How Do I Pursue Joy in Christ?
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Theologian Michael Reeves joins us again from the UK, filling in this week for John Piper. Today’s question is rather simple — it’s profoundly important — but the question is simple: Michael, how do we pursue our happiness in Jesus?
First I would want to say: This is important, pursuing our happiness in Jesus, that joy in Christ isn’t an optional extra. We were made to share the Father’s eternal pleasure in his Son. The Father has always delighted in his Son, eternally found pleasure in him and we were created to share the Father’s sweet pleasure in his Son. To love Jesus is to be made more like God himself, more like the Father. So this is important.
Now I confess, personally, that wasn’t a message that I knew well when growing up as a young Christian. I think the message that I thought the gospel was was I am a sinner, Christ dies for my sins in order to buy me heaven, which meant I was grateful to Christ for redeeming me from hell and bringing me to heaven, but the real reward of the gospel, I believed, was heaven, not Christ, not God himself. And that changed personally for me through reading Jonathan Edwards and I was torn by his description to the hypocrite in The Religious Affections where he says that is a good description of the hypocrite—that you are using God to get something else. Your delight is not in God himself, the one we are made for.
So I think this is very important as an issue and I feel the personal significance of it. It has changed what Christian life looks like to me. It means sanctification has a rationale to it that it didn’t before to me. So we need to pursue our happiness in Jesus, and I want to use that word pursue. This is something we can’t simply sit back on. Paul in Philippians 3:14 uses strong, striving language. I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It is an active thing. He wants to press in to know them.
I think the question is: How then do we do this?
First thing I would say is this. I think two things. First thing is: Know him. Grow in your knowledge of Christ for it is knowing Christ that is why the Father so delights in him, because he is simply delightful. Now a past generation the Puritans, I think of, this seemed to be in the mainstream in a way that it is not today so much. So you see a number of Puritan works, for example, Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ in Heaven. There is a great work to read and to consider the ascended, glorified Jesus, to fill your vision with him so that you know him. And I want to say fill your vision not simply so that you know about him, but so that he eclipses other concerns for you, so that his glory is of greater concern than your glory or your worries. So we need to fill our minds, our vision with him. Goodwin’s Heart of Christ would be something I would recommend. Owen’s The Glory of Christ I would recommend as well. Charles Spurgeon Christ’s Glorious Achievements. I would read some of these older, rich works. They help you see how the Christ focused generation of the past read Scripture to know Christ better. Fill out your knowledge of him.
And I try to think of something John Owen said on this. He talked about this a number of times in his works and said things like this: “Do any of us find a lukewarmness, a spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? Well, there is no better way for our healing than this, a fresh view of the glory of Christ and abiding therein.” Or he wrote after having buried 10 of his children he would write, “A due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind.” He is not an ivory tower theologian, having suffered deeply. He knows that it is a view of Christ’s glory, compassion of grace, and holiness that will enable you to go through all that life throws at you and to go through it with a joy. So press in to know Christ better. That is how we pursue our happiness.
But I would add one more thing to that: Compare Christ to whatever else it is that you treasure. So what is it that you really want? Is it love? Is it that you want to be loved? And that can come across in various ways — a sexual addiction, a desire for fame — those are really varieties of wanting to be loved. Is it acceptance? Is it money? Is it power? Is it comfort? Now compare that thing that you dream of and love with Christ. Which is better? Does pornography offer you the satisfaction, acceptance and love that Jesus does? Does money offer you anything in comparison to the riches of Christ? Does passing temporal power offer you anything in comparison to what Christ is offering? And when you use how much better Christ is than those other things you go running after, you will choose Christ rather than those things and you will walk away from them with freedom.
Wonderful, Michael. And this is why we need to keep writing books about the glory of Christ.
Thank you. I say that because he just finished work on an excellent book titled: Christ Our Life, scheduled to release on September 1 in the UK. It will be titled Rejoicing in Christ, and released in the US early next year. And speaking of books on the importance of seeing and savoring Jesus Christ, see John Piper’s book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. You can download it right now for free from our website, desiringGod.org. Click on the “books” tab on the top of the page. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful book. Tomorrow we hear from Michael Reeves one more time. Christ is not just glorious and to be adored as he is, off and separate from us. The Bible teaches that all Christians are united to him. Michael has written and spoken a lot about union with Christ, and tomorrow, I’ll ask him: Why is it so important for Christians to understand and embrace the precious truth of our union with Christ? I’m your host Tony Reinke, we’ll see you tomorrow on the Ask Pastor John podcast.