I have a simple but profound philosophy when it comes to the Christian life. When it is fully understood it can be revolutionary. By that I mean it can take a self-absorbed, idolatrous rebel and empower him to pursue a life that truly honors God. It can take a hopelessly depressed, self-loathing woman and restore meaning and value and joy to her lowly life.
I’ve said this before, so I doubt if it will strike you as novel or unique. But here it is again:
The key to the Christian life comes not from trying harder but from enjoying more. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me explain. I’m not saying you can experience success in Christian living without trying harder. I’m not at all suggesting that the Christian life isn’t hard work. It’s a war, a daily conflict, a moment-by-moment challenge that stretches us often beyond our limits. What I am saying is that pleasure in God is the power for purity. It is the enjoyment of Jesus Christ that empowers the human heart to exert the necessary effort to live as God would have us to live.
I want to demonstrate this to you from what Paul says in Philippians 3:1-11.
I know that many of you are still skeptical. I know that you are asking yourself right now: “Can fascination with God and delight in Jesus really help me overcome my failures? Can my life genuinely be changed? Can this truth really make a difference down in the gutter of lust and greed and pride and envy and shame where I live?”
Yes! I honestly believe it can. It certainly did in the life of the apostle Paul, and I have to believe that one reason the Spirit led him to say what he says in Philippians 3 is to encourage other Christians that it’s possible for them too.
This passage is all about a transformation, a personal revolution, a moral and mental 180 in one man’s life and how it can happen in our lives as well. It is as if Paul envisions himself walking down a certain path in life, heading in a specific direction, believing certain things, honoring and valuing what he was convinced would bring him life, cherishing and nourishing his earthly achievements, only to find himself suddenly walking in the opposite direction. “Those things of which I once boasted and loved and pursued, those things that energized me and gave me joy and got my juices flowing; I now look upon them and say, YUK!”
How did he do it? Why did he do it? How do you explain this phenomenal experience that all of us yearn for so deeply?
First, we must look at what Paul used to prize. There are seven things in which he had once placed his confidence. The first four relate to birth and upbringing, the last three to personal choice.
In vv. 5-6 he lists the following: 1) circumcised the 8th day; 2) of the nation of Israel; 3) of the tribe of Benjamin; 4) a Hebrew of Hebrews; 5) as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6) as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; 7) as to righteousness, blameless.
We will look more closely at these in a subsequent article, but for now one can almost hear Paul’s prideful reminder: “No one did it better than I. I was the best. I was number one. If it is possible to have good reason and warrant for boasting in human achievement and religious excellence and ethnic purity, I did it! If it’s possible to live in such a way that one can justifiably boast in the flesh and in human achievement, I did it!”
Perhaps it would be wise for each of us to pause at this point and draw up our own list. They will undoubtedly be different from Paul’s, but that’s o.k. So let me ask you: What are the seven things in this world, in your life, that compete with the most intensity to win your heart away from Jesus? If you were of a mind to boast in earthly achievements and accolades, what would they be?
Your educational degrees?
Your annual salary?
Your investment portfolio?
Your physical beauty?
Your reputation in town, at school, at your place of work, in your church?
Where you live and the car you drive and the position you hold in your company?
Your high level of self-esteem?
The achievements of your children?
Are you getting a mental picture of what you cherish most, of what you prize most highly, of what you sub-consciously depend upon to find happiness in life and a reason to get up in the morning?
The second thing of importance is for us to recognize we are not going to simply wake up one morning and discover that we suddenly hate what we used to love. The things of this world will never appear as “dung” when viewed in and of themselves. They will smell good and taste good and feel good and bring satisfaction and we will treasure and value them and fight for them and work for them and find every excuse imaginable to get them at any and all cost; they will retain their magnetic appeal and allure and power until they are set over against the surpassing value and beauty of Christ Jesus.
This is precisely what Paul is describing in Philippians 3. The things of the world (what we value, do, purchase, think about, possess, want, etc.) will not, in and of themselves, cease to be appealing. There is no magical transformation. In fact, their power to draw you into their trap will actually increase. Transformation will never happen until your heart is captivated by a rival attraction that is comparatively superior. Merely praying for sin to lose its grip on your heart won’t work. Merely fighting against sin won’t work.
In other words, to give up something simply for the sake of giving it up may work for a time, but in the long run you’ll return to it. Saying No to sin simply because you recognize it as evil may have momentary impact, but in the long run you will find a way to rationalize and excuse and justify your return to it. Saying No for no other reason than “my parents told me it was the right thing to do,” or “my teachers taught me . . ,” or “my pastor preached that . . .,” or even “the Bible says so . . .” has limited value in loosening the vice-grip of sin on our souls.
Paul’s greatest struggles were tradition, heritage, education, and above all else, religion. Where did Paul find greatest satisfaction and joy and a sense of value and meaning in life? He found it in his Jewish heritage, his ethnic identity, his educational accomplishments, and above all else in his religious devotion to the Law of Moses.
As we look more closely at what Paul says, one might have expected Paul to say that his previous personal advantages, although still good, are being left behind because he has found something better. But this was not a decision to go from good to better. Once he saw the “surpassing value” of knowing Jesus, he re-evaluated what he formerly regarded as gain, was struck with revulsion at it, realizing that it was actually working against him, that it blinded him to his need for Christ as well as to the beauty of Christ. Now he views it all as loss, as dung.
The key is found in what Paul identifies as the ground or motive for his decision: it was because of Christ. It was the prospect of gaining Christ, the promise of all that God is for him in Jesus that provoked and stirred and stimulated him and accounts for his re-evaluation of everything in his life. Paul actually makes this point no fewer than eight times! We’ll look at these eight declarations in the next article.
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most remarkable men of his time—a mathematician, evangelical theologian, economist, ecclesiastical, political, and social reformer all in one. His most famous sermon was published under the unlikely title: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he expounded an insight of permanent importance for Christian living: you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Even if we could do so, that would lead only to despair. The first world–centered love of our hearts can be expelled only by a new love and affection—for God and from God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot dwell together in the same heart. But the love of the world can be driven out only by the love of the Father. Hence Chalmers’ sermon title.
True Christian living, holy and right living, requires a new affection for the Father as its dynamic. Such new affection is part of what William Cowper called “the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord”—a love for the holy that seems to deal our carnal affections a deadly blow at the beginning of the Christian life. Soon, however, we discover that for all that we have died to sin in Christ, sin has by no means died in us. Sometimes its continued influence surprises us, even appears to overwhelm us in one or other of its manifestations. We discover that our “new affections” for spiritual things must be renewed constantly throughout the whole of our pilgrimage. If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.
Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.
It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness (how subtle our hearts are!) without its power. Love for the world will not have been expunged, but merely diverted. Only a new love is adequate to expel the old one. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. Only those who long for Christ’s appearing will be delivered from Demas-like desertion caused by being in love with this world.
How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?
What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.
The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.
Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his word?” Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent and return to those first works. It would be sad if the deepest analysis of our Christianity was that it lacked a sense of sin and of grace. That would suggest that we knew little if the expulsive power of a new affection. But there is no right living that last without it.
A few mornings ago, my son queued up Handel’s Messiah on his iPod and began playing it through the stereo. It was a day of cancelled school, so I sat, coffee in hand, with all four kids – some of us working, some of us reading the paper, all of us periodically humming or singing the parts we loved best – for the full two hours and 47 minutes of the recording. Hard to believe, since two years ago I couldn’t get them to suffer through a single track.
What had changed? How had they grown to take pleasure in something they once found boring and pointless?
The answer is one that is common to all humans, according to Paul Bloom, a Yale professor with a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. Dr. Bloom’s area of specialty is in pleasure research – how we as humans develop the ability to derive pleasure from people, experiences and things. He has discovered through his research that pleasure does not simply occur, it develops. And how it develops is a point worth noting:
“People ask me, ‘How do you get more pleasure out of life?’ And my answer is extremely pedantic: Study more….the key to enjoying wine isn’t just to guzzle a lot of expensive wine, it’s to learn about wine.”1
knowledge yields pleasure
Bloom has found that pleasure results from gaining knowledge about the object of our pleasure, not, as we might assume, from merely experiencing it over and over. Specifically, our pleasure increases in something when we learn its history, origin and deeper nature.2 Christians, in particular, should take note of this connection. We are called to be a people who delight ourselves in the Lord, who can say with conviction that “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. Many of us identify readily with the call to Christian hedonism. Yet, we fight daily to live as those whose greatest pleasure is found in God. If Bloom is right, finding greater pleasure in God will not result from pursuing more experiences of him, but from knowing him better. It will result from making a study of the Godhead.
Think about the relationship, possession or interest you derive the most pleasure from. How did you develop that delight? Whether you are passionate about modern art, your car, conservation, your spouse, nutrition, education or baseball, my guess is that you became that way by learning about the object of your passion. And that your pleasure in it grew as your knowledge grew.
My kids love Handel’s Messiah because two years ago on a long car drive we told them its history. We printed out all of the lyrics (scriptures) in random order and offered a prize if they could match each set of lyrics to the correct track. They did not initially respond with enthusiasm, and the complaining continued throughout the listening exercise. But in the end, making a study of the Messiah enabled them to derive pleasure from it. As they learned about it, they began to experience it in a fuller and richer way – a way that they would not have if we had simply asked them to listen to it over and over again. Because they made a study of it, it gives them pleasure.
The same is true of our enjoyment of God. When we go through spiritual dry periods, we often try to increase our pleasure in God by seeking repeated experiences of him. But if Paul Bloom is right, and I believe he is, our delight in the Lord will increase not through chasing experiences, but through making a study of him – his history, origin and deeper nature – a practice that would actually allow us to experience him in a fuller and richer way. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God.
to know him is to love him
What Bloom’s research has uncovered bears witness to the truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know. The more we know God, the more we will love him. Our pleasure in him will increase as our knowledge does. We must make earnest study of him as he has revealed himself in his Word.
Consider your pattern of spiritual disciplines. How much of it is given to study? The more time you devote to discovering the revealed knowledge and will of God, the greater your pleasure will be in him. The Westminster Catechism teaches us that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But don’t pursue enjoyment. Pursue the knowledge of God himself, and watch as your pleasure in him multiplies.
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” – 2 Peter 1:2
Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression, like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented and dejected? Could we join David and say, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1)?
I don’t think so. We would all relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can’t enjoy him. They can only try not to bother him, or maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor.
Therefore if God is not a happy God, Christian Hedonism has no foundation. For the aim of the Christian Hedonist is to be happy in God, to delight in God, to cherish and enjoy His fellowship and favor. But children cannot enjoy the fellowship of their Father if He is unhappy. Therefore the foundation of Christian Hedonism is the happiness of God.
But the foundation of the happiness of God is the sovereignty of God: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). If God were not sovereign, if the world He made were out of control, frustrating His design again and again, God would not be happy.
Just as our joy is based on the promise that God is strong enough and wise enough to make all things work together for our good, so God’s joy is based on that same sovereign control: He makes all things work together for His glory.
Desiring God (Colorado Springs, CO; Multnomah Books; 2003) p. 32-33.
(HT: The Cross Quoter)
“Christian Hedonism is a liberating and devastating doctrine,” John Piper writes.
It teaches that the value of God shines more brightly in the soul that finds deepest satisfaction in him. Therefore it is liberating because it endorses our inborn desire for joy. And it is devastating because it reveals that no one desires God with the passion he demands. Paradoxically, many people experience both of these truths. That certainly is my own experience.
So begins his book When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. I’ve hardly read anything that resonates with my soul the way this book does. The command to enjoy God — as right and central as it is biblically — is beyond our ability to perform. Piper explains what that discovery is like: “The Christian life became impossible. That is, it became supernatural.”
We simply can’t flip a switch to make our hearts love God the way he deserves. Our only hope of delighting in God is God himself giving the help. Piper writes, “God would have to transform my heart to do what a heart cannot make itself do, namely, want what it ought to want. Only God can make the depraved heart desire God.”
Amen, but what about us? Can we do anything? Relying completely on God’s grace, what are the means of grace and patterns of thinking to which we should avail ourselves in faith? That is what When I Don’t Desire God is about — how to fight for joy.
So we’re excited to say that you can now watch John Piper teach through the entire content online.
In 2005, Pastor John led a regional conference on this theme which was turned into a DVD product. Desiring God recently acquired the footage from that resource and has now transferred it completely to our site for free streaming and audio or video download.
From Puritan Richard Baxter, Practical Works (London, 1830), 2:420-21:
Penitent sorrow is only a purge to cast out those corruptions which hinder you from relishing your spiritual delights. Use it therefore as physic [medicine], only when there is need; and not for itself, but only to this end; and turn it not into your ordinary food. Delight in God is the health of your souls. … So take up no sorrow against your delight in God, or instead of it, but for it, and so much as promoteth it.
(HT: Tony Reinke)
J. Gresham Machen:
Many men … make shipwreck of their faith. They think of God only as one who can direct the course of nature for their benefit; they value Him only for the things that He can give.
We are subject to many pressing needs, and we are too much inclined to value God, not for His own sake, but only because He can satisfy those needs. There is the need of food and clothing, for ourselves and for our loved ones, and we value God because He can answer the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is the need of companionship; we shrink from loneliness; we would be surrounded by those who love us and those whom we can love. And we value God as one who can satisfy that need by giving us family and friends. There is the need of inspiring labor; we would be delivered from an aimless life; we desire opportunities for noble and unselfish service of our fellow-men. And we value God as one who by His ordering of our lives can set before us an open door.
These are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things that He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things—even lofty and unselfish things—then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail.
When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God; we have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. He is not content to minister to the worldly needs of those who care not a bit for Him. The text in the eighth chapter of Romans does not mean that religion provides a certain formula for obtaining worldly benefits—even the highest and most ennobling and most unselfish of worldly benefits.
“If God be for us, who can be against us?”—that does not mean that faith in God will bring us everything that we desire. What it does mean is that if we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides.
Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all?
If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. I do not mean that the Christian need expect always to be poor and sick and lonely and to seek his comfort only in a mystic experience with His God. This universe is God’s world; its blessings are showered upon His creatures even now; and in His own good time, when the period of its groaning and travailing is over, He will fashion it as a habitation of glory. But what I do mean is that if here and now we have the one inestimable gift of God’s presence and favor, then all the rest can wait till God’s good time.
J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? [(Eerdmans, 1925), pages 72-74]
(HT: Tony Reinke)
How do you explain “glorify” to a small child (anyone really!)? Biblical concepts like this pose a particular problem for parents, and author Sally Lloyd-Jones provides us with some help in her wonderful book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.
One story from her book is titled “Glorify!”
God tells us to glorify him. “Glorify” means “to make a big deal of.” When someone makes a big deal of you, it fills up your heart with joy.
But why does God need us to make a big deal of him? Why does he need us to get joy?
He doesn’t. In the beginning God the Father and Jesus, his Son, together with the Holy Spirit, were already there — a loving family, glorifying each other in this wonderful Dance of Joy.
No. God didn’t create us so he could get joy — he already had it.
He created us so he could share it.
He knows it’s the thing your heart most needs to be happy. When God says, “Glorify me!”, he’s really saying, “Be filled with Joy!”
He’s inviting us into his Forever Happiness.
“His secret purpose framed from the very beginning is to bring us to our full glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7 NEB).
(HT: Tony Reinke)
Your heart matters. It really, really matters.
The heart, after all, is the “noble faculty of the soul,” as John Flavel explains in his 1668 publication now titled, Keeping the Heart. Most generally, the heart refers to the inner man, and most importantly, a person’s everlasting state depends upon its condition.
Writing in a style more practical than sliced bread, Flavel exhorts Christians to give their hearts upmost attention. Be diligent in heart-work, he says, which eventually translates into two things: 1) preserve the soul from sin; and 2) maintain sweet communion with God (18). Said another way, repent and believe; or mortify and vivify; or put off and put on. This work is “one great business of a Christian’s life.”
The Hour of Temptation
After stating his case and laying a strong foundation, Flavel rolls up his sleeves to describe specific seasons in life that require our upmost care in this keeping labour. The ninth “season” is the hour of temptation, and this is where it gets wild.
How does Flavel urge Christians to stay Christian in the midst of temptation?
His advice begins with our understanding the nature of sin. He writes, “Satan suggests that there is pleasure to be enjoyed; the temptation is presented with a smiling aspect and an enticing voice” (89). Flavel goes on to mimic this enticing voice that rebukes the Christian for being so dull. Temptation is full of name-calling, you know. Oh come on! You’re not like that, are you? Are you so boring that you can’t have a little fun? And a thousand other lies.
Reader, Be Rescued
As if placing his hands on our shoulders, Flavel writes: “Reader, you may be rescued from the danger of such temptations by repelling the proposal of pleasure.” See what Flavel did here: we avoid the danger of temptation by repelling its proposal of pleasure. And how we repel temptation’s proposal of pleasure is by clinging to the hope of a greater pleasure.
But why should the pretended pleasure of sin allure you, when you know that unspeakably more real pleasure will arise from the mortification than can arise from the commission of sin? Will you prefer the gratification of some unhallowed passion, with the deadly poison which it will leave behind, to that sacred pleasure which arises from fearing and obeying God, complying with the dictates of conscience, and maintaining inward peace? (90)
For Maximum Joy
There is a greater pleasure than the empty-promise of sin. It is “that sacred pleasure,” as Flavel calls it. It is the life of fearing and obeying God, of believing the truth that God himself is enough, satisfying our deepest desires. And the only way, John Piper explains, to defeat the power of sin’s promise is with the power of this superior promise. The crux of temptation, then, is the object of our faith: Do we trust in the lies of sin? Or in the sufficiency of Jesus? This is the fight of faith, as John Piper writes,
Faith is not content with “fleeting pleasures” [see Hebrews 11:24–26]. It is ravenous for joy. And the Word of God says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). So faith will not be sidetracked into sin. It will not give up so easily in its quest for maximum joy. . . .
Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier. And faith is the victory that overcomes the lie, because faith is satisfied with God. (Future Grace, 335, 336)
Keeping our hearts means giving ourselves over and over again to “that sacred pleasure.” It’s when, in that moment of temptation, real joy comes to the rescue.
It is the paradox of paradoxes. The cross of Christ is both the most horrific happening in the history of the world, and the most beautiful. The universe’s saddest moment and happiest turn came together one afternoon at Golgotha on a single tree.
Even now, those of us with the ears to hear, and eyes to see from God-given new birth, experience at the cross a kind of sadness that is not sad. And all the more, one day when freed from sinning and its ubiquitous effects, will we find our greatest treasure in the great sadness that is not sad.
In John Piper’s sermon “Why Did God Create the World?”, he concludes with four important soul-application questions related to the glory of God’s grace and the cross as the universe’s saddest and happiest reality. Here’s the challenging four-minute clip:
From Desiring God blog.
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13
GOD speaks of it as involving two evils-the evil of forsaking Him, and the evil of substituting a false object of happiness for Him. Dear reader, the true painfulness of this subject consists not in the sorrow which your heart may have felt in seeing your cisterns broken. Ah no! the true agony should be, that you have, in your wanderings and creature idolatry, sinned, deeply sinned, against the Lord your God. This, and not your loss, ought to lay you low before Him. This, and not your broken scheme of earthly happiness, ought to fill you with the bitterness of sorrow, and clothe you with the drapery of woe. Oh! to have turned your back upon such a God, upon such a Father, upon such a Friend, and to have supposed that even a universe of creatures could have made you happy without Him, ought to bring you to His feet exclaiming, “God be merciful to me, the chief of sinners!”
Is it no sin to have said to God, as you have a thousand times over-”I prefer myself to You-my family to You-my estate to You-my pleasure to You-my honor to You”? Is it no sin to have taken the gifts with which He endowed you, or the wealth with which He entrusted you, and forming them into a golden image, to have fallen down before it, exclaiming, “This is your god, O my soul?” Oh yes, it is a sin, the guilt and the greatness of which no language can describe. And is it no sin, O believer in Jesus, to have turned away, in your unbelief and inconstancy, from the glorious redemption which the Lord has obtained for you at such a price, and to have sought the assurance and the joy of your salvation from other sources than it? What! is not the atoning work of Jesus sufficient to give your believing soul solid rest, and peace, and hope, but that you should have turned your eye from Him, and have sought it in the polluted and broken cistern of self? Oh, slight not the precious blood, the glorious righteousness, the infinite fullness, and the tender love of Jesus thus. No, you dishonor this precious Jesus Himself!
Shall He have wrought such an obedience, shall He have made such an atonement, shall He have died such a death, shall He have risen and have ascended up on high, all to secure your full salvation and certain glory, and will you derive the evidence and the comfort of your acceptance from any other than this one precious source-”looking unto Jesus!” Look away, then, from everything to Jesus. No matter what you are, look away from self-to Jesus. The more vile, the more empty, the more unworthy, the greater reason and the stronger argument why you should look entirely off yourself-to Jesus. His atoning work is finished by Him, and is sealed by the Father. It is impossible that God can reject you, entirely renouncing yourself and fleeing into Christ. Coming to Him in the name of Jesus, God cannot deny you. He has pledged Himself that whatever is asked in that name He will grant. Take Him at His word!
Ask Him for a sense of His reconciled love-ask Him for the Spirit of adoption-ask Him for a filial, loving, and obedient heart-ask Him for a meek, lowly, and submissive will. Yes, pour out your heart before Him: God waits to grant your utmost desire breathed out to Him in the name of Jesus. He has given you His beloved Son-oh largess worthy of a God!-oh gift of gifts, priceless and precious beyond all thought!-what inferior blessing will He then, withhold?
From Octavius Winslow’s Morning Thoughts
(HT: Timmy Brister)
By Jonathan Parnell:
Discipleship is about values. This could not be clearer in the Gospels. Jesus’ call is for a double action: leave and follow. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he first said to Peter and Andrew in Matthew 4:19. And “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Then to James and John. And “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Whether nets or family, the call to follow Jesus is the call to walk away from something else. It is the call to this, not that. Here, not there.
The disciples knew this. They knew they were forsaking one thing for another. And they knew pleasure was at the root. That’s why Peter asked what he did in Matthew 19:27. To be sure, he was still putting the pieces together, but he tipped his hand here. He was waiting for the pay off. Jesus had just taught on riches, which I imagine seemed out of the ballpark to Peter. Riches? Psssssst! (He had even walked away from his meager livelihood.) Ayhem, Jesus? Great lesson on riches, and about that, we, you know, we, uh, we left everything. So when do we get to cash the check?
Maybe more astonishing than Peter asking the question is that Jesus answers him.
Forsake the lesser pursuit in order to gain the greater pleasure. That’s why a man sells everything to buy a field (Matthew 13:44) or why the merchant considers all his goods mere commerce compared to one pearl (Matthew 13:45). There is something better out there and discipleship is the great calling to lay hold of it.
The human is a deep creature: “not just a body, but a soul. Not just a soul, but a soul with a passion and a desire. Not just a desire for being liked or for playing softball or collecting shells.” And Jesus says, “Follow me.” His call harmonizes with our inherent depth. Look, here’s the treasure. It’s me. Then we are awakened, muddy hands and all, wallowing in the slums this whole time but now testifying of a “desire for something infinitely great and beautiful and valuable and satisfying — the name and the glory of God” (Boasting Only in the Cross). So we leave and we follow. Goodbye broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13), hello my exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).
We follow Jesus into a new world, not as pedagogy, but as fellowship. We come not as pupils, but as rebellious creatures made alive for the first time — rebellious creatures now reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Discipleship — following Jesus — is to live before God’s face, to dwell in his presence, to be satisfied in all that he is. We follow as creatures of grace, entering into the fellowship of the triune God in whose presence there is fullness of joy, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Unbroken seriousness of a melodramatic or somber kind will inevitably communicate a sickness of soul to the great mass of people. This is partly because life as God created it is not like that.
There are, for example, little babies in the world who are not the least impressed with or in need of our passion and zeal and earnest looks. They are cooing and smiling and calling for their daddies to get down and play with them. The daddy who cannot do this will not understand the true seriousness of sin, because he is not capable of enjoying what God has preserved from its ravages. He is really a sick man and unfit to lead others to health. He is, in the end, earnest about being earnest, not earnest about being joyful.
The real battle in life is to be as happy in God as we can be, and that takes a very special kind of earnestness, since God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
I love this from Justin Childers:
By God’s grace, I’m learning to enjoy more things by being satisfied in Jesus. The combination of Mark 8-9, Together for the Gospel Conference, and J.D. Greer’s new book, Gospel, have conspired to teach me that, “Learning to be satisfied in Jesus will free you to enjoy everything else.”
This is the irony of the Christian life. You can’t enjoy things and people by depending on them for satisfaction. The only way to enjoy “everything else” is by being satisfied in Jesus. Jesus said, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” When we are satisfied with all that Jesus is for us, we can begin to enjoy all the good things we have because of Jesus.
Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of delighting ourselves in God. Updating the language a little:
1. Delight in God will prove that you know him and love him and that you are prepared for his kingdom, for all who truly delight in him shall enjoy him.
2. Prosperity, which is merely the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt you or transport you.
3. Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not much grieve you or easily deject you.
4. You will receive more profit from a sermon or good book or conversation you delight in, than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities.
6. You will have a continual feast with you, to sweeten all the crosses of your life and provide you with joy greater than your sorrow in your saddest condition.
7. When you delight in God, your created pleasures will be sanctified to you and warranted in their proper place, which in other people are idolatrous or corrupt.
Lord, “you are good and you do good” (Psalm 119:68).
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Wonderful description of Christian hedonism by Thomas Watson:
“We glorify God by working out our own salvation. God has twisted together, his glory and our good. We glorify him by promoting our own salvation. It is a glory to God to have multitudes of converts; his design of free grace takes effect, and God has the glory of his mercy; so that, while we are endeavoring our salvation, we are honoring God.
What an encouragement is this to the service of God, to think, “while I am hearing and praying, I am glorifying God; while I am furthering my own glory in heaven, I am increasing God’s glory!”
Would it not be an encouragement to a subject, to hear his prince say to him, “You will honor and please me very much, if you will go to yonder mine of gold, and dig as much gold for yourself as you can carry away”? So, for God to say, “Go to the ordinances, get as much grace as you can, dig out as much salvation as you can; and the more happiness you have, the more I shall count myself glorified!”
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth: 1890, 2000), 13–14.
(HT: Tony Reinke)
John Piper asks:
What would the doctrines of grace sound like if every limb in that tree were coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight. (that is, Christian Hedonism)?
- Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to God’s beauty and deadness to the deepest joy.
- Unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed as the overflow of God’s joy in the fellowship of the Trinity.
- Limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant.
- Irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights.
- Perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God not to let us fall into the final bondage of inferior pleasures, but to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures at his right hand forevermore.
From John Bloom:
No one puts it as bluntly as Blaise Pascal in his Pensées:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
There you are. Warrior, pacifist, suicide, sluggard, workaholic; if you’re a human, you’re a hedonist. You can try to deny it, but you can’t change it.
If you want to try your hand at stoicism, forget the Bible. It has little for you. Scripture does not support the idea that our motives are more pure the less we are pursuing our own joy. Nope. In fact, according to the Bible, unless we are pursuing our happiness we cannot even come to God: “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that herewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
God blatantly entices us to seek happiness, joy, pleasure (whatever you want to call it) in him with verses like this: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4), and “in his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). We’re supposed to want pleasure.
Why does God want us to want pleasure? Because it is a crucial indicator. Pleasure is the meter in your heart that measures how valuable, how precious someone or something is to you. Pleasure is the measure of your treasure.
Your treasure is what you love. Your greatest treasure is what you love the most. “For where your treasure is, there your heart [what you love] will be also” (Matthew 6:21). You will never be a true stoic because you can’t help experiencing pleasure in what you treasure. God wired you that way.
Pleasure is the whistleblower of your heart. More than anything else it exposes what you really love. If something sinful gives you pleasure, it’s not a pleasure problem. It’s a treasure problem. Your pleasure mechanism is likely functioning just fine. It’s what you love that’s out of whack. And pleasure is outing you. It’s revealing that, despite what your mouth says and the image you try to project to others, something evil is precious to you.
That’s what sin is at the root: treasuring evil. Which makes the fight of faith in the Christian life a fight for delight. It’s a fight to believe God’s promises of happiness over the false promises of happiness we hear from the world, our fallen flesh, and the devil. And yes, it often involves denying ourselves pleasure, but only denying ourselves a lesser, viler pleasure in order to have a much higher pleasure (Luke 9:23-25).
So be a full, unashamed, bold Christian Hedonist! Pursue your pleasure in God, the greatest Treasure, with all your heart (Matthew 22:37). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Some Helpful Resources:
From Erik Raymond:
There is a lot of (necessary) talk these days about preaching the gospel to yourself. This is truly a great need for every Christian. We all found ourselves slouching back to the self-promoting, self-worshiping default position of our hearts. That is, we forget the gospel.
But let’s be very clear about what it means to forget. We are not simply talking about forgetting facts or Bible verses. It is not like we somehow can’t remember the definition of substitutionary atonement or that Jesus came to save sinners. No, no, it is much bigger than this.
The Issue is Our Satisfied Delight
When we talk about forgetting the gospel we are talking about forgetting to see the glory of Christ in the gospel. That is, we forget to see the infinite value of Jesus as the redeemer. In this we see our infinite sinfulness, hopelessness, idolatry, and separation from God. The only thing we have to do with God apart from Jesus is to be on the wrong side of his barrel of divine wrath. So in seeing the beautiful sufficiency in Jesus, both his person and his work, we begin to delight in him as our Savior.
In other words, what we don’t just forget facts, but rather to delight in the glorious God behind the facts! Christ and his work is both historical and personal. That is, it happened in time and it happened for sinners like me and you! And the fact that it is successful and available for a rebel like me causes me to be amazed, humbled, refreshed and happy as I bask in the illuminating beams of the glory of Christ through the gospel.
More than an Upload of Data
Preaching the gospel to yourself is not just a mind exercise. You are not to be just reciting facts without the engagement of your heart. The gospel is to stir our minds with theological truth but that stirring also is like a divine oar in the water of our hearts, as it stirs us with rich gospel happiness.
In the gospel we are seeing the glory of Christ in his condescension for us; we see his infinite stooping to rescue infinite sinners and provide eternal righteousness. And then, one day, we’ll see his perfect righteousness and preserving power and unfailing love on full display as we, his bride, the church is wonderfully presented to him as holy, blameless, and beyond reproach. This is all done through his work as the husband par excellence washing us, his bride with his word (Eph. 5.25-27)
So yes, preach the gospel to yourself everyday, even multiple times a day. But do not treat it like you just need an upload of data. Because, in reality, you need much more than that. You need divine help through the Spirit to happily see the glory of Christ in the gospel that you might be transformed into his own image (2 Cor. 3.18)