The Heart of Fake Happiness
Happy Wednesday, and welcome to this sermon-clip day on the podcast. For a long time now, I have been drawn to a little two-part message Pastor John delivered in the spring of 2010. And from this pair of messages, I want to share some clips with you on the podcast today and in the weeks ahead.
Historically, the sermons are interesting. Pastor John was about to take an eight-month leave of absence, away from the pulpit, to work some things out in his own heart and in his family. We’ve talked about this leave, and the lessons he would eventually take away from it, particularly in three episodes: APJs 138, 220, and 1227. As you know from those episodes, it was a defining season for him. But first he had to prepare his church for this leave. And that makes the tone of these sermons interesting, too. These two 2010 sermons are parting words to his church. And because of that, they carry an urgency, as you’ll hear.
So how does a preacher say goodbye to his church for eight months? We get the answer in two messages. These messages go deep inside the plan of God for his people. They go down to the deepest foundation of our very joy. And in that context, here’s the first interesting clip I want to feature on APJ. It gets right at the heart of what drives John Piper and his ministry. How’s he wired? Why does he do ministry the way he does it? Without further introduction, here he is to explain on April 18, 2010, two weeks out from his ministry leave, speaking of his recent travels and what makes him tick. Here he is.
Almost always when I leave the church and go away to speak somewhere, I give messages that are the overflow of things I’ve done here. I don’t generally make new things up to say anywhere else. I just try to apply to others what I’ve been thinking about and applying to you over the years.
However, at the end of February I went to Seattle, and on the way to Seattle I was on the plane — we had about a four-hour flight — and prayed earnestly that God would give me a message for them. And there was in my mind churning this issue of how to say in a fresh way something I’ve said over and over again for who knows how many years, and I delivered that message three times. I was crafting it in my head and then trying it out on all those people for you. I wanted to get it right so that when I tried to bring clarity here, I wouldn’t be stumbling around like I did in a couple of those messages, I think.
So here’s the thing that needs clarification, evidently. And this goes out of some conversations I’ve had, and those of you who conversed with me will know who I’m talking about. I appreciate them. The question that I’ve asked audiences for ten years maybe is this: Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or when he, at great cost to his Son, frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?
I’ve just asked that everywhere I’ve gone, all over the country, for ten years or so. Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or that he, at great cost to his Son, frees you and empowers you to enjoy making much of him forever?
I liked that question a lot. I still do. And I’ll try to explain why. The aim of that question was never and is not now to deny that God makes much of us. He does, and we’ll get to that shortly. The aim has been to help people relocate the bottom, the deepest foundation, of their joy from self to God.
Two Kinds of Christians
So let me try to explain and help you understand something that makes me tick and why I speak the way I do about things like this. “Why do you go around the country saying such things, and shake people up like that, and cause some of them to misunderstand?” And here’s the bottom line — and even this I fear is going to be misunderstood, so I’m going to jump on a clarification of it as soon as I say it: I am more concerned — this has been true for thirty years — about nominal, hell-bound Christians who feel loved by God than I am about genuine, heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God.
Let me say it again. I don’t know why, but as I just do what I feel like doing in the word and in preaching, I feel more concerned for nominal, hell-bound, churchgoing Christians who feel loved by God than I do about genuine, authentic, born-again, heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God.
Now, lest any of you poor souls who don’t feel loved by God, and there are many of you, think that means, “He doesn’t care about us; he just said so” — I didn’t! I care really deeply about that issue. But if I have to rank who I want to jostle and bring, I want to rescue people who are totally deceived about whether God loves them or not, savingly.
But I really, really care about my family, you, and whether you live in a halfway Christian life, knowing he loves you and never feeling it, and really saved — really saved because there’s that seed deep down that you’d die for him in a minute, and you just wish you could marvel at it more. So, don’t hear me saying I don’t care about that or I don’t want to invest in it. This sermon is that investment, and I hope I can do more without letting the other one go. So what I’m doing in explaining what makes me tick is try to give a perspective on why I emphasize what I emphasize.
Why Do You Want Jesus?
There are millions of nominal Christians who are not born again, and who believe God loves them, and are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born-again believer is what’s at the bottom of what makes them happy. As you penetrate down, down, down, down, down, down to what makes them happy and you get to the bottom, it’s different for a born-again person and an unborn-again person.
“There are millions of nominal Christians who believe God loves them and are on their way to hell.”
Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental change in the foundation of their happiness. They haven’t experienced it. They go to church for other reasons. Instead, they’ve absorbed the notion that becoming a Christian means turning to Jesus to get what you always wanted before you were born again. No change in what you want. No change in the bottom, the foundation of what thrills you — just get it from a new place. The baggage in the hotel room is the same; they just got a different bellhop. The meal stays the same; they just got a different butler. And they think they’re Christian, and they feel really loved because he’s producing. “My life is going better.”
They want a happy marriage, so they turn to him to get it. They want peace of conscience, so they turn to him to get it. They want freedom from guilt feelings, so they turn to him to get it. They want to escape from hell, so they turn to him to get it. And every unregenerate person on the planet wants those things. You don’t have to be born again to want out of hell. You don’t have to be born again to want a good marriage. You don’t have to be born again to want any of those things.
So what’s new? Got a different bellhop, different butler, a different servant to give me what I want. I’m concerned about those people. There’s some here. I would suspect, in this room, not as many as the other kind. I think God will hold me more accountable for trying to help those people wake up than for helping his precious children feel more of him, though this sermon is about that, and I’m just setting the stage for why I talk the way I talk. I haven’t even started yet.
Change in Our Deepest Delights
In other words, they would say, these people I’m so concerned about, “We have desires and we turn to Jesus to get them met, and he is so loving to meet them.” No change at the bottom, no change in your cravings, in what makes you most deeply happy. No change in the decisive foundation. You just shop at a new store.
That’s not the new birth. The new birth is not having all the same desires that you had as an unregenerate person and then getting them from a new source. That’s not the new birth. The new birth changes the bottom, changes the root, changes the foundation of what makes us happy. Self at the bottom is replaced by Jesus. Treasuring being made much of at the bottom is replaced by treasuring Jesus. Everything changes.
“What makes the born-again person glad is not that they have God’s gifts, but that they have God.”
We don’t perfectly express these changes. That’s why I can be so confident that so many non-delighters are saved. What makes the born-again person glad is not, at the bottom, that they have God’s gifts, but that they have God. There’s the key way to see it.
You listen for it in the way they talk, the way they pray, and the way they speak to each other and to God. Are they most excited about his gifts, or are they most excited about him? Do they long for the people they love to see him, admire him, glorify him, live in him, hallow his name? Or do they only ask for and seek food, and clothing, and job, and the things the world wants?
It’s not wrong to pray for those things. It’s just what the world prays for. It’s not wrong to want those things. It’s just what the world wants. There’s no evidence in being born again that you want what the world wants and get it from God. Christians who are truly on their way to heaven and don’t feel loved by God are in a different category than that.