The Essence of the Unwasted Life
Desiring God 2008 Regional Conference
Don't Waste Your Life
Why Regional Conferences?
Why does Desiring God host regional conferences? We seek to mimic the apostle John:
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1John 1:3-4)
So we come and I preach in order to magnify Christ with you and to complete our happiness!
If that sounds selfish to you—that we would come for our own joy's sake—ask yourself, "Do I feel more loved if someone does good to me because my well-being makes them glad or because they are acting out of some disinterested moral duty?"
Consider, for example, a pastor who visits an elderly congregant in her hospital bed. He comes in to see her and she responds, “O pastor, you didn’t have to come!” How would she feel if he said, “You’re right. But it’s my pastoral duty"? That kind of response, though dutiful, may very well offend her. It would honor her much more if he were to say, from the heart, "It's my pleasure. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Therefore, your gladness in Jesus Christ as a result of this conference will make me glad. And your gladness in Christ overflowing through sacrificial love to make others glad in Christ will make me doubly glad. So that’s the root reason for why we do these conferences.
Why "Don't Waste Your Life"
The focus of this weekend's conference is the cry, "Don’t waste your life!" Why?
The answer to that question requires some autobiography.
My father was an evangelist. That means I grew up in a home where heaven and hell were very real. He believed that all people go to one or the other, and it weighed on him mightily. So he preached.
I can recall one penetrating story that he told of an old man who was converted under his ministry. Soon after surrendering his life to the Lord he realized that his whole life up to that point had been spent pursuing ultimately worthless things, and he was found lamenting repeatedly, “I’ve wasted it, I've wasted it, I've wasted it."
This idea of wasting my life was also manifesting itself in my life. I recently rediscovered a poem that I wrote during my senior year of high school (1964) titled “The Lost Years.”
Long I sought for the earth’s hidden meaning;
Long as a youth was my search in vain.
Now as I approach my last years waning,
My search I must begin again.
It is in my blood to fear wasting my life. I said it then in high school, and I say it again tonight at 62 years old. (And I feel even more vulnerable to wasting it the older I get because of the increased temptation to spend more time on the couch.)
Along with the fear that I might waste my life, there is also a passion to make it count. There was a plaque in our kitchen when I was growing up, which now sits in my study at home. It reads, "Only one life ‘twill soon be past, / Only what’s done for Christ will last.” I passionately want my life to last. I want it to count.
So I have a passion to not waste my life and a fear that it not happen. And there is a massive assumption behind this passion and this fear.
There is a reason, a purpose, a why that we exist that we do not create. It is given to us by our Creator. Our calling is to find it out and to do it.
In my college days, as I explored more, I simply could not embrace the vogue of existentialism.
The mantra of that movement was “Existence precedes essence,” which upheld the idea that there is no objective reality outside of me that defines my essence and to which my existence should conform. I define myself by choosing the way I exist. (This movement stemmed from thinkers such as Camus, Sartre, and Nietzsche, with his claim that God is dead. Cf. April 8, 1966 Time Magazine cover: "Is God Dead?")
But I could not reduce the greatest realities to chemical reactions. Whether beauty, or love, or evil, or goodness, I couldn't conclude that these were no more than a chemical reaction on a par with a complicated spider web.
Even the problem of evil, the problem of suffering had the reverse effect on me. Instead of making me doubt the existence of God, the very fact that it was a problem—that evil was morally repugnant—prevented me from writing it off as nothing more than a purely biological response.
In the midst of the most horrific evil and suffering our heart screams, "No! This is evil!" At that very moment the naturalistic, atheistic heart fails.
The purely naturalistic mind must say that this outrage we feel on account of evil is the same kind of thing as a headache. It is physical. It is chemical. It is a sophisticated working of nerves like the instincts of beavers who know how to build dams.
I could not embrace that. Neither can you in any consistent way. Therefore, I held to Reality with a capital R. God had me trapped. I had to conclude that something outside me created me and defines me.
If I do not find out what the Reality is that created me and defines me is, then I will have wasted my life.
Jesus Our Ultimate Reality
What that Reality is was settled for me early in my life, and I have never forsaken this gift. The Reality that created me and defines me is Jesus Christ. Paul affirmed it:
By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-18)
I came to trust Paul's witness. He saw Christ. He was commissioned by him. And either Paul is a liar, a lunatic, or he is an authorized apostle and reliable witness. In my opinion, there’s nobody more real than him, apart from Jesus Christ. Can you say that Romans was written by a fool? So I came to trust Paul.
Then there were the claims of Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8.58)
The high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)
No one ever spoke like this man, but as he spoke it's power and its congruence to my life made it undeniable to me that Jesus was indeed the greatest Reality behind my life.
And that leaves us with the big question:
Why do we exist?
What counts ultimately in life?
What is our purpose for being?
What is God’s design for our lives?
What is the wasted life?
What is the Unwasted Life?
Jesus and Paul Agree: It Can Be Wasted
Jesus believed there was such a thing as a wasted life:
"Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (16) And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, (17) and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ (18) And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19) And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (20) But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (21) So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
Notice that the fool didn't commit any major crime. He was just sitting on his pile.
Paul believed there is such a thing as a wasted life too:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1Corinthians 15:17-19)
If there is no resurrection from the dead, then my Christian life is ridiculous! How many Americans could say that? Paul is saying that to be a Christian should be foolish and pitiable in the eyes of the world.
Both Jesus and Paul assume a Reality that defines what a wasted life is. A life can be wasted, or not.
Paul's Life: To Magnify Christ
What then is the essence of the unwasted life? It is a life lived to magnify Christ.
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored [magnified, made to look great] in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21)
You and I are on this planet for a few years, all for the same ultimate reason but in various forms. This reason is that we would live and die to make Christ look valuable as he really is.
When Paul says that to die is gain, he means that Christ is more valuable than anything this world can offer. It’s like what the psalmist said in Psalm 63:3: “Your steadfast love is better than life.”
The key question then becomes, How can I use my possessions and body and time and career, etc. to show that Christ is precious beyond everything?
We are to magnify Christ, not like a microscope magnifies things but like a telescope magnifies things. Microscopes make small things look big; but telescopes make seemingly small things look like they really are: Huge!
The final joy of heaven will be to magnify the Lamb:
[I heard] the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands saying, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5.12-13)
The reason magnifying Jesus is the ultimate purpose of the universe and our lives is that Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (7) If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (8) Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (9) Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:6-9)
In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:2-3)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
We exist to display the majesty of Christ is because Christ is God. The universe exists to make Christ known. That’s why God made it. And we have been called to join him in his self-glorification.
God's Life: To Magnify Christ
To see the radical nature of this divine purpose for Paul—to live to magnify Christ—we have to pose the question: Is this Paul’s idea or God’s. Is Paul radically Christ-exalting and God-centered simply because he thinks that it’s the right thing to do? Or is he this way because God is radically Christ-exalting and God-centered?
It matters in all I do that God is God-centered and Christ-exalting, not just Paul. Our call to magnify Christ is a call to join God in magnifying Christ. Our call to live for the glory of God is a call to join God in living for the glory of God.
God creates for his glory.
Isaiah 43:6-7 "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory."
God elects Israel for his glory.
Jeremiah 13:11 "I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory."
God saves them from Egypt for his glory.
Psalm 106:7-8 "Our fathers rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake that he might make known his power."
God restrains his anger in exile for his glory.
Isaiah 48:9,11 "For my names sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you . . . For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another."
God sends his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth for his glory.
Romans 15:7-8 "Christ became a servant to the circumcision to show God's truthfulness . . . and in order that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy."
John 17:1 "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee."
God sends his Son the second time for his glory.
2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 "He comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed."
That’s enough to give you the flavor. This is the way God is. He is utterly committed to preserving and displaying the greatness of his glory and the honor of his name in all that he does.
Therefore, in Philippians 1:20 Paul is not merely making his life’s aim to magnify Christ. He is joining God in his own God-centeredness. He is joining God’s ultimate purpose for the universe. He aims to magnify his own glory—and Jesus is the apex of that glory.
Why Assert God's God-Centeredness?
But why does it matter to see God’s God-centeredness when my life is at stake? Why not just say that Paul made it is life’s aim to magnify Christ, and so go do the same? Why draw in this the fact that Paul was joining God in his infinite commitment to glorify himself and his Son?
Because we won’t know the depth and seriousness and greatness of our calling to join God in his own God-centeredness unless we see that it hangs on God’s unwavering allegiance to the value of his own glory.
Five reasons for why it is important to point out God’s God-centeredness:
1. God’s unwavering allegiance to his own glory shows the fullness of how righteous and just and trustworthy God is. What is righteousness for the One who defines it? It is valuing what is valuable in proportion to its value; treasuring what is the greatest Treasure in proportion to its worth; esteeming what is infinitely worthy of esteem with a passion fitting that esteem.
This is what God does perfectly. It is right. And anything short of it would be unjust, and blasphemous. God is not an idolater. He is unwaveringly faithful in upholding the value of his name and his glory.
2. God’s unwavering allegiance to his own glory shows the immeasurable extent of God’s happiness. He has been infinitely happy in beholding the beauty of his own infinite perfections in the image of his Son and in knowing and delighting in the other persons of the Trinity for all eternity.
3. God’s unwavering allegiance to his own glory shows us how easily we are deceived in thinking that we love God when in fact we love ourselves above God. Is your zeal for God owing to his zeal for you, or is it a joining him in his zeal for his own glory? Are we God-centered because God is man-centered? If so, then aren’t we simply self-centered, and God is useful to that end? God’s passion for his glory exposes this subtle preference for ourselves over the value of God.
4. God’s unwavering allegiance to his own glory is the key to helping us see and experience what it means to be truly loved by God.
For many years I have sought to understand how the God-centeredness of God relates to his love for sinners like us. Most people do not immediately see God’s passion for the glory of God as an act of love. One reason for this is that we have absorbed the world’s definition of love. It says: You are loved when you are made much of.
God’s love for us is not mainly his making much of us, but his giving us the ability to enjoy making much of him forever. In other words, God’s love for us keeps God at the center. God’s love for us exalts his value and our satisfaction in it. If God’s love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious, namely, himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore God’s love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.
5. God’s unwavering allegiance to his own glory shows us that our own passion for God is not merely our own but is in fact the Spirit-giving passion of God for God shed abroad in our heart. We are not left to ourselves to work up a passion for the glory of God. God’s Spirit is the actual personal presence of God’s very love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father.
I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26)
How is Christ magnified in Philippians 1:21? By treasuring Christ so much above life that to lose everything but Christ in death is to gain.
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:23)
Therefore, measured against all that life can offer, death is gain because it brings more of Christ. This is the way we need to be to magnify Christ.
How can be become like this? Next talk: "The Origin of the Unwasted Life: What Must Happen for Such a Life to Be Lived?"
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