Future grace. What’s that about?
Piper makes a distinction between past grace and future grace. When Piper says “past grace” he means the grace of justification. We have already been justified. After justification comes sanctification – the day-to-day experience of being made holy. For us to increase and holiness and to not shipwreck our faith, we need future grace.
Future grace refers to all God promises us to have in Jesus Christ. In this life, it is the future grace of God that has purifying power. Why? First, we ought to understand how sin works in the human heart. John Piper lays down the problem of sin this way: “Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty, We sin because it holds some promise of happiness.” And that’s the key: promise of happiness. Sin makes us happy.
So the only way to fight sin is to have a promise that no matter what happens, God will be all we need. So Piper puts the relationship of past grace and future grace this way: ““No one became a Christian without past grace. And no one can be a Christian moment by moment without future grace. Our standing as Christians is as secure as God’s supply of future grace.”
UNDERSTANDING FUTURE GRACE
Looking at most preaching today, Piper points out an issue for how many preachers motivate Christians toward sanctification: the debtor’s ethic. It states that the reason why Christians should say “no” to sin and “yes” to godliness is because Christ died for them. Because of that, they ought to live for Him because of His great sacrifice for them. Is this wrong? Not entirely. It actually got the solution half-right.
Yes, there is a sense where we fight sin from what God has already done for us. However, from the Old testament to the New testament, the way God motivates his covenant people toward holiness has always been through promises. For example in Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.” God calls us to be free from the love of money. Why? He will never leave us.
The holy act of not loving money more than God is motivated by faith in the promise that the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills – and who created the Universe in the first place, will always be for our good.
Interestingly, the more we live by faith, the more gratitude abounds. So Piper is not calling for a renunciation of gratitude as a motivation for living the Christian life. Piper puts faith and gratitude in proper perspective: “Gratitude for bygone grace is constantly saying to faith, ‘Be strong, and do not doubt that God will be as gracious in the future as I know he’s been in the past.’ And Faith in future grace is constant saying to gratitude, ‘There is more grace to come, and all our obedience is to be done in reliance on the future grace. Relax and exult in your appointed feast. I will take responsibility for tomorrow’s obedience.’”
Aside from the debtor’s ethic, I think there’s another concept that most readers will find troubling: conditional grace. Piper pulls out some promises that have conditions. For most of us, grace ought to be unconditional always. However, Piper makes a wonderful case on how conditional graces are still graces: God grants the conditions too. To illustrate, on the sermon of the mount, Jesus said that blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, and the low in heart. But we aren’t naturally meek, peacemaking, or humble. We’re proud, conflict-loving, conflict-creating, and self-dependent. God has to send the Holy Spirit to change us. So while God gives the conditions, He also grants it. And that makes conditional grace all the more beautiful! God grants what He commands.
LIVING FUTURE GRACE
But what I loved the most in this book is how terribly practical it was. Piper identifies eight sins and demonstrates how future grace answers them. Of course, they are not exhaustive. But they are a good pattern of how we should deal with sins.
First, anxiety. We can only be anxious for the future. No one is anxious about what they cannot change. We can be anxious of what it may mean in the future. But anxiety in itself looks to the future. And when it does strike, we can remind ourselves that God promises to supply all our needs, to wrap our hearts in His peace, and to secure our futures – in this life and the one to come.
Second, pride. Piper lays this down at the first page of the chapter: “humility can only survive in the presence of God. When God goes, humility goes.” Piper points out how resources, ability, and knowledge can become our security. His scalpel then unravels the heart of pride: “pride is an issue of what you are trusting in for your future.” If we know that God holds our future, we will humbly rest in Him.
Third, misplaced shame. There is well-placed shame and there’s misplaced shame. The first is when we have sinned and must be brought to repentance. The second comes in many forms. If it’s shame that we have not done something well – a matter of competence, then we ought to look to God as the source of our ability. Not self. If it’s shame for what someone else has done to us – a matter of self-perception, then we ought to look at God as the One who defines us. But if it’s shame from sharing the Gospel and living in step with God, then we ought to repent of it. God takes no delight in those who are ashamed of Him. Moreover, how can we be ashamed of such a great God and beautiful Christ? Shame ought to be put right.
Fourth, impatience. This is not trusting God’s promises to be fulfilled in the right time. Fifth, covetousness. Similar to impatience this one doesn’t trust God’s promise to be for the right person – “How come others have what I need?” So Piper calls us to embrace God’s Wisdom and Sovereignty and Benevolence. God will send to us what we need in due time.
Sixth, bitterness. If we have been hurt by others, future grace says: “God who forgave you will give you the resource to forgive the other person.” Future grace also reminds us that one day, we too will stand in judgment and will be declared, “Forgiven!” If we will receive that – as sure as God’s promises will always be – then, we are freed up to give the same.
Seventh, despondency. When we are despondent, we look to the promise of God that He will console. Beyond consolation, he promises ever-increasing joy in heaven. So while we are here on earth, we can be both sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Why? We have a buoyancy in the gospel.
Eighth, lust. Many don’t immediately make the connection between lust and joy. We watch pornography and engage in immorality because we think it will make us happy. The fight then is covered on two fronts. First, we remember the future punishment for those who indulge themselves outside of God’s design. Better that we gouge out our eyes than suffer hell. Second, we look at the promises of Christ and we say, “the pleasures at Christ’s right hand is infinitely more satisfying than a thousand sexual escapades!” We fight lust from joy and satisfaction.
SHOULD YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Yes, future grace is definitely the sword we wield in the battle for sanctification. Learn how to wield it.
Get it here: https://amzn.to/31EW5jh