Truth Alone Won’t Set You Free


John Piper:

The Necessity of Pursuing Joy in God

“Why, then,” somebody should ask me, “Why, then, do you insist over and over again in everything you write that we should pursue joy in God? Why don’t you just say, ‘Pursue God’?” And there are three reasons.

God’s Own Idea

Number one: It isn’t my idea to talk like this. It’s God’s idea. Deuteronomy 28:47–48 is one of the scariest warnings in the Bible. It goes like this: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, . . . you shall serve your enemies.” God is so bent on having people pursue joy in him that if they try to serve him without that joy, they will serve their enemies. That’s how blood-earnest God gets in this issue of pursuing joy. So it’s not me who made up all the commandments — delight yourself in the Lord; rejoice in the Lord — that’s Bible talk, not my talk.

Doctrine and Delight

Second response: God is glorified by our experience of him joyfully, not merely by the way we think about him. The devil has had more theologically accurate thoughts about God in the last 24 hours than you will have in a lifetime. You believe that? I do. I think he’s brilliant, and he knows God inside out and hates what he knows. Satan’s problem is not doctrine. It’s delight. Therefore, getting our heads straight won’t save us, and it won’t glorify God by itself. And I hope you know I’m really big on doctrine, but I’m, at this point, saying the reason I push joy in God is because all the right thinking about God in the world is not as good as Satan’s thinking about God. He just hates it.

Desires Can Damn Us

The third response is people don’t awaken to how desperate their condition is before God, usually, I think, until they begin to measure their hearts by the demand for joy in God. A lot of preaching of the law — and I think that’s a good thing — deals with the law just at a do level, a deed level. Don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, don’t steal.

And that doesn’t probe the depths of commandment number ten, which is the root of all the others. “Thou shalt not desire things in ways you shouldn’t.” Covet (Exodus 20:17). Desire is the root problem of the law, and so when we preach, not enough people probe people’s consciences and hearts as to “What do you delight in? What are you going to watch on television when you go home tonight? What is your default activity when there’s no pressure on you? What is your heart reflexively drawn to?” Those are the things that damn us. It isn’t adultery. Good grief, it does not take a lot of willpower to stay out of bed with another woman, but not to have a desire to look at a picture — desire — that’s damning.

To know that my heart has to change, my whole structure of motivation has to change, my whole priority of treasuring things in the world has to change, I’m damned. There’s nothing I can do. I feel totally devastated by this indictment.

That’s a third reason why I think we should not just say, “Pursue God,” because you know what people will do with the word “Pursue God, pursue God, pursue God”? They’ll just fill in all the verbs they feel comfortable with. “I read about him. I talk about him. I’ll do some things for him. Don’t you touch my heart, because I’m in love with money, and I’m in love with the praise of man, so don’t connect ‘pursue God’ with ‘pursue joy in God,’ because that will get me in trouble.”

Pursue Joy in God

Those are my three reasons for why, even though I totally agree with C.S. Lewis, we are after God in a certain way. Not to indict him, not to ignore him, not merely to say right things about him. We are after God to enjoy him, and if we don’t, we don’t honor him. It’s a huge, huge issue. My goal is God and happiness in all that he is for me.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.