Over the past few weeks in our study of 1 Corinthians there have been a couple of verses and topics that could almost seem contradictory if we don’t understand the idea of future grace. In 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 Paul says, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Then in chapter 4 Paul is saying we are servants of Christ, stewards of the mysteries of God, men sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world, fools for Christ, weak, hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, beat up, homeless, laboring, reviled, persecuted, slandered, scum of the world, and the refuse of all things. To me that doesn’t sound like “all things are yours”. So what do we do with this?
First I want to try to explain what I mean by future grace. I also will start by saying much of what I am saying has been stimulated from John Piper’s book Future Grace. John Piper states at the beginning of the book that, “the promises of future grace are the keys to Christ-like Christian living.” I also believe that future grace is the key to understanding what seem to be contradictions in the Christian life. Piper explains that by future he does not just mean Heaven but each ongoing second that we are alive. The next breath we take is future grace. He also explains that by grace he does not simply mean God’s pardon of our sin but also God’s ongoing power to keep you from sinning. Piper argues that the backward look of gratitude is not designed by God as the primary empowerment of obedience but that the future looking to grace is the power for obedience in all situations. He says that, “the aim is to show that the great redemptive works of past grace – for example, the death and resurrection of Jesus – are indispensable foundations for our faith in future grace. But their power resides precisely in that – they purchase and certify the future grace in which we hope.” He uses 2 Corinthians 1:20, Romans 15:8, Romans 8:32, and Romans 8:30 to biblically support this.
I would like to look at a few verses in Romans 8 to help us understand how future grace makes sense of these ideas that seem like contradictions. At the end of Romans 8:32 we read, “…graciously give us all things”. Sounds a lot like 1 Corinthians 3:21, “…For all things are yours…” But what we see when we read the whole verse is that it gives both the promise and the foundation; it gives the logic that gives rise to the promise. It contains a foundation and a guarantee that is so strong and solid and so secure that there is absolutely no way that the promise could ever be broken. The foundation goes like this, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…” The logic behind this is, that God will surely give all things to those He gave up His Son for. Which means that all future grace is founded in the first part of Romans 8:32.
Paul is reasoning here from the greater to the lesser. If God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us, that’s the great thing. The reason it’s the great thing is that God loved His Son with an infinite love. His Son did nothing deserving of death. His Son was worthy of all worship, not scorn, spitting, whipping, torture, and most horrifically the separation from His Father when His Father poured out all His hatred of our sin onto Him. Yet He did it! And in doing it He showed that He most certainly would do all the other things, the lesser things. He would graciously give us all things. What a truth! Giving us all things is the easy thing for God.
But what does this promise mean? What does it mean that God will give us all things? This idea of future grace seems out of sync with our experience. Piper says, “There are many things we may not receive that we think would be gracious and wise of God to give us – health, safety, more success, a spouse, believing children, long life.” So what does Paul mean when he says that God will give us all things?
Piper jumps back to verse 31 to help us understand what this means. Verse 31 says, “If God is for us who can be against us?” My first response is, “that sounds great but there are a lot of people against us, and against the church”. Even Jesus Himself says in Luke 21:16-17 that there will be times when even parents and siblings will put you to death. We know that Paul knew this because in verse 36 he says, “As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” So what did Paul mean when he said, “If God is for us who can be against us?” I think he meant who can successfully be against us. What opposition could there ever be that God cannot transform and use for our benefit? And the answer is none. This is what Paul means in verses 35 – 39 when he says that in tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We conquer not by escaping these things but by allowing and watching God turn these enemies of our hope and joy into servants for our good.
The great promise of future grace is that God will give us all things with Christ, including death (1 Corinthians 3:21-22) Piper says it like this, “Death is ours – it will be given to us – not as a gift we can reject, but as a triumphant gateway to glory.” The 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 benefit 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.
You must believe this or you will not thrive 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. Where else would you turn if you do not truly believe that God is taking every pain and every setback and every discouragement and every controversy and every pressure, and stripping it of its destructive power and making it work for His purpose of increasing our joy in Him?
“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.” (John Piper, Future Grace)