God’s loving us is a means to our joyfully glorifying him. In that sense, God’s love is penultimate; God’s glory is ultimate.
You can see this in Romans 15:8–9: “Christ became a servant . . . in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” God has been merciful to us so that we would delight in glorifying him for his mercy.
We see it again in Ephesians 1:4–6: “In love [God] predestined us for adoption . . . to the praise of his glorious grace.” The goal of loving us through predestination is that we might have the everlasting joy of praising his grace. We see it again in Psalm 86:12–13: “I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me.” God’s love is the ground. His glory is the goal.
Why is this important? Because unless we understand this, we will not know what love really is. The love of God is not God’s making much of us, but God’s saving us from self-centered sin so that we can enjoy making much of him forever. And our love toward others is not our making much of them, but our helping them to find eternal satisfaction in making much of God.
The only ultimate love is a love that aims at satisfying people in the glory of God. Any love that terminates on man is eventually destructive. It does not lead a person to the only lasting joy, namely, God. Love must be God-centered, or it is not the greatest love; it leaves people without their deepest need and only hope.
Marriage of Mercy and Justice
Take the cross, for example. The death of Christ is the ultimate expression of divine love: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In this is love . . . that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Yet in Romans 3:25, Paul says that the aim of the death of Christ was “to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Forgiving sins seems to create a huge problem for the righteousness of God. It makes him look like a judge who lets criminals go free without punishment. In other words, the mercy of God puts the justice of God in jeopardy.
So to vindicate his justice, he does the unthinkable — he puts his Son to death as the penalty for our sins. The cross makes it plain to everyone that God does not sweep evil under the rug of the universe. He punishes it in Jesus for those who believe, and in hell for those who don’t.
God Exalts God
But notice that this ultimately loving act has at the center of it, and at the bottom of it, the demonstration and vindication of the glorious righteousness of God. Calvary love is a God-glorifying love. God exalts God at the cross. If he didn’t, he could not rescue us from sin.
But it is a mistake to say, “Well, if the aim was to rescue man, then man was the ultimate goal of the cross.” No, man was rescued from sin in order that he might enjoy God’s acts of glorifying God. If God values the glory of God so much in the rescuing of man, then the aim of that rescue would be to give man the ability and inclination to value God the way God does (see John 17:26). This is the ultimate loving aim of the cross. Christ did not die to make much of us, but to free us to enjoy, and participate in, God’s making much of God forever.
It is profoundly wrong to turn the cross into a warrant for self-esteem as the root of mental health. If I stand before the love of God and do not feel a healthy, satisfying, freeing joy without turning that love into an echo of my self-esteem, then I am like a man who stands before the Grand Canyon and feels no satisfying wonder until he translates the canyon into a case for his own significance. That is not the presence of health, but bondage to self.
The only ultimate love is the sacrificial act of God saving us to share God’s passion for the supremacy of God. Nothing glorifies him, or satisfies us, more.
This article appears as one of 125 daily devotions in John Piper’s book Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life. A new hardback edition is now available.
Piper asks hard questions and finds poignant but practical truths from the Bible on topics as diverse as adoption, God’s sovereignty, body image, retirement, mental health, assurance, gender, rest, and many more.