Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Solid Logic Of Heaven

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
Paul is reasoning in Romans 8:32 from the hard to the easy, or from the greater to the lesser. If God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us--that's the hard thing, the great thing. The reason it's the greater thing is that God loved his Son infinitely. His Son did not deserve to be killed. His Son was worthy of worship by every creature, not spitting and whipping and scorn and torture. To hand over his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13) was the incomparably great thing. The reason for this is the immensity of God's love for his Son. This is what made it so unlikely that God would hand him over. Yet God did it. And in doing it he showed that he most certainly would do all other things--all of which would be easy by comparison--to give all things to the people for whom he gave his Son.

This is why I said that the promise of Romans 8:32 is as sure as God's love for his Son. God desired two things: not to see his Son made a mockery by sinners; and not to see his people denied infinite future grace. Surely it is more likely that he will spare his Son than that he will spare us. But no. He did not spare his Son. And therefore it is impossible that he should spare us the promise for which the Son died--he will freely with him give us all things.

What a truth! Giving us all things is the easy thing! Think on that every time you fear being denied something that would be good for you. You think it is a hard thing. You see many obstacles. It looks impossible. At that discouraging moment think about this heavenly logic. Giving you what you need is the easy part. And the hard part is already done. Creating the world and running it for the good of his people is a relatively easy thing for God to do compared to handing over his Son to ridicule and torture. But he did it. And now all future grace is not only sure; it is easy.


The great promise of future grace, guaranteed in the logic of Romans 8:32, is that nothing will ever enter your experience as God's child that, by God's sovereign grace, will not turn out to be a benefit to you. This is what it means for God to be God, and for God to be for you, and for God to freely give you all things with Christ.

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 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.


Romans 8:32 is a precious friend. The promise of future grace is overwhelming. But all-important is the foundation. Here is a place to stand against all obstacles. God did not spare his own Son! How much more then will he spare no effort to give me all that Christ died to purchase--all things, all good. It is as sure as the certainty that he loved his Son.


If there is a way to live by faith in this invincible future grace, I want to know that life. I want to know how trusting this promise, rooted in the unshakable logic of heaven, can free me and empower me to love and risk and suffer and die and rise for the glory of God, and the good of my people, the good of the nations, and the good of my own soul. That's one of the main reasons I am writing this book--if by any means I might come into the deeper experience of living by faith in future grace, and take as many people with me as I can.

--John Piper, Future Grace, p.114-118
Me too, brother. Me too. I'm trying to follow. Thanks for writing this book. Thanks for taking me with you.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Fear, Punishment, and the Perfect Love of Propitiation

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:18
I have a confession to make. I’m a fearful person. There are lots of things that I’m afraid of. I don’t know if that’s the impression you’d get from first getting to know me, but if you were to spend an extended period of time with me and listen to me as I begin to share my heart with you, it wouldn’t take long before you recognized that. I’m afraid that I’ll make a fool of myself every time I get up to preach. I’m afraid that when I go to Kenya to pursue the ministry God is calling me to there, it will prove fruitless. I’m afraid of being lonely, especially on the other side of the world, and spending the rest of my life single. Yup. That’s me. Just to mention a few.

And I imagine that if you were to be honest with yourself, you’d probably recognize that, deep down, you’re a fearful person too.

Last week, as I was reading through 1 John, the Holy Spirit shed some light on a verse that helps me not only better understand my fears but the source of their power and how, quite literally, they are put to death. And the effect that it’s had on me in just this past week is more significant than I would have imagined. This truth feels transformational and I’m eager for the Holy Spirit to plant it more deeply in my heart.

In this verse, John begins by setting fear in contrast with love. The two don’t play well together. They work against each other. When I’m afraid, my fears overshadow God’s love for me so that instead of feeling joy and peace I feel anxious and discouraged. On the other hand, when I’m experiencing God’s love the way He means for me to experience it, God’s love overshadows my fears so that instead of feeling anxious and discouraged I feel joy and peace. My fears and God’s love are at war with one another and vie for supremacy in my heart.

And then John says this: for fear has to do with punishment. What’s John saying? As I meditated on this statement and searched my heart, the conclusion I came to was this: Deep down, the reason for my fear is that I’m afraid God is going to punish me. I know that I’m sinful. I know that I fail to live up to God’s expectations. And as a result, in my heart of hearts I feel that I deserve to be punished by God in some way. And that’s where my fears are born.

If God lets me make a fool of myself when I’m preaching, if He lets me go all the way to Kenya and have a fruitless ministry, if He lets me live the rest of my life with an unfulfilled desire for a wife, in my heart I’m tempted to believe that it’s because He’s punishing me. I will be reaping what I sowed for something I did at some point in my life, whenever it was, whether my prideful boasting in my heart yesterday or my sexual sin from years past.

For fear has to do with punishment. That’s the source of my fears: the fact that I really do deserve to be punished and that my heart knows it and thinks some form of punishment is coming. Understanding that is almost liberating. But not quite. The liberation comes when we make the connection with what John said in verse 10 because there he tells us where our fears are put to death.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and that he sent his Son to…
How would you finish the verse? He sent his Son to die for us? To adopt us into His family? To set us free from our sins? To give us new life? To bring forgiveness? These things are all true and glorious. But John doesn’t say any of them. Of all the things that John could have used to describe how God loved us, He specifically said this:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10
Propitiation. Think about this. As John, carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), is writing this letter, he can think of no better word to relate to the love of God than propitiation. Propitiation! Yes, it’s a big word. But I can only conclude that if this term is neglected in our understanding of why Jesus came to the earth, we will at best be impoverished in our understanding of the love of God.

So what does propitiation mean and what does it have to do with verse 18, which we started with?

The key here is in understanding that propitiation has to do with punishment. Someone who has been offended needs to be propitiated. They need to be appeased, to be calmed, to be quieted, to be satisfied. One way that the appeasement comes is by punishing the person who offended them. In carrying out punishment, the offended party is satisfied because justice is served.

In my pride, lust, and selfishness along with all the other sins I’ve committed, I’ve offended a holy and righteous God. I don’t deserve anything good in this life. But even worse I deserve eternal condemnation in hell. I deserve to be punished. And my punishment would appease God. It would propitiate Him. But verse 10 tells me that God sent his Son to be the propitiation for my sins. In John’s mind, this is the love of God: that Jesus came to the earth to receive the punishment that I deserve for my sins so that God would be propitiated and I wouldn’t have to be punished.

So back to verse 18. Fear has to do with punishment. The root of my fears is not only that I deserve to be punished but that I know it in my heart. But the glorious news of the gospel is that when Jesus hung on that tree 2,000 years ago bearing the punishment that I deserved, my every reason to be afraid died there with Him! Fear has to do with punishment and there is no punishment left for me because as my propitiation Jesus bore it all! So there is absolutely no reason for me to fear! None! God will never punish me because He punished Jesus in my place! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Does this mean that I’ll never make a fool of myself when preaching? That I won’t have a ministry that appears fruitless? That I won’t be single for the rest of my life? Nope. But it means that, as long as I’m trusting Jesus, if I experience any of these things, they will be as a result of God’s perfect love for me and not because He’s punishing me. So I can put my fears to death.

You might say, “But nothing’s really changed if all these things that I fear might still happen to me, has it?” I promise you, if you really believe this, it changes everything! The problem isn’t the things we fear. The problem is the fear itself.

The reason we fear is because we haven’t been perfected in love. We're still afraid of being punished. We haven’t come into the fullness of the experience of God’s love that He created and redeemed us for. That’s how John ends verse 18. And he began verse 18 by saying that perfect love casts out fear. The perfect love that John is talking about in verse 18 is the same love that he talked about in verse 10: the perfect love of propitiation.

If we want to be fully set free from our fears, the only answer is propitiation. If we want to be perfected in love, the love we need to experience more fully is the love of propitiation. So let’s preach propitiation to ourselves today. And then let’s preach propitiation to ourselves tomorrow. Let’s preach it to ourselves as often as we have need, until Christ comes or calls us home. We’re going to need it a lot. I know I do.
For God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 (emphasis added)
Oh Lord, let this glorious truth of propitiation be power in our lives, power to set us free from deeply rooted bondage to fears of every kind, once and for all! We long to be perfected in your love so please do it by the mighty working of Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ great name, Amen.