The following is a lightly edited transcript
My topic for this session is delighting in God for the sake of his supreme glory. Each of the sessions that we have together is titled Delighting in God followed by some other words. There’s an assumption behind that topic and this whole series, and the assumption is that we ought to live for the glory of God. That’s very clear. First Corinthians 10:31 says:
whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
So that’s plain and straightforward and simple, but for years and years, I knew that in my head and it did not have the life-changing impact that it should have had. I grew up in a home where my father quoted those words often. But what made the difference for me, was going behind those words to the truth, that doing everything for God’s glory is not just my duty, it’s what God does.
God does everything for his own glory. Establishing that fact biblically and feeling the force of it, that God is very God-centered and has a passion for God, shook me up and changed the way I think. So that’s where I want to begin. I want to try to establish from the Scriptures that God is radically God-centered, that God is on a crusade to magnify God. He’s not just telling me to do it; in everything he does, he does it. He magnifies himself in all that he does. The way I want to do that is by walking through the history of salvation, looking at the high points and considering why God did the things he did.
Why did God predestine? Why did God create? Why did God come into the world incarnate as Jesus Christ? Why did the Son of God die on the cross for our sins? Why is he sanctifying us little by little? Why does he propagate the gospel in Quebec, the United States, and around the world among all the peoples? And why is Jesus coming back again? Those are the seven points I want to focus on. My answer, at every single point, is that God is doing these things for himself, for the glory of God.
God’s Passion for His Glory
I want you to see it in the Bible, so let’s take each of those one at a time and put some Bible passages underneath the claim I just made.
First of all, let’s consider predestination. Ephesians 1:5–6 says:
He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Now, that's a long sentence, so let's shorten it down: God predestined us unto the praise of the glory of his grace. That means God, before the world was, chose us for himself so that we would praise the glory of his grace. We were chosen unto his glory, chosen to make much of his glory, and chosen to praise him. So, in choosing us, God is magnifying himself. That’s so clear from Ephesians 1:4–6. That’s predestination for the glory of God.
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, whom I formed and made.
So when God decides to create the universe and create particular people, the thing that is moving him, driving him, and guiding him is: “I will create a universe and I will create beings who will make me look good. That’s why I’m making them.”
In Genesis 1 we hear about how he created us in his image, male and female. What does it mean that he created us “in his own image”? There’s a lot of conversation about whether it means we are rational, or moral, or that we’re upright. The easiest way to say it, I think, is to say that when God creates someone in his image, he means for that person to image forth his reality. When you make a sculpture out of somebody, let’s say of a president or a king, what you intend is for that sculpture to be a representation of the person and call attention to them.
So when God says, “I’m making you in my image,” he means, “I want people to look at you and think good thoughts about me. I want them to be impressed with me when they look at you.” Here’s the picture I have in my mind. Let’s say my hand is a mirror. God is above, the rest of the world is to the side, and then you are there below God, like a mirror at a 45-degree angle. The glory of God lands on you as a mirror and it gets reflected over to the world so that when people see you, they’re supposed to see an image of God. That’s the way a mirror works.
Because we are in his image, people are seeing us but really they should be seeing his glory. What happened when man and woman fell into sin is that they listened to the devil, who said to them, “Being a mirror is like being a nobody. Why don’t you take all of this light that is shining off of you and turn it over? Shine on the world and be your own light. You can be like God, you don’t have to be dependent like a mirror. You can be a light like God is a light.”
What happens when a mirror turns over, is that light shines on it and it’s no longer reflecting; it’s casting a shadow. Man looked at the shadow that he was casting on the ground, saw the shape of it, and he fell in love with it. That’s the way we’ve been living ever since. We love ourselves. We love what we can do, and we really can do amazing things. We can put people on the moon, we can heal diseases, we can perform incredible technological feats, etc. But all the while we’ve abandoned what we were created for. We were not created to be lights, we were created to reflect light.
But when you are born again, when you are converted, you do a revolution and turn around and suddenly discover God is everything. You see that your destiny is to see him, enjoy him, and reflect him. That’s what you’re made for. As long as you’re trying to live to be your own light, you will not be what God made you to be and you will be a very frustrated person, and one day you will perish.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world and was born as a human being. Why did he come? Luke 2:10–14 says:
“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
In other words, when the angels explained what was going on with the baby, the answer was, “Glory to God in the highest.” That’s what’s going on in the passage. It’s about the Son coming into the world for redemption unto the glory of God. Jesus Christ became a man to recover the glory of God that we had stolen from him, so that we could now return to our destiny of being reflectors of the glory of God, this new image of Christ shining off to the world so that people can see what God is really like. Jesus came to glorify his Father.
I’m using this word from Romans 3:25–26. This is the central event of history. Let me read verses 25 and 26 from Romans:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
So right at the center of this most important paragraph in the Bible (probably) is the cross of Christ in order to vindicate God’s righteousness. That’s what I want you to see. God is righteous, but for some reason, he feels, “I have to put my son to death in order that my righteousness will be seen and will be established.” Why is that? Why is the righteousness of God in question? The answer is given back in Romans 3:23, which says:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Notice the connection between the glory of God and sin, and what has to happen in vindicating the righteousness of God on the cross. What’s the connection? The connection is this: The righteousness of God is his unwavering commitment to uphold the value of his glory. If God does not uphold the value of his glory, he’s a sinner, because the glory of God is the most valuable reality in the universe. If God treats the glory of God as something of low value, he would be wicked.
But God is not wicked; he is righteous, which means he looks at the glory of God and he says, “This must be upheld and this must be valued. We must preserve this above all things in the universe.” But what is sin? Sin is trampling the glory of God, putting it under our feet and counting it as of no value. We would rather watch television or live from money. The glory of God is not anybody’s chief value until they are born of God. Nevertheless, he hasn’t judged many people like that. Instead, he’s passed over their sins, which means he looks unrighteous. That’s what verse 25 and 26 are saying. He had to vindicate his righteousness because he has passed over sins.
You’re the Man
I’ll just give you one example. In 2 Samuel 11, King David sleeps with Bathsheba and gets her pregnant, and then he has her husband killed. That’s a double sin — adultery and murder. On account of this, God is very displeased and he sends a prophet, Nathan, to David. Nathan tells a little story about a wealthy man who had lots of sheep and a poor man who had only one sheep. He says the wealthy man had a guest and he had to kill a sheep in order to make dinner, but he took the sheep from the poor man instead of using one of his own. David was very angry at this man, and Nathan said, “You’re the man. That’s what you did.” And David repented.
The next thing that came out of Nathan’s mouth was, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” Now, put yourself in the place of Bathsheba’s father or Uriah’s mother. How would you feel about that? Is God just saying, “That’s okay, David. I just forgive you”?
If I was the mother of Uriah or the father of Bathsheba, I would say, “No, you can’t do it that simply. This is serious. You can’t just say, ‘I forgive you,’ what kind of a judge are you?” In Montreal, surely a judge who has a murderer and a rapist in front of him that says, “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,” would not say, “I forgive you, you may go.” All of us would say he’s a bad judge; and that’s exactly what people should say about God, unless Romans 3:25–26 works. If the Son of God, in dying for David’s sin, can vindicate God’s commitment to his glory, then God won’t look like an unrighteous judge. So do you see what’s happening at the cross?
It really grieves me that so many evangelicals, especially in America (and perhaps in Canada as well), make themselves the center of the death of Christ. They say, “It’s all about me and my value. I’m a diamond in the rough. He has found me and would do anything to get me.” That’s the way a lot of people think about the cross. They think it’s all about us. Well, Romans 3:25–26 says that God put forward Jesus Christ as a propitiation in order to demonstrate his unwavering commitment to uphold his glory, which we trampled in the dirt. That’s what the cross is about. It’s about making much of God in the salvation of unworthy sinners.
Sanctification is becoming more like Jesus. Here’s just one simple word from Philippians 1:9-11. It’s a prayer where Paul 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 Paul is praying, “Father, please come, grant them to bear fruits of righteousness unto the praise of your glory.” The reason God is making us more and more into the image of Christ is so that God will get more and more praise, and more and more glory. So, sanctification is for the glory of God.
Due to time, let’s just go and do one more — consummation. Why is Jesus coming back a second time? Here’s the answer from 2 Thessalonians 1:9:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
So if you shortened that statement you could say he is coming back to be marveled at. Jesus is coming back and he’s coming with this purpose: “Marvel at me. Glorify me.”
Are God’s Love and Self-Exaltation Compatible?
Let me just step back for a moment and summarize. From the beginning, before the foundation of the world and predestination all the way to the end in consummation, all that God ever does, he does for his glory. Now, what I said was, until that hit me, my world wasn’t turned upside down. I don’t think I really came to terms with my self-centeredness until I had to deal with whether I liked God’s God-centeredness. Almost everywhere I go and talk about God’s God’s-centeredness, I can see it on people’s faces. They don’t like it, and there’s a good reason why they don’t like it. The Bible says we shouldn’t like people like that.
Love seeks not its own (1 Corinthians 13:5), but I’ve just spent 20 minutes telling you that God only seeks his own. So it could seem like I’ve made God loveless, as if he’s not a loving God. No wonder people don’t like like I’m saying.
I have an article here from the London Financial Times that I photocopied by Michael Prowse. Michael Prowse does not like the concept of worship. He’s not a believer. Listen to what he says. He gives words to what many of you are feeling right now:
Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being, who for reasons that we don’t understand, 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 to be made much of; they crave adulation and homage, but a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?
What he’s saying is that if God creates a world for his glory, he’s the kind of God nobody likes. Who likes a braggart? If I were to come into this room and say my reason for being here is so that you will applaud me, you should get rid of me very fast. So we’ve got a problem. God does absolutely everything for his glory and we don’t like people like that. That’s a problem, isn’t it? What’s the solution? Let’s ask this question: What does it mean for God to love us? This is what I’ve been spending most of my time thinking about for the last five years or so.
Let’s quote a Bible verse instead of giving our own answer. We’ll let Paul answer. Here’s what it says in Romans 5:6-8:
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.
That is clear. God loves us in that he sent his only begotten Son to die for us. That’s love. If you give your Son to die for another, that’s love. But what’s good about that for us? How is that love? What good comes to you when that happens? What benefit do you receive when Christ dies for you so that you feel loved? I assume love means something good comes to us. If only bad comes to us forever, we wouldn’t call that love. So what good comes to you?
At this point, you could give me many answers. The more I’ve thought about this, the more burdened I’ve become that the answers we often give are not the most important answer. I’ll give you the typical answers that I have given all of my life. They are glorious answers, true answers, and biblical answers to what the good is that comes to us when Christ dies for us expressing the love of God for us. They are answers like, “My sins are forgiven,” or, “My guilt is taken away, or “Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me and counted as mine,” or, “I escape the wrath of God and do not go to hell,” or, “I obtain eternal life.”
That’s a partial list, but I have not mentioned the most important thing, and that’s what concerns me. Much of our gospel preaching ends there because those things are all so good. They’re so good. All of you would like to have your sins forgiven. All of you would like to have no more guilt and no more guilty feelings. All of you would be very happy if your imperfection could be replaced in the mind of God with Christ’s righteousness. All of you do not want to go to hell, and all of you would rather be in heaven. That’s good news. That’s gospel, but we haven’t said the most important thing because we haven’t asked what’s good in each of those. I’ll ask a provocative question: who cares about being forgiven?
The Goodness of Forgiveness
Let’s say I get up in the morning and I stumble over a pile of clothing that my wife left on the floor and I turn to her while she’s still in bed and snap at her and say something very unkind. Now in the house, there’s ice in the air. Down in the kitchen, where we’re getting ready to have breakfast, her back is to me at the kitchen sink. Now what needs to happen? I need to ask for forgiveness, that’s what needs to happen. I need to ask for forgiveness for an utterly uncalled for word. But why do I want forgiveness? Is it just that I really don’t like guilty feelings, or I just want to go through the day not being oppressed by my bad conscience? Is forgiveness is just about getting my conscience free so that I can feel better psychologically? Is that what forgiveness is for?
You know that it’s not. What I want is something beyond forgiveness that I can only have through the means of forgiveness: I want my wife back. I don’t like her back to me. I don’t like the ice in the air between us. I want her to turn around and see a smile on her face. I want her to embrace me. I want to be there again with her as my treasure in that kitchen. So if you only preach the forgiveness of sins, you might simply be playing into the worldly desire to not have a bad conscience. Nobody wants a bad conscience, but you don’t have to be born again to want a clean conscience. It’s an oppressive, horrible thing to walk through the day with guilty feelings. Every unregenerate person wants to get rid of guilty feelings. So if you only preach to the desires that people can have without being born again, how have you helped them?
We must press through forgiveness, press through justification and escaping from hell, press through eternal life, and ask why? Why do you want to go to heaven? I sometimes ask my people, “What if you could go to heaven and you would be perfectly healthy, you would have all the toys that you ever dreamed of having, you would have a reunion with all the people you care about most, and you would have no bad conscience, but Jesus would not be there; would you want to go?” That’s a very indicting question because it tests whether people are embracing the gospel for God or for relief. Do they think, “I don’t like hell, I don’t like a guilty conscience, and I like some of the earthly benefits of church family, so I’ll be a Christian”? But that person isn’t a Christian.
They’ve never seen that God is beautiful. They’ve never seen God is glorious.
The Ultimate Aim of Love
Here’s where I’m going. When Romans 5:6-8 say, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and in this the love of God consists, what it means is that Christ did everything he had to do in order to make God our treasure. Christ came into the world to do everything he had to do so that I would enjoy making much of God rather than being made much of myself. So here’s the really radical question: Do you feel more loved when God makes much of you, or when he frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?
I think most North Americans define love as what happens when somebody makes much of us. That’s what love is for many of us. We think, “If you want me to feel loved, then make much of me.” As a little child in school, or an employee, or a church member, we love to be loved. We love when people make much of us. But that’s not what love is. Love is not God making much of us; love is God laboring with all of his might to enthrall us with what is infinitely satisfying, namely himself. Love is the labor and the sacrifice that it takes to enable me to enjoy what will be infinitely and fully satisfying to me, namely, God. Until God does that for me, I am not fully loved. Being loved is not him making much of me, it’s enabling me to enjoy him. That’s my answer to Michael Prowse and all of our own objections.
Of course we don’t like people who attract attention to themselves — people who can only talk about themselves and only get applause for themselves. Here’s the reason we shouldn’t like people like that: In attracting attention to themselves, they distract us from what will satisfy us eternally, namely, God. I’ll say that again. The reason we should not like people who attract attention mainly to themselves is because they distract us from the one thing that will satisfy us fully forever — God.
The Virtue of God’s Self-Exaltation
If you take that same truth and apply it to God, do you see how it changes? If God does anything but attract attention to himself, then he’s not loving because he’s the one thing that will satisfy our souls. He’s the one thing for which we are made. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act; we may not imitate him in this. If I came into this room and exalted myself, I would be the opposite of loving. My job here is to get attention for him.
If he comes into this room and he wants to love you, he better not call attention to John Piper because that will ruin your life. He better call attention to himself, because he’s the one person in the universe for whom you are made, who is big enough, great enough, and glorious enough to satisfy every longing you’ve ever had. God must be self-centered in order to be loving. God must be self-exalting in order to satisfy your soul.
The implication of this is that if you want to glorify God, that is, reflect his glory, you must be satisfied with God. It’s not mainly about escape from hell, nor forgiveness, nor good health, nor a family of believers, nor being restored to a lost or dead loved one who’s gone to heaven; your soul must terminate on God and reach out and be satisfied with God. So we have this little saying at our church: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.