We all need saving — we know that much. But what are we saved for? This question of why we are saved is essential and important, and it was a question John Piper tackled in a message titled “Created for Joy,” preached at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. back in 2002. Here’s what Pastor John said:
Gospel is good news about something, but it doesn’t say what the good news is. So it is not adequate to simply say, “Christians believe gospel.” That doesn’t say anything. That doesn’t tell you anything. It is just that — a zero. Good news about what? So you could add, “. . . good news about forgiveness of sins against God who created the universe and who is angry with us because we have offended him so badly and have fallen short of what we were created to be in his image. And so there is righteous wrath against us, yet we can be forgiven.” And that would be our gospel.
But if you analyze the word forgiveness, somebody could say, “Well, so what? Who cares about being forgiven?” Forgiveness in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. The only value forgiveness has is if there is a relationship that has been wrecked and you really, really want to have it restored, because the restoration would be so pleasant to you. And so forgiveness in and of itself is about relationships.
For example, if I say something really crabby to my wife when I wake up in the morning and she is offended and I am feeling angry and I walk out of the room and go down to the kitchen and she is in the kitchen standing at the sink and I am over there pouring my cereal and there is ice in the air, I know what needs to happen. I need to be forgiven and I need to ask for forgiveness. Why? I want her back, right? When I walk over to the sink and kiss her on the back of the neck, I don’t want her to jerk away and walk out of the room. I would like her to turn around and reciprocate.
So the only value that forgiveness has is to get my wife back. Therefore gospel by itself doesn’t say anything. It just leaves us somewhere. It’s good news about what? You say, “forgiveness,” but that doesn’t mean anything because it is all about what forgiveness opens the door to. So we have to go further and say, “What does it open the door to? What does Christianity say this thing called forgiveness opens the door to?” And then you could use another nice Christian word called “salvation” or “saved,” that doesn’t tell us anything either. Saved from what and for what? It is just an empty word.
You see how amazing these words are. They don’t say much. You have to press them and press them and press them until you arrive at something that sounds good. And they don’t sound good yet. I mean, saved sounds sort of good, but you don’t know what you are saved from or what you are saved for. So let’s say we are saved from wrath, judgment, hell, condemnation — yes, good. Nobody wants to be condemned.
But for what? Maybe it would be, you could say, eternal life. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should have eternal life.” They say, “There. You could have life if you are forgiven.” And you say, “Well, maybe I don’t want it, because it might be boring. Endless boredom is not interesting to me.” And so even with the word life we haven’t gotten anywhere. Isn’t it amazing how many words we can use to describe Christianity without saying anything that sounds good to anybody?
So I have to say, “Saved for what?” And we can say, “Life.” And then I ask, “What kind of life? Where? With whom? Will I want this life? There are lives I don’t want to live.” Maybe the one you are living now you don’t want to live, which would be a very dangerous position for you to be in tonight. And I am glad you are here, because I would like to turn that around.
I am going to get my answer from an Old Testament passage of Scripture in the Psalms: “You, O God, show me the path of life. [And then it defines it like this.] In your presence is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And now you are talking language that sounds like good news: fullness of joy and pleasures that never end. Okay, okay.
Gospel might not have meant very much. Forgiveness might not have meant very much. Saved might not have meant very much. Life might not have meant very much. But pleasure, I want that. Joy that is full and never ending. Do you see those two modifiers? Full does not mean 90% proof, but 100% proof — pleasure, joy. And then everlasting means that it never comes to an end. I am not interested in your offer of 800 years of pleasure. No, thank you. I want it to last forever.
If this text is true — that’s a big if, right? — if Psalm 16:11 is true, the one place such pleasure and joy can be found is in God. And Jesus Christ — Christianity — teaches that the gospel is: Jesus Christ came into the world to die in the place of sinners so that we could be forgiven and so that we could be saved from God’s wrath for that life which is everlasting and ever-increasing pleasure in his presence.
Now I grew up in a home with a dad who was a believer who prayed every night, and I learned from him to pray that God would be glorified in all things, which creates a problem for me now with this particular train of thought. Because here I have arrived at a point where it looks like I am saying the gospel is all about my joy. And my dad prayed in a way that taught me the gospel is all about God’s glory — his beauty, his power, his justice, his truth, his goodness, his mercy. It is all about making much of him, lifting him up, honoring him, worshiping him.
So now I have got my heart longing for this joy over here and the Bible saying the end of all gospel, salvation, forgiveness, and life is pleasures at God’s right hand. And I have got these other passages of Scripture over here that say, “You are created for his glory. Everything is for his glory.” In other words, you are to show how great he is and to magnify him. Now here is my discovery and I learned it indirectly from the Bible through Jonathan Edwards who lived 250 years ago. And my way of saying it is this, in order to bring these two together: God is most glorified — honored, praised, made much of — God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.