What does it mean to be loved infinitely? That’s the answer we are after today. And to get the answer, we must first understand that God, for a time, passed over sin. He simply passed over it. He didn’t bring final judgment on sinners in real time. He would deal with sin finally, but only later, in the cross. Meanwhile, in the thousands of years of human history prior to the cross, God would show his forbearance.
We read about this in Romans 3:23–26, where Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” This text is loaded with theology and meaning. And it answers this question of what it means to be loved infinitely. Here now is John Piper preaching in Austin, Texas, on January 1, 1998, to explain.
The problem is that God passed over sins. He just passed over them. Let me give you another illustration, and I’ll just make this one up.
Suppose there are anarchists who, in their shrewdness and their technological prowess, want to blow up the White House and kill the president, and blow up his cabinet and kill all the leaders, and throw America into chaos. But owing to some very careful counterespionage, they are detected in the last minute, and there’s an averting, and the part of the White House that blows up does not have the president in it. He escapes, but many others die. And these anarchists are found. Most of them are kept alive as the machine guns settle down, and they’re brought to trial for treason, the highest crime in the American constitution.
“Jesus and his name and his glory and his worth are my only hope of right standing with a holy Judge.”
Now, all the nations are watching, just as all the nations are watching or will be watching someday as God goes onto the throne as Judge, and the nations are gathered before him. What would it say if the panel of judges said, “Well, since this is your only time being caught like this, we’ll let you all go — in fact, we’ll clothe you, and we’ll provide you vacations, and (if you really want to ruin the analogy) eternal happiness”? What would the nations say about the esteem with which we hold our president? It would say we don’t value him very highly, and the security and coherence of this government is not a big deal to us.
And that’s what it would say about God, if he can just forgive you and let bygones be bygones and act as if nothing happened. But that’s not what happened.
He did not spare, but rather he put his Son forward to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over sins previously committed. It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous.
But God could have done it another way. He could have sent all of us to hell, and the score would have been even. An eternal suffering would have been an even score to sin, because sin committed against an infinitely holy God is an infinitely heinous act and, therefore, deserves an infinitely long and painful suffering.
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). And therefore, there is between God and hell a Mediator and a Savior. And God, in crucifying his Son, vindicated his glory for all who will hide in this Jesus and say, “Jesus and his name and his glory and his worth are my only hope of right standing with a holy Judge.”
Center of Salvation
The foundation of your salvation is God’s love for his glory. God wants you saved, but he wants something more than that. He wants his name to be honored. He wants his righteousness to be vindicated. He wants his holiness to be established, and thus it cost him his Son to preserve the glory of his name in saving sinners.
Is this love? Is a God-centered crucifixion loving toward me, or only toward God? The question betrays a worldly mindset. Do you know why? It assumes that, for us to be loved, God must make us the center. Check yourself here. Right here, the message is coming down. It’s coming down to a test in your heart. When you look at the cross, do you love the cross because it makes much of you, or because it enables you, an ungodly person, to enjoy making much of God?
“Do you love the cross because it makes much of you, or because it enables you to enjoy making much of God?”
I wish I could make this land on you, because if you were to agree that the point of the cross is not to make much of you, but to enable you, in spite of hell-deserving sin, to enjoy an eternity of making much of God — if you agree with that — you will be so out of step with this culture that you will scarcely be able to watch television without weeping. You will scarcely be able to sit in secular university classrooms without breaking inside at the almost universal assumption that makes nonsense out of the cross.
So, test yourself here. I plead with you because evangelical Christianity is profoundly contaminated with this mindset. Book after book, message after message, makes the cross an echo of my excellence, and thus makes it unintelligible for what it really is.
I believe that the love of God comes to its apex in the cross of Jesus for me and you because I define the love of God for me as that act by which, in spite of all my sin, he takes me and makes me able to enjoy infinitely his making much of God. That is what love is, which is why many of you need to be drenched with the love of God right now in a way vastly different than you thought when you were singing those songs. Because you’ve been taught all your life long that self-esteem is the bottom line of all virtue and all health and the essence of being loved. And it is not. It is God-esteem.
Why do you go to the Grand Canyon? Why do you go to the Alps? Do you really go to the glories of creation to see how great you are? Tell me about it, as you stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon. You go there because you were made to see, behold, and enjoy greatness. And the Grand Canyon is nothing compared to God. You were made for God, and you will find yourself loved when you awaken to the truth that to be loved infinitely is to be forgiven, cleansed, and enabled to see and to feel the wonder that God makes much of God.