by Pastor Dan Miller
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections.
While imprisoned for his faith in 1675, English Puritan and Baptist pastor John Bunyan penned his classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. Seeking to illustrate in story form a distinctively Christian worldview, Bunyan chose to spin a tale about an adventurous journey undertaken by a man he named Christian.
As indicated by the title, Bunyan depicts Christian’s pilgrimage as progressive in nature. The journey is inherently linear. It is destination oriented.
As the story unfolds, Christian leaves behind the City of Destruction. Thereafter, he journeys onward with his sights set on attaining the Celestial City. Everything he does is fueled by the blazing hope of reaching his final destination.
Bunyan clearly intends to promote a future-focused way of living. Not only does the title of the book reveal his objective, but he claims in the preface: “this book will make a traveler of thee.”
The reason Bunyan proposes to make “travelers” of his readers is not to be found primarily in Bunyan’s book, but in Bunyan’s God. As he scratched out his rough draft in a filthy prison cell where he had been incarcerated for preaching the Bible, in Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan came to terms with the truth that to know God is to be a traveler. When one embraces the way of Christ, his or her life becomes fundamentally journey oriented—a progressive pilgrimage from point A to point B.
Pilgrim’s Progress carries a particularly poignant message for us who live in a day primarily focused on the present. We inhabit a “now”-oriented culture in which the pleasure or pain of the moment is the pervasive preoccupation. It is the journey as an end in itself, not our final destination, that dominates our attention.
But as Bunyan realized, and as a distinctively Christian worldview maintains, we are to live each day with an intense focus on the future. People who follow the footsteps of a Savior whose earthly journey consisted of pain and poverty and ended on a cross will obviously receive no promises of ease and safety from their Lord (Luke 9:23-24). However, conquering death by His resurrection, Christ did secure specific promises for His followers. And banking on the fulfillment of those promises, the believer becomes a pilgrim on a journey—a traveler living in anticipation of a future arrival point (Heb. 11:13-16; 12:2).
No one should imagine that such living is optional. Living by faith is not merely a good idea. Hebrews 11:6 asserts that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” In other words, it is impossible to honor God while distrusting His Word about the future. Romans 14:23 goes so far as to declare that any act that fails to correspond to a future-oriented trust in God is sin! Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
When we fail to live as if God will, in fact, someday reward those who seek Him, we invariably choose short-sighted, alternative routes to pleasure and happiness. We cheat and steal, swear and lust, gossip, deceive and hate, banking all the time that such actions will benefit us in the end. Faith, on the other hand, looks long and sees God. Faith banks on God’s Word that such sinful behavior will bring only misery in the end and that God will reward in the future those who honor His will.
For instance, a young man sees the image of a beautiful woman flicker on the TV screen. Thinking that indulging his fantasy with this woman will provide pleasure, he abandons himself to lustful thoughts. Another young man sees the same image. Rather than submit to lust, he denies his natural urges, looks long, and patiently trusts that God will provide greater and more lasting joy down the road as a consequence of his obedience. He trusts God’s “no” concerning lust (Matt. 5:28) and places his confidence in the future reward God will supply. Perhaps, in God’s grace, that reward will prove to be an unusual level of sexual gratification with pure conscience in a disease-free, God-honoring relationship with a devoted wife. Perhaps his reward will not be fully realized until heaven. But one way or the other, reward is the outcome.
The first young man may counter that he is quite happy living for the fleeting pleasures of the moment and sees no reason to throw his confidence upon some supposed future reward from an unseen God. But such an objection only reveals a further failure to trust God at His word. The Bible reveals that Christ will someday preside over humanity as divine judge (Acts 17:30-31). If this is true, living by future-oriented faith is certainly not optional; and living without it is destructive (Luke 16:19-26).
Even for those for whom the fear of Christ’s judgment has passed (Rom. 8:1; Eph. 2:1-10), the struggle to live by faith continues. When we as believers are consumed with fear or depression, when we are eaten away with worry, bitterness, or anger, faith must direct our gaze forward to the future fulfillment of God’s promises. A weak faith becomes consumed with the present. A progressing faith looks down the road and trusts God at His word. It banks, for instance, on the assurance from God that He will never leave or forsake his people (Heb. 13:5-6). It banks, for instance, on the promise that God will “work all things together for good” in the lives of those who belong to Him (Rom. 8:28). It behaves today as if these promises will indeed find fulfillment in the future.
There are squatters in this world, squatters who drive the stakes of their tents deeply into the ground of the temporal. They are “now” oriented—tied to the present and squeezing it for all it’s worth. Then there are pilgrims—future-oriented people whose focus is the Celestial City and the divine rewards that await those who seek God with all their hearts (Heb. 11:13-16; Luke 9:23-24). Both types of people trudge along on the same earth, but one is slowly dying while the other is only beginning to live.
|Dan Miller has served as senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church (Savage, MN) since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (Owatonna, MN) with a B.S. degree in 1984. His graduate degrees include an M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Dan is married to Beth, and the Lord has blessed them with four children.