Scott Anderson: We have on our panel today John Piper, Sam Storms, Bob Blincoe, and Eric Mason. I’m Scott Anderson, serving as your host. If you’re joining us on the livestream, we welcome you. Thank you for tuning in, and we’re going to get right down to it. So, we had lots of questions come in, and many of these have been pulled together to get a representative sampling here, but we’d like to just open it here with a question for Sam and for John, and this would be in a brief answer. Is there one key C.S. Lewis truth that you gleaned from him that reigns over the others? What was that inbreaking truth? Can you just summarize it for us if you have one?
John Piper: I’m torn between whether to talk about his sight of the world and his Mind Awake, which is a collection of his sayings by Clyde Kilby; A Mind Awake; or to go to the fundamental insight of the nature of joy as an inconsolable longing, which is so pleasurable to have that you want it over and over again so that the inconsolableness of its desirability is a witness to another world. That’s probably where I should say that that experience, which isn’t new, is the God-shaped vacuum. It’s Augustine’s “We’re restless until we find our rest in God.” There’s nothing new about this; he just saw it and said it in such a fresh way.
So, the insight that every human being everywhere has this, every now and then, identifiable inbreaking of an inconsolable longing, which is so desirable to have that its desirability combined with its inconsolability is a witness to that. There’s another reality, namely, we’re made in the image of God; we’re made for God, and we won’t have our souls consoled until we’re finally at home with him.
Sam Storms: I would probably go back to one of the statements in that section from Lewis’ treatment of the problem of praise in the Psalms that, I think, transformed in so many ways my whole approach to the issue of worship. When he said that praise is joy’s appointed consummation, praise is joy’s appointed consummation.
I think probably I’m like a lot who were raised in church life, always uncertain about how, why, and the way in which, and how frequently, and with what degree of passion I was to worship God, and fearful of feeling too much. Fearful of maybe the sense of awe, passion, and the energy that would arise as my heart opened up, my body was engaged, my mind, my affections, the whole of the being, and wondering if that was okay?
And I think Lewis’ treatment of that, as he struggled with it as well, was truly liberating for me. And then to realize that God’s love for me is expressed precisely in the work that he does through his Spirit and graciously eliciting that from my soul. So that idea that praise is joy’s appointed consummation, I think, may be the most significant statement and has massive implications that I’ve ever read in Lewis.
Scott Anderson: Let’s follow up with that. We had another question come in asking if you would draw a connection between Christian Hedonism and the fullness of the Spirit — maybe even the pursuit of charismatic gifting, that type of thing. Do you see any essential connection there to the fullness of joy in God, and does that lead to a full embracing of the experience of the Holy Spirit?
Sam Storms: Don’t look at me like that. That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that I’d really thought about it that much before.
John Piper: Come on.
Sam Storms: Let me think about that for just a moment.
John Piper: I’ll talk while you’re thinking. Yes, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” in Ephesians is manifestly connected to joy. Right. Okay. So take it from there.
Sam Storms: Well, you think about Jesus when it said that “He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and then broke forth in this exuberant praise and gratitude to the Father.” So certainly, I think it is so critically important that we want everything and all that the Spirit of God desires for us individually and for the church. And certainly, I believe personally that part of that — not necessarily the most important part, but certainly a very crucial part — is the experience of all of the gifts that he desires for the church to be manifest through us. And is there a heightening of joy and delight in God when that happens, and when you see it occur, and when it blesses people and encourages them or rebukes them in their sin or alerts them to the fact that God really does know who I am and where I live and what my needs are and how spiritual gifts facilitate that?
So it’s all of a package, I think. What a former colleague of mine at Wheaton would refer to as a more robust view of the Holy Spirit. So I do think that they’re all very closely intertwined. The fruit of the Spirit — joy, peace, patience, kindness — the power of the Spirit in operating. Because again, spiritual gifts are the manifestation of the Spirit. I don’t think it’s the Spirit causing things to manifest. I think spiritual gifts are the display of the Spirit himself in and through the lives and the prayers and the words and the deeds of service on the part of the people of God. So I agree with John; the answer is yes.
John Piper: Just the way to say it, I think, summary-wise, is that it is more blessed to give than to receive. So, the fundamental principle of Christian Hedonism is that it reaches its climax not by receiving, but by spilling over onto others. Gifts are just channels through which that happens. So, whatever your gifts are, if you are spilling through them onto another, you’re going to be more happy.
Scott Anderson: Amen. Well, let’s jump to now. I’ll address these to the different panelists here. These would be now the questions that, based on sheer quantity, were the most representative. So, I’ll flesh it out maybe in two or three statements, but this one would be directed to Sam. And this came in the most with reference to your talks. So, I’ll phrase it like this: Christian Hedonism seems rooted primarily in philosophical thought and secondarily in Scripture. There seems to be a heavy reliance upon Augustine, Edwards, Lewis, Pascal, even at this event in the unpacking of the what of Christian Hedonism. The appeal seems to be to the logic of these men first and then to the Scripture to back up that truth.
One pastor wrote this, “I agree with the concept of Christian Hedonism, but I don’t want to model this approach to my people.” Thus, in leading our people into Christian Hedonism, can we do this mainly from the Scripture without having to appeal out to Edwards or out to Lewis or others in order for our people to really get it?
Sam Storms: Well, I understand the concern behind the question. I would have to disagree with the idea that it is based more in philosophy than in the word of God. I just think the whole concept is pervasive from Genesis through Revelation in the Scriptures. Spend time in the Psalter; it’s just on every page. It’s found throughout Isaiah, found throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, reading the Upper Room Discourse. It’s just filled with his, “I’ve said these things to you. I am here. I’m doing this. I’m ministering so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Pervasively through the Epistles as well.
So if it sounds like we are reliant or dependent upon these names that you have mentioned more so than the word, it’s only because they are incomparably greater teachers with indescribably deeper insight into the biblical text than I am. And so if the word of God endorses the legitimacy and the absolute necessity of teachers to help illuminate us in the understanding of Scripture, then I must, in my obedience to the word of God, listen to the greatest teachers that the Spirit of God has gifted and raised up throughout the course of church history, and these men are among them.
So I don’t see a dichotomy between studying Augustine or Edwards or Aquinas or Lewis or Chalmers or any other. I don’t see a dichotomy between that and hearing what they have to say because what they are doing in every case is reflecting upon what the word of God says and helping me to understand it.
It seems to me that if this question carried true legitimacy, none of you should be here because the only difference between us and Augustine, Edwards, and Lewis, besides a massive degree of genius on their part and idiocy on ours, is that we’re alive and they’re dead, but we’re still all in the body of Christ. We are trying as best we can, in the grace of God through the Spirit, to expound and unpack and illuminate what God has said in his word. So if there is an objection to hearing what they say, then there ought to be an objection to hearing what we say.
So I don’t see a difference between the two. I certainly think it’s possible, and we do need to be careful that we do not become overly dependent upon secondary sources outside of the text. I would be thrilled if you spent the next months and years just reading through the Psalms or reading through 2 Corinthians or reading through so many of the other epistles or Old Testament texts that describe this. But my goodness, if you cut yourself off from the blessing that God has given to the body of Christ through these individuals and the insights that they had, I think you’re really depriving yourself of something critically important.
John Piper: Just to underline the legitimacy of the question, not in its questioning whether it’s in the Bible but whether the approach you take in your church should be “quote Edwards and Lewis” or “quote Bible.” There’s just no question about that. If you bring in Edwards and Lewis at all, it’s as a footnote to say they’ve seen it too. So if you have felt here that the heaviness has been on the human hearers of the Bible, you’re certainly right with regard to my talk. That’s all I talked about. So don’t do it the way I did it, for goodness’ sakes. Don’t do it that way. And if you felt these long quotes from Lewis that Sam used made it feel like the predominance was to appeal to a human authority there, don’t go there.
So I would say with regard to the doctrines of grace, and now with regard to the teachings of Christian Hedonism, be Bible people, be Bible people. If you don’t see it in the Bible, don’t believe it at all. And don’t lead in your churches with long quotes from Edwards, long quotes from Lewis. Lead with Psalms and Romans and Matthews. So go to the texts and then bring these others and say, “Look, it’s not new.”
Scott Anderson: Very helpful. All right, we’ll go to Eric now. Eric, this was the question that was probably in terms of quantity, it came in one shape or the other. And it goes like this. You talked to us about suffering and sanctification under the sovereignty of God. So the question is, should I be concerned that I am not suffering or that I haven’t suffered very much in my life or in my ministry, especially if suffering is a unique evidence of God’s love for me and is a means of sanctifying me? So whether it’s just regular tribulation or whether it’s some type of discipline from the Father, I net more joy in suffering by experiencing it. What do I do if I don’t feel like I am?
Eric Mason: Well, one of the things is, I remember it came up yesterday of people saying, “Should I seek out suffering like, ‘Come in, suffering. Where are you?’” That’s not something that we would do. We would believe the Scripture would clearly say that those who are godly in Christ will suffer persecution. When you’re looking at 2 Peter 1, you see that one of the things that you add to your faith as faith furniture is perseverance or steadfastness, consistency in the midst of adversity. There are varying levels of adversity that the Bible would teach that people go through. There is mild adversity, and then there are the extreme conditions of adversity.
However, all of them in varying degrees are to be compared to the glory and the beauty of the suffering servant himself, Lord Yeshua. And so in light of that, in light of the question asking, “Should I feel some kind of way?” Because it seems like the person may be saying, and I don’t want to overexert the question, but, “I haven’t suffered that much. So is my sanctification in trouble?” Man, we would have to sit down and talk about that. I wouldn’t know why that wouldn’t have happened. But for the most part, you don’t have to look for suffering. God has rigged varying levels of suffering. I think there’s a difference between suffering, affliction, and persecution. There are semantic differences between those.
However, every Christian at some point in their life will have varying levels of persecution. And James 1 promises, the more you go through, the better your endurance level develops as you go through it. Like a person that’s working out well on a treadmill gets better and gets more in their aerobic exercise and their weightlifting ability, they get stronger. And so I don’t know if you’re just a beast with yours, you’re just so muscular in your development in trials that, “I don’t even feel it. I don’t even know if I’m going through or not.” You know what I’m saying?
So I don’t know if that’s your feel, but I know that isn’t mine. You know what I’m saying? Your boy is trying to figure it out every time by the grace of God, but still trying to pursue the joy that Jesus Christ brings in it.
Scott Anderson: Let me follow up on that. You had a runner-up related to that. A lot of folks wrote in, angling at it this way — and really, for you and for any of the panel that want to chime in on this — if suffering is God’s tool for our sanctification, then really, should we ever seek to be delivered from our trials? If our sweetest and deepest joys are experienced in the midst of profound suffering, why would we ever seek to alter our circumstances in order to avoid suffering if it’s such a gift? And I thought a really helpful angle on this was, and what does that mean as a pastor in praying for people who are suffering? Do I pray the cancer goes away? Do I pray the persecution lifts?
Eric Mason: If I could start off and just begin with that. It’s two examples with Jesus’s life and Paul’s life that’s so beautiful. It’s funny. It’s so funny. I always wish I was just there when it happened. Jesus would say something absolutely crazy to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the high priests, and the lawyers. Then all of a sudden, it’ll say, “And he alluded their grasp,” and I’m like, “How did he allude their grasp? Because it wasn’t his time.” And then you’ll see, of course, when it was time he said, “Who do you seek?” And then they say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And then, of course, all the hundred people in the cohort fell backward. That was the only time someone was slain in the Spirit in the Bible was when Jesus said, “I am.” And they all fell back and then they got back up and got scared to say it again. So they just said, “Just come with us.”
Then you see in Paul’s life, you see when Paul first trusts Jesus Christ as savior and experiences some inordinate feeling of the Spirit and has his eyes released by Anderson, he begins preaching in Acts 9. And then all of a sudden, cats were after him. So they had the believers letting him down the window trying to get him out of the city. Then there’s the time where Paul goes, and he begins. The New Testament prophets were saying, “There’s much persecution waiting for the man who owns this belt in Jerusalem and others.” It said, “From city to city the Holy Spirit was testifying that much persecution was waiting for him and suffering in Jerusalem.”
And what’s powerful about what I see in Paul’s life is in Acts 9, if you remember the day he got called, what Jesus said to Ananias is, “I must show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” So he really saw that as a consummation of his calling versus a deterrent from his calling. So to the pastor who’s saying, “How should I pray for people?” I prayed attention every time and you hear the gambit of things that people do. I paid attention. I pray for release, but I also pray in that, that God would maximize his glory through it, in which way best glorifies him.
Although I still pray for just like Paul, and Sam brought this out so well the other day, he said, “We don’t know how much time that was between Paul’s prayer in 2 Corinthians, but he prayed three times and finally, God gave him clarity that you’re probably not going to get out this one for the rest of your life.” So I think that God through his providence and through us seeking him through those various means will give us clarity in what way he wants to use it in our life.
Sam Storms: Just a couple of texts that immediately come to mind with regard to one part of your question. Just think of James 5:13: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” So obviously if there is suffering, God wants us to pray that the suffering would be alleviated. He goes on, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). So can the affliction or the disease or the persecution or whatever it is that is causing the suffering be used by the Spirit to sanctify the soul, refine our faith? Absolutely. Does that mean therefore we shouldn’t pray and therefore disobey James 5? No.
Similarly, in Paul’s relationship with Epaphroditus, here’s a man, he says in Philippians 2 was ill and on the verge of death. And yet Paul says, “He was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Philippians 2:27). Paul didn’t say, “Hey Paph,” or whatever he called him, “Paphroditus, we’re just going to leave you to your agonies because this is really good for your soul.”
Now, I think Paul probably said to him in the midst of his illness, “God is orchestrating this in some capacity for your ultimate good and his glory, and we believe that wholeheartedly. Now let’s pray that he would heal you of it.” And of course, he eventually did. So it seems to me that certainly, we have to embrace the reality of Romans 8:28. We do know that God orchestrates these things that involve massive expressions of affliction and sorrow and anguish, but we also know that we are commanded to pray for healing. We are commanded to pray for relief from the agony and the suffering and God would be glorified if you’re healed, God will be glorified if you’re not. And in all things, he works it together for our good.
Scott Anderson: Bob, would you follow up on that? Then, this ties into some of the questions that were directed towards you in this mission’s context. If suffering is a gift and indeed it is no sacrifice to go and spend and be spent for the nations, what does that mean in terms of how you counsel missionaries to go to hard places, to give their sons and their daughters to be killed, to go into the face of that?
Bob Blincoe: Well, we have a rigorous Bible study that all of our candidates have to work through before they come to candidate school on 2 Corinthians 1–6, but especially three, four, and five. And as a matter of fact, that begins this next Sunday; we have our next candidate school. I lead those sessions. So, we are trying to ground them in the Scriptures, particularly the section of 2 Corinthians 4:1–16, which begins and ends with, “Therefore, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). You really have to see Paul having laid out what he wants to teach in 2 Corinthians 4 with a beginning and an end, and then in the middle chunk is his testimony of what it cost him to be a missionary, ending with a testimony that these light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared.
So, we have to work through the Scriptures so that we can go back to the Scriptures again in order to have the right attitude towards suffering.
Scott Anderson: Okay. John, the question for you that came in several different forms, so bear with this, it dealt with this issue. Would you talk more about how blessed self-forgetfulness relates to examining yourself to see if you’re in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5)? Or if looking at our joy and examining it ruins it in the moment, what does it mean to objectively pursue it then? That feels like another example. C.S. Lewis wasn’t a champion of objective truth, and you argued, quoting Lewis, that “Stepping outside the experience of joy to examine it destroys the experience.” Does that imply that our experience of joy is somehow only a subjective thing? Is there any way to objectively evaluate our experience of joy?
John Piper: Those are heavy. There’s a paradox about a genuine experience of an objective object subjectively. In other words, what you want more than anything is an intense subjective experience rooted in objective reality. You don’t want to see objective reality and feel nothing. That’s hellish, and you don’t want to feel intensely and think later, “That was just a buzz in my brain. That was nothing.” What you want, what we crave is to have a heart and a brain. Brainy work is totally dissatisfying. Heart work feels like it hangs in the air with no connection with reality. I’ve got to get this together. I’ve got to have objective truth grounding my subjective intensity, and then I will feel like it will be the case that I have arrived; that will be heaven. Heaven will be where the clearest objectivity happens, and the most intense subjectivity happens unsettled by any sinfulness.
So, I admit the paradox. Now, the Bible says, “Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith,” which I think means to see if your connection with reality is real. So, there must be a proper and good place for self-examination, for doing what Lewis says is so impossible to do. So, it’s good for me to reflect over, say, when we were singing here, how was I doing? What was happening in here? That’s good for me right now to think about that. Let’s examine; it’s good because I could be wondering whether the guy next to me thinks I have a stupid voice. I could be, “Oh yeah, there was some of that.” So now I pray, “Get rid of that. Take that away. I’m sorry about that.”
Or you might think of three or four other things that would ruin that experience as you’re reflecting on it, and you deal with that. Right now, you’re praying about that; you’re trying to renounce that; you’re asking God to forgive that; you’re praying for power to overcome that. That’s all real. And you might remember, “I think as I look back on that, there was five minutes there during that thirty where I was really connected. Praise God.” See, I’m not doing it now. I’m not praising Jesus now like I was then, but I’m thinking about it, so that’s okay. I’m not saying that was bad. I’m saying that’s the way it is. I’m thinking about that. I’m saying, “I think there was some time there where I was just really connected, and I’m thankful. Yes, there’s some reality in my life.” And so that’s the positive value then of self-examination. Were there other parts of that question I missed? That’s my best shot at what I remember.
Scott Anderson: It’ll come up again in one shape or the other. And interesting as we look through these questions, I think maybe it’d be helpful for anyone on the panel now just to help with some clarity. Almost don’t want this to sound too simple, but we had questions coming in like, “So what is joy again? Is it a response? Is it an emotion? What is a spiritual affection? Is that different than an earthly affection?” We use the analogies of enjoying the taste of chocolate or feeling the snow on your face, yet this is with respect to earthly things. How does that echo or shadow our joy in that which is wholly other? So can we just talk back down on that level of what is this joy we’re talking about?
John Piper: Let me get us started. It has helped me immensely to know that joy must be a good experience. Good, it’s not bad. I’m not feeling bad about this. It’s good. I’m glad. I’m happy. I’m glad about this. Then, to say, “I’m going to have this ten minutes after I die,” which means it cannot be bodily. Got that? That’s really big. That’s why I call it spiritual affections. All right? I’m not going to have a body ten minutes after I die. I will be unbelievably happy.
So happiness cannot relate to tingling in my fingers or brainwaves. There’s a supra-physical John Piper. He’s a real person, and he’s not identical with his body, but here it’s way interwoven with his body, way interwoven, and therefore any kind of spiritual affection I have is also perceived in some sense physically, and it’s very difficult to get them separated. You can’t. And the danger is that you can identify the Spiritual with the physical. It’s like, “I’ve got to have that good feeling in my tummy. I’ve got to have weak knees. I got to have the tingling in my fingers. I got to have the warmth down my spine.” It’s just all interwoven. But spiritual affections mean that’s not it. Those are traces.
So, that’s the place to start is just distinguishing spiritual and physical, and the physical is good. Who doesn’t like to feel good in your body?
Scott Anderson: Anyone else want to jump in on that? Otherwise, Sam?
Sam Storms: I’m trying to remember the question again after that.
John Piper: What is joy?
Sam Storms: What John just said, I totally agree with. And when you think about the fact, for example, when you read in Revelation four and five of the experience of the saints around the throne, and when you think about the fact that the greatest joy that ever has or ever will exist is the joy that exists between Father, Son, and Spirit within the Trinitarian relationships — and there’s nobody there. So certainly, I completely agree with that. A follow-up question is the fact that since we will be physical for eternity when we receive our glorified bodies, how in the eternal state will the physicality interact with the spirituality? And I don’t really know. I don’t know that we have a lot of clues in Scripture, but you’ve got an answer. I can see it.
John Piper: Well, we got ideas because the Bible has ideas. The heavens are telling the glory of God. All right? That’s Psalm 19, and that means that the glory of God is discerned with physical eyes as a medium. The glory of God is not the sun; it is not the stars. It is echoed. It is reflected in and through the stars. So when the new heavens and the new earth and our new bodies are given to us, we will experience the glory of God through media. Eyes, ears, touch, taste will all be new, and they won’t finally be idolatrous anymore. They won’t be in competition anymore. We won’t be distracted in food as an idol or distracted into music as an idol. It would all be perfectly mediating the glory of God.
For whatever reason, God created a universe, and he didn’t do it just to present us with idolatrous possibilities. He did it in order that more of himself might be plain to us, and thus he gave us senses; this is the only way the created universe gets to us. He gave us senses through which glory talk comes at us, and therefore the physicality of the universe is really important to God. Lewis is huge on this, right? It’s the one religion. Christianity is the one religion in the universe that makes much of the created physicality of us and says, “This stuff is not evil. This is important. That’s really important.” You know more of God because honey and biscuits and bacon and toast and pizza and especially biscuits.
Sam Storms: This question: What is joy? And I don’t know. I know Lewis addressed this far better, and you were even talking about it yesterday. I suppose we could work on writing out a definition. We could get words to describe it, but it seems to me that there is a dimension of our relationship with and our awareness of God that comes forth in a variety of expressions intellectually, emotionally, in so many other dimensions. How do you describe it? It’s like the old question, “I don’t know how to define obscenity, but I know it when I see it.” There’s this intuitive revulsion at ugliness. There is a God-designed intuitive exhilaration when we are confronted with truth that captivates the mind and awakens our emotions and even can stir some physical dimensions now and will in eternity.
I have often thought of it in terms of four things. There is an intellectual fascination. Joy is engaged with the mind, not with the brain, but with the mind. Because you won’t have a brain in the intermediate state, but you will have a mind. There is an aesthetic dimension to it. This God-given intuitive awareness of what is beauty, this fact that through his grace we are drawn to that and we are repulsed by ugliness. There is an emotional dimension to it. All of the affections that are described in Scripture — hope, fear, zeal, joy, hate, compassion. There is a volitional dimension to it as well that involves choices.
So joy seems to me to encompass all of these things, and in the final analysis, it is when you just find the totality of your being saying and feeling in response to God, “Yes,” nothing else. This “Yes,” satisfaction, rest, fascination, intrigued, enthralled, captivated, overwhelmed. Everything else is sour, bitter, tasteless. So I didn’t just give you a definition of joy. It’s more a description of what happens when you experience it. I don’t know that you can look it up in Webster’s or in Kittel and find that kind of explanation.
Scott Anderson: Let’s follow up there because you used a phrase that you used in one of your talks, this idea that finding our supreme joy in God ruins anything else. It turns it sour. It seems like if God has given us all things richly to enjoy that finding our ultimate joy in God ought to enhance the enjoyment of all of these other things and not cause those things to become. So are you suggesting something there by that? Maybe that’s one part. On the other end of that same spectrum would be how do I enjoy all these things richly and not make them idols?
Sam Storms: Well, the things that I was saying that joy turns sour in our soul is sin. It’s all of the artificial and selfish and fleshly and carnal things on which we tend to rely to answer that intellectual aesthetic, emotional, and volitional urge, that impulse, that inconsolable longing. When I feast on that kind of junk, like the rancid ground beef, physically, I have a drive of hunger and eventually I’ll overcome all of the intuitive and physiological objections to spoil hamburger because it satisfies that fundamental physical urge. Spiritually speaking, this is what we tend to do. This is what the world is immersed in, is this longing, this ache. Again in the righteous and the unrighteous alike, this yearning and I’ll ingest, I’ll experience, I’ll invest in, I’ll believe, I’ll taste, I’ll do whatever it is if it can touch that longing.
And what I was trying to suggest is that when the Spirit of God awakens us to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, again using a physical analogy, it just begins to go, “That didn’t taste good anymore.” Now again, that’s a progressive experience because sin, unfortunately, will always, to a measure, taste good to us in some degree until we are ultimately glorified.
John Piper: But you did mean more than that when you said, “To find God as your satisfaction ruins you for anything else.” You just now gave the answer to how it ruins you for sin, and that was your last night’s message. But you also meant, and if you didn’t, I do mean it ruins you for wife and children and ministry and everything. Now, add as gods. Lewis is just huge on this. He says, “When the half-gods go, the gods arrive.” As long as you’re treating your wife, your ministry as a God, it’s demonic, and finding God is your God ruins you for that. Okay? That was included too in what you said.
When you find God to be your God holy and it ruins you for those other things as gods, they return not as gods, but as more clear evidence of God. So in fact, you do love the wife better for loving God more than the wife. Lewis is just huge on this, and so is the Bible I think. Paul said, “I count everything as,” and then he uses a bad word, “everything,” and he had just said, “Circumcision, righteousness, born a Jew,” all these good things. It’s just all a refuse in order that I might gain Christ.
Now, once you’ve gained Christ, you can circumcise Timothy if you need to, and you can get married if you need to, and you can eat if you need to. And all of that then just pumps back in, more of Christ, more of Christ. And if anything, wife, child, food, or whatever starts to compete, no, you just say no to that. So I think they picked up on something really important. It does sound strange to say it ruins you for anything else when in fact, it does help you treat those other things the way they ought to be treated and maximize your appropriate enjoyment of them.
Sam Storms: It ruins you for anything else. And then, as you said, by grace, redeems those things for the sake of God’s glory.
Scott Anderson: Amen. Very, very helpful, man. Thank you. Let’s maybe dial it down a little bit and go to what I feel were some very personal-type questions that came in. Bob, one of these will be for you, and one of these will be for Eric. We’ll start with you, Bob, and it goes like this. Even before your talk, and then you emphasized it in your talk, the pastor who is trying to fight for joy, trying to be this Christian hedonist, would agree theologically with everything that was discussed here at the conference, but who’s saying things like this, “I am paralyzed by fear. I’m afraid to risk. I’m afraid sometimes to evangelize. I’m fearful of suffering or having my family suffer. I’m fearful of taking a doctrinal stand, fearful that my daughter might die on the mission field she thinks God is calling her to, fearful that my kids are walking away from the Lord. I’m a pastor who’s struggling with fear, and you told me that you’re not going to suffer with me in my fear.” Just elaborate.
Bob Blincoe: Well, to the brother who is speaking or the composite brother who is admitting these fears, this is where I think the community of faith, the brothers are going to be part of rescuing your soul. You cannot stay like you are and be a minister of the gospel. You are paralyzed, thwarted. This is where you’re going to need brothers to hear from the Scriptures in the community of like-minded caring men, a way forward for you to get free because this is not the truth. And there are so many places that you’re describing here, which a man is not free. I am no better than anybody else, but by the Lord’s grace, meditating on Psalm 112:6–7, I now have a new habit in my life of just deciding I’m not going to share in the fears that people have. I’m not going to give that idolatry to people, but I go back and I have my failures too.
I do think that the person who’s talking like this, if he’s not getting free just between him and the Bible, and this confession is just one that he’s making to himself, this is where he needs his brothers.
Scott Anderson: John?
John Piper: Just to put it back to you one more time, because I think when you said you would like to talk to somebody else about sharing with you in your fears, I thought that was the best line of the sermon. This brother, that composite brother there, heard you say, “I’m not coming alongside you to help you get over your fears.” That’s not what you’re saying. “I’m not going to stand with you in your fears” doesn’t mean I’m not going to stand with you for ten years to help you get over those fears. Those aren’t the same. This man just said, I hope, “I’m not joining you in that sin, but I sympathize with you. I empathize with you. I’ve tasted that weakness. I’m coming beside you. I got promises all over me for you.
Bob Blincoe: Yeah, that’s right.
John Piper: And that’s the way you treat me, and I’m just assuming that’s the way you mean that.
Scott Anderson: Amen. Amen. Eric, someone’s writing this now: “Should I rejoice in tribulation and sufferings even if the suffering is caused by my own sin or weakness? I have made poor and sometimes sinful choices that have resulted in devastating suffering in my life and in the lives of others. How do I rejoice in that? I only have utter regret and deep remorse.”
Eric Mason: The big issue with suffering is one of the things that I did not talk about, which I did talk about when I talked about the paper when I wrote the paper, but there are multiple dimensions of suffering that I found in the New Testament. And really, the Bible doesn’t necessarily call discipline of the Lord suffering per se, except for in 1 Peter 4, I believe, but he’s urging them to suffer as a Christian, not because of their particular sin. So if I’m remembering and interpreting the question correctly, how do I rejoice in the sufferings that I’m experiencing because of the consequences of my sin?
Scott Anderson: Yes.
Eric Mason: Now, if I’m still applying and working on these sins right now, then of course that can’t be. You’re not rejoicing in the consequence because you’d be also rejoicing in your sin, of course. So the struggle would be, are you still activating and applying and working on those sins right now? That’s the key question, number one, if that’s a composite or individual. Number two, the struggle and the challenge would be, after those particular sins have been committed, where I do ministry and I know every pastor does ministry with people who are living with the consequences of their sin. How do you teach them to rejoice?
I had a guy in our ministry, started walking with the Lord Jesus Christ, a couple of guys started walking with the Lord Jesus Christ. Beastie musician, one guy is just a workhorse, another guy. And some of their criminal pasts had caught up with them. Even though they thought they had dissolved and resolved those issues, some of those issues came back to haunt them. And one of the things that they were asking me to counsel them through was, “Pastor, how do I work through and deal with right now? I’m not that dude anymore. I’m not that dude. Even though I know I’m capable of that sin, I’m not living in light of that sin anymore, yet the consequences still come to me because of that particular sin.”
And I said, “Right.” And so when they said, “What should I do?” And basically if that person, if this person is that person, if that’s them, I hope that’s where they are. As I think the Bible does call us to still, yes, rejoice in the ability of the fact that you’ve been forgiven by the Lord Jesus Christ already. And you get to experience his forgiveness, and this suffering is coming onto you at this particular time, and you’re still called in the midst of those consequences to suffer rightly through those.
Peter even says, “If we’ve done something wrong, what do we do?” And we know we did it wrong. And the reason why we’re going through it, what did he say? He says, “We suffer patiently.” And so I think that’s the call that the Scriptures would have us to be called to. You’ll suffer patiently and accept the fact that there are consequences to your sin, although you won’t pay for them in eternity. So the joy comes from the fact that, man, I’m only paying for them now temporarily, but I know that this is not causing eternal damnation from me. Therefore, I can rejoice in the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ has given me the grace to not eternally pay for my sins.
Scott Anderson: Anyone else on either one of those questions? This issue of fear and this issue of rejoicing in the consequences of my sin?
John Piper: Just a text. Let me read this. I have found probably besides central New Testament Gospel texts in dealing with people who simply can’t get beyond remorse for the mess they’re in by their own doing. This is just massive. This is Psalm 107:10–11: “Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.” And in other words, it is their fault that they are where they are.
Psalm 107:12–15: “So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love.” It can’t be clearer than the fact that you got yourself into this mess. Guess what? God will get you out. God will get you out, says so here in the Bible. This man’s in your position and there are many other such texts, but I go back to Psalm 107 over and over again with people in that position.
Bob Blincoe: That’s biblical counseling.
Scott Anderson: Amen. Amen. Well, we’re going to move toward a close here over the next ten or twelve minutes or so, but I’d like to jump back out of that, and John, to address a Lewis question to you. It would be this: Can you just briefly touch on Lewis’ passion for objective truth and how that relates to his views on inerrancy? Maybe another angle would be, doesn’t writing theology produce and birth deep and abiding joy? So, given how kind of off Lewis was here, here, here, and here, was he not experiencing nearly the joy that he could have had he been more fully Orthodox?
John Piper: Lewis has a story or an illustration that has helped me so much, and it applies to him. He said, “Don’t ever judge the validity of Christianity on the basis of anybody’s given capacity for joy.” In other words, here you have a man who is born phlegmatic. I think he would use a word like that. This person, by personality and genes and background, is emotionless. And here’s a person that’s born; they’re both unbelievers. A person is born, and they’re just bubbly people. They’re just unbelievably positive, optimistic, grew up in a solid, pagan happy home. And these two people are going along in life. And this one’s like Ior and Puddleglum, and this one’s over here just bright like twinkle toes, and then they both get saved.
And a year into their salvation, you’re trying to assess the validity of Christianity on the measure of their joy. And you look at Puddleglum, and Puddleglum is making it in life. He’s found a way to find some stability. He’s loving people pretty much. His personality hasn’t changed very much, but he’s making, he’s solid. He’s looking on the bright side of things, and he’s getting through the day. And if you just knew where he was coming from, you’d say God’s doing a work in his life, and Christianity is a real force.
And she, of course, as a Christian, he, whatever, is just, “Everything’s positive, and God is all over me, and I’m so happy.” Or Lewis would say, “This person didn’t get saved, and she or he’s still like that.” So you can’t compare the unbelieving chipper person, happy person over here with the believing person over here. So the way that applies now back to Lewis is, yes, he would’ve been happier. Yes, he would’ve known more. If he’d seen the Reformation more accurately and had not viewed Scripture the way he viewed it. And I think yes, I think he would have, but you don’t measure us against the Lewis that would’ve been.
Lewis, I think, would have been a better person. He was a chain smoker. He was a chain smoker. His teeth were yellow. There’s a witness guy who comes up and knocks on the door. He just couldn’t believe the way Lewis looked. He couldn’t break that habit in his life. And oh, I could list. There are other sins. He probably had a horrific sexual past. You don’t need to know the sins of Lewis’ life, but he would’ve been a better person had he gotten the whole gospel right. But probably the last thing to say is, yes, true theology should and will yield more joy than you would’ve had if you didn’t have the true theology. But good night, we are so complex; we are so wounded, so broken, our backgrounds are so messed up, our uniquenesses are so off the charts, complex, and bad. You can’t take any ideal and paint on a person and say, “That’s what you’d be. You’d be that if you got the gospel right.” Well, no, no, God’s working with what he’s got to work with here. And poor William Cooper goes to his grave depressed out of his mind, and others go to their grave solid as a rock, and God works with us what he’s got to work with.
And so he was very gracious to a broken, imperfect man who lost his dad when he was four years old, probably never got over the trauma. His dad and he had a horrible relationship. And almost until the dad died, Lewis felt horrible regret all of his lifelong about the way he treated his father when his father tried to get near to him, and this woman he was living with became God to him. He was unbelievable. Thirty years old, good night. The man was wicked for thirty years of his life, and we should just stand in awe of any good that came out of C.S. Lewis. We just stand in awe of it. And any good that comes out of you, you should stand in awe, and we should all try to have the best theology we can.
Scott Anderson: Amen. Amen. Very helpful. Amen. Amen. Well, let’s move to what I think will be our last question for the whole panel. We’ll start with John, we’ll work it down back toward me here. And so I want you to be thinking now about your elders, about the congregants that you come in contact with regularly, with your staff, your missionaries, with respect to this question. What are the practical, maybe in just a minute or two, what are some practical ways you help your people fight for joy?
I was helped by the way this question was phrased by one man: “Most of the people in my church spend the majority of their waking hours doing just necessary activities of life built around vocation, built around relationships. Much of our lives are just mundane, routine, very ordinary. So how do we help our people, our elders, our staff, our missionaries, our congregants? How do we help ourselves carry God-centeredness into the nitty-gritty realm of where most of us live day by day?” So John, we’ll start it with you.
John Piper: No, let somebody else start.
Scott Anderson: Eric, we’ll start it with you.
Eric Mason: One of the most impactful messages on me in the last five years was given by C.J. Mahaney on evidences of grace. I think that is the most important thing you must do, is help people to see God everywhere active, especially in hellacious situations because there is no question people are going to see bad and deal with difficulty and all of that. But if you can’t point to where God’s caris is active, you will lose your mind. And so for me, it’s helping drum up an atmosphere where people are encouraging in the fact that they would transfer and talk to one another about evidences of God’s grace.
Bob Blincoe: I have a staff of 65 in Phoenix, Arizona. Five men report to me and I’m one of 16 Sending Base Directors that Frontiers has around the world. I’m the US Director. The place I begin and end is 2 Corinthians 3:18–4:1, and what follows. But this ministry of 2 Corinthians 4 I believe refers to the preceding verse because of the therefore. “We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory. Therefore, we do not lose heart because we have this ministry.”
The place I want to restore my own soul and thereby encourage others to restore theirs is to get down on your knees and thank God you have this ministry and to go for it with all you’ve got. Not quite paying attention to how you’re being transformed. That’s what the Lord does while you have this ministry. You go for your ministry, healing, preaching, tending the flock, the whole counsel of God fighting against evil, longing for the joy that comes in the morning.
And then lo and behold, the Lord does his work in us to make us more like him. And people then are doubly blessed once by your ministry and once by they say, “Man, I see you becoming like Christ,” the very thing we don’t see in ourselves, but we do need one another to tell us. So for me, it’s right there, the heart of what I do to keep myself going and keep my staff going.
Sam Storms: How to fight for joy? It seems to me that essential to that is we have to confront what kills it. We have to identify what suppresses it. Just speaking very personally, just out of what’s happening with me right now, I have not for the first time in my Christian life, thank goodness, thank God, but perhaps more intensely now than ever before in my life as a believer, have I learned the value of Scripture memorization and using the word of God to fight for joy by confronting what kills it.
I think probably all of you, if you had a microphone and you had the courage and vulnerability to share, would be able to identify what time of day you are most vulnerable to the attack of the enemy. When your flesh rises up most intensely, what it is that you see throughout the course of your daily life, what you hear that stirs, that you know is killing joy and diverting your eyes from the glories of Christ to the trash in this world that the devil calls treasure.
And I tell you exactly when it happens for me, it always has. It’s when I go to bed at night. I don’t really struggle during the course of a day with the things that I see. I do, but nothing like when I lie down at night and I go to bed, it’s like the enemy just assaults me. Or when I wake up at three in the morning and I’m trying to struggle to get back to sleep. “So what can I think about that will help me go back to sleep?” And that’s when I get assaulted, that’s when I get bombarded. And that’s why just recently, I’ve been trying to memorize Psalm 119 and for those of you who know Psalm 119, I’m two verses into gimmel.
So if you don’t know what that means, go read Psalm 119 and hopefully in a year I’ll be significantly down further in the Hebrew alphabet. But it’s just been a blessing of wielding the word of God to use your language from when I don’t desire God, wielding the word of God in the fight against that which kills joy. And it’s been wonderful. When I lie down at night, I just start with Psalm 119:1, I’m up through verse 18 now and I don’t think I have ever been awake to get to verse 18, and the Lord takes me into rest and the images disappear. Or when I wake up in the middle of the night and the fantasies or the accusations of the enemy or the sense of guilt or inadequacy and all of the things that I messed up in the course of the day.
And like the Psalm says, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” And it’s amazing when you read this Psalm that there is an interchange all the way through it between seeking God’s precepts and seeking God’s face. They’re indistinguishable in Psalm 119. And so that’s how I’m fighting for joy. You said, “How can I bring that into the life of the people in my church?” And it is again to awaken them to the sin killing power of Scripture, the life-changing power of God’s truth where he meets us in the midst of it.
Scripture really is sacramental in the truest sense of the word. It mediates to us the very life-giving presence of God. And if we don’t have that word in our minds, if we don’t guard our hearts according to it, we really are not going to make much progress. And joy will be always elusive.
Scott Anderson: John, and then I have one more question for you that we’ll close with after this.
John Piper: Off my front burner, here’s the thought for helping people fight for joy. You will be tempted to think that it’s your child, your wife, your colleague, your neighbor, somebody in the church. I’ve said everything to them I know to say. It didn’t work. Don’t go there. Say it again. Say it again. Say the gospel again. Say it right into their eyes again. Say it again. For example, you think, “I got to have something new.” You don’t have to have anything new. Just say it again. This time, this moment appointed, eyeball to eyeball, say the gospel again and then again.
So I knelt down yesterday morning to pray about this conference and for some reason, longing, needing something for my soul, I reached for a book by my dad, a bunch of books by my dad. He’s gone. He published little books by himself. Nobody wanted to publish my dad’s books. They’re just sermons. I flopped it open indiscriminately just to hear from my dad from heaven as it were. And I read this sentence, “Will you not be satisfied with the work of Christ, which was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God?”
That’s not news to me. It was just like a thunder clap from the Lord. That moment, my father spoke to me. Why? Why that moment? I don’t know why. Do that for somebody. Just say the gospel again today, eyeball to eyeball. And that’s what I would say. Just keep saying truth into people’s lives. Why God chooses to answer the 500th prayer and not the 499th? I don’t know. Just speak the 500th word and see what happens. Say it the 500th time to the person you love. We only have the word in prayer ultimately, and we just need to keep saying it.