be sustained even through the sin of denial, because he knows that God is the one who gives faith. So we should pray the way Jesus did — for ourselves and for others that God would sustain our faith.
Thus, the man with the epileptic son cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). This is a good prayer. It acknowledges that without God we cannot believe as we ought to believe.
Let us pray daily, “O Lord, thank you for my faith. Sustain it. Strengthen it. Deepen it. Don’t let it fail. Make it the power of my life, so that in everything I do, you get the glory as the great Giver. Amen.”
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
If “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus],” then to trust him now in the present is to believe that his promises will come true.
Those are not two separate faiths — trusting him, and believing in his promises. Trusting Jesus — believing in Jesus for salvation — means believing that he keeps his word. Being satisfied in the crucified and risen Jesus includes the belief that at every future moment, to all eternity, nothing will separate us from his love, or keep him from working all things together for our good. And that “good” is ultimately seeing and savoring the beauty and worth of God in Christ as our supreme treasure.
The confidence that this all-satisfying good will be there for us forever is based on all the glorious grace of the past, especially the grace that God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32).
We need to taste now the spiritual beauty of God in all his past achievements — especially the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins — and in all his promises. Rooted in this past grace, our confidence and trust lay hold on all that God himself will be for us in the next moment, and in the next month, and in the endless ages of eternity.
It is he and he alone who will satisfy the soul in the future. And we must be sure of this future, if we are to live the radical Christian lives that Christ calls us to live here and now.
If our present enjoyment of Christ now — our present faith — does not have in it the Yes to all God’s promises, it will not embrace the power for radical service in the strength that God (in every future moment) will supply (1 Peter 4:11).
My prayer is that reflecting like this on the nature of faith in future grace will help us avoid superficial, oversimplified statements about believing the promises of God. It is a deep and wonderful thing.
The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13)
This is not what I expected the proverb to say. I would have expected it to say, “The coward says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!’” But it says, “sluggard,” not “coward.” So, the controlling emotion here is laziness, not fear.
But what does laziness have to do with the danger of a lion in the street? We don’t usually say, “This man is too lazy to go do his work because there is a lion outside.”
The point is that the sluggard creates imaginary circumstances to justify not doing his work, and thus shifts the focus from the vice of his laziness to the danger of lions. No one will approve his staying in the house all day just because he is lazy. But they might excuse him if there is a lion in the street.
One profound biblical insight we need to learn from this is that our heart exploits our mind to justify what we want. That is, our deepest desires precede the rational functioning of our minds and incline the mind to perceive and think in a way that will make the desires look right, even if they’re wrong.
This is what the sluggard is doing. He deeply desires to stay at home and not work. There is no good reason to stay at home. So, what does he do? Does he overcome his bad desire — his laziness? No, he uses his mind to create unreal circumstances to justify his desire.
Jesus said, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). We love the darkness so that we can keep on doing what we want without exposure. In this condition, the mind becomes a factory of darkness — a fountain of half-truths, equivocations, sophistries, evasions, and lies — anything to protect the evil desires of the heart from exposure and destruction.
Consider and be wise.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
God answers the prayers of sinners, not perfect people. And you can become perfectly paralyzed in your praying if you do not focus on the cross and realize this.
I could show it from numerous Old Testament texts where God hears the cry of his sinful people, whose very sins had gotten them into the trouble from which they are crying for deliverance (for example, Psalm 38:4, 15; 40:12–13; 107:11–13). But let me show it from Luke 11 — in two ways:
In this version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4), Jesus says, “When you pray, say . . . ” and then in verse 4 he includes this petition, “and forgive us our sins.” So, if you connect the beginning of the prayer with the middle, what he says is, “Whenever you pray, say . . . forgive us our sins.”
I take this to mean that this should be as much a part of all our praying as, “Hallowed be your name.” Which means that Jesus assumes that we need to seek forgiveness virtually every time we pray.
In other words, we are always sinners. Nothing we do is perfect. As Martin Luther said, on his deathbed, “We are beggars. This is true.” Even if we have achieved some measure of obedience before we pray, we always come to the Lord as sinners — all of us. And God does not turn away the prayers of sinners when they pray like this.
The second place we can see this is in Luke 11:13: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Jesus calls his disciples “evil.” Pretty strong language. And he did not mean that they were out of fellowship with him. He did not mean that their prayers could not be answered.
He meant that as long as this fallen age lasts, even his own disciples will have an evil bent that pollutes everything they do, but doesn’t keep them from doing much good as they rely on his grace and power.
We are simultaneously evil and redeemed. We are gradually overcoming our evil by the power of the Holy Spirit. But our native corruption is not obliterated by conversion.
We are sinners and we are beggars. And if we recognize this sin, renounce it, fight it, and cling to the cross of Christ as our hope, then God will hear us and answer our prayers.
You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
“Worship” is the term we use to cover all the acts of the heart and mind and body that intentionally express the infinite worth of God. This is what we were created for. It might be singing in church. It might we sweeping the kitchen floor.
Don’t just think about worship services when you think about worship. That is a huge limitation which is not in the Bible. All of life is supposed to be worship.
Take breakfast, for example, or midmorning snacks. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Now eating and drinking are about as basic as you can get. What could be more real or more ordinarily human than eating and drinking? And Paul says, in effect, let all your eating and drinking be worship.
Or take sex. Paul says the alternative to fornication is worship.
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18–20)
That is, worship with your body by the way you handle your sexuality.
Or take death for a final example. We will experience death in our bodies. In fact, it will be the last act of the body on this earth. The body bids farewell. How shall we worship in that last act of the body? We see the answer in Philippians 1:20–21. Paul says that his hope is that Christ would be magnified — worshiped, shown to be worthy — in his body by death. Then he adds, “For to me . . . to die is gain.” We express the infinite worth of Christ in dying by counting death as gain.
You have a body. But it is not yours. “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
You are always in a temple. Always worship.
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. (Galatians 2:20)
Faith is a perfect fit with God’s future grace. It corresponds to the freedom and all-sufficiency of grace. And it calls attention to the glorious trustworthiness of God.
One of the important implications of this conclusion is that the faith that justifies and the faith that sanctifies are not two different kinds of faith. “Sanctify” simply means to make holy or to transform into Christlikeness. It is all by grace.
Therefore, it must also be through faith. For faith is the act of the soul that connects with grace, and receives it, and channels it as the power of obedience, and guards grace from being nullified through human boasting.
Paul makes this connection between faith and sanctification explicit in Galatians 2:20 (“I live by faith”). Sanctification is by the Spirit and by faith. Which is another way of saying that it is by grace and by faith. The Spirit is “the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). God’s way of making us holy is by the Spirit; but the Spirit works through faith in the gospel.
The simple reason why the faith that justifies is also the faith that sanctifies is that both justification and sanctification are the work of sovereign grace. And it’s faith that corresponds to grace. Justification and sanctification are not the same kind of work (justification is the imputation of righteousness; sanctification is the impartation of righteousness), but they are both works of grace. Sanctification and justification are “grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
The human corollary of God’s free grace is faith. If both justification and sanctification are works of grace, it is natural that they would both be by faith.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death. (Colossians 1:21–22)
The best news in all the world is that our alienation from God is ended and we are reconciled to the Judge of the universe. God is no longer against us, but for us. Having omnipotent love on our side mightily steels the soul. Life becomes utterly free and daring when the strongest being in the universe is for you.
But Paul’s message of salvation is not good news to those who reject the diagnosis in Colossians 1:21. He says, you “were alienated and hostile in mind.”
How many people do you know who say, “Apart from God’s grace, I am hostile to God in my mind”? People seldom say, “I hate God.” So, what does Paul mean that people are “hostile in mind” to God before they were reconciled by the blood of Christ?
I think he means that the hostility is really there toward the true God, but people do not allow themselves to think about the true God. They imagine God to be the way they would like him to be, which seldom includes any possibility that they might be in really serious trouble with him.
But concerning the God who really exists — a God who is sovereign over all things, including sickness and calamity — we were all hostile to him, Paul says. Deep down, we hated his absolute power and authority.
That any of us is saved is owing to the wonderful truth that the death of Christ obtained the grace by which God conquered our hearts and caused us to love the One we once hated.
Many are still learning not to be hostile to God. It is a good thing that he is gloriously patient.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
One of the most powerful testimonies to the all-sufficiency of God’s future grace is the “faith principle” that has governed the lives of so many missionaries, notably those of Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF).
Without condemning those who follow a different pattern, it has been the practice of those who follow in the steps of Hudson Taylor and George Mueller to move the hearts of supporters to give by directing their requests to God and not to people.
James H. Taylor, the great-grandson of the founder of OMF, explains how this faith in future grace, rooted in demonstrations of bygone grace, honors God.
We . . . begin from a position of faith. We believe God does exist. We have become convinced of this in a variety of ways, but all of us have experienced the grace of God in bringing us to know Himself through Jesus Christ and through rebirth by His Spirit. We believe we have good grounds of believing in Him through the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: we believe that someone who said He would die and rise again, and did it, is credible in every other way. Therefore we are prepared to trust Him, not only for the eternal salvation of our souls, but also for the practical provision of our daily bread and financial support.
OMF publishes testimonies of God’s amazing faithfulness to demonstrate the glory of his all-supplying future grace. “We want to demonstrate that God can be trusted to do all that He says He will do, by sharing how He has provided for such mundane needs as plane tickets, meals, medical expenses, and the regular support of a whole group of Christian people for well over a hundred years.”
What OMF is devoted to is glorifying the dependability of God — in their message and in their method. Hudson Taylor put it this way: “There is a living God. He has spoken in the Bible. He means what He says and will do all that He has promised.”
Lives of faith are the great mirror of the dependability of God.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
I want very much for God to say to me what he said about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “I am not ashamed to be called your God.”
As risky as it sounds, does this not really mean that God might actually be “proud” to be called my God? Fortunately this wonderful possibility is surrounded (in Hebrews 11:16) by reasons: one before and one after.
Take the one after, first: “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
The first reason he gives why he is not ashamed to be called their God is that he has done something for them. He made them a city — the heavenly city “whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). So, the first reason he is not ashamed to be called their God is that he has worked for them. Not the other way around.
Now, consider the reason he gives in the front. It goes like this: “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
“Therefore” signals that a reason has just been given for why God is not ashamed to be called our God. The reason is their desire. They desire a better country — that is, a better country than the earthly one they live in; namely, a heavenly one where God is.
When we desire this heavenly city — this dwelling place of God — more than we desire all that this world can give, God is not ashamed to be called our God. When we make much of all that he promises to be for us, he is proud to be our God. This is good news.
So, open your eyes to the better country, the city of God that he has prepared for us, and let yourself desire it with all your heart. God will not be ashamed to be called your God.
He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:20–21)
Paul has in mind a special reason why faith glorifies God’s future grace. Simply put, the reason is that this God-glorifying faith is a future-oriented confidence in God’s integrity and power and wisdom to follow through on all his promises.
Paul illustrates this faith with Abraham’s response to the promise of God: that he would be the father of many nations even though he was old and his wife was barren (Romans 4:18). “In hope he believed against hope,” that is, he had faith in the future grace of God’s promise, in spite of all human evidences to the contrary.
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21)
The faith of Abraham was a faith in the promise of God to make him the father of many nations. This faith glorified God because it called attention to all the omnipotent, supernatural resources of God that would be required to fulfill it.
Abraham was too old to have children, and Sarah was barren. Not only that: How do you turn a son or two into “many nations,” which God said Abraham would be the father of? It all seemed totally impossible.
Therefore, Abraham’s faith glorified God by being fully assured that he could and would do the humanly impossible. This is the faith we are called to have. That God will do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)
You who hope in Christ and follow him in the obedience of faith are Abraham’s descendants and heirs of his covenant promises.
God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:4, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” But Genesis makes plain that Abraham did not father a multitude of nations in a physical or political sense. Therefore, the meaning of God’s promise was probably that a multitude of nations would somehow enjoy the blessings of sonship even though physically unrelated to Abraham.
That’s no doubt what God meant in Genesis 12:3 when he said to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” From the very beginning, God had in view that Jesus Christ would be the descendant of Abraham and that everyone who trusts in Christ would become an heir of Abraham’s promise. Paul says in Galatians 3:29, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
So, when God said to Abraham 4,000 years ago, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations,” he opened the way for any one of us, no matter what nation we belong to, to become a child of Abraham and an heir of God’s promises. All we have to do is share the faith of Abraham — that is, bank our hope on God’s promises, so much so that if obedience requires it, we could give up our dearest possession like Abraham gave up Isaac.
We don’t become heirs of Abraham’s promises by working for God, but by being confident that God works for us. “[Abraham] grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20–21). That’s why Abraham could obey God even when obedience looked like a dead-end street. He trusted God to do the impossible — like raise his son from the dead.
Faith in God’s promises — or today we would say, faith in Christ, who is the confirmation of God’s promises — is the way to become a child of Abraham; obedience is the evidence that faith is genuine (Genesis 22:12–19). Therefore, Jesus says in John 8:39, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.”
Children of Abraham are people from all nations who put their hope in Christ and, like Abraham on Mount Moriah, therefore don’t let the loss of their most precious earthly possession stop their obedience.
You who hope in Jesus Christ and follow him in the obedience of faith are the descendants of Abraham and heirs of his covenant promises.
I do not nullify the grace of God. (Galatians 2:21)
When I lost my footing as a little boy in the undertow at the beach, I felt as if I were going to be dragged to the middle of the ocean in an instant.
It was a terrifying thing. I tried to get my bearings and figure out which way was up. But I couldn’t get my feet on the ground, and the current was too strong to swim. I wasn’t a good swimmer anyway.
In my panic I thought of only one thing: Could someone help me? But I couldn’t even call out from under the water.
When I felt my father’s hand take hold of my upper arm like a mighty vice grip, it was the sweetest feeling in the world. I yielded entirely to being overpowered by his strength. I reveled in being picked up at his will. I did not resist.
The thought did not enter my mind that I should try to show that things aren’t so bad; or that I should add my strength to my dad’s arm. All I thought was, Yes! I need you! I thank you! I love your strength! I love your initiative! I love your grip! You are great!
In that spirit of yielded affection, one cannot boast. I call that yielded affection “faith.” And my father was the embodiment of the future grace of God that I desperately needed and craved under the water. This is the faith that magnifies grace.
As we ponder how to live the Christian life, the uppermost thought should be: How can I magnify rather than nullify the grace of God? Paul answers this question in Galatians 2:20–21, “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. I do not nullify the grace of God.”
Why does his life not nullify the grace of God? Because he lives by faith in the Son of God. Faith calls all attention to grace and magnifies it, rather than nullifying it.
“They shall be servants to him, that they may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.” (2 Chronicles 12:8)
Serving God is utterly different from serving anyone else.
God is extremely jealous that we understand this — and enjoy it. For example, he commands us, “Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:2). There is a reason for this gladness. It is given in Acts 17:25. God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
We serve him with gladness because we do not bear the burden of meeting his needs. He has no needs. So, serving him can’t mean meeting his needs. Instead we rejoice in a service where he meets our needs. Serving God always means receiving grace from God to do what we have to do.
To show how jealous God is for us to understand this, and glory in it, there is a story in 2 Chronicles 12. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, who ruled the southern kingdom after the revolt of the ten tribes, chose against serving the Lord and gave his service to other gods and other kingdoms.
As judgment, God sent Shishak, the king of Egypt, against Rehoboam with 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen (2 Chronicles 12:2–3).
In mercy God sent the prophet Shemaiah to Rehoboam with this message: “Thus says the Lord, ‘You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak’” (2 Chronicles 12:5). The happy upshot of that message is that Rehoboam and his princes humbled themselves in repentance and said, “The Lord is righteous” (2 Chronicles 12:6).
When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, he said, “They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak” (2 Chronicles 12:7). But as a discipline to them he says, “They shall be servants to him, that they may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (2 Chronicles 12:8).
The point is plain: serving the enemy and serving God are very different. How so? Serving God is a receiving and a blessing and a joy and a benefit. Serving Shishak is exhausting and depleting and sorrowful. God is a giver. Shishak is a taker.
This is why I am so jealous to say that the worship of Sunday morning and the worship of daily obedience is not at bottom a burdensome giving to God, but a joyful getting from God. That is the true service that God demands. In all you do, trust me as the giver.
By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
The New Testament correlates faith and grace to make sure that we do not boast in what grace alone achieves.
One of the most familiar examples is Ephesians 2:8. By grace, through faith. There’s the correlation that guards the freedom of grace. By grace, through faith.
Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God.
Therefore faith, by its very nature, nullifies boasting and fits with grace. Wherever faith looks, it sees grace behind every praiseworthy act. So it cannot boast, except in the Lord. The author of grace.
So Paul, after saying that salvation is by grace through faith, says, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). Faith cannot boast in human goodness or competence or wisdom, because faith focuses on the free, all-supplying grace of God. Whatever goodness faith sees, it sees as the fruit of grace.
When it looks at our “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” it says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).
But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:25)
The sons of Eli the priest would not obey their father when he rebuked them for their sin. There are three implications of this text for our lives.
1) It is possible to sin so long and so grievously that the Lord will not grant repentance.
That is why Paul said that after all our pleading and teaching, “God may perhaps grant them repentance” — not, “will grant them repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25). There is a “too late” in the life of sin. As it says of Esau in Hebrews 12:17, “He found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” He was forsaken; he could not repent.
This does not mean that those who truly repent even after a whole lifetime of sinning cannot be saved. They certainly can be, and will be! God is staggeringly merciful. Remember the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
2) Sometimes God does not permit a sinning person to do what is right.
“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” Listening to the voice of their father was the right thing to do. But they would not. Why? “For it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.”
The reason given for why they did not obey their father was that God had other purposes for them, and had given them up to sinning and death. This shows that there are times when the will of God’s decree is different from the revealed will of God’s command.
3) Sometimes our prayers for God’s revealed will to be done will not be done because God has decreed something different for holy and wise purposes.
I suppose that Eli prayed for his sons to be changed. That is how he should have prayed. But God had decreed that Hophni and Phinehas not obey, but rather be slain.
When something like this happens (which we do not ordinarily know ahead of time) while we are crying out to God for change, the answer of God is not: “I don’t love you.” Rather the answer is: “I have wise and holy purposes in not overcoming this sin and not granting repentance. You do not see these purposes now. Trust me. I know what I am doing. I love you.”
“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.” (Genesis 50:20)
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is a great lesson in why we should have faith in the sovereign, future grace of God.
Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, which must have tested his patience tremendously. But he is given a good job in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. Then, when he is acting uprightly in the unplanned place of obedience, Potiphar’s wife lies about his integrity and has him thrown into prison — another great trial to his patience.
But again things turn for the better, and the prison keeper gives him responsibility and respect. But just when he thinks he is about to get a reprieve from Pharaoh’s cupbearer, whose dream he interpreted, the cupbearer forgets him for two more years. Another painful trial to his patience.
Finally, the meaning of all these detours and delays becomes clear. Joseph is raised up to be the leader of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. He ends up saving from starvation the very brothers who sold him into slavery. Joseph says to his long-estranged brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. . . . 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” (Genesis 45:7; 50:20).
What would have been the key to patience for Joseph during all those long years of exile and abuse? The answer is: faith in God’s sovereign, future grace — the sovereign grace of God to turn the unplanned place and the unplanned pace into the happiest ending imaginable.
That’s the key to our patience as well. Do we believe that God is working for us in the strangest and most painful turns of our lives?