Future Grace (Book Review) by Pastor John Samson
Earlier this year, our church took something of a spiritual journey together by reading (and hopefully applying) the book â€œFuture Graceâ€ by Dr. John Piper. The book has 31 chapters which conveniently works out to be one chapter for each day of the month. I was very pleased with the results we saw in our church and wanted to write a few lines here to recommend that individuals or churches consider taking the same journey we did.
As the people of our church read "Future Grace," I frequently heard comments such as "now I feel I am beginning to understand God's grace," or "now I believe I can overcome the issues I've been facing at my job," etc. Of course, as a pastor, this was a delight for me to hear.
In a nutshell, the message of the book is this: in respect to justification, grace stands opposed to works (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6). However, in respect to sanctification, grace is the source of works. This simply means that whereas we are saved by grace and not by works, we are saved by grace to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). Good works are the fruit and not the root of Godâ€™s saving grace, which are fueled by a forward look to the â€œFuture Graceâ€ of God.
God's grace is a huge subject with many facets to it. Grace has meaning only when mankind is seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and fully deserving of eternal wrath. It is precisely because people today have lost sight of the depths of human corruption and sin that they think so little of divine grace. Grace is not â€œamazing graceâ€ to them, but merely â€œboring grace.â€ But what makes Paul's declaration that we are saved "by grace" so significant is his earlier declaration that we were "dead" in trespasses and sins, "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature," "following its desires and thoughts," and were by nature the children of divine wrath (Eph. 2:1-10).
The Bible does not merely show sinners to be undeserving, but as ill-deserving. So often we are inclined to think of ourselves prior to our salvation as in some sense "neutral" in the sight of God. We are willing to admit that we have done nothing to deserve His favor, but this is entirely insufficient as a background to the understanding of divine grace. It is not simply that we do not deserve grace: we do deserve hell!
Grace is stripped of its meaning when it is merely thought of as a "good business decision" on God's part. I am refering here to the mistaken idea that God saw our "worth" and decided that the high price was indeed right, and that He would pay the necessary expense to bring us safely to heaven. No, a thousand times, no! That's not grace at all. That's just a good business deal!
Grace is seen in this - while we were wretches; while we were sinners, shaking our fists at God, hating God, defying God in thought, word and deed - every single one of us; God did something ridiculous - paying an outlandish and scandalous price to redeem us (the blood of His beloved Son). This was not because He calculated it all out and thought it was a good investment on His part; that we were "worth it." No, God was motivated by His radical, amazing, abundant and all conquering love alone, as He set about saving a people for Himself. There was nothing of intrinsic worth in the creatures He redeemed. Any worth we had was entirely borrowed from the God who made us in His image.
I find that all of us really need to get this in our bloodstream, so to speak, before grace can be fully appreciated. At times, we are far too quick to talk of God's remedy for sin before we have described and firmly established our terrible plight before a holy and just God. Fallen humanity is not to be thought of as merely helpless, but as openly hostile toward God. It is one thing to be without a God-approved righteousness. It is altogether another thing to be wholly unrighteous and deserving of divine wrath. It is, then, against the background of having been at one time the enemies of God that divine grace is to be portrayed, for â€œwhile we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Sonâ€¦â€ (Rom. 5:10).
Grace is sovereign and free. Although God is gracious in His eternal being, He need not be gracious or shower His grace upon anyone. Think about it - though many angels had fallen into sin, no plan was ever initiated to rescue even one of these angels from the fierce wrath of God. Yet, the angels of God surrounding the throne are still singing "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory." In the heavenly courts, there is not even a hint of injustice in any of this. Why? Because God is never obligated to show mercy to any of His creatures. No injustice takes place when justice is administrated! If God was ever obliged to show mercy, we would not be speaking of mercy at all, but of justice.
Grace is not to be thought of as in any sense dependent upon our merit or demerit. This may be expressed in two ways. As said above, in the first place, grace stops being grace if God is compelled to give it. But more than this, grace treats a person without the slightest reference to merit whatsoever, but solely according to the good pleasure of God. Since grace is a gift, no work is to be performed, no offering made, to repay God for His favor. The biblical response to grace received is faith to receive yet more.
As people read through the Future Grace book, what was a new thought to many was the idea that while grace is certainly free, it isn't always unconditional. Clearly, the grace of God in election is unconditional (Rom. 9:11-16), but many of God's acts and blessings are conditional. For example, the scripture says, "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible" (Eph. 6:24). Another says, â€œGod is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.â€ (Ja 4:6; 1 Pt. 5:5).
But conditional grace is not earned grace. Why? Because "when God's grace is promised based on a condition, that condition is also a work of God's graceâ€¦ God's freedom is not reduced when He makes some of His graces depend on conditions that He Himself freely suppliesâ€ (Future Grace, p. 79). Or again, "conditional grace is free and unmerited because ultimately the condition of faith is a gift of grace. God graciously enables the conditions that He requires.â€ (p. 235) God is at work within us to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13) and He has pledged Himself to complete the work He began in us (Phil 1:6). He works in us what is pleasing in His sight (Heb. 13:21). He fulfills the conditions of the covenant through us (Ezekiel 36:27), and our security is as secure as God Himself is faithful.
For a pastor like myself who only a few years ago came to understand the doctrines of grace, I am very much wanting to see the message of God's Sovereign and powerful grace established in the hearts of the people I am serving. I was pleasantly surprised by the impact the book had in this regard. I believe it can have a similar impact in any church or individual.
â€œFuture Graceâ€ is a rich book, and one to read more than once. Though the book is about grace, it is, in reality, a book about holiness... a grace-empowered holiness. It includes practical chapters on how faith in future grace defeats anxiety, pride, shame, lust and despondency. People will very much identify with the issues that are raised and connect with the biblical remedies found in trusting the future grace of God. I recommend the book highly.