I gave this the title Being loved by God for God’s sake, and the question I’m posing there is, “What does it mean to be loved by God?” I think you would probably say that’s not a hard question because the Bible has some really clear verses on it. For example, you might go to Romans 5:6–8 and say:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So, that’s not a hard question, you might say. There it is. That’s a really clear definition. God shows his love for us. While we were yet sinners, his Son died for us.
Loved by God for God’s Sake
But why is that love? Why is that good for you? What good comes to you because of that? It’s not clear that God’s Son dying for you yields anything good for you. It doesn’t say anything in the verse about what it gives you. So if you just stop there and say, “That’s love,” I would say, “Why? What good is coming to you?” And you might roll your eyes and say, “That’s really easy. The forgiveness of sins was purchased there. The removal of guilt was purchased there. Imputed righteousness was purchased there. Eternal life was obtained there. Hell was escaped there.”
To which I would respond, “So why is any of that love? What’s good for you in that? What’s good for you? What’s the good for you in that?” And it’s the answer to that question that creates the great divide, I think, in evangelicalism, between whether God is at the center of that answer or you’re at the center of that answer. What’s good about being forgiven? What’s good about having your guilt taken away? Would you answer, “I don’t like going to bed at night feeling guilty. I would feel much better if I didn’t have so many guilty feelings. So when the cross takes away my guilty feelings, I feel loved”? That’s not a good answer.
Or what if you said, “Who wants to go to hell? I mean, it’s horrible. And therefore, if I can be rescued from hell by the death of Jesus, then I feel loved. That’s love that I would be brought out of hell.” Why? Is it just endless virgins in paradise, so you can love all the sex you want and just not have hell? Is it that you can have endless golf? That would be a kind of hell for me, maybe not you. Is it about surfing, or playing ultimate frisbee on the greenest grass forever at 60 degrees with no humidity and no hell? Is it just that and I am loved? Is that the answer?
That’s a lousy answer. In other words, all this Bible talk that he died for us, he forgave our sins, he took away our guilt, he provided alien righteousness to us, he got us out of hell, and he got us into eternal life does not answer the question biblically of what it means to be loved by God, because you can explain all of those and put yourself square at the center and redefine biblical love, God’s love, in a way that it is not. So, what is it? That’s the question.
Brought to God
Here’s one verse that points to it. First Peter 3:18 says:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . .
I’m out of hell to go to God. I’m into life to go to God. My sins are forgiven so that every barrier between me and God would be removed. I have an alien righteousness so that I can be accepted by God — so that I can see God, savor God, know God, love God, cherish God, and be satisfied in God. If you don’t answer the question of being loved in a way that says, “It’s for God’s sake that I’m loved,” you don’t answer it biblically.
Now, that creates a huge problem for a lot of people, a huge stumbling block. Because here’s the implication, and you have to wear this, own this, love this, and not stumble over it. This means that all the designs of God to love you are designed to exalt himself. Every millisecond and every bit of energy that God invests in loving you is aimed at exalting himself. And the stumbling block is, that doesn’t sound like love to a lot of people.
Accusations Against the Almighty
I cut out one article here from the London Financial Times by Michael Prowse, who was reviewing a book. It begins like this:
Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect god would surely have no character defects, so why are all these people on their knees every Sunday?
This is the epitome of blasphemy, because he takes the central biblical truth that God does absolutely everything in loving us for his glory, and says, “That’s a character defect.” And you feel that it is, because if you were to live that way it would be a character defect. If John Piper came behind this little pulpit here and said, “Now, my goal today is that when I’m done, I would be extolled above all treasures in your life — me,” you would compute that I’m either sick, or wicked, or tricking you.
And God does that precisely. That’s what he does. If he was standing behind this pulpit, he would say, “I have one goal for you: me.” And we would not call it — oh, I pray that at Azusa Pacific would not — a character defect in the Almighty. In everything God does he is magnifying himself. He is looking into every one of your eyes and saying, “It’s all about me,” and I pray you do not call that a character defect. But can you call it love for you? That’s the issue.
To the Praise of His Glory
Can you call it love for you? I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life, trying to figure out those two massive realities in the Bible. I cannot escape that God does everything for his glory. Ephesians 1:5–6 says that he predestined us through Jesus Christ unto adoption, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his own glory.
Isaiah 43:6–7 says:
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory . . .
Matthew 5:16 says:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Isaiah 48:9–11 says:
For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
God is radically God-centered. His passion for his own glory is unbounded.
The question is, how is that love to me? The reason we can’t get it so easily is that we’ve so embraced the world’s conceptions of what it means to be loved. What it means to be loved in America today is to be made much of. We think, “If you make me feel central, make me feel significant, make me feel valued, make my worth the center of your life, then I will feel loved.” You all breathe that air. The Bible vision of being loved is not being made much of by God, but rather being freed by God from bondage to that craving to enjoy making much of him forever. Test yourself. Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or because he frees you at the cost of his Son’s life to enjoy making much of him forever?
The Love and Glory of God
If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn with me to John 11:1–6, because there’s a little story in this chapter with a massive implication on this point, and it’s the one that has been gripping me for the last several years. I would like you to see it. Here’s the question we are asking: “Jesus, you and your Father seem to be in a conspiracy to get glory for each other. Where do I fit in? How is this passion for your own glory mean love to me?”
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.
So this is somebody who loved Jesus very much, and he had affections for her and that whole family. The passage continues:
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love (mark that word) is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God (we have both in front of us now — both love and glory), so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
I don’t know whether your version has it or not, but for all you Greek students the word starting John 11:6 is oun, which means so or therefore. It begins with a therefore, not a yet. John 11:6 says:
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Better Than Life
Now, that therefore at the beginning of verse six has a whole world in it. Let’s read it so you can see it again. They come and say, “He’s sick, Lord. He’s dying, the one whom you love. And you love us and you love him, and he’s dying.” Then John 11:5–6 says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, therefore he let him die.” That’s what it says, plain and simple. Read Don Carson’s commentary on this and you’ll see that oun taken very seriously.
Now, how do you make sense out of that? The whole world would rise up and say, “This is not what love does. Love doesn’t put people through a little personal Katrina.” Yes, it does. If something more loving can come out of it than to escape from death — namely, the revelation of the glory of God. John 11:4 says:
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God . . .”
Therefore, because he loved them, he let Lazarus die, so that the glory of God could be displayed, because the glory of God is more important than life. And if you want to love somebody, you don’t just keep them alive. There are teams going to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Pearlington, and Waveland. You’ve got teams going there. Why? If it isn’t ultimately about satisfying their souls everlastingly with God, you don’t love them. Preparing people for hell and keeping them comfortable on the way is not love. It’s not love for God, and it’s not love for you.
The goal in all of our loving, all of our getting arms around people — and we’ve got teams there too from Bethlehem — is that in the display of our good works they would glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Because if you leave them without the ultimate treasure, you’re not loving like God loves.
That They May See My Glory
Turn to John 17:1–5. This is even more amazing. The point of those six verses was this: In order to love us, God must display to us, for our own everlasting joy, the fullness of his glory, which is why it’s not a contradiction for God, in all the designs of his love, to be designing his self-exaltation. He is the only being in the universe for whom self exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act. If you copy him in this, you blaspheme. You cannot exalt yourself and call it love, because you’re not worth it. But he exalts himself and calls it love because he is worth it. He is the only treasure that will satisfy our souls. Therefore, he’s the one being that must be radically self-exalting as he is radically loving, because they’re the same.
Look at the beginning of this high priestly prayer. I assume with you that this is a loving prayer. May I assume that when Jesus prays for us, he is loving us in this chapter? He says he’s praying for us because in John 17:20 he says:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word . . .
That’s everybody in this room who’s a believer. This is a stunning chapter because it’s the one chapter in the Bible where Jesus says, “I’m praying for 21st century young people.” So, here’s what he prays. It blows you away. The first five verses are all about him, not you. John 17:1–5 says:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you (that’s the conspiracy I was talking about), since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
The Essence of Eternal Life
And we say, “Well, that starts sounding familiar. I know John 3:16. I know eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave only begotten Son that who believes in him may not perish, but have that. That’s love.” But look at the next verse. It says:
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).
In other words, Jesus is praying, “Glorify me that I may glorify you, because you gave me the power to produce eternal life, which is knowing that, seeing that, savoring that, and enjoying that forever. John 17:4–5 says:
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
Isn’t that a strange way to begin a prayer for you? You have to get this. You have to get this, because otherwise you will just think in the morass of 21st century, self-centered American evangelicalism.
When Jesus undertakes to pray for his own, he spends the first five verses saying, “Father, let’s glorify each other. Help me, Father. I’m coming through the cross, and now as I obey you in the cross, bring me out and give me the glory that I had with you before the world was.” That’s love for you. How so? John 17:24 puts it all together for us. He prays:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory . . .
It just doesn’t get any better, depending on whether you see it. Has Jesus become, for you, so satisfying in his glorious power, justice, wisdom, and love that being loved means being enabled to make much of his greatness to your own everlasting satisfaction? Or, does your heart still crave, in a kind of bondage, “I must be liked. I must be made much of. I must be central. People must recognize me or I don’t feel loved”? It will change everything in your life.
Meditating on the Glory of Christ
Let me end by recalling a book that I just looked at. I got a book in the mail that just was published. It’s the translation of Adolf Schlatter’s Kennen wir Jesus? — Do We Know Jesus?. I didn’t know this was going to be translated, because when I was in Germany 30 years ago I found the first edition of that old book written in 1937 by one of the Tiibingen scholars, Adolf Schlatter, who was a great old saint, and I began to use it for personal devotions. There’s a devotion for every day, and now it’s in English. But what I didn’t know, which came out in the introduction to this translation, was that this was the last book he wrote. He was 85 years old in 1937. Germany was entering into its most horrible period in history. He would die rather than see it. And he was writing this book, Do We Know Jesus?, meditating 365 meditations on gospel texts to strengthen his own heart as he moved towards death, as well as share it with others.
And then my mind linked up with John Owen, one of great heroes from the 1600s. Owen’s last book was called The Glory of Christ. He was working on The Glory of Christ as he was moving toward death. And it just clobbered me that there was an early 1900s old man and a 1600s old man getting ready to die. And what do they do? They cultivated meditation on the glories of Christ, because they knew and were feeling it, just like some of you who have perhaps a terminal disease right now feel how soon it’s going to be that you’re going to see him face to face. What will it be like? Will you have cultivated now a love that is not a being made much of, but a seeing and savoring and being satisfied with him? If not, what will you say?
Before the Everlasting King
How would you feel if tonight is your hour, and you stand before the everlasting King after you spent all your time trying to get loved in the man-centered way of, “Make much of me, make much of me,” instead of, “Oh, that I might make much of you, be satisfied in you, delight in you, and see the glory that you died to purchase for me?” I hope that you don’t wait until you’re 60, like me, or 80, like Adolf Schlatter, to begin to meditate on the glories of Christ, which to exalt is to be loved.
Here are the three things that will happen in your life if you catch on to what I’m saying: Number one: The root of all sin will be severed, namely pride. It is a great liberty to be freed from yourself. It is a great Liberty.
Number two: You will be fitted to love other people, because loving other people is not making them feel central nor making them feel supreme; loving other people means doing whatever it takes — and it may take the laying down of your life — to make them see Jesus as their infinite treasure and be satisfied in him.
Number three: You will be fulfilled in your quest and purpose to worship God — that is, you will reflect back to God the infinite worth that he is in himself. So humility, love to other people, and worship to God will follow the Copernican revolution of discovering that being loved by God does not mean being made much of by God, but being freed, at great cost to God, the death of his Son, to enjoy making much of God forever.