At desiringGod.org, we talk a lot about joy and treasuring as being a key ingredient to saving faith — a part of what saving faith is. And it raises questions like this one from a listener named Nick.
“Hello, Pastor John. I recently discovered what you believe the Bible says about saving faith — namely, that it includes treasuring Jesus above all things. This has made me wonder if I truly believed at the time of my apparent conversion. I saw growing signs of holiness in my life after my apparent conversion, and obeying God has been the number-one pursuit in my life for years. But I don’t recall being aware of my desire for God himself in my heart during the early years after what I think was my conversion. If I did not begin treasuring Jesus when my apparent conversion happened, was I really unsaved?”
Here and Now
The first thing that needs to be said, I think, is that Nick should not lose any sleep over the question of whether he was truly saved, truly born again, in that first moment of apparent faith. The all-important question, for all of us, is the question of right now.
“Conversion is a joyful abandonment of all for Jesus.”
Do we embrace Jesus now? Do we embrace him as the Lord and Savior and supreme Treasure of our lives? When and how we came to have this glorious, miraculous preference for Jesus above all things — this submission to Jesus as Lord — is relatively unimportant.
So many Christians trouble themselves about this. When I was six, I put faith in Jesus, I think. I’m not going to stake my life on that. No way would I say that if I wasn’t a Christian then, then I’m not now. I think it was real, but I can’t base my assurance or my hope on that. It’s John Piper’s present relation to Jesus that’s all-important.
Now, I know that’s not an adequate answer for Nick’s question. He didn’t ask me to tell him that at all. His question really does relate to real people, people who are trying to understand a saving relationship with Jesus. What about them?
Or how would you talk to people who are approaching conversion or who just recently put their faith in Jesus? What about children who put their faith in Jesus? What about people who have been brought to faith in churches that never used the language of treasuring Christ or preferring Christ or delighting in Christ or being satisfied in Christ or embracing Christ as their supreme value?
What if they were saved in a church that never even heard that language? Nobody’s ever even talked like that to them. Can they be saved? Let me say four things that might be helpful in this regard.
Your Heart’s Treasure
Nick is assuming that everybody who’s listening to this will know what he means when he says, “John Piper assumes that treasuring Jesus is part of saving faith.” I bet ninety percent of the people who are listening are saying, “What? I don’t even know what that means.” Let me clarify that.
I do believe that saving faith includes receiving Jesus. That’s John 1:12: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Saving faith includes receiving Jesus as the chief authority in one’s life — receiving him as Lord. Saving faith includes receiving Jesus as the chief benefactor of one’s life — receiving him as Savior. But saving faith also includes receiving Jesus as the chief value of one’s life — receiving him as Treasure.
Yes — I believe that’s what saving faith does when it welcomes, embraces, receives, and trusts Jesus. I would say that because Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If he’s not your treasure, your heart is not with him.
Sell All for the Treasure
Jesus illustrated a conversion with this parable: “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).
That is a summary statement of when you discover the preciousness of King Jesus standing there, ready to come into your life. Conversion is a joyful abandonment of all for him.
“The issue is not what words we use for our experience, but what real miracle has happened in our heart.”
Jesus underlines it with two amazing statements. Matthew 10:37: “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.” And Luke 14:33: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Yes — saving faith includes the embrace, the receiving, of Jesus as our supreme treasure. Paul puts it like this in describing his own transfer from darkness, from his Pharisee life, to newness in his Christian life: “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” — just as Jesus said that you need to renounce all that you have or you can’t be my disciple — “and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Then, he makes it starkly real, dauntingly real, with a contrast of a blessing and a curse. He says, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). Or, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:24).
That’s my first observation. Yes, I think Nick got it right. I believe treasuring Jesus is part of saving faith.
Awake to Beauty
Second observation: what this means is that, in conversion, the spiritual deadness and blindness of our hearts is taken away by God’s Spirit, and we are granted miraculously to see with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18).
See what? See the truth, the beauty, the reality, the excellence of Jesus through the portrayal of the gospel. I get that from 2 Corinthians 4:4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing” — what? What can’t unbelievers see because of the demonic blindness that grips them? What can’t they see? “The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
It’s the glory of Christ that we’re awakened to when the demonic blindness is removed. That’s described in verse 6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’” — God has done that — “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In other words, the glory and beauty and excellence and worth of Christ himself in his saving worth is the greatest good of the gospel. He saves us to know him, enjoy him, and treasure him as he really is, and then to reflect him and glorify him in our feelings and thoughts and actions.
There’s two more observations. One is that a person can really be saved — they can really come into this kind of relationship of Christ — even if he or she has never been taught all these texts. The Holy Spirit can create a new heart that treasures Christ in a person who has never thought of the word Treasure as a label for Christ. The issue is not what words we use for our experience, but what real miracle has happened in our heart.
“Saving faith includes receiving Jesus as the chief value of one’s life — receiving him as Treasure.”
I would say that the heart of a truly born again person, when presented with the alternatives of Christ versus parents, Christ versus children, Christ versus health, Christ versus life — if those choices are ever presented — the born again person will prefer Christ. Christ over parents, Christ over children, Christ over health, Christ over life.
The heart, the new heart, will embrace Christ above all things, whatever the language has been taught or used in a truly, miraculously eye-opened newborn heart.
Finally, the fight of faith that Paul describes in 1 Timothy 6:12 is therefore a fight for joy in Christ, a fight for treasuring Christ above all things.
This means that the state of a born again heart is not without its warfare. Faith can be stronger or weaker, the Bible says. That means that our sense of the beauty and worth of Christ can be lively or dull. Our calling at those times of dullness is to look to Christ, look at his amazing sacrifice and his paths of triumph.
The Lord who judges the hearts of men knows our true condition. He knows the treasure of our hearts (1 Corinthians 4:5). He knows those who are his. He is never unsure.
Our assurance may rise and fall. He is never unsure. His faithfulness is our hope. Only Christ’s faithfulness in sustaining us and holding on to us will help us make it to the end and not throw away our treasure.