Theologian Michael Reeves joins us again from the UK, filling in this week for John Piper. Today’s question is rather simple — it’s profoundly important — but the question is simple: Michael, how do we pursue our happiness in Jesus?
First, I would want to say, this is important, pursuing our happiness in Jesus — that joy in Christ isn’t an optional extra. We were made to share the Father’s eternal pleasure in his Son. The Father has always delighted in his Son, eternally found pleasure in him, and we were created to share the Father’s sweet pleasure in his Son. To love Jesus is to be made more like God himself, more like the Father. So, this is important.
Heaven’s Real Reward
Now I confess, personally, that wasn’t a message that I knew well when growing up as a young Christian. I thought the gospel was that I am a sinner and that Christ died for my sins in order to buy me heaven, which meant I was grateful to Christ for redeeming me from hell and bringing me to heaven. But the real reward of the gospel, I believed, was heaven, not Christ, not God himself. And that changed personally for me through reading Jonathan Edwards. I was torn by his description to the hypocrite in Religious Affections, where he says that is a good description of the hypocrite — that you are using God to get something else. Your delight is not in God himself, the One we are made for.
“We were created to share the Father’s sweet pleasure in his Son.”
I think this is very important and I feel the personal significance of it. It has changed what Christian life looks like to me. It means sanctification has a rationale to it that it didn’t before. So we need to pursue our happiness in Jesus, and I want to use that word pursue. This is something we can’t simply sit back on. Paul in Philippians 3:14 uses strong, striving language: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is an active thing. He wants to press in to know him.
Delighting in Christ
I think the question is, how then do we do this?
The first thing I would say is this: know him — grow in your knowledge of Christ — for knowing Christ is the reason why the Father so delights in him, because he is simply delightful. Now for a past generation — I think of the Puritans — this seemed to be in the mainstream in a way that it is not today. So you see a number of Puritan works, for example, Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ. That is a great work to read and to consider the ascended, glorified Jesus — to fill your vision with him so that you know him.
And I want to say, fill your vision not simply so that you know about him, but so that he eclipses other concerns for you, so that his glory is of greater concern than your glory or your worries. So, we need to fill our minds and our vision with him. Goodwin’s Heart of Christ would be something I would recommend. Owen’s The Glory of Christ I would recommend as well. Charles Spurgeon’s Christ’s Glorious Achievements is another one. I would read some of these older, rich works. They help you see how the Christ-focused generation of the past read Scripture to know Christ better. Fill out your knowledge of him.
“Knowing Christ is the reason why the Father so delights in him, because he is simply delightful.”
And I try to think of something John Owen said on this. He talked about this a number of times in his works and said things like this: “Do any of us find a lukewarmness, a spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? Well, there is no better way for our healing than this, a fresh view of the glory of Christ and abiding therein.”
Or he wrote after having buried ten of his children, “A due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind.” He is not an ivory tower theologian, having suffered deeply. He knows that it is a view of Christ’s glory, compassion of grace, and holiness that will enable you to go through all that life throws at you and to go through it with joy. So, press in to know Christ better. That is how we pursue our happiness.
Compare to Christ
But I would add one more thing to that. Compare Christ to whatever else it is that you treasure. What is it that you really want? Is it love? Is it that you want to be loved? And that can come across in various ways — a sexual addiction, a desire for fame. Those are really varieties of wanting to be loved. Is it acceptance? Is it money? Is it power? Is it comfort? Now compare that thing that you dream of and love with Christ. Which is better? Does pornography offer you the satisfaction, acceptance, and love that Jesus does? Does money offer you anything in comparison to the riches of Christ? Does passing temporal power offer you anything in comparison to what Christ is offering?
And when you see how much better Christ is than those other things you go running after, you will choose Christ rather than those things, and you will walk away from them with freedom.