Podcast listener Don writes in to ask, “Pastor John, when you say, ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,’ could you substitute the word ‘by’ for ‘in’? It seems easier to understand if you say, ‘God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied by him.’” So what do you think about this change-up in words, Pastor John?
I love words. And they are so slippery. Connotations and denotations are so different. But here we go, Don. After thinking through the possibility of going with your suggestion, “God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied by him,” I am going to stay with “in.” And I have reasons in both halves. I think “in” communicates what I want to communicate better than “by.” So let me try to explain.
God’s Glory in Believers
First, it might be helpful just to make sure everybody knows what I mean by that sentence: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I don’t mean that there aren’t any other ways to glorify God than being satisfied in him. I mean that if that is missing, then he is not glorified most. Something very important is missing.
And I don’t mean God doesn’t get glory in certain ways from the lives of unbelievers who aren’t finding any satisfaction in him, because they are reflecting the image of God in which they were created, even if they don’t believe that. And even if they turn out to be objects of God’s wrath, because of their unbelief and rebellion (see Romans 9:22–23), that will reflect his justice and the glory of his justice.
So, I am not talking about how God is glorified in unbelievers who don’t find satisfaction in God. I am talking about us.
Emotions for Joy in God
God is most glorified in us —believers — when we are most satisfied in him. In other words, if a believer thinks being satisfied in God emotionally is a marginal issue or a merely optional issue, he is gravely mistaken because he is indifferent to how he can show God to be more glorious. You ought not to be indifferent to something that shows God to be more glorious. The reason God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him is God designed emotions to work that way. A boss who is obeyed at work, but not enjoyed, not admired — we all know he is not honored as much as if he were both obeyed and enjoyed. That is what emotions say. But that is the way God set them up to work. Emotions say, “You have remarkable qualities that make me glad to obey you.” And those remarkable qualities that add gladness to the obedience give him more honor and more glory than if he were only obeyed. That is what I mean by the sentence.
When We Are Satisfied In Him
Now, why use the word “in” instead of “by”? Let’s just start with the second half: “when we are satisfied in him,” not “satisfied by him.” And the reason is that the word “by” him could mean God is the one who satisfies us with something other than himself. A teenager might say, “I got to go to the game with my friends and that satisfied me.” And then he could add, “And my dad drove us to the game so that I was satisfied by the game and I was, thus, satisfied by my dad.” But the dad wasn’t the satisfaction. The dad was just the means to get satisfaction in the game.
“When I say, ‘God is glorified in us,’ I am not calling any attention to our intention to glorify him in that moment.”
And that is emphatically not what I want to say. So if I say, “when we are most satisfied by God,” it is possible someone might take me to mean that God is the one who has given me such good gifts in my life — my marriage, my family, my job — and those satisfy me so much and, therefore, I have been satisfied by God giving me those gifts in which I find so much pleasure. I don’t want anybody to take me to mean that, even though it is good to enjoy God’s gifts. I don’t mean to say that.
So I say, “When we are satisfied in God” — that is, God himself is the object of the satisfaction, not just the supplier of the object of the satisfaction. That is the reason I want to use it in the second half.
God Is Most Glorified In Us
Now, in the first half — “God is most glorified in us” instead of “God is most glorified by us” — they are almost are identical in meaning in my mind. So I just used “in” because it sounds better to have “in” in both halves, rather than “by” in one half and “in” in the other. However, there is a slight difference that I think would make me want to have “in” in the first half anyway.
An Intent to Glorify?
The word “in” when we use it in the first half takes the focus off of my intentionality to glorify him. When I say, “God is glorified in us,” I am not calling any attention to our intention to glorify him in that moment. Whereas, “God is most glorified by us” does seem to call attention to our intention to glorify him.
And you would rightly ask, “Well, why in the world would it be bad to call attention to our intention to glorify God?” And here is the problem — this is why words are so delicate — Glorifying God by enjoying him can’t be intentional in the moment of the enjoyment of God. That is not the way pleasure works. Try it. I mean, just try it right now. Say, “Okay, soul. My intention right now is to glorify God, so now go ahead, soul, rejoice in him.” It doesn’t work. The nature of the emotions is that they are psychological ends in themselves, if they are authentic.
For example, you can’t authentically fear in order to make a bear charging you look terrifying. You can’t do it for that reason. You can’t say, “Okay, now I am supposed to feel fear right now because I want people to know that I am making much of the horrible look on that bear’s face as he charges me. So, go ahead, heart. Fear in order to make him look terrifying.” Emotions are not that kind of thing. Either fear wells up in you at the approach of the bear, or it doesn’t. And you can’t make it intentional.
You can’t authentically feel sorrow in order to help a grieving person feel loved, right? So you want to say, “Well, I would like that person to feel loved right now, and I am not feeling any sorrow for their loss. So, soul, you want to make them feel loved. Right now, would you feel sorrow, soul?” It doesn’t work. If the loss in that person’s life doesn’t make you feel sorrow authentically right now without any intentionality to do anything for them, just because you feel sorrow, then you are not going to be able to communicate love to that person. Emotions don’t work that way.
“Glorifying God by enjoying him can’t be intentional in the moment of the enjoyment of God. That is not the way pleasure works.”
Neither does joy in God. If God’s glory, his love, his power, wisdom, justice, truth, and all those other glorious attributes don’t awaken spontaneous joy in God, you can’t pause and say, “Well, God himself doesn’t awaken joy in me, but I know I am supposed to glorify him. So now, soul, start rejoicing in him.” That is just not the way it works.
So that is what I want to avoid by not using the word “by” but using the word “in”: “God is most glorified in us.” I am not calling any attention to my intentionality in that moment. It is okay to intend to glorify God with our emotions. I do that. Right now, I am talking to you. I am intending that in the future days, I hope John Piper will be so happy in God that he will see God as glorious. But in the very moment of the pleasure of God in worship or in devotions or in some sight of his glory in the gospel, there is no standing outside yourself and saying, “I am doing that in order to make God look good.”
So my answer is, I am sticking by “in” in both halves for those reasons and maybe some more than I can’t even remember.