God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
It didn’t make any sense. I read the line again, more slowly this time: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I understood each of the words in the sentence, but I couldn’t grasp what they meant together. “What does it mean to be satisfied in God?” “How does my satisfaction relate to God’s glory?” These ideas were so foreign to me it was as though the line were written in Arabic or Icelandic.
This single sentence provoked me to wrestle with God’s glory and my joy, and how the two relate. I was confronted, for the first time, with the idea that God cared about my joy. And not only did he care, but he was seeking to advance, maximize, and stir up my delight in him. As I reflected on this possibility, I found it again and again through the Bible — because it had always been there. Soon, the sentence radically reoriented my life from top to bottom.
Do’s and Don’ts
Over twenty years ago, I had just arrived as a freshman at college, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was five hundred miles from home and eager to begin exercising my adult independence. Having grown up in a faithful Christian home and a mostly Bible-preaching church, I had boiled Christianity down to what I thought were its essentials (at least according to 17-year-old me): duty and rules. I knew I was supposed to obey God’s commands, and I knew I was not to embrace immorality.
I had been taught much more, of course, but my teenage mind focused on the rules and prohibitions. Go to church. Pray. Read the Bible. Don’t have premarital sex. Don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs. Don’t dishonor God — glorify him. But glorifying God was all duty and no delight, like doing chores or homework. It was commanded (1 Corinthians 10:31) — and burdensome.
But during this first year in college, at a Christian fellowship, a small-group leader handed me a copy of Desiring God by John Piper. I hadn’t read many Christian books up to this point. I started it, but the first chapter confused me to no end. The author kept speaking about joy and delight in God. I had never considered that my happiness mattered to God, much less that it was commanded. I didn’t grow up with these as categories.
Could Jesus Make Me Happy?
Sure, we talked about obeying God — not breaking his commands and honoring him with our actions. But we didn’t talk about rejoicing in God or delighting in God. We talked about duty. We talked about picking up your cross and following Jesus down a road of suffering and pain. We talked about denying yourself, putting off the deeds of the flesh, and fighting the fight of faith. We talked much about labor, and little about grace. We quoted, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” but didn’t finish the sentence: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).
So, the sentence “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” was like showing me a five-legged dog or dry water. It didn’t exist in my universe. Christianity is true; therefore I obey. It didn’t matter if I was happy or miserable in that obedience.
Culturally, this approach made a lot of sense. Good grades, hard work, willpower, discipline, and perseverance were drilled into me from a young age. In my cultural milieu, if you got an A-minus on a test, you worked harder next time to get an A or A-plus. I was taught to put in as much time and energy as was needed to accomplish the task. It didn’t matter if I liked it or not. If it was assigned, I needed to do it well.
Yet this mindset was crippling as it bled into my relationship with Jesus, which became mainly transactional. I would read the Bible, hoping for God’s blessing. I’d avoid sin so that I wouldn’t be punished. And when I did sin, my world would come crumbling down around me. How could God possibly love me, much less accept me or forgive me, if I was a wanton sinner?
Treasure Hidden in a Field
This perspective, however, minimized the gospel of the grace of God. It lacked a compelling motivation for my obedience. It lacked substance. Slowly, I began to see that God gives us joy in obeying him, he gives us delight in worship, and he satisfies us with his steadfast love and mercy. My joy is not inconsequential, but rather essential for a life that pleases and glorifies God. Therefore, it’s not just okay to seek joy in God; it’s essential that we find our soul’s satisfaction in Jesus. Or to put it another way, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” And so, we fight for joy in Jesus.
“God gives us joy in obedience, he gives us delight in worship, and he satisfies us with his steadfast love and mercy.”
This idea began to leap off the pages of the Bible. The Psalm 1 man is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2). The commands of the Lord are not burdensome, but life giving (1 John 5:3). God is the one who makes known to us the path of life; in his presence we experience fullness of joy, and at his right hand we get pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man discovers and then sells all that he owns in order to obtain it (Matthew 13:44).
And the fact we are commanded to glorify God doesn’t diminish the reward of it. To say, “Your job is to glorify God” is like telling a newlywed husband or wife, “Your job is to delight yourself in your spouse.” It’s like arriving at a long-awaited vacation and being told, “Your job is to relax and enjoy yourself.” The command to glorify God is a command to delight yourself in him, and the command to delight yourself in him is a command to glorify him. Hand-in-hand, one completes the other.
No Better Place to Be
The sentence summary of Christian Hedonism went from incomprehensible to understandable, and then from understandable to wonderful. My life has never been the same.
“There is no better place to be than following Jesus, obeying God’s commands, and experiencing his smile.”
When preaching the Scriptures now as a pastor, my goal is not to demand obedience for the sake of obedience. I don’t guilt or shame our people into following and sacrificing for Jesus. We don’t send missionaries into the hardest places of the world with threats. Rather, we entice people with the superior pleasures of following Jesus. There is no better place to be than following Jesus, obeying God’s commands, and experiencing his smile.
Jesus is better. Knowing, loving, and being loved by Jesus is better than the lesser pleasures of entertainment. He’s better than scrolling endlessly through the swamp of social media. Joy in Jesus is better than illicit pleasures, chemically induced highs, and the riches that our world holds out on a platter of death. Obedience to Jesus, participation in his church, and identification with his body is better than the temporary accolades and acceptance of those around us. Lesser pleasures fade in comparison to the growing and greater pleasure of being satisfied in God. And wonder of wonders, that pleasure glorifies God.
When we come to Jesus, we receive everlasting joy that is rooted in a hope that never disappoints. We are promised an eternal hope, a forever home, an incorruptible kingdom, a superior pleasure, and an everlasting joy. This is the reality of following Jesus. Comprehend the incomprehensibly glorious truth that we have been created and designed to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in Jesus. And as we delight ourselves in him, God is rightly glorified, honored, and praised.