Past, present, future
Faith makes us acceptable to God, not works. This message dates back to the early records in the Bible. Without faith, it is said it is impossible to please God and I'd like to say it is impossible to enter into relationship with him, either. One of the confounding things about faith is that we somehow think it something we have to "muster up" or "get our arms around" so that we can be in the right "place" emotionally, spiritually, and mentally to "get" whatever it is we hope to gain by this "faith". I think this is a wrong concept - for faith which redeems a man from the depths of his sinfulness and sets him in right-standing with God is actually given from God. In this sense, faith is more closely related to trust - we place our trust in a finished work at the Cross of Christ and we trust his sacrifice on our behalf to be enough to bring us into a place where we not only are at peace with God, but we live in this peace which God brings into our lives.
By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:1-5 CEV)
We sometimes miss the present to past tense of a passage because we gloss over it too quickly. As you can see from this passage, we HAVE BEEN (past tense) made acceptable to God - it is a finished work. We live AT PEACE (present tense) with God - because right-standing with God brings us into a place where we can experience peace inside us, as well as enjoy the peace which come from being in his presence and constant care. Christ HAS (past tense) introduced us to God's undeserved kindness - grace is a past action on our behalf, but as we shall see, it is also a continual action. It is upon grace we TAKE (present tense) stand. Past makes a way for the present, which prepares us for the future. They are interwoven parts and cannot be separated or viewed as completely separate parts.
Don't lose sight of how this new life within (past, present, and future actions) begins within - it is through faith. Faith is more than a mental assent - although it engages the mental faculties to come to understand it is the nature of God to give us what we don't deserve. Faith is more than an emotional response - although our emotions respond to his presence and drawing with a sense of anticipation, reverence, and awe. Faith is more than just a spiritual concept we have to "understand" in order to "have it" - although it is important to recognize the source of faith is based entirely upon this willingness to trust there is a God, he is the one who reaches out for us, and he has made a way for us to enter into his grace.
Enduring is kind of a "present tense" word, but it also carries a "future tense" to it. We enter into things within this walk with Christ which set us on a course of obedience. Obedience is not a one time step - it is a continual action or series of steps in the opposite direction to where we once were headed. In this sense, it is both present and future tense. We have BEEN in a place where we did not want to bear up under anything which was "too hard" or "taxed us" beyond what we thought humanly possible to bear up under. In Christ, we find ourselves being "stretched" because present "effort" on our part builds future character - faith (trust) is built with a little effort on our part.
Think of Abraham - one day being told to go up to the mountain to sacrifice his only child upon an altar built with his own hands. See the "effort" his faith involved - a climb up the mountain; the carrying of the wood for the fire; the coals carried which he likely would have used to build the fire; the preparation of the altar; and the continually moving forward in the face of what seemed like odds which were dead set against him and his son, Isaac. There was certainly effort on his part which actually helps us to recognize there are steps we sometimes take which deepen our awareness of the action of God in our lives - they actually build our present trust so we are able to face our future need with a more "solid" footing of faith.
Character is revealed in the steps we take when the going gets tough. It is easy to stand strong when we sense God's kindness in our lives in a very real and evident sense. It is something entirely different to stand strong when we cannot feel his presence, or the "odds" seem to be stacked against us. It is the past actions of trust, building upon present steps of obedience, that prepare us for the future needs we will face. In the journey between here and there, trust is part of obedience. Obedience is part of grace - for we respond to God's kindness with obedience. All these are inter-related and actually prepare us for whatever comes "next" in our lives. What we do in the present, while relying upon the past, is basic to how we will face our future. Just sayin!