John Piper’s Future Grace is a book so deep & yet so practical that it is certainly on my “must-read” list for every Christian. This spiritual seed pack gives you core concepts and ideas from Future Grace to plant and grow in your life. There are direct quotes from Dr. Piper, major ideas distilled down into my own words, and quotes from other writers.
Hungry for the whole book? Click here to see it on Amazon.com.
Want more depth? Click here for a series of articles going through the book chapter by chapter.
Faith Is the Key to Grace
Faith is the key, the channel, that God’s grace flows through. So to experience grace you must possess faith. Faith is absolutely central.
If you go wrong on the nature of faith, everything in the Christian life will go wrong.
So, what is faith? Here are some key concepts:
Faith trusts in the promises that God has made through Christ, and loves them, cherishes them, prizes them with all the heart.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that faith is more than mere knowledge, more than belief, but is a joyful response of the heart to the truth of the Gospel.
Eternal life is not given to people who think that Jesus is the Son of God. It is given to people who drink from Jesus as the Son of God.
Faith, embracing the spiritual beauty of Christ, is the key to my joy and spiritual growth.
If we can look in our hearts and see God’s love within, sense a spiritual eye for Christ’s light and an ear for Christ’s voice and a taste for Christ’s living water, then we can rejoice and thank God for His glorious grace in our lives, for these are the marks of true faith.
Because building my faith is central to grace, destroying my faith is central to Satan.
Whether it is a discouraging situation, a tempting thought, or any other kind of battle, the real target of Satan is always my faith.
Whenever we turn from faith (total trust and reliance) in God and turn toward anything else, we open the door to sin in our lives.
All the sinful states of our hearts are owing to unbelief in God’s super-abounding future grace.
All our sin comes from failing to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.
Example: the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer. So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy. You can’t trust in God and in money at the same time. Belief in one is unbelief in the other.
Where faith in God fails, sin follows. Faith stands or falls on the truth that the future with God is more satisfying than the one promised by sin. Where this truth is embraced and God is cherished above all, the power of sin is broken.
Grace is God’s Power At Work in My Life
God’s Grace is Boundless
The reason God saved us was so He could lavish the riches of His grace on us, and it will take God all of eternity to do it. (see Ephesians 2:4-7)
We never have to worry about being beyond the reach of God’s grace, and we never have to worry or manipulate to try and win God’s grace.
God’s grace is a boundless infinite ocean. This reservoir of future grace is hidden from our eyes, but each of us can look back and see a sea of grace that has already flowed from God’s hand, and it grows broader and deeper every day.
God did the hardest thing, not only that has ever been done, but the hardest thing that could ever even be conceivable to be done, in the universe: He allowed His Son, the being He loved more than anything else in the universe, to suffer and die. Why? Romans 8:32 says it— “for us.” So Paul is saying that if God has already done the hardest thing in the universe, it is an easy thing, a simple thing, for Him to “graciously give us all things.”
Having Faith in God’s Grace Changes Everything
You must believe this or you will not thrive, or perhaps even survive as a Christian, in the pressures and temptations of modern life. There is so much pain, so many setbacks and discouragements, so many controversies and pressures. I do not know where I would turn in the ministry if I did not believe that almighty God is taking every setback and every discouragement and every controversy and every pressure and every pain, and stripping it of its destructive power and making it work for the enlargement of my joy in God.
If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest… nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls …Outside all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty. Outside this promise of all-encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions…once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom…The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life. When God’s people really live by the future grace of Romans 8:28— from measles to the mortuary— we are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world.
God’s Answer to Every Prayer is Grace.
Many of us have been taught that God answers prayers either “yes” “no” or “wait.” But in reality God always answers every prayer by giving us His grace—the grace of a blessing, the grace to endure a hardship, or the grace of patience.
Grace Gives Me a Heart for Holiness
Jesus repeatedly spoke of the importance of becoming like God—loving & holy. Jesus said that he did not come to do away with God’s laws but to fulfill them. Bottom line:
The law is so wonderful and important that part of the reason Jesus died was that we could obey it and fulfill it.
The commandments of God are not negligible because we are under grace. They are doable because we are under grace.
How does grace do give me a heart for holiness? Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. Sin makes a promise to us, to satisfy us, just as God does. Obeying God is learning to trust and value God’s promises to satisfy us in Jesus more than trusting or valuing the promises of sin.
There is a power that comes from prizing God which leaves no nook or cranny of life untouched.
Grace Gives Me a Heart of Patience
Patience is a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience— to wait in His place, and go at His pace.
On his deathbed the 18th century pastor Charles Simeon wrote:
Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole (of my life) with infinite love; and infinite power enables me— to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands— all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness— and immutability— and truth; and I have the sweetest peace— I cannot have more peace.
Grace Gives Me a Heart of Contentment
Faith is the experience of contentment in Jesus, the satisfaction of my soul’s thirst and my heart’s hunger. The fight of faith is the fight to keep your heart contented in Christ— to really believe, and keep on believing, that He will meet every need and satisfy every longing.
As bitterness rears its ugly taste in our soul, we can successfully banish it with the assurance that God’s justice will be satisfied and by cherishing the even sweeter taste of God’s own forgiveness and love for us.
Grace Gives Me a Heart of Endurance
The Apostle Paul uses two word pictures of the walk of faith: a fight and a race. That means it must be hard, and that we must endure to the end. Knowing that we are in a race and a fight helps us to endure when the way becomes hard.
Grace Brings Suffering & Redeems Suffering
The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God.
When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost.
In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe.
There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel. And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.
God has purposes that He intends to accomplish through suffering:
Suffering Shapes an Unshakable Faith
Suffering Shapes our Character
Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ
Grace Frees Me From Fear
The aim of grace is to liberate me from fears and desires that enslave my soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.
Freeing me to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives me grace.
Grace Gives Me a Heart for God’s Glory
One thing is past all question: we shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace. If I have much faith, so that I can take God at His Word… I shall greatly honor my Lord and King. (Charles Spurgeon)
Grace Gives Me a Heart for Ministry
The state of the heart is shown by the things that satisfy its desires.
Ministry is a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness.
But a lifestyle of ministry is costly, in acts of sacrificial love. 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.”
Grace Frees Me to Pursue Joy in God
The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of His worth in our life.
God commands us to pursue joy in Him. In fact, He commands us to pursue joy with as much passion and zeal and intensity as we can. Pursuing joy is not sin, but pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found is sin.
“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a secondary suggestion. It is a radical call to pursue your fullest satisfaction in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. It is a call to live in the joyful freedom and sacrificial love that comes from faith in future grace.
Live by faith. Live by grace. Live for joy in God.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)
Yes, it’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s a great Bible verse, yes, indeed, I’m just like Paul, I treasure Christ more than anything.”
Easy words to say. But how do we live those words out, in this age of iPhones & Abercrombie? How do we really treasure Him?
If our hearts have been changed, if we truly have counted all things loss, then there must be some lifestyle implications. There must be something different, radically different, about our lives compared to anyone who doesn’t treasure Christ above all.
Anyone could look at Paul’s life and tell he wasn’t just blowing steam. He had went from a respected academic and political position to an outcast and a prisoner. No one ever looked at Paul & thought, “Hey, man, you say that you’re a Christian, but you’re no different than me.”
Take three minutes and watch this video:
Money is given to you so that you might use money in a way that shows money is not your treasure… Christ is.
Food is given to you so that you might eat it in such a way that it will be plain food is not your treasure… Christ is.
Friends, family are given to you so that you might live with them in such a way that it will be plain to the world they are not your treasure… Christ is.
Computers, toys, houses, lands, cars are given to you that you might use them in such a way that it will be plain to the world these are not your treasure… Christ is.
I have listened to those words over & over, and they still go deep into the core of my heart. How do I use money in a way that shows money is not my treasure? How do I eat, how do I love, how do I live a life that makes it plain that nothing is my treasure but Christ?
I don’t think this kind of life comes automatically once you become a Christian– it comes with a lot of thought and prayer and tears and sweat. And it’s a path that you have to keep focused on, keep coming back to, keep asking God to show you more and more.
My two year contract on my iPhone is up this month. As I discussed last year, I really had to think & pray over whether getting an iPhone was honoring to God, whether it was a God-focused desire or not. Well, I’m putting a lot of thought and prayer in it again. I have no doubt that it is a useful tool for me (I used it while writing this post), but is there any problem with treasuring Christ with it? Would the $70 a month I’m spending for mobile internet access be better spent elsewhere?
Honestly, it’s not as much what my final decision will be, as much as it’s that I’m down on my knees, knowing that it’s an issue, asking God for wisdom, trying to honor Him as best I can. That’s where I need to be on every facet of my life, taking it to God with an open hand and a God-focused heart, knowing the lifestyle implications.
It’s a phrase that has been widely misunderstood for two thousand years, since the first time it was spoken:
“You must be born again.”
The new birth, or what theologians call regeneration, is one of the most stunning and crucial realities of the universe, one which every child of God should thoroughlly understand and rejoice in.
But that’s not how it is. Most church goers have vague, incomplete answers to such basic questions as:
What is the new birth?
Why must we be born again?
How does the new birth come about?
What are the effects of the new birth?
How can we help others become born again?
Those are the five questions answered by Finally Alive, a book by pastor John Piper that takes a comprehensive look at what it means to be born again. He lays out his goals for the reader:
When you are truly born again and grow in the grace and knowledge of what the Lord has done for you, your fellowship with God will be sweet, and your assurance that he is your Father will be deep. I want that for you.
If you know what really happened to you in your new birth, you will treasure God and his Spirit and his Son and his word more highly than you ever have. In this, Christ will be glorified.
In the process of believers discovering what really happened to them, the seriousness and the supernatural nature of conversion will rise and that, I pray, will serve a more general awakening of authenticity in the Christian church so that religious hypocrisy will diminish and the world will see real love and sacrifice and courage in the service of Christ.
If you want Bible-saturated, passion-filled answers to what really happened when you became born again, this is your book. It will both inform your mind and ignite your heart in greater love for Jesus and greater desire to see others come to Christ. It is available for purchase or available as a FREE DOWNLOAD from Desiring God Ministries.
That’s what the title of this book could have been, because that’s what John Piper is trying to communicate to his readers in his latest offering. There are marriage books aplenty, Christian and secular, that talk about how to fix your marriage or enrich your marriage or have a happy, fulfilled, & mutually satisfying marriage.
But this book is different: it starts at its very outset to lay a different foundation, that the standard concept of marriage is horribly deficient in God’s eyes. In fact, just as we cannot see Christ for who He truly is until God opens our eyes, Piper states that we cannot see marriage for what it truly is without God’s help:
The greatness and glory of marriage is beyond our ability to think or feel without divine revelation and without the illumining and awakening work of the Holy Spirit. The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God. The natural man does not have the capacities to see or receive or feel the wonder of what God has designed for marriage to be. I pray that this book might be used by God to help set you free from small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage.
So what is this greatness & glory of marriage that God wants us to see? Piper develops two main Biblical points:
1. Foundationally, marriage is the doing of God.
2. Ultimately, marriage is the display of God.
These statements form a foundation that build a picture of marriage that ends up being very different than business-as-usual. As an example, it means that two people do not get married; rather, God marries two people, and they have no right to undo this bond. It also means that marriage is not primarily about being in love or staying in love at all; it is about displaying the covenant love of Christ for all to see.
Beyond laying this foundation, the book also addresses love, forgiveness, sanctification, the roles of husband & wife, singleness & divorce, sex, children, & more.
This Momentary Marriage is a marriage book unlike any other you have likely read. It will challenge your concept of marriage as well as your practice of it. Don’t expect “five easy ways to make your mate more like you want them to be”— expect to think deeply about what it means to be joined to another by God and for God.
This Momentary Marriage is being released in hardback by Crossway in April 2009, but Piper’s ministry is releasing the book in paperback for $6.49 and FREE in downloadable PDF. More information is available here.
Dr. Piper has shared before the acrostic APTA that he uses to guide his prayers before he preaches. He brought it up again yesterday during the panel discussion at T4G, and so I thought it good to share it here:
A-Admit: admit that within yourself you have no power to effect change in people’s hearts or accomplish anything for the Kingdom of God.
P-Pray: pray for God’s guidance, His strength, His Spirit.
T-Trust: trust that God’s word will not return to Him void and that His Kingdom will be advanced.
A-Act: Go and preach with all your heart and strength.
Note: The following is the last article (#31) in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series is available here.
The last chapter in Future Grace Piper entitled “The Debt I Owe to Jonathan Edwards.” For people unfamiliar with Piper and his ministry, Piper considers the theology and writings of the 18th century pastor philospher and theologian Jonathan Edwards to be a vital, if not central, contributor to his understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with Him.
Piper’s landmark book, Desiring God, brought to the forefront some aspects of Edwards’ understanding of the relationship between God and His children. Foremost is that (as Piper puts it) “God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied in Him.” One of Edwards’ most seminal quotes is at the front of the chapter:
God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart.
Although Piper develops this theology and the reasons behind it in more detail elsewhere, this chapter is a short summary of what he calls Christian hedonism— the belief that not only is it not wrong for us to pursue our own happiness and joy, but that it is commanded by God. The critical proviso, however, is that the highest and truest joy we must pursue is the joy of God Himself, which is the reason for which we were created and the way that we most glorify our Lord. Piper states:
It follows from all this that it is impossible that anyone can pursue happiness with too much passion and zeal and intensity. This pursuit is not sin. Sin is pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found (Jeremiah 2:21), or pursuing it in the right direction, but with lukewarm, halfhearted affections (Revelation 3:16). Therefore, the cultivation of spiritual appetite is a great duty for all the saints… The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of his worth in our life.
To pursue God & be delighted with God above and beyond all else… what nobler goal, what richer treasure can there be? As Edwards wrote,
True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures.
And yet it is so hard some days, to lift our eyes beyond our present pleasures and pains, to be truly “satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.” Even so, it must be our aim, for only that pursuit can give us the power and the joy and the peace and the fulfillment to live as Christ would have us to live. Only that pursuit will last eternally, for when this heaven and earth is passed away, we will still have Christ to desire & to love and to be satisfied with.
I end these series of reflections as Dr. Piper ends his book:
“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a secondary suggestion. It is a radical call to pursue your fullest satisfaction in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. It is a call to live in the joyful freedom and sacrificial love that comes from faith in future grace. Then will come to pass the purpose of God who chose us in Christ to live “to the praise of His glory.”
Note: The following is article #30 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
In Chapter 30 of the book Future Grace John Piper looks at the final future grace that we set our eyes toward, that of the rebirth of creation. Before he looks at heaven, though, he once more talks about what the purpose of living by future grace is. Living by God’s grace is to show God’s glory. Specifically, living by grace allows us to live lives that, “show that our treasure in God is more precious than the fleeting attractions of sin.”
What does such a changed life consist of? First, we will be noted for what we don’t do:
We don’t yield to the sinful pleasures of the moment. We don’t devote our best energies to laying up treasures on earth. We don’t dream our most exciting dreams about accomplishments and relationships that perish. We don’t fret over what this life fails to give (marriage, wealth, health, fame).
Second, Piper states what we will be seen to do:
We savor the wonder that the Owner and Ruler of the universe loves us, and has destined us for the enjoyment of his glory, and is working inallibly to bring us to his eternal kingdom. So we live to meet the needs of others, because God is living to meet our needs. We love our enemies, and do good, and bless those who curse us and pray for those who despise us…
All of this we can do through grace, through faith in what God has in store for us. And that brings us to the final grace that God will one day bestow upon us, the rebirth of creation.
God has not told us every detail about the new heaven and the new earth, but he has revealed to us what is important, and what is glorious for us to keep in our hearts. The first thing God has revealed is that we will be raised and we will be changed. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:52 that, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
We will be raised to inhabit our body, and yet it will not be the frail body subject to sickness and death such as we have now, for it will be imperishable. It will be a body that reflects the glory of God and that we will be able to use to glorify God for all eternity, no longer subject to the curse of sin.
Next, God will bring forth a new heaven & a new earth that will be just as glorious:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And 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. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
Theologians differ on whether the new heaven & new earth will be entirely new, or just the renewal and recreation of our present planet. In the final analysis, it won’t matter: it will be glorious beyond all our present imagination.
But even with glorious new bodies and a glorious new creation, the real glory will remain the same: the presence of God Himself, now in full view of His children for the first time. Experiencing God in His fullness, without sin, without sadness, without death, for all eternity, is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. As Piper states,
Thus the purpose of God in creation will be fulfilled: the exhibition of his glory for the enjoyment of his people in the never-ending increase of infinite future grace.
Piper ends the chapter with a poem of praise and hope, which includes these words:
And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass…
I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy…
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That is should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.
Note: The following is article #29 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
Dying. It is something we will all face. And like every other part of our walk with Christ, His grace can infuse all aspects of our death, from attitude to expectation to the actual experience.
In Chapter 29 of Future Grace Dr. Piper discusses grace & death. He reiterates his aim for the entire book:
The aim of this book is to liberate people from fears and desires that enslave the soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.
Freeing us to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives us grace. But fear often stops us from radical obedience to Christ, and fear of death is among them. We fear the unknown, we fear the pain, we fear the disability, we fear the loss of death.
But if by faith we grasp that God’s grace will truly be with us, even in death, and if by faith we see beyond death to our eternal joy in Christ (Romans 8:18), then even death shall lose its power over us. Dr Piper states,
There is only future grace in front of us….if we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free. Free for joy. Free for others… when the future grace of dying in Christ takes hold of you, it frees from fear and gives courage to live the most radical, self-sacrificing life of love.
We need to dwell on God’s grace in death, and let it empower us, let it embolden us, let it fill our hearts with joy. We need to meditate on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 now, when we are young and healthy, and not only when we are dying:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Grace can indeed give us courage in the face of death. But grace does more. Paul saw that the actual process of aging and dying in itself was a means of grace:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Dr Piper comments that, “The unseen thing that Paul looked at to renew his inner man was the immense weight of glory that was being prepared for him not just after, but through and by, the wasting away of his body.”
As children of God, we can embrace all of life with grace, even death. As Dr. Piper states, our new heart frees us to lie awake at night not fearing eternity, but looking for it:
But if you find, written on the tablet of your heart, the truth that there is a Creator, and that you are created to have a relationship with him, and that what separates you from whales and dophins and chimpanzees is not mutations and chemicals, but personhood in the image of God, then you will probably lie awake at night and think about eternity.
We can hope & pray, as Christians have for 2000 years, for eternity to come, either by death or by Christ’s return. Either way, come, Lord Jesus.
It doesn’t always take 300 pages to say something profound & life-changing about walking with God.
Sometimes 85 will do quite nicely.
In Our Joy is a small booklet with a big impact: saying some wonderful but hard things about what it means to walk with Jesus. The book primarily draws on Christ’s short parable of Matthew 13:44, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.”
People, Christians and non-Christians alike, often make one of two fundamental errors when assessing what it means to walk with Christ. They either conclude that:
(1) The way will be easy and trouble-free. –or–
(2) The way will be difficult and joyless.
What Christ actually says, both in the above parable and throughout His teachings, is that following Him will be difficult, will require all that we have, will require suffering, BUT will be a life filled with joy, both of the present reality of Christ & the future eternity with Him.
John Piper does a masterful job of expounding these concepts in six short chapters entitiled (1) Coming to Jesus Is Not Easy, (2) Following Jesus Is a Hard Road, (3) The Road Is Hard, But It Is Not Joyless, (4) Strive to Enter the Narrow Door, (5) Without Jesus Our Striving Would Be Losing, & (6) Our Joy in Jesus Sustains Our Striving.
Although I have many of Piper’s books, this short one still was a blessing to read & ponder its simple message. I don’t think I can read too many times such fundamental statements like “The main battle is the battle to keep seeing Jesus as the supreme treasure of your life.”
Available from Desiring God ministries, the booklet is one dollar. If you order a case to give to others like I have, the price drops to a quarter a booklet— which is astonishingly inexpensive considering the accessible wisdom contained in it. A PDF download of the book is free. The link is here.
Note: The following is article #28 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
“Grace in suffering”— it seems like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Yet experience affirms that people suffer, and the Bible teaches extensively about God’s grace in suffering.
Suffering Comes to Those Who Live By Grace
First, the Bible teaches that people who follow God, living by grace, will suffer in this life:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)
through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29)
John Piper in Chapter 28 of Future Grace goes so far as to say that “the way of life that comes from living by faith in future grace will very likely involve more suffering, not less.” That is a very sobering conclusion, but history bears it out. The first 300 years of Christianity were marked by intense persecution, and there are still tens of thousands of people who die every year due solely to their faith in Christ. For many Christians facing death is the ultimate test of what they love more, life & comfort or God & His glory.
The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God. Piper states:
When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost…. In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe. There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel. And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.
God Has Purposes in Suffering Which brings us to the next great truth that the Bible teaches about suffering, namely that God has purposes that he intends to accomplish through suffering. Piper states that we need to see suffering “not merely as a consequence of living by faith in future grace, but as another gift of future grace.”
How is suffering a gift? The Bible teaches us that:
Suffering Shapes an Unshakeable Faith— There are many stories of amazing faith in the lives of the early church, faith that grew stronger in the face of suffering. Paul recounts one of his experiences in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, and the purpose that he saw in it:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
When we suffer, it turns our eyes away from the world and our own resources and focus on God. When God “comes through” and brings us through the trial or gives us the strength to endure it, then our faith in His love and goodness increases. The key, however, is understanding the nature of God and His purposes. Piper states:
If you think your suffering is pointless, or that God is not in control, or that he is whimsical or cruel, then your suffering will drive you from God, instead of driving you from everything but God.
Suffering Shapes our Character Paul had learned God’s purposes in suffering well, by both revelation from God and by intense personal experience. In Romans 5:2-4 he states:
Paul mentions that suffering grows our endurance, our character, and our hope. In the Greek the word “character” means “proven character”— when we endure suffering well, we prove that our faith is real.
Although it seems paradoxical at first, suffering infused with God’s grace actually increases our hope. Piper observes:
The people who are most unwavering in their hope are those who have been tested most deeply. The people who look most earnestly and steadfastly and eagerly to the hope of glory are those who have had the comforts of this life stripped away through tribulations. These are the freest of all people. Their love cannot be daunted by threats or calamities.
Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ
Lastly, the Bible teaches that suffering magnifies the worth of Christ. Again here, Paul is our teacher:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Here God directly speaks to Paul and explains His reason for this instance of suffering in Paul’s life, and God specifically says that it is to show His strength on Paul’s behalf. And Paul’s response?
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Let us, then, grow in grace so that we will be able to join Paul in being content in any suffering, knowing that Christ will be glorified as His power rests on us.