Two related questions for you, Pastor John, as you join us over the phone today. Back in 1981 in a sermon on wisdom, “Get Wisdom,” you said this — a rather curious thing: “God has created this world and its moral laws in such a way that the more we choose to glorify God, the happier we will be.” That sounds different. My question is, would you say that today? Looking back, is this how Christian Hedonism should be expressed? And, while we are at it, what did you think of Kevin DeYoung’s recent tweet, where he writes: “We will only be most satisfied when we delight in God being most glorified”? He seems to want to adjust your favorite sentence.
Yes, he does seem to want to tweak my sentence. I love Kevin DeYoung. I’ll get to Kevin in a minute, but let’s take these questions one at a time.
First, here’s that sentence from 1981 in the sermon “Get Wisdom”: “The more we choose to glorify God, the happier we will be.” That sentence is almost the flip-flopping of my usual sentence. I like to say — and I think it’s the heart of Christian Hedonism, indeed, the heart of the Christian life — that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
“The mark of being born again is to fall out of love with self-exaltation and in love with God-exaltation.”
That 1981 sentence could be paraphrased, “We are most satisfied in God when God is most glorified in us.” Would I say that today? Here’s my answer. As long as we make clear that the we that we’re talking about is the body of Christ, those who are born again, then the answer is yes, I could say that we are most satisfied in God when God is most glorified in us. I could say that.
The mark of being born again is to fall out of love with self-promotion and self-exaltation and in love with God-promotion and God-exaltation and God-glorification. We are glad, we are satisfied, when this happens — when God is being glorified.
In Romans 1:23, Paul shows that the natural man — that is, those who are not born again by the Spirit through faith in Jesus — exchanges the glory of the immortal God for images. In other words, they don’t find their highest treasure and their greatest pleasure in the glory of God.
Romans 1:21 says, “Although they knew God, they did not honor [glorify] him as God” — so they did not glorify him — “or give thanks to him.” One of the fundamental distinctives of the person who is no longer a natural person but a born-again, new creation is that we stop exchanging the glory of God for images like ourselves, the one we see in the mirror.
We delight in God being glorified. We love it if our going low can make God go high. It’s true. It’s true that we are most satisfied in God when God is most glorified in us. It makes a Christian glad to see God magnified. The more we see God and his Son magnified and glorified, the more satisfied we feel.
Heart of Christian Hedonism
Now, having said yes — having said that I still believe what I said in 1981, and that I can say it today — I add this: I don’t emphasize that when I’m describing Christian Hedonism. Here’s the reason.
“The more we see God and his Son magnified and glorified, the more satisfied we feel.”
To the average person listening to that sentence — “we are more satisfied when God is more glorified” — it communicates that our glorifying God is one thing and our being satisfied in God or enjoying God is a separate thing from glorifying God. It’s a response to glorifying God. As long as people are thinking only in those categories, they’ll never understand Christian Hedonism. They won’t understand what it is, and they won’t get to the heart of what it means for them to glorify God.
The primary burden of Christian Hedonism is to push and push and push on the truth that most people don’t think about, namely, that their very enjoyment of God as God — the beauty of God, the loveliness of God, the perfections of God — that their very enjoyment of God is not only their response to God’s being glorified; it is the way they glorify him.
There it is: it’s the way they glorify him. Oh, how I wish I could make this clear and compelling and help people feel the wonder and the force and the vast implications of this!
Let me say it again. The primary burden of Christian Hedonism, the biblical truth that is so often neglected that I’m trying to lift and wave like a banner from the housetops, is that our joy is not only (I’m admitting the truth now) a response to seeing God glorified, but our joy in God is an essential part of the way we glorify God.
Christian Hedonism says that by means of enjoying God as God, we make God look valuable. If we say only that the exaltation of God as valuable makes us happy instead of also saying that our happiness in God is what exalts him, we haven’t yet grasped what is at the heart of Christian worship and Christian living.
Let me say again that my 1981 sentence is technically true. Here’s what I said: “The more we choose to glorify God, the happier we will be.” Technically, yes, that’s true, but I think it is also misleading because it gives the impression that the only connection between happiness, my happiness, and glorifying God is that happiness is a response to God being glorified, when in fact my happiness in God is a means of God being glorified.
That is the essence of Christian Hedonism, that my happiness in God is a means of God being glorified. That is what I hope to clarify and commend with every breath I have for the rest of my life.
Responding to DeYoung
We will only be most satisfied when we delight in God being most glorified.— Kevin DeYoung (@RevKevDeYoung) February 22, 2018
Now, what about my good friend whom I love so much and trust dearly, Kevin DeYoung? What about him tinkering with my favorite sentence, “God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him,” by saying, “We will only be most satisfied when we delight in God being most glorified”?
“Our joy in God is an essential part of the way we glorify God.”
That’s tricky. Here’s my answer. I think Kevin’s sentence is a version of my 1981 sentence. It is true. If we don’t delight in God being glorified, we are definitely not going to be most satisfied. He’s right. His sentence is absolutely true, but it does not clarify what I have given my life to trying to clarify. I’ll say one last time what the difference is.
It is right and good always to be glad when God’s glory is exalted, however it happens. Yes and amen. But the heart of Christian Hedonism is more radical and pervasive in its effect on all we do.
It says that we ourselves will never glorify God as we ought to unless we are satisfied in him as we ought to be. Being satisfied in God as our supreme treasure is not only a response to seeing him glorified, but the way he is glorified in us. That changes everything.