A podcast listener named Kent writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I have a question about word choice in your motto: ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’ I know you’ve thought and prayed extensively about each word to convey the proper message, but I’m wondering why you didn’t choose the word ‘Christ’ in place of ‘God’ or ‘Him.’ What I like most about your ministry is that Christ is central to everything you preach and there’s no confusing the God you glorify with any other god of this world. But without using Christ, the above phrase loses specificity and could be referring to a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other god. Why not include Christ?”
Well, I am always happy and eager to clarify the meaning of my favorite slogan: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. So let me make four very brief comments and congratulate Kent. I mean, I just totally agree with what he is saying and maybe this will give him perspective on how I think.
1) I very often in speaking do use the name “Christ” and I often say, “Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” And I do this because of Philippians 1:20–21 where Paul says his “eager expectation and hope is that Christ would be magnified in [his] body, whether by life or death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” And I argue from the very structure of that text that fundamental to my Christian Hedonism is that Christ and his magnificence is shown by Paul’s counting him an all-satisfying gain when he loses everything and dies. So yes, yes, yes. At the very root of my slogan is a text that makes Christ the center of it.
2) When I say “God,” I have in mind the trinitarian God usually — God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t mean to say God instead of Christ when I say “God is most glorified in us . . . ”
3) This is maybe the most unusual point. Often in the New Testament, the word “God” is used as shorthand for God the Father, and there is a certain priority given to the Father in relation to the Son which might warrant the prominence of the word God in the slogan. Here is what I am thinking about: Philippians 2:9–11 says, “Therefore God has highly exalted [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, [then!] to the glory of God the Father.” So the exaltation of Jesus over every name is for the glory of God. You see the kind of ultimacy or priority given to God the Father in that text.
Or consider 1 Corinthians 15:28: “When all things are subjected to [Christ], then the Son himself will be subjected to him [the Father] who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” There is another kind of prioritization or “ultimization” — making God the Father ultimate.
And one last text: Philippians 1:9–11 says, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” So see the structure again from chapter two. It is in a profound sense right for us to think of God the Father as the one for whom Christ has accomplished all his work, not at all minimizing the ultimacy of Christ’s glory as the perfect image of the Father’s radiance.
4) This may be the reason why years and years ago I started saying God instead of Christ. In common parlance in the world and in the broad church — not necessarily just evangelical — the word “God” sounds more all-encompassing and ultimate than Christ. Now rightly understood that is not true. That shouldn’t be. Jesus is Lord of all. But in ordinary public language, if you want to say something that sounds global, or universal or cutting across all groupings and all religious enclaves, God-statements have that effect more than Christ-statements or Jesus-statements. And so it just depends on what is the context, who is your audience, what kind of connotation do you want the statement to have?
5) Finally I agree with Kent. He is right that in our day of religious pluralism, especially the prominence of Islam, the prominence of Christ needs to be highlighted more often than it used to be. So I think in recent years, I have felt exactly what Kent has felt and I have tried, and perhaps now his question will help me try to be more explicit and clear that the glory I am talking about is the glory of Christ as the great expression of the glory of God.
So let’s be alert to our audiences. Let’s give Christ the honor due his name. And sometimes say God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, and sometimes clarify explicitly that Christ is most magnified or glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, just as Paul teaches in Philippians 1:20.