Grace in Glory
Arguably one of the greatest errors we can fall into when it comes to understanding grace is that ‘It’s all about me and all about now’. This attitude has reached epidemic proportions in Western churches and may well explain our relative lack of resilience and usefulness compared to other parts of the world. Such a view of grace is, however, not only far-removed from what has been true in the church through most of its history, but from the Bible itself. In a way that may seem surprising, Scripture indicates that there is a dimension of grace that we will only discover and experience in the world to come.
John Piper flagged this up provocatively in the title of his book, Future Grace – spelling out the fact there is a dimension of grace that belongs to the future and cannot be fully experienced in the present. But the fact it is ‘future’ does not mean it has no bearing on our present, nor that it is unable to benefit us in a significant way.
The apostle Peter alerts us to this aspect of the divine favour. Writing at a time when the church found itself in extremis – when Christians were tempted to look only at their immediate circumstances – Peter issues a strong exhortation. He says, ‘Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1Pe 1.13).
His choice of words is significant. He begins by challenging his readers over the frame of mind in which they face their current challenges. Even though, as is so often is the case, our mindset – our mode of thinking – can be purely reflexive, reacting to what is happening around us, we need to rise above the immediate to get a more accurate picture. That is why Peter tells us we can only begin to face the challenges of life by consciously engaging our minds.
The King James Version renders it more colourfully and literally with, ‘gird up the loins of your mind’. Peter was using imagery that would immediately resonate with his First Century audience. These people’s normal clothing consisted of flowing robes that needed to be tucked into their belts if they wanted to get somewhere quickly. So, here, Peter calls for unimpeded focus on what really matters in life and, in doing so, tells his readers to look beyond where they were at that moment in time to where they were ultimately going.
For them at that time this was far from easy. Their present hardships were immense. Facing persecution had meant many of them were ‘scattered’ – they had become displaced persons and they were suffering. Indeed, their sufferings were so intense that Peter speaks of them as feeling as though they were being put through the fire. It is hard to look to the future when your present world is caving in all around you.
Why is it so important for us to grasp this future dimension of grace? Because, even though it is still in the future, it is nonetheless not only a source of comfort to believers, but is guaranteed to us in the gospel. Peter is simply echoing the encouragement of Paul in Romans, where he says, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Ro 8.18). He echoes this same confidence elsewhere, notably in his teaching about the resurrection in 1Corinthians, and makes it clear that this is a vital component in our experience of God’s grace in salvation.
Going back to what Peter is saying in the opening chapter of his letter, his focus is very much on the reality of the world to come as towering above the present realities that were closing in on these scattered Christians. He speaks of ‘a living hope’ (1.3), of ‘an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you’ (1.4) and of the fact that they ‘…by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1.5). Layer upon layer he unfolds the dimensions of saving grace that extend far beyond our immediate horizons. As David Garner has put it in his book, Sons in the Son, ‘The grace we have in salvation is fully ours; but it is not yet fully experienced in this world.’
Only as this future dimension of grace – one that can only be fully realised at the Parousia when Christ returns to renew all things – truly looms large on our horizons, will we experience the life-transforming power of grace that God intends us to enjoy.
The whole purpose of the gospel is to prepare people for death by assuring all who believe in Jesus, the death-defeating Saviour, that in him, as the psalmist says, they ‘shall not die, but live’ (Ps 118.17). More than this, it will take our eyes off self and circumstances to look more steadily by faith to Christ and realise he is indeed our all in all. He is the source of the ‘living hope’ which is ours through new birth and which is rooted in the reality of his bodily resurrection. Through his triumph on the cross and vindication by his resurrection, he has secured heaven for his people. And he not only, as Peter declares, keeps it as our promised inheritance, but also guards us as his people through all life’s woes that would take our eyes off what lies ahead.
It should give us pause for thought that the current global crisis we are facing, along with the prospect of its devastating aftermath which will most certainly follow, is unfolding as Easter draws near. In that glorious death-destroying-life-securing-heaven-attaining event in the past, Jesus has guaranteed the future for all who trust him. The prospect of grace in the future transforms how we cope with the present.