Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

God commands us to love him. He commands us to delight in him. He commands our cheerfulness. We see this all over our Bibles, in a cluster of texts we’ve talked about many times over the years: Deuteronomy 28:47; Psalm 32:11; 37:4; 100:2; Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Philippians 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16, to name a few. Those nine texts I just mentioned, in total, have made close to 90 appearances on this podcast now.

This casting of our cheerfulness and joy in God as a point of obedience is something that causes a lot of Christians to scratch their heads. Our happiness is a moral issue to God. It’s about obedience. And on that point, we see disagreements (or misunderstandings) between Pastor John and other theologians, which we saw in APJ 1584, just as one example.

At the core of Christian Hedonism is a bringing together of our obedience to God, our delight in God, and our glorifying of him. Here’s Pastor John, explaining how it all connects in a 1989 sermon.

“Duty” and “law” are words that sound negative. They sound burdensome; they sound oppressive; they sound limiting and constricting. And so at this point, you’re up against it saying to somebody, “You ought to do something” or “You should do something.” Those words in our culture are fighting words. We are libertarians to the core when it comes to our own personal religion and morality. We don’t want anybody telling us we should or ought to do something. So now what do you do here? Because in people’s minds you got this oppressive sense — duty, law, burden.

Is Obedience a Burden?

I want to show you that God’s demand for love from you, gratitude from you, trust from you, and obedience from you is a way to glorify him that is not burdensome. It is not legalistic. It is not restricting and confining and a hardship.

“God’s demand for love from you is a way to glorify him that is not burdensome.”

Now here’s the way I’m going to show that to you. I said last time that we are supposed to be mirrors of God’s glory, like the light coming through there this morning. You’re supposed to be a polished mirror, so that when your life is in the right angle, the right biblical angle, the glory of God shines out in a commendable and attractive way to the world. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father” (Matthew 5:16).

The other analogy I used was the crystal or the prism. I said, “Each one of you is a uniquely shaped human crystal or prism, so that when it is positioned in the light of God’s glory, it refracts out many different colors and lights, and only you can display for this world some of the things that ought to be seen about God.” Now that’s a duty to live that way and that’s not a burden to live that way, and I think I can show you with several illustrations.

A Skilled Painter

If it is your duty to glorify God because he is beautiful and glorious, consider this illustration. If there’s a beautiful painting in your house or in a museum somewhere, and you go to it and it is beautiful to you, how do you glorify that painting? Do you glorify that painting and say, “Ooh, I’ve got to go buy some paint now and work on it a little bit, needs a border or needs a little more orange.” And you burden yourself with the need to improve it.

That would be burdensome, but that’s not the way you glorify a painting. That’s an insult to a painting. The way you glorify a painting is by enjoying it, by delighting in it, and by speaking excitedly of it to people who are near you, your friends, inviting them to go to the museum and see it. And that’s no burden and every one of you knows that’s no burden. If you love the painting, you will delight in it, and that glorifies the painting.

An Exceptional Cook

Or let me use a more homely illustration that’s more relevant to most of us. Suppose somebody makes an excellent meal for you and it is not only tasty, it’s beautiful on the table and it’s nutritious. It’s the kind of thing you ought to eat, as well as like to eat. How do you glorify the cook? Do you glorify the cook by putting on an apron and saying, “Oh my, we got to work on this.” So you go out in the kitchen and you add some more spices or you say, “Oh, we don’t have any chips.” I think of that because Noel always used to correct me. I would say, “Aren’t there any chips?” And she’d say, “You’re not supposed to have chips with this meal. This is not a chips meal.” I did not glorify her culinary arts by asking for chips.

The way to glorify a cook is to eat a lot of the food. And when you’re done to say things like “Hmm” or “Ah.” That’s it. Now, is that a burden? If you’ve got an excellent meal in front of you, your duty, your law is to glorify this meal and this cook. Is that a burden to do when the way to glorify the meal is to eat a lot of it and to say, “Hmm” and “Ah.” We call that worship at Bethlehem.

A Well-Built Bridge

Here’s another illustration. Suppose it’s your duty to glorify the strength of a new alloy, a metal that has been created by somebody, and it is in a bridge that holds up a road across the chasm. Now, this is an old-fashioned illustration. How do you glorify the strength of that alloy? Do you glorify the strength of that alloy by saying, “Ooh, we got to buy some two-by-fours and work up a good sweat, propping up the bridge before we go over?” No, that’s a dishonor to the alloy. The way you glorify the alloy is by gathering all your family, all the little ones and all the old ones, in your car and, with not one whiff of anxiety, drive right across the bridge singing as you go.

Is that a burden? It is not a burden to trust strength if it is strength. And if you are called upon to glorify the strength of almighty God, nobody ought to be able to persuade you that’s a burden. It isn’t a burden. It’s freedom to trust strength.

A Generous Friend

Here’s another illustration. Suppose you are required by law — divine authority — to glorify generosity or to glorify grace or kindness in the heart of God or a friend. Let’s just say you have a good rich friend, who just happens to be so lavish in his generosity that he gives you things freely. Now, how do you glorify that person and his generosity? Not by trying to pay him back. This is a mistake we make with God. We say, “God has been so good to me, now what can I give him to pay him back?” Do you know what that does to grace? It turns it into a business transaction. It rips the heart out of grace.

“It is no burden to glorify God’s grace.”

How do you glorify grace? Primarily by allowing spontaneously lavish gratitude well up in your heart. Which of you, if a billionaire came up and handed you a check for a million dollars, would say, “Oh no. I’m going to have to be thankful. Burden. Heavy load. Law. Duty”? Nobody! You see what people have done with Christianity? It is no burden to glorify God’s grace. Don’t let anybody tell you that Christianity is a summons to loss.

Will You Really Lose?

And so I want to close with this question. Have you come this morning on the run from God, thinking, “I am not going to turn to the Christian God. I’m not going to bow before God because it means loss, loss, loss. I lose this, this, this, this, this.” Is there anybody here like that? If there is, I just pray and I hope that I have shown you just enough, a little tip of the iceberg of God’s glory, that you will say it is not loss.

Whatever you give up to become a Christian, because it happens to be sin, will be repaid a hundredfold, the Bible says, both in this life and in the life to come (Mark 10:29–30). And I just beg of you, wherever you are in your flight from God or your quest for God, that you will turn to him, recognize him as a fountain of grace and glory and beauty and strength, and yield to him.