How to Fight for Joy, Session 2

Desiring God 2005 Regional Conference

When I Don't Desire God

The following is a lightly edited transcript.

The name of this conference is When I Don’t Desire God. And I said that the aim is not to increase your comforts, but to sustain the sacrifice of love. And I hope that is plain. I said also that the aim is to join God in displaying his glory in the world, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And so the pursuit of our joy in him is a pursuit of his glory. And then we began some clarifications. There are four of them. We did one last night and there are three more. The one last night was the fight for joy is a fight for joy in God. It is not a fight for joy in general.

I remember one conversation I had with a seminary president critiquing the term and the vision that I call Christian Hedonism. And he had it fixed in his mind that the philosophical meaning for the word Hedonism was that happiness becomes the criterion for right and wrong. And that is one of the historic meanings for the word Hedonism. A Hedonist in the old Greek sense was somebody who said: Whatever makes you happy is right. And whatever makes you unhappy is wrong. And so he took that definition and put it on my term and said, “That is a bad idea, Piper. You shouldn’t be promoting Christian Hedonism.”

And my response is that Christian Hedonism does not make happiness the measure of right and wrong. Christian Hedonism makes God the measure of right and wrong and says: It is a sin to be unhappy about that. That is real serious. Christian Hedonism makes God in his Word the measure of right and wrong whether you like it or not and it is a sin not to like it. And, therefore, I am on a crusade to help people break free from that terrible sin of being out of sorts with God’s authority over their lives.

Christian Hedonism Exalts God, Not Happiness

Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of happiness. Whatever makes you most happy is your god. And that is serious because our churches are filled with people for whom God is not their portion. “Whom have I in heaven but thee and on earth there is nothing I desire besides thee,” is flat out false for almost everybody. What in the world did David mean by that when he wrote that in Psalm 73 or Psalm 16? “Preserve me, oh God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord: You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you.” There is another one.

So Christian Hedonism is on a crusade to cause people not to dislike God’s being all in all, but to be ravished by the sight of God as absolutely authoritative, absolutely sovereign, absolutely just, wise, true, loving, powerful. It is a sin not to like that. And, therefore, we fight for joy. That was clarification number one, namely, it is joy in God, not joy in general that we are fighting for.

Fight for the Gift

Here is clarification number two: We must fight even though joy is spontaneous and a divine gift. Joy in God is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22. You can’t make it happen immediately. I held up my little finger last night. No matter how I feel, I can say: Finger, go down, finger go up. That is amazing. I don’t know how the brain works. But I cannot do that when I get up feeling glum in the morning. Feel happy. Feel happy. And it doesn’t work like that for you, for me or anybody. It is a gift. It rises spontaneously in response to things. You don’t make it happen when it happens. It happens. Joy happens. That would be a good bumper sticker.

So why must we then fight for it? This word fight. I don’t like that word. Don’t turn the Christian life into a fight. I like you joy talk. I don’t like your fight talk. When you put them together I get confused. Why must we fight? So I am going to go back where I began with 2 Corinthians 1:24. Not that I lord it over your faith. Actually he says “We.” Not that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy. And the word “workers,” “laborers,” is another way of saying what I mean by fight. Fighters, workers. It wouldn’t make you any happier to say joy is work, than it would to say joy is a fight. But Paul says that and he has got God inspiring him and so I know this is work. I know this is a fight from 2 Corinthians 1:24. And here is a part of that verse that I have left out. Let me read it again putting in the part I left out.

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy for you stand firm in your faith. So he sandwiches joy with faith on either side. And, in fact, he seems to use them almost interchangeably doesn’t he? I mean wouldn’t you expect him to say this? Not that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your faith. That is what you would expect him to say and he doesn’t say that. He substitutes joy for the word faith in that second clause, not that we lord it over your faith. We are workers with you for your joy, as though faith and joy are overlapping realities. They are so interwoven Paul can almost use them interchangeably, not entirely, but they overlap, which suggests to me — and I do believe this is the case — that an essential element of faith is joy, delight.

Here is a verse I would put as support for that from John 6:35. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger. And whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Now notice the parallel of those two halves. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger parallels whoever believes. Now you have got faith paralleling come. Come to me that you not hunger. Believe in me that you not thirst. So here is my definition of faith on the basis of John 6:35. Believing in Jesus is a coming to Jesus so as to find your heart hunger and heart thirst satisfied. That is believing. Therefore, I cannot separate saving faith from a heart satisfaction in Jesus as my treasure. I do not conceive of any Christian on planet earth who says: I am saved by faith and Jesus is not my treasure. That is an oxymoron statement to me. That makes no sense and I would call a person like that into question. I would say: I am not sure you are a Christian. You might be because your words may not tell the truth about your heart. But those words are not describing a Christian. I put my faith in Jesus and he is not my treasure. I have no affection for him as a treasure. That is not a Christian in my judgment and I base it on a text like John 6:35. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger. It does something to your soul hunger when you come for salvation. Believing and coming are parallel words there.

Joy and Faith Interwoven

Now the reason I point out the connection between joy and faith and their interwovenness in Paul’s mind and Jesus’ mind is that we are told explicitly in the Bible to fight for faith. And if joy is an essential element of faith, then the fight for joy follows from 1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.” And there he is talking in terms of exhortation to Timothy and then he gets to the end of 2 Timothy and he bears witness to his own life and you remember what he says in 2 Timothy 4:7. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

In Paul’s mind the Christian life is war. And if you want to simply coast in this culture which is drifting hellward, that is where you will go. But if you are willing to swim and fight, then you might find your joy in another place than where this culture finds it and, thus, become very useful in the Disneyland of the world called America. But if you just join the crowd and drift in your so-called Christianity, you will be of no use to them. It is a long and hard battle.

Listen to this amazing word from Jesus in Matthew 24:12–13. “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” He is talking about the end of the age. As we move toward the end of the age he says: The love of many in Greenville, the love of many in Minneapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, LA, New York, Chicago, Boston will grow cold. But those who endure in what? Hotness, will be saved. Is it right? He is talking about love in terms of its temperature, not just its commitment. So many people just dumb love down to behavior. It doesn’t matter what you feel, just do nice things for people and you are a loving person. It cannot be true in view of 1 Corinthians 13:3. “If I give away my body to be burned and all that I have and have not love, I am nothing.” You can’t equate love and behavior. Otherwise 1 Corinthians 13 makes zero sense. Love is also the heart, caring about people loving zealously, warmly, affectionately our maker and our redeemer. And this is going to grow cold toward the end in many people. But those who endure — and all I am pointing out is the fight is a fight not to grow cold. It is a fight to delight with red hot passion in God to the end.

I am 59 and when those of you come up and shake my hand at the end of these things and sometimes with tears say, “I pray for you almost every day that you not fall,” I thank you. Few things make me more excited than the thought that I might finish well. I was sitting down there singing, “He is my portion. He is my portion.” And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to just have a heart attack?” I know I am strange in things like that. I think about death a lot because few things make me more serious about my own walk with God than to think that in about 30 seconds I might face him. If that doesn’t make you serious, well, what would it be? And it is true every minute of your life.

So that point about Matthew 24 is just to say that the fight is real. It is long. It is serious. And it is about joy, because love growing cold, I think, is a way of saying love going joyless.

So the question is how in the world do you put together spontaneity and gift for joy and fight and work and endurance? And those two things just seem so opposite in our experience. In fact, they are so opposite in our experience people theologically make two kinds of mistakes here. One is they say joy can’t be essential because it is commanded by God and therefore it has to be icing on the cake. It has to be a caboose at the end of the train. It has to be optional for stoical personalities. It can’t be essential, because it is commanded and you don’t have control over it. If you don’t have control over it, it can’t be essential. And that is one mistake. And here is another one. Joy must be under our immediate control, because it is commanded.

God Demands What We Cannot Do

Now there is a framework of mind operating with those two mistakes. And it is the framework of mind that believes God cannot be just if he requires from me what I do not have immediate power to perform. God cannot be just if he requires of me, demands of me something that I in my own native, immediate willpower can’t do. That is a mistaken assumption. That is an unbiblical assumption. It is an assumption that pervades the American church and which causes people to make hash out of the Bible and become mistaken in so many theological ways.

Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law.” Indeed it cannot. So the mind of the flesh — and that is the mind that every human has since Adam and Eve fell. All of us came into this world not spiritual beings, but what Paul calls natural beings. And he says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are folly to him. He is unable to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” So here I am born to Bill and Ruth Piper, a fallen human being, natural in my mind, not spiritual. And, therefore, hostile to God. And so were all of you born that way, dead in your trespasses and sins, natural, regarding as folly everything that God says was good for you. We are dead. We are blind.

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot. And you remember what the 10th commandment in the law is. Thou shalt not covet. And there it becomes crystal clear why you cannot. Remember the rich young ruler? How shall I inherit eternal life? Law? I have done that. You lack one thing. Jesus can see where his treasure is. You lack one thing. Sell everything you have. Give to the poor. Follow me. You will have treasure in heaven. Being very rich, he turned away sad. He couldn’t let it go. How do I know he couldn’t? Because the disciples — look at this — and Jesus says, “It is hard for the rich to get into the kingdom of heaven, really hard.” And they are stunned and say, “Well, then who can be saved?” And Jesus doesn’t say humble people, wise people, smart people, spiritual people. He says, “With man it is impossible. But with God all things are possible.”

In other words, the mind of the flesh has you enslaved and trapped and dead and there is nothing you can do about it. But God can do something about it. It is called grace. It is called sovereign, almighty grace. And that is the way fighting relates to grace, like this. Philippians 2:12: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for God is the one who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Now here my inability and God’s sovereign ability come together in a command and an enablement. Work out your salvation. Fight for joy. For God is the one underneath working in you to enable you to work. Or 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am. And his grace towards me was not in vain. But I worked harder than any of them. Nevertheless, it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

Fight for joy though you cannot fight for joy. You are dead. You are blind. You are hostile to the law of God. You cannot keep it. God breaks in on you by the Holy Spirit, illumines your eyes. We will see more on that in just a few minutes. You will recognize Jesus as your treasure. This is called new birth. It is called conversion. You are enabled to embrace him as your Savior, your Lord, the treasure of your life. And now he is in you by the Holy Spirit and you are now a person at war with yourself. The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh to keep you from doing what you would and life becomes battle to the end of your days. But you fight in the strength that he supplies.

Supernatural Ministry

Now you are like farmers. Farmers want crops to grow and they can’t make them grow. Only God can make them grow. But they can plow and they can plant and they should. Listen to the way Paul puts in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” And we could just substitute God gave the joy. There are things that are involved in this gift. It is a gift. I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the gift. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 2 Timothy 2:24. I love this text. This is so close to the heart of my understanding of my ministry and your ministry. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach.”

So just get the picture here. The Lord’s servant, that would be me now or you in your ministry. We must not be quarrelsome. We must have a certain loving demeanor about him and then he must be apt to teach, help explain things in the Bible, make sense out of biblical truth, answer people’s objections, an able teacher. So there is a love component and a word component in the ministry here. “Correcting his opponents with gentleness.” And then comes this staggering word. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been captured by him to do his will, his joyless will, his worldly will.”

Do you hear what the ministry is? The ministry is doing what only God can do. Pastors and lay people, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, what is your task? Your task is don’t be quarrelsome. Be kind. Grow in your giftedness to teach. Be patient. Endure evil. Correct the opponents. God may grant repentance. You can’t make it happen. You can’t make it happen in you and you can’t make it happen in anybody else. It is a gift and life after the first repentance is a series of gift receivings. Gift, gift, every day is from God. And we are trying to put ourselves under the waterfall of God’s grace. That is what being led by the Spirit is. It is just navigating life where the waterfall of gift is. Where will God enable me to overflow in joy in love to you better? Will it be driving this way or this way? Will it be sending this card or that card? Will it be staying home or going out like we talked last night? Where is the waterfall of blessing that overflows onto other people? Because I have nothing to accomplish in this world except what is given to me.

I was with Campus Crusade a few weeks ago out in Fort Collins, Colorado talking to all of the campus leaders. And I took that text as one of my main texts, because they are evangelists, right? They want to get people to have a passion for God who right now love only the NBA or their new hair or whatever. And so they have an impossible task because all those students are natural. They are hostile to God. They are hostile to his law. They are not able to submit to it. They are not able to come to Christ. They are so dead in their trespasses and sins that they love stuff over their maker and Campus Crusade has sent, now: Go save them. That is not a false biblical statement, because Paul said: I would do anything. I will become all things to all people if I might save some. It is not wrong to talk that way. It is just telling Campus Crusade to do what is impossible.

And so I looked out over these couple of thousand people and I said: God’s mission for you is to do what only he can do. And that should liberate you. Oh, how bold and radical and persevering it should make you to hang out seventeen Tuesday nights in a row at Pizza Hut looking into this blank face, knowing you can’t do it. God can do it on the eighteenth night if he pleases. Break them in half. Open their eyes. Quicken their joy. Make Christ a treasure. And the other text that I used to support this understanding of 2 Timothy 2:24–26 was Acts 26:18 wherein the Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road says to Paul, “I send you to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” I send you to open their eyes. Right. Right. Paul knew good and well God alone opens eyes. 2 Timothy 4:6: “The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Paul knew that. He wrote that. He knew that God alone can raise the dead. God alone can give hearing to the ear. God alone can give light, spiritual light to the blind eye. And he makes humans an essential element, means in the process called evangelism. Or he makes you a key player in your fight for joy. It is his gift. He alone can give it and you must fight for it.

Modesty in the Fight

Now that produces a certain modesty, I think, in the fight. When I say that you must fight and only God can give, it should create a certain modesty in the fight. I use that phrase, because it seems the best alternative to the presumption that comes with thinking I can make this happen. He tells me to rejoice in the Lord and always rejoice. All right. He tells me to do it. I will do it. There is a certain presumption there that just doesn’t fit with everything I have seen so far. Here are some texts that describe the modesty of the Christian claim on God.

Proverbs 21:31: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” There is a certain modesty as you go into battle. I will make my horse ready. I will strap it tight. I will put my sword in my hand. I will get a good night’s rest. I will eat breakfast properly. I will stoke the engines of my flame for God. But victory is in the hands of the Lord. Joy belongs to the Lord. Or Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but the purpose of the Lord will stand.” Be a planning people. Be planning churches. Oh, yes, don’t live planless lives. Just be modest.

Your plans may or may not happen and God will decide. And be happy about that. Be totally happy about that. Or Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Be a watchman and build a house. But just be modest. If your house gets built, God built it. And if nobody attacks the city, God kept them from attacking the city. We have a place in causality, whether it is our joy guiding our steps, growing a church, leading someone to Christ. We have an indispensable place on planet earth. He wouldn’t have created us if there were no reason for us to be. But it is a modest place that ascribes to God the final say in whether I am happy today or not.

We must not begrudge to God the seasons of winter that he may will for us when we have done all we can do to make ourselves as happy as we should be and we are not. There are several things that this modesty accomplishes. One, it guards me from thinking that I decisively produce the joy that God demands and, therefore, life becomes a series of techniques.

I think one of the reasons in America that we are a technique people. We just open magazine after magazine, mail after mail. Here is a new technique for your marriage and the new technique for living the victorious Christian life and the new technique for growing the Church and technique, technique. The reason we are “technicological” people, whatever that word is, is because we are not modest. We don’t really emotionally embrace the fact that God has given us some things to do, but in the end we don’t have control. God has control. That removes the “I am an American. I have got to have results.” So I will get people saved. And the way to get them saved if I can’t make them saved is I will develop a technique that gets them saved on the beach immediately. And that is where a lot of our evangelistic strategies have come from. Lack of submission to God’s sovereignty, a lack of modesty and, therefore, the drive to produce managerial techniques that make things happen ourselves. That is one thing this view will help you avoid.

The second thing is that it will keep you from falling into legalism thinking that you can do this in order to gain God’s favor. You have got to have God’s favor first before you can do this. We will get there in a minute.

The third thing it does is help balance.

I don’t know if you have ever struggled with this like I and people in my church do. The balance between life as fight and life as rest. Matthew 7:14: “The gate is narrow and the way is . . .” What? Hard. “The way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few.” So the Christian life is hard, right? It is hard. It is a fight. It is war. That is one thing and if that is the only way you think, you are probably going to be a sick person because you also know another thing Jesus said in Matthew. That is Matthew seven. Always keep Mathew 11 and 7 together. I am going to remember it that way. What did he say in chapter 11? Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden. And I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from me. For I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. Well, Jesus, which is it? Rest or hard? Narrow? Am I in your arms just kind of being brought to heaven or am I swimming and stumbling and working and climbing and clawing? Is it restful to be a Christian or is it war to be a Christian?

And the answer is it is both. And here is the way they come together. The war is to rest in the right place. And the whole world is telling you to rest in all the wrong places. Rest in money. Rest in success. Rest in your looks. Rest in your strength. Rest in your business. Rest... just... the world wants you to find your satisfaction, your restfulness, your peacefulness in insurance, padlocks, cruises, big fat retirement, big portfolio. These are all the restfulness commendations of the world. And the war is to rest in the right place. And it just happens to be hard to rest for Christians who are worldly.

And another reason that I stress this modesty is that it does give all glory to God. You must fight for joy even though it is a free and spontaneous gift. That was clarification number two.

Fight as a Justified Sinner

Now clarification number three is: Do not fight in order to be justified before God, but fight as a justified sinner. Or, as I like to say: Learn the secret of gutsy guilt. I hope all of you know the secret of gutsy guilt. I suppose that in this crowd, I don’t need to say too much about the doctrine of justification, but I want to anyway. I will say something. The fight for joy is not the foundation of your acceptance with God. The foundation of your acceptance with God is Jesus Christ, his blood and righteousness, his living, his dying, his rising from the dead did everything to make you wholly acceptable to God and you have that purchase by faith alone, apart from works of the law and apart from a fight for joy. It is a falling on Jesus, not a fight. Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us.” So this we know. Everything the law demanded of me I have failed to perform as I should and, therefore, I am under the curse of the law, which is damnation. I am, therefore lost. All the people in the world are in this condition apart from Christ and Christ then it says became a curse for us.

Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him freely give us all things?” So you have not only the curse removed, you have a commitment, a covenant, blood bought commitment that everything good for you for eternity has been bought for you and will be given to you. The curse is gone. The guilt is gone. The sin is gone. And every blessing in the heavenly places is purchased. It is finished. And to enjoy that position with God as totally acceptable, all of his anger removed, replaced with total mercy, blessing me forever with everything that will make happy in eternity, the way you get in on that is faith alone. Galatians 3:28. We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Faith alone.

You Can Conquer Because Christ Defeated Sin

Therefore, the sins that you fight in your fight for joy, the joylessness that you fight is a forgiven joylessness. The only sin that you can defeat is a defeated sin. The only sin which is prompted by finding your pleasure somewhere other than in God that you can defeat, the only way to defeat it is to see it as a punished sin, a covered sin. This is the mystery of the Christian life — fighting as a justified sinner. My sins, all of them, were covered by Jesus. Therefore, when I make war on them, I know they are already defeated, covered, punished. And those are the only ones I can get any victory over. If I turn this around and begin to think: Now there are some sins and I am going to attack then and defeat them so that God will accept me, you are dead, dead in the water.

There is only hope if we get the order of justification and sanctification right and do not the mingle the two, which is the great Roman Catholic error, the mingling of sanctification and justification, getting right with God on the basis of Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone to the glory of God alone, learned about from the Bible alone is biblical truth. And then when you are standing right with God by faith alone, you make war on sin. That is the fruit and evidence that you are right with God. It is not the way you get right with God. It is the fruit and evidence. A person who is cavalier about their sin sees no problem with living in sin because they are saved by grace isn’t. At least we have no biblical warrant for saying they are. There may be a season of backsliding so we mustn’t judge too quickly, but a person who goes on treating the sin in their own life in a cavalier, nonchalant way using grace as license has not understood what it is to be born from above, because a new person comes into being.

Gusty Guilt

I want to give you a text from Micah 7. I would like you to go there if you have a Bible, because I want you to get gutsy guilt. Oh that all could learn gutsy guilt. I am thinking of those of you who have fragile personalities who are very sensitive to your own failures, are always feeling defeated, who wonder if you are a Christian half the days of your life. I would just love to build into you some gutsy guilt. So let’s go to Micah. Can you find that book? Use the index if you can’t find it. Micah, a little prophesy in the Old Testament. Listen and see if you could identify what I mean by gutsy guilt as I read this amazing New Testament glimpse of justification by faith alone.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.

Let me just guide you through that in the order that makes the most sense to me. Step one in verse 8. “When I fall, I shall rise.” So he has fallen. Because I have sinned against him. So that is the nature of the fall. He sinned. The prophet sinned. I don’t know what he did. I am glad I don’t know what he did, because I can fill in my own there. Step three up in verse 8 again. “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” Do you see what the enemy is doing? Ha, ha, ha. Christian, you sinned. Christian sinned. You are not what you say you are. Oh how often the devil and others can come at us. Rejoice not over me, oh my enemy. Step forward, down in verse 9. “I will bear the indignation of the Lord,” meaning, Ok, I have sinned. I am sitting here in my dust and ashes. I feel terrible. I feel rotten. And I am going to bear it. Fathers get mad at sons. Did you know that? Fathers get mad at sons. This is not wrath. This is not punitive. This is not judgment of a final kind. This is a fatherly “I am mad at you. You sinned against me. You made my name look stupid and I don’t like it.” That is step four.

Step five. Watch him now. He has got guilt and it becomes really gutsy. He is clearly guilty. He is bearing indignation. It is dark. And now back up in verse 7 near the end. “My God will hear me.” The phrase just before that. “Therefore, I will wait for the God of my salvation.” See the gutsiness of this guilt is starting to show here. Yes, he is mad at me. Yes, I am sitting in the dark. Yes, I am under his indignation. Yes, I feel guilty and rotten. And I am going to wait here as long as it takes for my God to become the God of my salvation to show him to be the God of my salvation. Now at the end of verse 8. When I sit in darkness the Lord will be a light to me. Well, now are you in darkness or are you in light? I am in darkness. I feel awful. It is late at night. I just did a terrible thing this afternoon at work. I said something I shouldn’t have said or I did something or I have been exposed for something that I have been doing for a long time or my taxes or, oh, I just... I would like to die.

And in that guilt he says: God will be a light to me. That is gutsy. This is what a justified sinner must learn to do. We must get gutsy with the devil and gutsy with our own condemning souls. And we must say: There is enough of a ray of light. Just a little sliver of light shining in here to me.

Now in the middle of verse 9. I am going wait here until he pleads my cause. I have got an advocate. Yes, he is frowning. Yes, he is indignant and he is my advocate. Can you do that? Have you got the theological, spiritual framework in your brain to be feeling guilty and get gutsy to say that God is both angry with me and interceding for me? It is easier for us to do it on this side of the cross, because we see who is the interceder, right? And then that amazing statement right after that in verse 9. Until he pleads my cause and executes judgment. And you think he might say, “Against me.” And he doesn’t say against me. He says, “For me.” Listen to this guy talking to the devil or talking to his own soul. Then saying, “Yes, I sinned. Yes, God is angry with me. Yes, I feel guilty. Yes, it is dark. There is a little sliver of light. God is going to become my salvation. God is going to intercede for me. God is going to exercise judgment on you, enemy. Do not rejoice over me.” Boy, if that isn’t gutsy guilt, I don’t know what is. I don’t know how people live who don’t learn the secret of gutsy guilt, because I sin every day. I sin every day.

I love the gospel. I love the grace of God. I love the cross of Jesus. And I love to fight for joy as a justified sinner and I hope you get it. I hope the Holy Spirit would just come now and grant you illumination so that you sense the sweet sufficiency of the blood and righteousness of Christ like granite under your feet as all the darkness beats against your life so that you can say, “Rejoice not over me, devil. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy. When I fall I will rise. Yes, I will sit here for a season. I don’t know how long it is going to take the Lord to break in on my heart and completely vindicate me and restore me. I hope it is sooner rather than later, but I am going to wait, because he is on my side and will execute justice for me.” That is clarification number three: We fight not in order to be justified, but we fight as justified sinners for joy.

See God for Who He Really Is

The last clarification before we take a break is the fight is mainly a fight to see. The fight for joy in God is mainly a fight to see. The reason for that is that it corresponds to God’s purpose in the universe that we began with, namely, to display his glory. If is God’s purpose in the universe is to display his glory for the enjoyment of those who embrace Christ as their highest treasure, then the human counterpart to a display is see. And so the main fight in the fight for joy is to fight to see God for who he really is.

There are two kinds of seeing, are there not? Jesus said, after he told the parable, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see.” So clearly there are two kinds of seeing. Seeing they see. They do not see. So here they are with eyeballs that are working just fine in their head. Ears in their head working just fine. The decibels are reaching. The light rays are shining and they are seeing and listening to Jesus. And they are blind and deaf. So what is this second kind of seeing that they don’t see? Hearing they do not hear? And the answer is the glory of God is a spiritual reality. It is not a material reality. You do not see it with the eyes of the head. You see it with the eyes of the heart as Paul said in Ephesians 1:18. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened that you may know the hope to which you are called. You have eyes in your heart. They are either blind or seeing. If they are seeing, they see spiritual reality.

Now this introduces us into very great, complex issues that I am not going to go into because they would take more than the time we have together. But I have big chapters in here on complex things. Well, wait a minute. You said that the physical eyes cannot see the glory of God, because the spiritual reality. What about Psalm 19:1? The heavens are telling the glory of God. So sunrises or what did the disciples mean in the beginning of John? We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father. And my answer to both of those is the same. The sun points to the glory of God. The sunrise points to the glory of God. the sunrise when it comes up in this town is a parable of the glory of God, which you see with the spiritual eyes. And if you are a believer you see it immediately.

The sun rises and your heart bursts with praise to God. You don’t say, “Praise, sun.” Your eyes go right up the ray into heaven to the maker and you know that in the age to come it says there will be no sun there because the glory of God will be their sun and the Lamb will be the lamp. You won’t need physical light anymore because there will be another reality that makes these lamps and that sun look like a candle against the physical sun today, only ten million times more. So just know that there are complex issues in how our bodies, our ears, our eyes, all of our senses, relate to spiritual joy and I have got a whole chapter called how to wield the world in the fight for joy, how to wield food, how to wield exercise, how to wield sunrises, how to wield poetry, how to wield music. Those are all physical and not spiritual realities. But they all are used by God to mediate spiritual realities. And making that distinction and learning to see spiritual reality in and through God’s good creation which can so easily become idols. Music can become an idol in worship. The book of Scripture can become an idol rather than the meaning of Scripture so that you put it on a nice shelf and dust it off, but its meaning means nothing to you. Anything can become an idol, but God. And so we must learn to see spiritually. And we are blind, as I said earlier, and God has to come and give us light.

Glory in Two Books

Let me close by asking this question. Where do we see the glory of God? Where do we see it? If the goal of life is to see and savor or enjoy or delight in God in all that he is, where do we see that? And the answer is in his two books, the book of nature — Psalm 19:1 — “The heavens are telling the glory of God” — and the Bible. And they are not equal. This book is inerrant, infallible, inspired and authoritative over the other book, because the other book is too ambiguous to function that way for us.

I asked my wife last night a trick question. I wasn’t sure what the answer was. I said, “Ok, if God has two books, the book of nature that he writes with providence and the book of the Bible, which he wrote by inspiration, and this one is inerrant, is that one inerrant? Does God write an errant nature book?” She didn’t answer. And I am not sure what the answer to that is. I think God has no false meanings in nature. Anything God means by a tsunami is true. But it is so ambiguous that you can’t read it without this book. You can’t read a tsunami without this book. You can’t read 9/11 without this book. You can’t read tornadoes in Wisconsin without this book. You can’t read AIDS in Africa without this book. You can’t read nature without this book. This is the authoritative interpretation of the other book. But O, how precious is the other book. God wouldn’t have wasted so much of this universe.

Sometimes people ask me, “I don’t see how you can believe in God. Look at this vast, empty universe and how teeny, weeny you are.” I say, “That is the point. That is the point. The universe is to say something about the comparison between me and God.” Get it? I am really, really, teeny and he has flicked out the universe with his little finger. So get on your face and tremble instead of carping at the dislocation in your brain.

There are two books and this one is the authoritative one. It is the one that leads us to see Christ.