Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Welcome to the Ask Pastor John podcast, especially if this is your first time here — welcome. I’m Tony, the host, and I pitch questions to longtime pastor and author John Piper. That’s his name. We talk about life’s most challenging questions, and what the Bible has to say about those challenging questions. Maybe you just happened to see this episode online, or maybe someone sent you this link, a friend or someone. Welcome.

We do all this by taking questions from our audience, and today’s question comes from a listener named Rebecca. “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for this podcast. It has blessed me, guided me, and strengthened my faith over the years. My question for you is this: How would you explain your experience of joy in God to a curious, unchurched non-Christian? Where would you begin? And how would you do it with language a non-Christian could easily follow?”

Okay, let’s do it this way: I’ll write a short letter to an imaginary unbeliever named Michael, who has almost no experience of church or religious language, and who has asked me this very question, to tell him what it means when I say, “I experience joy in God.” Here we go.

Dear Michael,

You asked me what I mean when I say, “I experience joy in God.” Thanks for asking. There are not many things, Michael, that I enjoy talking about more than what I value, what I treasure, most. You already know that my experience of God is based on the Bible. I believe it is the word of God. I believe that if you read it, especially its portrayal of Jesus, you can hear the ring of truth, the self-authenticating reality of God breaking through. So, the first thing to say is that when the Bible talks about our relationship with God, it rings with the language of pleasure.

In other words, I’m not just responding to the Bible with my own peculiar personality. No, I’ve been told by the Bible, by God himself through the Bible, that I should experience God as my pleasure. It’s what God demands, not just what I desire. God’s word is lavish with pleasure language. So, let me give you some examples so you can get the feel of what I mean. You can ask me sometime later, and I’ll show you these places actually in the Bible itself so you can read them for yourself. I think that would be helpful.

  • Psalm 16:11: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
  • Psalm 90:14: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
  • Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
  • Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord.”
  • Psalm 19:10: “More to be desired are they [your words, O Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”
  • Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news . . . of happiness.”
  • Philippians 4:11, 13: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content . . . through [Christ] who strengthens me.”
  • Philippians 4:4, just a little earlier in the chapter: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
  • Isaiah 26:3: “You keep him in perfect peace . . . because he trusts in you.”
  • Psalm 4:7: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
  • Psalm 63:1–3: “My soul thirsts for you . . . because your steadfast love is better than life.”

That’s for starters, Michael, scraping the surface of the Bible. Peace, rejoicing, contentment, happiness, gladness, delight, satisfaction, pleasures — all of it sweeter than honey, all of it better than wine, all of it better than life itself, as full as it can be, as long as it can be.

Now the question is, How do I experience God that way? How does John Piper do that? And the first thing to say is that God himself has taken out of the way the greatest obstacle to my happiness — namely, my ugly, God-belittling sin, and his just and holy wrath and fury against it. He sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to die in my place. The Bible says that he became a curse for me. He condemned my sin in the death of his own Son. And he did this for absolutely everyone, indiscriminately, who would believe in him.

So, when I receive Jesus Christ — when I take him, welcome him, embrace him as my Savior and my Lord and the treasure of my life — God sees me as united to Jesus, so that his death counts as my punishment, and his righteousness counts as my right standing before God. So, now there’s no condemnation for me. I’m forgiven for everything. No guilt, no punishment, no hell, no fear; accepted, adopted, loved, befriended, embraced — as a father running out to welcome a long-lost son.

That’s the beginning. That’s the foundation, Michael, of all my joy. Everything great and beautiful and valuable and desirable and satisfying in God is no longer dangerous for me. It’s like a mountain range of endless discovery of more and more beauty, where I will never fall off a ledge and die, but go further up and further in forever and ever, because God is infinite and I’m not.

Michael, every day I read my Bible, and in the Bible, God himself, through the words that he inspired, speaks to me — and I speak back to him. This is a real conversation. I don’t hear voices; I read his inspired word addressed to his people, to me. I hear the voice of God in his precious word, and it is sweeter than honey. That’s what the Bible calls fellowship with God. And every day, as we enjoy this fellowship, he shows me glimpses of his greatness and his beauty and his worth: the very things that I was made for. I was made to see and enjoy God in his greatness, his beauty, his worth.

And you know this is true, Michael — you know this. You were made to see and enjoy greatness and beauty and worth and love. Everybody was. God is the sum of all greatness, and all beauty, and all value and worth, and all love. And he lets us enjoy him through his word, and through his world, which also reveals his beauty and greatness. And when I face the ugliness and the sin and the suffering and the disasters of the world, he reminds me of spectacular promises that I will one day be with him — free from all pain, all sin, all depression, all discouragement, all anxieties — in a brand new, magnificent body.

And with that hope, which he renews every day in me through his word, he gives me strength to go out into the world and to try to be useful to people by doing good and pointing people to everlasting satisfaction in him (which is what I’m doing right now, I hope). And even though I’m not perfect, Michael — you know that pretty well — he helps me do that, and he forgives me for my failures, my shortcomings. And at the end of the day, my conscience is clean. Oh, the sweetness and joy of a clear conscience. My conscience is clean because there has been some measure of obedience. And because of his precious, precious forgiveness through Jesus, I can lay my head down at night on a pillow with peace and joy.

You know that’s what I want for you, Michael. That’s why I’m writing this letter, and I’m happy to talk anytime you want to take it further.

Your friend,