Life in Waiting

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ecclesiastes 10, Titus 2

Volcanic Ash

Two weeks ago, my dad went golfing in Scotland with three friends.  Although they planned to return last Saturday, the volcanic ash caused a four-day delay.

On Tuesday, my mom called me.  I remained silent as she anxiously and tearfully updated me.  When she asked me what I thought, I tried to be tender yet truthful: “Well, the good news is that his life’s not being threatened in some third world country where there’s civil unrest.  In fact, he’s actually sending pictures of him golfing.  So, isn’t this just a delay?  And, if so, isn’t life all about waiting?”

Life in the Waiting Room

We’re all in the waiting room – for a test result, a baby’s arrival, a husband’s return, a college acceptance, or a job offer.  We wait and we don’t like it.  Yet, how do reconcile our impatience with our calling to be patient?

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Christians wait by looking backward on what Christ has done:  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age …” vv. 11-12, ESV. The past appearance of God’s grace in Jesus teaches us how to live presently.

Yet, merely looking backward with gratitude tempts us toward a debtor’s ethic [1] and insufficiently motivates us toward godly living [2].  We must, therefore, also look forward to what Christ will do: “ … while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” vv. 13-14, ESV. Our hope in Christ’s future return in glory motivates us to live a godly life today.

Application

Here, Paul is not encouraging us to hope in Christ’s return so that we can endure some difficult circumstance [3] – this is often when we think of Christ’s return.  Rather, he is encouraging us to hope in His return so that we will obey.

Are you, therefore, able to say: “I know that I am prone to sinful anxiety in this situation, but I will obey the Lord in ‘not being anxious about anything,’ [4] for I know that He will return again because He has appeared already”?

[Note: Be sure to check out the footnotes in the comments section. If there were not a 400 word limit to these devotionals, I would have put all of the footnotes in the main text!]

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3 Comments to “Life in Waiting”

  1. [1] John Piper, Future Grace, p. 49: It seems to me that this interwovenness of future-oriented faith and past-oriented gratitude is what prevents gratitude from degenerating into the debtor’s ethic. 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 constantly saying to gratitude, “There is more grace to come, and all our obedience is to be done in reliance on that future grace. Relax and exult in your appointed feast. I will take responsibility for tomorrow’s obedience.”

    [2] John Piper, Future Grace, p. 47: But we do not live in the past. None of our potential obedience can happen in the past. All of our life will be lived in the future. Therefore when we try to make gratitude empower this future obedience, something goes wrong. Gratitude is primarily a response to the past grace of God; it malfunctions when forced to function as motivation for the future—unless it is trans- formed into faith in future grace. There is a divine power for future obedience. But gratitude is not designed for carrying this high voltage current of future grace. Faith is. When gratitude is thrust into this role, what tends to happen is that a debtor’s ethic emerges that tries to produce future obedience with the power of past grace. It won’t work. It is past. So poor gratitude does the best it can, although out of its element: it appeals to the will to make returns to God for the past grace that it knows so well. Thus, inspired by past grace (but not empowered by future grace), the will tries to do good things for God in the power of gratitude—that is, in the power of remembered past grace. If faith in future grace does not come in to rescue gratitude at this point, the debtor’s ethic takes over and subtle forms of religious self-reliance develop. We call them legalism. The main problem here is that the past-orientation of the debtor’s ethic tends to blind us to the infinite, never-ending, inexhaustible, uninterrupted flow of future grace from this moment to eternity. This grace is there in the future to be trusted and lived on. It is there to give the motivation and power for our obedience. This infinite overflow of God’s grace is dishonored when we fail to appropriate it by faith in future grace. Gratitude is not designed for this. Faith is. Past grace is glorified by intense and joyful gratitude. Future grace is glorified by intense and joyful confidence. This faith is what frees us and empowers us for venturesome obedience in the cause of Christ.

    [3] e.g., “It’s ok if I don’t get into grad school because Christ will return one day!” or “Even if I die tomorrow in a car accident, I’ll be with my Lord in heaven.” These are both 100% true, but this is not how Paul is using the return of Christ.

    [4] Philippians 4:6

  2. love it. very well stated. there are many areas of my life where these lessons can be applied. love you.

  3. So amazing–I have had a conversation about this very thing twice in the past 18 hours. As always, thank you for being faithful to bring the truth.

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