What’s the Goal of Our Union with Christ?
Welcome back to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast. We talked about the sonship theme with Don Carson on Friday. And, Pastor John, a lot of people emphasize who we are in Christ as an important way to overcome our personal discouragements and triumph over sin and walk in the fullness of joy. But in your ministry over the years, you seem to strike a different note. You talk about God being the gospel, or about enjoying God as the ultimate happiness. So how do you work with these two categories of (1) our identity in Christ, and (2) our enjoyment of God himself?
It is a great truth that who we are in Christ is often the motif of counselors to help liberate people. I think that is great to help liberate people who are stuck in bondage to sin and depression and dysfunctional relationships, and we want to help them. Do you know who you are in Christ? I think that is great as far as it goes. We are perfect in Christ. We are loved in Christ. We are accepted in Christ. We are, yes, enjoyed by God in Christ, and by God’s Spirit we are becoming in practice, in reality what we are in principle in Christ, more and more beautiful like Christ. I don’t want to underplay those unspeakable truths at all.
“By God’s Spirit we are becoming in practice, in reality what we are in principle in Christ.”
The question for me is: Is that the ultimate goal of our salvation? And the answer, I think, is no. Those things are true of us so that we may be freed from the despair of damnation and from the paralysis of despair, and so have capacities suitable to approach and behold and enjoy God fully. Who we are in Christ is a means, not an end. All of it that happens to us and in us is meant to fit us to make God our all-satisfying end. Everything that happens to us, everything that happens in us for good, giving us a kind of identity, all of it is designed to make us the kind of beings who can see and enjoy God perfectly.
The tragic thing about modern self-oriented life, popular thinking, counseling, preaching, education, entertainment is that it all leaves us without our ultimate treasure, our ultimate reason for being; namely, to know and understand and perceive and experience and delight in God himself. God is subtly treated as a means to what we really, finally want; namely, I want to be something. I want to be someone.
“Who we are in Christ is a means, not an end. God is our all-satisfying end.”
Now, this was really helpful for me to see. I am able to affirm the whole Scripture, I think, that speaks of who we are in Christ and delight in the truth of it. But if I stop there or if we stop there, I think we treat the end or the final goal of redemption or the ultimate thing in which we rejoice as something less than God; namely, our own becoming — and we become idolaters. So, the crucial question for me is: Where is my finally happiness? The way I asked it one time at a Passion conference was: What is the bottom of your joy? Is it being something or someone, or is it God — seeing and knowing and admiring and enjoying God?
One of them does not cancel out the other. That is so crucial to say. I don’t want anyone to hear me say that I am canceling out the preciousness or the importance of becoming or being. It is a glorious truth that we will be like Christ, that we will share his glory, that we will “shine like the sun,” Jesus said, “in the kingdom of [our] Father” (Matthew 13:43). We will sit on the throne with Jesus (Revelation 3:21). We will rule the nations. We are going to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). You can’t say anything greater about us, except to call us God, which the Bible is not going to do.
All of this is true and gloriously true and has not been revealed to make us sad. Now, we shouldn’t read those statements and say: Well, yeah, John Piper said not to get too excited about those. Are you kidding me? You haven’t begun to feel as excited as you should be that one day you are going to judge angels. One day you are going to rule nations and sit on the throne with Jesus and shine like the sun. Your emotions haven’t even begun to rise to the point of excitement about those things.
“Is God the ultimate and sweetest ground of my joy?”
But the question is: Is that the sweetest ground of my joy, or is God the ultimate and sweetest ground of my joy? And I think if we get them backwards, we are going to hurt ourselves and not just dishonor God. Our souls are not made to find ultimate joy in the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). C. S. Lewis wrote a great sermon about that called “The Weight of Glory.” And I want to say, Amen! To hear those words will be tremendous, I am sure. Few things will make me cry like those words. That anybody could regard John Piper’s paltry ministry and service of the King of kings as well done will be beyond measure in value.
“Glorification is being what we must be in order to maximally enjoy God in the fullest way forever.”
Except for one thing: We are not made to find ultimate joy in being glorious, in having done a great job. We are made to find ultimate joy in God. God is the infinite value in the universe. Nothing rises to the level of God’s worth. We were made to see and savor ultimate worth. All of the glorious things in us ultimately fit us for that. That is what glorification is. I will say that again. That is what glorification is, being what we must be in order to maximally enjoy God in the fullest way forever.