Becoming Unshakable in a World of Pain
Welcome back! On Monday we looked at whether or not life has morally neutral areas — those gray areas, areas in life where we make decisions that are not necessarily sinful or holy. And in that first episode of the week, APJ 1846, Pastor John defined sin for us. He defined sin with Romans 3:23, saying, “Sin is first the disposition of the human heart to prefer human glory — especially self-glory — over God’s glory.” We exchange God’s glory for something we prefer more. We sin by exchanging the glory of God with another glory. That’s verse 23. Then verse 24 gives the solution to this sin, that we must be “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
This pair of glorious verses, Romans 3:23–24 — one verse defining sin, the other defining God’s response to that sin — holds the key to how we become unshakable people in this world. Those verses are, according to Pastor John, “more important than ten thousand books written by man to help you solve your problems.” So much so, he says, “If you build your life on these two verses, make them the foundation of your life, you will be strong and stable in a hundred crises” of life. That’s the bold testimony of John Piper, who makes those very claims in today’s sermon clip, a clip from a 1999 sermon. Here’s Pastor John to explain.
Verse 23 describes the universal need of every human being. And verse 24 gives the all-sufficient remedy for that need. These two verses are more important than ten thousand books written by man about how to solve your problems and make your future better. These are the words of God through the apostle Paul, and they tell us about our true condition, and they tell us about what God has done to remedy that condition.
If you will build your life on these two verses, if you’ll make them the foundation of your life, you will be strong and stable in a hundred crises. If you will put these verses and the truth of them at the center of your life, like the sun at the center of the planets of the solar system of your life, then this truth will hold the orbiting planets of all the concerns and aspects of your life in place.
But if you allow this truth of Romans 3:23–24 to begin to marginalize and slip out to the rim — say, where Neptune and Pluto are out there — you know what would happen. If the sun moved from the center to the periphery of the solar system, everything would be destroyed. Everything would be in chaos. Everything would be confusion and perplexity and weakness, which is why so many professing Christians coast and amble through life wondering why their lives are so strangely perplexed, so out of sync, and out of kilter, and out of order, and nothing seems to be working right.
It’s because the truth of this magnificent gospel, which I’m going to try to articulate, is not at the center anymore. It’s not the sun that’s holding everything in place. It doesn’t have the weight of gravity to pull all things. Something else is at the center. You should be asking yourself right now, “What’s that in my life? Something really grips me in my life, something I come back to again and again and again. I go there in the morning, and I go there at noon, and I go there at night, and it pulls on me. What is it?”
Lacking the Glory of God
Verse 23 says that the universal need in the world of every person has to do with sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). No exceptions. There’s no distinction. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We saw that from Romans 1:18–3:20.
And now he tells us a little something about this condition by saying, “If you’ve sinned, your present condition is that you are now falling short of the glory of God.” Literally, the word is “you are now lacking the glory of God.” What does that mean? “All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God.” Does that mean that we were supposed to be as glorious as God, and we fell short and didn’t arrive at that divine glory, and so we have fallen short? I don’t think that’s what it means.
You weren’t designed to be as glorious as God. The best way to put meat on the bones of this simple verse is to go back to Romans 1, look at the discussion of glory in the context of sin, and see what a lacking might mean in Romans. So if you notice in Romans 1:18, Paul said they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Everybody in the world is a truth-suppressor until God gets ahold of us. We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness. And then look at verse 23: “[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (Romans 1:23). In verse 28: “They disapproved of having God in their knowledge” — that’s a literal translation. “They disapproved of having God in their knowledge.”
So, the picture you get is that sin is a failure to embrace the glory of God and God himself as our highest treasure and make him the center and foundation and supreme value of our lives, and thus to exchange that glory for some other treasure in this world, and thus lack that glory as our treasure, and thus bring great dishonor upon God.
“Sin is mainly about God; it’s not mainly about hurting people.”
That’s what sin is and does. Sin is mainly about God; it’s not mainly about hurting people. Sin hurts people. It’ll hurt you in the end. But it’s not mainly about hurting people. It’s mainly about God and trading, bartering, throwing away his supreme value and glory in order that we might put something else at the center, and in the bank, and in the treasury of our lives that we love, and we lean on, and we find satisfaction in. And thus, he is belittled and despised, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly — the same effect in both cases.
Now that’s a great guilt. The reason it’s a great guilt is because God created this universe, the whole universe, to display his glory so that we might see it, and value it, and love it, and enjoy it and reflect it in the world. That’s why the universe and you were created. It should not therefore be surprising to us that the world will go haywire when the world is in rebellion against the design of the world.
If God designed the world, according to Isaiah 43:7, to display his glory, and you are choosing to dispense with his glory to put something else at the center of your life and love it, and live for it, and think about it, and dwell on it, and value it, it’s not surprising that the design of God for a beautiful, holistic world would be destroyed in your life. There is dysfunction and chaos and misery all over the world because the whole world is in rebellion against valuing the glory of God above all things. That’s why the world and your life is in the condition that it’s in.
“There is dysfunction and chaos and misery all over the world because the whole world is in rebellion.”
Sin is contemplating God as the supreme value and rejecting him as the supreme value, and thus exchanging the glory of God for some kind of substitute image (think of what it is), and thus lacking the glory, and thus dishonoring the glory of God. And that is a great guilt. And that’s the universal condition of humankind in verse 23. It’s a massive problem now that we have.
And the problem is, since we’ve all done this, how can we get right with God when we have so belittled him? And that’s what verse 24 is about. This verse is so rich. A great turn has come in Romans 3:21: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” Some great event has happened.
“Now.” Do you hear that word now? “But now,” some great event has happened, and something new is happening in the world. No other religion knows of this great now, because it’s the now of the arrival of Jesus Christ and the redemption that is in him. So let’s read verse 24: “And [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).