Happy Monday, everyone! Welcome back and thank you for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast. Pastor John joins us today remotely over Skype. Our question today comes from a listener named Sam, who lives in Los Angeles. He sent in a really short question, but an important one. “Dear Pastor John, what do you love most about God?” That’s it. Pastor John, what do you love most about God?
In a sense, to answer this question authentically, I probably ought not spend any great time theologizing, studying, doing exegesis, or assessing God’s attributes. I ought to simply blurt out — just blurt out — what I feel about God, what I really treasure about him and value and admire. Wouldn’t that be the most authentic answer to the question “What do I love about God?” rather than some long-studied, complicated, fill-up-an-APJ, theological answer? And I think the answer to that question is yes, that’s right. So, that’s where I’ll start.
Flavored with Grace
My first, most visceral, immediate, heartfelt answer to the question is this: I love the grace of God.
- I love the mercy of God.
- I love being loved by God.
- I love being treated graciously and kindly and patiently by God.
- I love being accepted and forgiven by God.
- I love God’s grace toward me.
Piper: “I hope to be spending the rest of eternity knowing and loving all of God’s excellencies better and better.”
I think all of those statements I just tumbled out there are ways of saying that the grace of God is very, very, very precious to me. I would be undone without a God of grace. Late at night, early in the morning, facing conflict, facing guilt feelings, facing judgment from him — ultimately, possibly — or from critical people, facing the world, I would be undone without the grace of God. It is on the front burner of my affections for God all of the time. Even when I’m thinking about all kinds of other attributes of God or ways of God, they’re all flavored with the grace of God.
So, that’s my most visceral, heartfelt, unreflective, immediate, desperate response to the question of what I love most about God.
Love the True God
But the reason I said that answering this way is in a sense the right way to answer this question is that there’s another sense in which the Bible encourages us not just to speak from our inmost or most immediate perception of things, but to ponder — in the light of God’s word and in the light of God’s action — what we mean by what we most immediately say, and whether there might be contained in this immediate response aspects of God’s grace and mercy and kindness that need to be made explicit for the sake of our own souls, as well as for the sake of others, lest we fail to honor God as we ought, and lest we subconsciously find ourselves loving not God supremely, but our own selves.
There are numerous instances in the Bible where people showed some measure of spontaneous devotion to God. And then when God said something or did something that they didn’t like, their devotion evaporated, which means that what they said was love for God wasn’t really love for the true God, but only a love for their imagined God, their picture of God. And then the real God does something out of step with their expectations, and their love is gone. Now, that love was not really love for God.
So, even though it’s right — and I’m going to say it again — for me to give a spontaneous, heartfelt, visceral, gut reaction to what I love most about God, every person who lives under the authority of the Bible, including me, will want to discern from the true, real God revealed in the Bible whether what I’m saying corresponds to reality. Is God really like what I say I love about him? And is my heart so much attuned to the true God that no matter what he reveals about himself, I will still be totally committed to him, and in love with him, and valuing him, and treasuring him, and cherishing him, and being satisfied in him? Then, with the Bible’s help, I’ll know that I love the true God, and not just a figment of my own religious imagination.
The Greatest Gift of Grace
So, what John Piper needs to do, having given his immediate, heartfelt answer — “I love the grace of God toward me in Jesus” — is ask, “Piper, what do you mean by ‘the grace of God’? If you love that most, you should have some sense of what you’re talking about. Or are those just empty words?”
And my answer (now I’m doing the reflective thing: testing my guts and my spontaneity) would be this: God’s grace is his disposition and action to give the greatest possible blessing to the least deserving creatures at the greatest cost. That’s my definition of God’s grace.
The cost is the suffering and death of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:32: “He . . . did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.”
The least deserving creatures are human beings — me — who have desecrated God’s glory by committing treason in preferring other things above God. Romans 5:6–8 says, “Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The greatest possible blessing purchased at the greatest cost for the least deserving is . . . Think to yourself, Now, what’s that? And at this point we are at the most critical juncture. How shall we state the greatest possible blessing that grace gives to the least deserving recipients like me? And it won’t work to say, “Well, the greatest possible gift of God’s grace is grace.” That’s just talking in circles; that’s not going to answer the question.
So, you can see why it’s an inadequate answer when John Piper says that the greatest thing I love about God is his grace until I’ve answered the question, What’s the greatest blessing that God’s grace has given to me in treating me so much better than I deserve at the cost of his Son’s life? To love the grace of God in a way that honors God is to love grace because of the specific content of the blessing given by the grace of God — namely, God. The greatest gift grace gives is God for our eternal friendship and enjoyment.
1 Peter 3:18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
Romans 5:10: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
The grace John Piper says he loves about God is not the grace of God unless the capstone of that grace is the gift of God himself. And the love that I say I have for that grace is not a love for God unless what I love most about the grace is that it brings me to God.
And I think this is why, in Ephesians 1, Paul says that the eternal election of God and his predestination and his planned adoption of redeemed people through Christ, all according to the good pleasure of his will, has as its ultimate goal “the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). And that glory, the glory of grace, is the beauty of how all the attributes of the eternal God — his goodness, his righteousness, his unimpeachable justice, his unfathomable wisdom, his omnipotent power, all that he is in his God-ness and his holiness — how all of that unites, fits together beautifully, to plan and perform creation and redemption in a way that magnifies the capstone of his deity — namely, the glory of his grace.
“The greatest gift grace gives is God for our eternal friendship and enjoyment.”
In other words, the eternal excellencies of God give rise to the wise ways of God, for the praise of the glory of the grace of God, so that when we say we love the grace of God, we ought to mean that we have some sense of those eternal excellencies and those wise ways of God.
All of which brings me back to where I began: I love the grace of God, which now means
- I love that he’s the kind of God who didn’t spare his own Son.
- I love that he’s the kind of God who justifies the ungodly.
- I love that he’s the kind of God that gives to the least deserving the greatest blessing — namely, himself.
And I hope to be spending the rest of eternity knowing and loving all of his excellencies better and better.