My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Faith is often defined in the modern world a bit like this: believing in something even though you have no idea if it’s true or not. This is because it simply can’t be proved true or false. The virtue is in at least believing in something, something intangible. Taking this approach to the Christian faith leaves a faith that poses little threat at all to own own sin (because it’s all about feeling close to God, not dying to self and living for God) and has no real witness to the world (because the logical conclusion is that faith is so personal that it has to be kept to oneself).
Piper describes this kind of faith is “a mere subjective experience of feelings and thoughts inside ourselves that function as an emotional cushion to soften the bumps of life and give us a network of friends” (357). He makes the case in the book that faith looks to God to provide and protect in the future. We ought to look to God’s promises to blunt the temptations of sin’s promise of illicit pleasures or selfish inward focus. He intersperses chapters on anxiety, pride, misplaced shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, and lust. He exhorts Christians to trust God’s promises for preserving us and believe His warnings about sin. Piper defines faith as not merely mentally affirming some true things about God but as “being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.”
Piper’s main foil, especially in the beginning of the book, is what’s often presented as the rationale for Christian living: Christ died for us, and therefore we ought to live holy lives out of gratitude. He believes strongly in gratitude as essential for Christians, but believes that it can easily be transformed into a mentality that seeks to pay God back. Instead, he argues that gratitude should encourage believers to believe that God is with us now and will be with us in the future because of Christ’s purchase of us. Past grace, then, is the foundation of ongoing faith in God’s lifelong, gracious presence and provision. We must continue to have a vital, fruit-producing faith in God to expect grace in the future, and we can also trust God to provide the grace to keep this covenant with Him and forgive us when we repent of sin.
Two quick musings on possible improvements before I wrap up:
1) I wonder if Piper considered putting out a shorter version of the book. At 400 pages, it might be passed up by people who aren’t readers but could benefit from it, but I’m sure that in many ways his preaching and teaching ministry has accomplished the same thing.
2) He didn’t mean it that way, but sometimes the phrase “future grace” sounded like a buzzword, a thing that had a distinct existence rather than simply God’s grace to us in the future. I wonder if the message of the book could have been communicated as effectively with a greater variety of language describing God’s grace for the rest of our lives. This could just be how it hit me. I might have an ultra-sensitive buzzword detector because I have spent so many years as a student and teacher in the public education system, which produces buzzwords (that will solve all of our problems!) like Honda produces cars.
I found this book to be a good, thorough survey and application of what the Bible says about faith. I know that there has been a lot written on faith and Christian living, so I don’t pretend that this is the last word on it. It helped me to have a more robust concept of faith, and I appreciated his approach to battling sin with confidence in God’s promises.