Welcome back to the podcast. Well does John Piper add to the gospel? Namely, does he add joy to the gospel? It’s a question today from a listener named Brian: “Hello, Pastor John. I thank God for using your ministry to bless many people, and to restore them to a meaningful relationship with God.
“I saw a recent tweet, a quote from you, saying: ‘You either treasure Jesus above all, or you’re not saved. If you don’t value Jesus above everything else, you don’t have saving faith.’ Now such a hot-potato tweet caught a lot of heat from Christians and pastors because the statement implies that treasuring Christ is perhaps a step in addition to believing in Christ, and hence adds to the gospel. Some of the critique was about how this treasuring Christ is better put under the umbrella of sanctification. My knowledge of Christian Hedonism is very small, so I would like to ask: Is treasuring Christ a part of saving faith, or does it come later in sanctification?”
My tweet was “You either treasure Jesus above all, or you’re not saved. If you don’t value Jesus above everything else, you don’t have saving faith.” The criticism asks, “Is treasuring Jesus above all an essential mark of a Christian, or does it add something to saving faith as the instrument of justification and so corrupt the biblical doctrine justification by faith alone?”
Brian puts it into the question “Is treasuring Christ a part of saving faith, or does it come later in sanctification?” Perhaps a couple of preliminary comments before I answer that question.
First, it’s important to realize that all growth in every grace belongs to sanctification, including growth in faith. This is true even though faith was there at the beginning of the Christian life as the only instrument obtaining justification.
To say that something is essential for the beginning of the Christian life does not exclude it as part of the ongoing experience of growth, of sanctification. That’s the first preliminary observation.
Second, The Bible often says that something is evidence that you are a Christian — “you will know them by their fruit,” for example. You don’t have saving faith unless you have that evidence, or that fruit. You’re not born again without this fruit or evidence.
“In the Bible there are many ways to receive Christ that are not saving ways.”
But this does not mean that the missing fruit or evidence has to be a constituent part of justifying faith. For example, Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” If you don’t have this holiness, you’re not going to see Jesus, which means you’re not saved. In other words, there is a holiness, a measure of sanctification, without which we will not see Jesus. We are not saved without this. We will prove that we were not born of God if we don’t have this. It will mean we didn’t have saving faith.
But that doesn’t mean that such holiness is included in saving faith. There are fruits in the Christian life that bear witness to the authenticity of the root or the tree of saving faith. The Bible is willing to say that without those fruits we show that we are not saved. We didn’t really have authentic saving faith, which would have produced the fruit.
More Than Family
Third, the text that I had in mind with that tweet is “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). This is Jesus’s way of saying, “You are not truly my disciple, you are not truly saved, if you give me a nice, secure, steady, high-esteemed second place in your life.” He says, “I must be number one in your life, or you’re not mine.” That’s what he says.
This doesn’t mean there’s no struggle in the Christian life to treasure Jesus above everything. It just means if the steady, continued condition of your heart is to have more affection for your family than for Jesus, you’re not a Christian. Jesus says numerous other things like this. I’m simply, in that tweet, echoing the strength of these words in Mathew 10:37.
Now, none of that answers the question of whether I think that treasuring Jesus is part of saving faith. My answer is yes, I do believe that treasuring Jesus is part of saving faith. Here’s why. I take it from John 1:11–12.
Saving faith is a receiving of Christ. I think the wording of verse 12 makes it clear that John wants us to define saving believing as saving receiving of Christ. John says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name” — receiving and believing here are the same thing — “he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11–12).
In saying this, Jesus is not saying that anything is being added to believing or added to faith as the instrument of justification. Receiving Jesus is not a work. It’s a happy welcoming of the one who did the work and who works for us now. Justifying faith, believing on Jesus, means receiving Jesus.
Delight in Jesus
Now, what Christian Hedonism does is press into these words and ask, “What is the experience of receiving Christ really like?” Is it like receiving a blow to your face? No. Is it like receiving a gift you need but don’t want? No. Is it like receiving help that you like from someone you don’t like? No. Is it like receiving a package from a postman that you love receiving, but you scarcely even know the postman and don’t care to get to know him? No.
“We must receive Christ, not only as rescuer, not only as master, but as supreme treasure.”
Christian Hedonism will not settle for just familiar Christian words like receive. It presses in to the actual experience of believing and receiving Christ because it knows from the Bible there are many ways to receive Christ that are not saving ways.
The people in John 6 received Jesus as a king, and Jesus escaped from them. He didn’t want anything to do with them. The brothers of Jesus in John 7 received him as a miracle worker. He said they don’t even have faith. The people at the feast in John 2 believed. Yet it says they believed on Jesus in some sense, but Jesus would not entrust himself to them (John 2:24–25).
Simon the magician was so blown away by the reality of the Holy Spirit, and he was ready to receive him with money. He wanted to pay for him. Peter says, “Take your money and go to hell.” That’s what he said. Read it in Acts 8:20.
Therefore, Christian Hedonism presses into the actual experience of receiving until it discerns, What is this receiving? What is it really? What is the experience like? What does it find in receiving Christ that makes it saving receiving?
Christian Hedonism says, “We must receive Christ not only as rescuer, not only as master, but as supreme treasure.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
When you read Philippians 3:8 in context, you see it’s a definition of faith. It’s interchangeable with faith. In other words, receiving Christ in a saving way — and receiving is the biblical synonym for believing — receiving Christ in a saving way means preferring Christ over all other persons and things.
“We don’t receive Jesus in a saving way when we receive him as a ticket out of hell. He’s not a ticket. He’s a treasure.”
It means desiring him, not only what he can do. Desiring, receiving, welcoming, embracing is what we exercise toward what he is. We desire him, receive him, welcome him, embrace him. It means being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus, even though we can’t see fully yet all that God is for us in Jesus. We grow in that seeing and that satisfaction. We grow in faith.
We don’t receive Jesus in a saving way when we receive him as a ticket out of hell or a ticket into heaven. He’s not a ticket. He’s a treasure. He’s the greatest treasure. He’s what makes heaven, heaven.
If we trust him to get us into heaven but would be satisfied with a pain-free heaven without him there, we haven’t received him. We have used him.
Saving faith means receiving Jesus as our supreme treasure. That kind of affection for Jesus is not a peripheral add-on. That’s what saving faith is. I would just plead with those who are quick to pass judgment on such views that they too not be satisfied with words but press into the meaning and the reality and the real heart experiences of what it is to really embrace Jesus Christ in saving faith.