I feel honored and humbled and exposed as a speaker to the American Association of Christian Counselors. I assume that of all the audiences in the world, you are the ones who can see right through a speaker. I take that to be a good thing. It forces the issue of hypocrisy. It makes real for me at the horizontal level what is always true vertically. God always knows if we are hypocrites. So it’s good to be among people who make us feel emotionally naked. It’s a wake up call from the dangers of pretense.
I Love God’s Grace
So to spare you some analysis, I will tell you that you are listening to a sinner. A man
- who must crucify the love of praise every day;
- who struggles with the same adolescent fear at age 63 that he had at 15, the fear of looking foolish;
- who is prone to feel self-pity and pout when he doesn’t get loved the way he wants;
- who is almost never sure he has used his time in the best way and therefore struggles with guilt;
- who is short on compassion and long on critical analysis;
- who can freeze up emotionally when he’s tired, and feel instinctively that it’s someone else’s fault;
- who loves to praise God in the great assembly and feels a constraint on his spirit in his own living room;
- who has loved his wife of forty years imperfectly and spent with her over three of those years with a Christian counselor trying to become better images of Christ and the church;
- and who never feels sure that his motives are pure, including right now, for why he is telling you all this.
At one level, I want you to be open to what I have to say, and I thought that being open with you might help you be open to me. At another level, a better one I hope, I want you to see why I love the grace of God. He has infinite warrant to throw me away. And he hasn’t done it. So the theme of this conference, Grace and Truth, is very precious to me. “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (Psalm 63:3)
So I would like to pause here and thank him and ask for his help.
Father, thank you for sending Christ into the world to die for us and to rise and reign and come for us so that we might see his glory. Thank you for the grace of your patience, and I ask for your help now to serve these Christian sages well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A Shift from “Power” to “Glory”
Before I take you to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, let me try to show you how the text of the conference, John 1:14, relates to my point tonight. I’ve shifted my focus from what I announced. I announced “The Immeasurable Power of Grace.” My focus has shifted from the power of grace to the glory of grace. If I were to choose my title today, it would be: “Beholding Glory and Becoming Whole: Seeing and Savoring God as the Heart of Mental Health.”
Here’s my point in a nutshell from John 1:14-16, the text for the conference theme Grace and Truth.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
What John stresses here is that when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world, those who had eyes to see saw divine glory: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son form the Father.” Many did not see it. This is why Jesus said, “Seeing they do not see” (Matthew 13:13); and why he said to Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
But those with eyes to see saw the glory of the Son. And John says it was a glory full of grace and truth — hence the theme of the conference. “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Then he makes the connection between that fullness and our lives. He says in John 1:16, “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” We saw his glory full of grace and truth, and that fullness has overflowed to us with grace upon grace. And I would only add the conviction that this grace — this powerful transforming divine grace — comes to us precisely through seeing the glory of the Son of God. We beheld his glory full of grace, and in that beholding we received grace upon grace.
Or another way to say it is that the life-changing power of grace that comes to us from Christ’s fullness comes along the beam — the ray — of glory that shines from him into our hearts. And this is how all Christ-exalting transformation happens — whether people can articulate it or not. To use the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Hence my title: “Beholding Glory and Becoming Whole.”
That’s the point in a nutshell from the conference text in John 1:14 and 16. But to see the point more fully, and to see the point of the subtitle (“Seeing And Savoring God as the Heart of Mental Health”), we turn to Ephesians.
God’s Ultimate Purpose
Ephesians 1:4–6 takes us from eternity past to eternity future — from the cause of all things to the goal of all things. I am especially interested in the goal of all things. Why has God created the universe, permitted the Fall, planned redemption, sent his Son, founded the church, guided history? Here is his answer:
God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace.
This is the most ultimate statement in the book of Ephesians. The reason for election. The reason for holiness and blamelessness. The reason for predestination and adoption. The reason for bringing all this to pass “through Jesus Christ” is “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” (That is a more literal translation than “to the praise of his glorious grace.”)
Made to Praise the Glory of His Grace
God has done everything with a view to one great end — namely, that the glory of his grace should be praised by innumerable redeemed human beings. You, and everybody you counsel, were made by God to praise him. More specifically, you were made to praise his glory. And more specific yet, you were made to praise the glory of his grace.
He says it two more times in this chapter. Verse 12: “So that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” So this is why we exist: We exist to praise the glory of God. Then verse 14: “The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Our final inheritance is this: that we will see the glory of God and praise him for it. We will see his glory, savor his glory, and show his glory.
The Heart of Mental Health
This is why we were created. This goes to the heart of what it means for us to be fully human and for God to be fully honored. And the amazing thing is that the two happen together. They happen in the same act. God is profoundly honored and glorified in the very act of our being profoundly completed and satisfied in him. God exists to be glorious. We exist to see glory — and savor that glory, and to give it expression in praise.
That is the ultimate goal of redemption, and so I take it to be a statement about the ultimate meaning of human wholeness. If praising God’s glory is our final destiny, then seeing and savoring and praising God’s glory must be at the heart of what it means to be fully human. Seeing and savoring God is, therefore, the heart of mental health.
Praise Is Not a Means to Anything
C.S. Lewis argued in his Reflections on the Psalms that there is a pointer to this truth in all human praise.
The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or any thing — strangely escaped me. . . . I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.1
The point of my message is not that praise is a technique for becoming healthy. Authentic, heartfelt, truth-based praise can’t be a technique. It can’t, in its very nature, be performed as a means to anything. It is an end in itself. A man can’t say to his wife, “I delight in you so that you will make me my favorite supper.” And he can’t say, “I praise you, so that I can become a healthy person.” That’s not praise. That’s performance. So my point is not that praise produces anything. It’s not a technique for anything. Authentic, heartfelt, truth-based, God-centered praise is the mark of mental health, not a means to mental health.
Beholding Glory, Becoming Whole
My point is that praising the glory of God’s grace is the apex of human wholeness, not the pursuit of it. Praising the glory of God’s grace is the all-satisfying goal of human existence, not how you get there. And seeing that glory in the person and work of Jesus is the way this grace — this “grace upon grace,” this grace of wholeness — comes into our broken lives. Beholding glory, we are becoming whole.
“We beheld his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” By beholding the glory of God’s grace, we receive, down that beam of glory, the grace of savoring the glory of God and treasuring the glory of God and being satisfied in the glory of God, and praising the glory of God, and therefore being transformed by the glory of God’s grace. “Beholding the glory of the Lord we are being changed into his image from one degree of glory to the next” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Huge Implications for Counseling
Now there are huge implications for counseling if this understanding of God’s ultimate purpose and our human nature is true. First is the way we understand the love of God for us.
1. The Way We Understand the Love of God for Us
What does it mean ultimately for God to love us, if our wholeness reaches its apex in the praise of the glory of his grace? It means that he will relentlessly pursue our praise. It means that Christ laid down his life to display the glory of God’s grace and to enthrall us with himself. God’s love means that he will open our blind eyes and revive our dead hearts so that we see and savor the riches of his glory forever. In other words, God’s love labors to display God to us, because seeing and savoring and praising God is the apex of our wholeness, and the heart of our mental health.
Paul makes the connection between the love of God and the display of his glory in Ephesians 2:4–7. Watch what the love of God moves to do in these verses.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
This word “show” (in the phrase “show [Greek endeixetai] the immeasurable riches of his grace”) doesn’t merely mean to treat with grace and kindness. It means to manifest, display, put forth, demonstrate, prove. It’s a put-on-display word. The point is that we are made and destined “for the praise of the glory of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:6), and therefore God is going to spend eternity displaying for us more and more of the riches of that glory to satisfy our ever-growing capacities to see it and savor it and praise it.
And Paul calls this “the great love of God.” Verse 4: “Because of the great love with which he loved us,” he made us alive and opened our eyes and will be showing us more and more of his glory in the coming ages. This is “the great love of God” — the ever-increasing gift of himself to be known and praised forever. Since seeing and savoring God is the heart of mental health, and beholding God is the way we become whole. The love of God is not his making much of us, but his doing everything necessary so that we will enjoy making much of him forever.
Which leads the second implication, namely, what it means to feel loved by God.
2. What It Means to Feel Loved by God
This may seem obvious, but my concern is that in preaching and in counseling we are always drifting away from the spiritually obvious to the naturally desirable — especially if the naturally desirable “works.” We are spring-loaded in our sin to feel loved only if God endorses our desire to be made much of. Almost every human being loves to be made much of. And when it happens, we feel that we are being loved. How could something so pleasing not be love?
Here is the devastating warning from Jonathan Edwards 250 years ago:
True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures. . . . But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice . . . that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them. 2
This is my concern. Do we make clear to people over and over again that yes, they should feel loved because Christ died for them; and yes, they should feel loved because they are undeserving and he loves them anyway; and yes, they should feel loved because their sins are forgiven and God’s wrath is removed through Christ; but to what end? Died for while undeserving. Forgiven. Wrath removed. But to what end?
And just at this point, I wonder if many of our people are left thinking that what it means to be loved by God simply that he affirms their desire to be made much of. “Christ died for me to make much of me. He rescued me while undeserving to make much of me. He forgave me to make much of me. He removed his wrath to make much of me.” Oh how gloriously good this feels! What a precious gospel! And it’s all merely natural. There’s nothing supernatural about it. It looks like recovery and healing! It works. But at root, it is not “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” It’s all to the praise of the glory of his affirmation of me.
So my second implication is that feeling loved by God means feeling glad that God not only crushed his Son for me, but that he is now crushing every vestige of desire in my life that competes with the pleasure of the praise of the glory of his grace.
Which leads us to one last implication in closing. This transforming experience of being loved by God with his God-centered love is so unnatural to fallen humans, it takes supernatural power everyday to experience it.
3. God’s Love Takes Supernatural Power to Experience
And so Paul shows us that the only way of hope in counseling and in preaching and in life is prayer for this daily miracle. In Ephesians 1:17–18, he prays,
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory [don’t miss this title!], may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him [he is praying that we be able supernaturally to know — to see and savor — the Father of glory], having the eyes of your hearts enlightened [he is praying for supernatural, spiritual sight, not natural sight], that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, [and what is that hope? Namely,] what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints.
“The immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” in the coming ages is an inheritance (2:7), and Paul prays that we would know it. There is only one hope for Christ-exalting transformation in our preaching and our counseling — the supernatural work of God giving us eyes to see and hearts to savor the all-satisfying beauty of the glory of the grace of God. When that happens, our obsession with self will be broken, and beholding the glory of the Lord, we will be changed into his image from one degree of glory to the next.