Desiring God Roundtable

Chapters 1–2

Bethlehem College and Seminary

Pastor John, my question is: In your assessment, what is the best passage that teaches the concept of Christian Hedonism from the Bible? What’s the best passage you think that you would go to that teaches it and articulates?

That is the kind of question I want you to ask, all of you to ask. Let me give you two wrong answers. I mean, not bottom answers, but right answers. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). So there’s the fundamental statement that the fullness that I want my heart aches for and the length that I want, eternity. I don’t want 99 percent proof pleasures and 1 percent failure, and I don’t want 800 years of pleasure and after that misery. I want forever and total. And there’s only one place, God, his presence, his right hand. So that’s foundational.

Then the command, “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). I was like, “Whoa, you mean I’m required to go get that?” So now I’m set up to pursue it, but I still haven’t given you the bottom answer of the essence of Christian Hedonism is that God’s pursuit of his glory and my pursuit of my joy are one pursuit because he’s most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in him.

And the place that I regularly go because it feels most effective to go there is Philippians 1 where Paul says, “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ would be magnified” (Philippians 1:20). So there’s one goal, “Christ would be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For,” and here comes the second one, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). And then I isolate the death half and say, so dying is where I want Christ to be magnified, and dying is where I get gain when I go to be with Christ.

So if he thinks that my dying and calling it gain because I get Christ is what magnifies Christ, then I have the bottom of Christian Hedonism. Christ is most magnified in my dying, in my life, in my ending of life when my dying is counted gain because I get Christ. So my heart is totally satisfied in dying, and at that moment I am magnifying him most. So that cluster of texts, Psalm 16:11 and Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself,” and Philippians 1:20–21. Where are we going next?

Can an Arminian be a Christian Hedonist?

Oh, my. Not a consistent one, but yes. And the reason I say yes quickly is because whether you use the term Christian Hedonism or not, what it means is to be born again. That is the old way of having your treasure in the world or in self or in the praise of man, new birth severs the root of that old self. It gets crucified and a new creation comes into being. And goodness gracious, I would not want to say that only Calvinists are Christians.

I just think Arminians aren’t thinking straight yet. And your hearts can be better, our hearts can be better than our heads. And so yes, the rudimentary issue of Christ becoming my supreme treasure so that I love him more than I love anything on the planet, he gives me more joy than anything else, and I’m after that more than anything. I think there are many of us, all of us who have imperfect theologies that are onto that quest and that’s Christian Hedonism. Over here.

Pastor John, when I first read Desiring God in 2003, I stumbled over it quite a bit, and it was really difficult for me, specifically looking at page 55, third paragraph down. In this particular part, you’re driving home towards what is conversion. You make this statement:

Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, “Believe in the Lord,” but, “Delight yourself in the Lord”? And might not many slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake by the words “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God”?

And I wrote underneath it then however many years ago, “Does this blunt the biblical commands for love to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself?” And I think that’s been resolved in me recently. But how would you characterize the relationship then of joy to love? How are we pursuing love or are we pursuing joy?

That’s not where I thought your question was going to go, but that’s great. I mean that’s easier. Okay, retool my brain. My brain was all going in another direction with your question.

Does that blunt the biblical command to love the Lord? No, because what I mean at its essence by love the Lord is delight in the Lord. Let me get this really clear. I want everybody to get this. I have heard people say, “No, no, no, no, loving God means obeying God.” And then they’ll quote John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And I say that text proves my point because those are two different things. If you love me, then something else happens, you will obey. So I disagree with the position that love God equals, equals.

So I ask now what is this other thing underneath obedience? And it’s embracing God as our treasure, embracing him as our living water, our fountain of life, our bread from heaven, our joy. I will go to God, to God, my exceeding joy. So my answer is they’re the same. It doesn’t undermine it because it is it. The command, “Delight yourself in the Lord,” is the same as the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”

If God is committed to his glory, how do we understand his humility? Or is God humble?

Oh, that’s good. That’s so good. They asked me that at ETS two years ago and I’ve stumbled around.

The Son of God incarnate is the personification of humility because Philippians 2 says so.

He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phillipians 2:7–8)

So when we see Jesus, who is God, we see perfect humility. So what God did, I think, to show the way a God can be humble is to become man. In and of himself in his Trinitarian exaltation over the Son and the Son over the Father and the Spirit communicating that back and forth in that Trinitarian exaltation, it would be difficult to talk about humility in any ordinary way where you are saying, I’m not sure of myself or I need to take a position where I serve because there is someone better than me. None of that works in the Trinity. There’s total equality, total perfection, total greatness and worth.

However, there is this impulse in God isn’t there to love and to serve. And so the way he manifests it is by becoming incarnate in the God Man Jesus Christ. And so in that sense, I would say yes. And his pursuit of his glory I would then say is the pursuit of a beauty that includes the incarnation.

Pastor John, I was wondering in chapter 1 you say that the ultimate foundation for Christian Hedonism is that God himself is happy. And it seems like there’s no one text you can point to. The way you demonstrate that is by saying, “Well, God can do whatever he wants. And so if he can do whatever he wants, then he must be happy.”

And so I was wondering if it ever troubles you or if you ever find it difficult that it seems like one of the most foundational pieces of this life philosophy doesn’t have one verse in Scripture that you can point to, but rather you have to just take a couple statements about God being sovereign and God being able to do whatever he wants and therefore he’s happy. And the fact that the Bible talks so much about God being angry and God being saddened by people’s actions and all those things?

Okay, I do think there are texts that describe God as happy. Let me go to several that are personally very powerful for me. Let’s start back with Zephaniah 3 where it says God “will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Or he looks at his Son and is “well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Now, it’s not a hard jump to say he’s been doing that for all eternity. The Father’s been looking at the Son and saying, “I love you. You’re beautiful. You are the perfect representation of all my perfect. How could I not be infinitely happy in you?”

But the ones that come home to me are John 15:11, “‘I tell these things to you,’ Jesus says, ‘so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full.’” So what’s the foundation of the fullness of my joy? Jesus is happy. Well, did he get happy when he became a man? No, he’s been happy in the Father.

We were down there in Orlando last week. John 14, what’s the verse? I can’t remember. But anyway, John 14 maybe where he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Well, what is that? I’ve got peace. Where did you get peace? I’ve had peace forever. “The Father and I are an ocean of peace. Now I’m coming into the world to share it with you.”

So whenever I think now, where am I getting peace? Where am I getting joy? Where am I getting love? The answer is it’s already in God. It’s in God foundationally. And there are others that don’t come to my mind right now as I was scanning the chapters this morning where God is described as a very happy God. The one I think I use in Pleasures of God is, what is it? Second Timothy 2:1 or 1 Timothy 2:1?

First Timothy 1:11. Just a lot of ones. First Timothy 1:11 where he is called the blessed God, the makarios God, which means his equanimity is perfect, his peace is perfect, his joy is perfect. So I think if we worked hard to find those verses, we don’t have to just extrapolate. I do get nervous. I appreciate the question. I get nervous when theological systems are built on inferences from other truth. It’s okay to do that, but the more inferential something is and the less clear it is in text, the more uncertain and wobbly we probably are going to be in our theology.

Question from Twitter that’s related but takes it in a little bit different direction. If God is happy, how do we understand texts like Psalm 7:11 where it says that God feels indignation every day?

No doubt he feels indignation every day and he feels supreme happiness every day. I’ve got a section in chapter 1 or 2 and I was looking at it this morning. One of the most difficult things in reading our Bibles is to put together pieces that seem at odds. And I’m going to go ahead and say this. I picked up Bart Ehrman’s new book over at Barnes and Noble day before yesterday, and it’s on forgery. I don’t like the book. Bad book, just by reading three chapters. I don’t want to lose my train of thought here. Where was I going? Oh, yeah. Trying to put together things in the Bible that are hard to put together. It argues that there are a bunch of books in the New Testament that weren’t written by who they say they are. And they’re not just scholarly pseudepigraphical, it’s kind of a gloss over. They’re forgeries, they’re lies.

So I read the section on Ephesians, which he doesn’t think Paul wrote, and I thought these arguments are so old, they’re so worn, they’re so answerable in so many introductions. And the arguments are, “Well, it says in Ephesians that we’ve been raised with Christ. Paul doesn’t talk that way. So this wasn’t written by Paul.” Now that, guys, is what this school exists to help you go beyond. When you bump into that kind of tension in the Bible, you don’t say, “Had to be another author.” That’s so cheap but just so simple. That’s not the way human beings are. Paul is much more complex than that. Things are much deeper than that.

So back up to our question now. You’ve got a text that says God is eternally happy in his fellowship of the Trinity as he looks at the Son and says, “I’m well-pleased with you,” and you’ve got a God who’s angry every day and you’ve got a God who says, “I take no delight in the death of the wicked.” Well, they’re dying every day. So he’s not delighting in that every day. I mean this is complicated. And my answer is, God is a very complicated God. The layers of affection in the infinite God are many and complex.

And the way I deal with it in the chapter is to say that God has a narrow lens that he can look through and a broad lens. And the narrow lens, if he looks at something that’s really ugly in and of itself, sin and death and suffering and tsunami and horrible, he can look at that through the small lens and disapprove, dislike, feel empathy can be grieved, the Holy Spirit can be grieved. So these are all emotions that are intention with delight, right? He’s looking and he can open the lens and see how this thing, this awful thing in itself is intended to and is woven into the mosaic, the fabric, what’s that word? Tapestry of history from beginning to end. And when he looks at it that way, he approves of it, he ordains it and he is happy in it.

And let me just give you one verse where you can go for this. I think it’s Lamentations 3:32. That’d be Lamentations 3:33 where it says God does afflict us, and he chooses to, his own children and people and Jerusalem, it’s being run over by Nebuchadnezzar. He does afflict us, but he doesn’t do it, it’s translated willingly. The Hebrew is millibbōw, from his heart. You say, “What?” So he’s choosing to kill and he’s not choosing it from his heart, meaning there are layers in God’s affections so that at root, what he’s doing here isn’t the center of his joy, even though he ordains that this pain happened.

So the short answer is God is complex. There are layers of emotions. Let me give you one other. He’s happy at one level and he’s grieving at another. If you say, now doesn’t that make a schizophrenic God? Don’t we have a God that’s just not simple at all. And my picture there, at least this helps me, is that if you’re flying a helicopter about 500 feet above a hurricane Pacific storm, that the waves are about a hundred feet high and they’re terrifying to our little boats, they destroy everywhere. That’s one picture that God can have of the world.

If he goes up to satellite level. So he’s about 10 miles up now and he looks down, that same sea, all things considered, looks blue and as calm as a lake without a wind. And God can look at both of those. He is not contradictory. Those two views are one, perfectly, harmoniously, peacefully one. Yes. Oh, Twitter.

Pastor John, in your chapter on conversion, page 55, you talk about how Christian Hedonism is especially useful for speaking to people with slumbering hearts who think they’re saved but continue to love their sin. How would you speak about Christian Hedonism to somebody that has a bruised heart, somebody with a wounded conscience that’s prone to always question their salvation?

That is so good because I’ve often said that this message is devastating and exhilarating, or you could say annihilating and exhilarating. And the reason it’s exhilarating is because it tells a person like me who’s been wanting to be happy all his life and feeling guilty for it, that it’s good. In fact, it’s necessary and you should glut yourself. The reason it’s devastating is because most of us, when we’re told we must be happy in God, realize we aren’t and we know something’s got to happen over which we have almost no control.

Now you’re complicating matters with reality. And one of those kinds of people has been wounded in various ways. And let’s just try to think of an example, let’s say a very abusive father who never approved, only criticized and mingled it with harshness so that this person now both struggles with being told that there are things they ought to do because that’s all I ever heard was ought and I never measured up. And they’re being told that they should have emotions that this father killed every day.

Which is why I think that we need to hear the message of the gospel, which is I tried to lay it out in six steps. At the heart of the gospel is not first be happy, it’s first Christ came into the world to die for people like that. The most broken kind of people who their sin mixed up with that woundedness. We should never talk to a wounded person naively as though all they are is wounded. They’re not rebels, they’re just wounded. Well they are, they’re wounded rebels and they will get healthy faster if they say both, I’m wounded and I’m sinful and I’m using my woundedness often to get my way and other things.

So Christ comes in and he says, “I know all that. I’m a high priest. I walked through that and I now take all that onto myself and I die. And what I require of you is to just fall on me, rest on me, receive me. I don’t want the delight yourself in the Lord command to be felt first as a burden. I want it to be felt first as a relief.” That is I’ve got in my hand here some treasures, I’m holding on to bitterness maybe or I’m holding on to lust or whatever it is. This person may be sexually weird because they were treated so badly or they may be just desperately guilty all the time because they were treated so badly and they’re holding on to different things, resentments and lust and so on. And Jesus says, “Just drop it, just relax. Just let your hand relax.” And it falls out and we receive. This is what I mean by it’s a relief.

I’m not saying do some hard work with your hand for Jesus. Make sure your heart gets happy. That’s what the feel of it. It’s rather receive Christ. Christ is your joy. Christ is your forgiveness. Christ is your pardon. Christ is your righteousness. And, the Christian Hedonism piece, Christ is your treasure. Just receive. I’m going to turn to you now just receive that. To as many as received him to them gave he power to become the children of God. That is a weak, passive childlike act. I receive you as pardon, I receive you as righteousness, I receive you as treasure. Then spend the rest of your life incrementally growing in the enjoyment of your pardon, the enjoyment of your righteousness, the enjoyment of your treasure. That would be my best effort.

Back to Twitter: If God is perfect and totally happy in himself, why did he create man?

I don’t think I can improve upon the answer of Jonathan Edwards. It is no defect in a fountain that it is prone to overflow. I think that question is probably the most ultimate question in the world. Maybe there’s one more ultimate, but why did a perfectly happy God create the world? And the answer is that perfect happiness is prone to seek sharers of it. And when he is prone, you could say, “Ah, he had a need for me, he had a need for me.” And now you’re into process theology that makes creation part of what God is. That’s not the way to see it. It’s like the trinity here; we just need to protect ourselves from saying things that are heretical. Even if what’s inside and being protected is not wholly expressible. God is perfectly wholly happy in the everlasting Trinitarian fellowship. And there is something about that that is prone to overflow, which doesn’t signify need. It just signifies expansiveness of loft.

**I was just on page 65, I’m just going to read the second paragraph. It’s a short paragraph.

Conversion does indeed include an act of will by which we renounce sin and submit ourselves to the authority of Christ and put our hope and trust in Him. We are responsible to do this and will be condemned if we don’t. But just as clearly, the Bible teaches that, owing to our hard heart and willful blindness and spiritual insensitivity, we cannot do this.

And then in the footnote you say, “It may help, however, to consider that the inability we speak of is not owing to a physical handicap, but to moral corruption.” And I was just wondering if you could flesh that out a little bit? Theologically, does that have to do with Adam’s sin and just our deadness of heart? And also just how do we pastorally counsel people who say, “I want to follow God but I can’t?” And they, I think subconsciously are blaming that on God. So just theologically and pastorally?

Okay. Boy, that’s huge. It’s got two pieces, the theological piece and then the application piece are both there. Let me see if I can just say something briefly helpful.

The first thing I want to say is to send you all to a book: Jonathan Edwards’ treatise on The Freedom of the Will is, I think, historically probably outside the Bible, the best thing ever written on those two questions, or at least the first one. It was a watershed. I was talking to David Wells; he said the same thing. Reading the Freedom of the Will was a watershed moment in his life. Watershed, meaning you’re at the top of the mountain and either all the water is flowing this way towards the Pacific Ocean or all the water is flowing toward the Mississippi River; you’re going to go one. And this book helped him go to sovereignty of God.

So yes, when Adam fell, we were by God’s decree and his seeing of us as like a tree is in a seed, all of us were in Adam and we all fell, and we’ve all been born with that kind of rebelliousness, and we are that way by nature, and we are rebellious, and we are responsible for being that way. It’s coming from me. I know my conscience is testifying that I am guilty. And when I resist, when I choose something ugly, when I choose something hurtful, I feel guilty for it even though I chose it because of me; it’s coming from in me. That’s who I am.

So yes, theologically, the doctrine of original sin I think is true and it accounts for why all human beings everywhere. Chesterton said it’s odd that the one doctrine in Christianity that is most often controverted is the only one with empirical evidence that is true. Namely, we all are absolutely rebellious against what is right, good, true, and God. With regard to your second question, say it again, put it in a sentence, how to help people who?

Pastorally, how to help people who are thinking that they want God and then subconsciously blaming it on God: why won’t God let me go past this evil?

That is so relevant as you try to help people grasp the sovereignty of God. There are two issues there. I want to address both of them. One, how to just help people who feel helpless. And the other is how to help people who are blaming God for the helplessness. I mean I feel tender towards this person. I start to get angry at this person, but try not to real quick. But for the tenderhearted person who’s feeling helpless, I think we just need to preach the gospel to them over and over again.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and by seeing Christ — Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ reigning, Christ forgiving, Christ justifying Christ exalted and coming, just constantly portraying Christ. It’s in portraying Christ where the veil is lifted. If you don’t put Christ in front of people in all of his beauty and glory and power and humility and sacrifice, then the Holy Spirit’s not inclined to lift the veil because there’s nothing there to see. And the Holy Spirit came to glorify Jesus.

So if we constantly put Jesus in front of blind people, we say, what’s the point of putting Jesus in front of blind people? Because the Holy Spirit came to glorify Jesus and the Holy Spirit takes away blindness. When does he lift the veil? He lifts the veil when Christ is being preached as crucified because he loves to glorify that. That’s the basic answer is just tenderly, patiently, repeatedly saying to a person, this is beautiful, this is beautiful, this is beautiful. I commend it to you.

With regard to the person who’s blaming God, I would say we must not go there because the Bible doesn’t go there. If God ordained that all people fall in Adam, then I’m washing my hands of this, it’s all God’s fault and he can send me to hell if he wants, but I’m not responsible. You can go that way. It will be really sad if you go there, I don’t want you to go that way because the Bible handles this paradox in a different way. It says I’m responsible and it says God is sovereign. And the more you submit to God and his authority, the more you will try to keep these things together rather than using our own reason in order to spell out what we think they imply rather than what the Bible says to imply.

What is the role of the church and community in our joy in God?

I think the most helpful thing I could say there is that as I was developing my full-blown Christian Hedonism, I ran into problem after problem after problem to be solved. And I’ve spent the last forty years just trying to biblically solve those problems, not merely rationally. And one of the problems I ran into was, “Okay, God is glorified when I am totally satisfied in him. So, I don’t need anybody.” And you find these biblical texts that say the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” Whoa. Now isn’t that idolatry? I’m supposed to need God. Be totally satisfied. “I have learned in every situation I am to be content.” It’s not Piper against 1 Corinthians 12, this is Philippians 4 against 1 Corinthians 12. And then of course you could say, “Two different authors!” No, we won’t go there again. That’s cheap.

Rather, what you say is okay. Step back, learn, learn, learn from the Bible. Go deep with the Bible, find the common root underneath. We need people, and we only need God. Figure that out. Don’t rip your Bible in half. Spend a year or two thinking about it. Go down and get that.

And my answer to that is God thought it wise to create more than one person who would glorify him, and he thought it would get him more glory if those people don’t live on opposite sides of the world doing vertical Christian Hedonism. “This one glorified me a lot, and this one glorified me a lot, and I get double glory.” He didn’t do it that way. He brought them into a church. So now we’re at church. So a church is a place where people who love and want to glorify God find themselves together, and they find themselves being taught by the Bible to exhort one another, admonish one another, help one another, serve one another, pray with one another, confess your sins to one another.

Why? Because we’re going to compete with God? No, because we help each other to God, and we see God in each other. So God could have done it by saying everybody will see me straight, nobody will see me through another person. He didn’t do it that way. He wants his glory to be refracted through the gifts and the graces of other people. And so we see in each other, we hear from each other pointers to God’s glory. I’m just commending to you to think through how all the delights that are spoken of in the Bible, and there are many, we’re supposed to delight in food and in sex, it says so in 1 Timothy, where we remember saying, “There will come along teachers who say, ‘Don’t marry and don’t eat these foods,’ which God gave for our enjoyment.”

So now we’ve got competition with God, we got an idolatrous possibility on the end. Sex can be an idol, and food can be an idol. And God didn’t mean it to be; he meant it to be an occasion of gratitude and more glory for God. So that’s the kind of problem you’re going to find all over the Bible. Just go deep. Go deep. Think it through.

Pastor John, you put a lot of weight on Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And you say that it’s a command. And I’m having a hard time seeing that as a command. If I were to say, “Mow my lawn, and I’ll give you twenty bucks,” that doesn’t seem like a command to mow my lawn. It seems more like an if-then type thing.

Like a business deal?

Or a suggestion. I mean, I could see negative. If I were to say clean your room or you will be punished. That’s a command to clean your room. But I don’t see it positively.

Okay. That’s a totally legitimate question, and I think you’re probably not the only person who feels that way because I think the word command to us, or I use the word demand in the title of What Jesus Demands from the World, and people didn’t like that either because they have a certain aura about them. You’re suggesting the aura of followed by consequence sounds like, like it’s a command if it’s warranted or sanctioned with punishment or reward. And I don’t think that’s necessarily implied in command, and frankly, I’d be happy with another word if you want to use another word, demand or exhortation, commendation.

However, I think even on your own definition, I’m going to say it’s a command because you are going to go to hell if you don’t do this. In fact, it says that in Deuteronomy, and I’m going to get Deuteronomy 28, God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy, “Because you did not serve me with gladness of heart, you’ll serve your enemies.” It’s Deuteronomy 28:47–48, I think, somewhere.

So I would say implicitly, biblically, crosstextually, the sanction is there. But if it helps you communicate, say to children or to people that delight yourself in the Lord is something other than command. If people can still say that’s really required of me, it would be good for me, and it would honor God and you use another word, I’m okay with that. I mean, there may be a technical nuance to the word command that I don’t want to imply. And if it implies that to you, then don’t use it.

I think, though, that Psalm 100 does have that sort of command feel: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness! (Psalm 100:1–2).” Those don’t have that if-then kind of feel that you were saying.

And there are many, many texts. “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice,” in Philippians 4. The book of Philippians is really the place to go and whatever word we use, he’s telling us to do this, do this. And what makes Christian Hedonism feel so exhilarating and so frustrating is that I can’t. I should make this plain. I’ve been talking about this for a long time. The most common question that goes to my heart is people who hear me persuade them that they should find their joy in God and look at me and say, “I don’t. I don’t. What does that say about me?” That’s huge.

So I think making plain that these do this, do this, do this are there is exactly what God wants to happen. He wants us to be undone. If you’re saying that right now, he wants you to feel that way, for a moment, and then be saved or be awakened from your slumbers of Christian lukewarmness. Because I think the commands to delight yourself in the Lord or rejoice in the Lord or be glad in God are intended to undo us. If we are in love with sex or money or power or fame, he wants us to feel slain by those things.

How is the exercise of faith required for salvation not meritorious?

Because it is a receiving. I think faith, with treasuring right in the essence of it, is just a receiving. Merit comes when I do or work. Now what was the wording you used? Say it again because they might be being precise here. Exercise of?

The exercise of faith.

Okay, see that word “exercise,” and whoever wrote that might be that your picture of faith is really quite an effort. I’m exercising my will, and it’s not wrong to say that if we have the right conceptions of willing, but what you’re doing is I am exercising my will to stop holding onto my self-worth and stop holding onto all my idols and I’m becoming now like a little child. Unless you turn to become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom. I’m becoming like a little child and a little child doesn’t know how to work for mommy and daddy. I mean they learn it pretty quick, but they came just receiving. That’s all they knew was receive, receive, receive.

And unless we become childlike, helpless, bankrupt, nothing to offer God receivers, we can’t be saved. So at the heart of faith, if you want to say exercise, then say, I must exercise myself in stopping my exercising for God. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden,” you’re already doing that, “and rest for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Faith is discovering that and resting it. I don’t have to earn it, I don’t have to merit it. There’s nothing I could do if I wanted to. I am now a receiver of pardon, I’m a receiver of righteousness and I’m a receiver of treasure. And now you’re on the quest for maximum happiness the rest of your life. Jason?

Pastor John, we are in a day when some are questioning the goodness of hell, the rightness of hell. And in chapter 2’s discussion on conversion, your fourth crucial truth about our need in God’s provision says because every human in the world has failed to glorify God as God, your fourth statement says, “Therefore, all of us are subject to eternal condemnation” (58). And one of your support texts is 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction.” So you define hell is torment and then you say, therefore hell is just. I’m hoping you could flesh that out a little bit, the justness of hell in a world where God is supreme?

Right. Let me talk right off the front burner of discussions with people who believe in this horrific reality of hell about which we should never joke and you should never use it as a swear word because it’s like using electric chairs as a swear word right after your mom was executed, just horrific.

Anyway, in talking with people who really believe in this, there are two fundamental ways that we talk about the justice of God. I think both are right, and I think the accent should be on the second one. I’ll give you the first one. I think Tim Keller emphasized the first one, Doug Wilson has been emphasizing the first one, and I emphasize the second one, and I’m not disagreeing with these other guys. They emphasize the fact, and Doug put it in an email to me the other day. He said the text that says that those who commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit commit an eternal sin. He took that to mean, and he’s probably right about this, and even if he’s not, I think the truth would be right, that eternal sin means they go on doing that sin forever.

The justice of hell lies on that point in the ongoing rebelliousness of those in hell. They are consigned not to something they are not deserving. They deserve it every day because hell is a place where people dislike God. Today, they dislike God tomorrow, they dislike God the next day. They still want the old pleasures. They’re mad at God because he put them there for preferring anything over him. And every day they do that. And so every day is a just dwelling in hell. Now that’s one answer. I think it’s a right and good answer. Hell is deserved daily. It’s not like here was one dessert and it lasted forever.

Now my second answer is that’s true. One sin would be worthy of eternal hell. That’s my emphasis. And the logic of it goes like this: the heinousness of a crime which merits a heinous or more exacerbated punishment rises in proportion to the glory and holiness of the one offended. So if you offend your dog, you might be a bad person, but if you hit your kid, you’re a much worse person.

Or if you show indignation towards the President of the United States or all rulers of the world, you become just an outright rebel against all the greatness, then your sin is getting more and more compounded with the dignity and the greatness of the one sinned against. God is infinitely holy, infinitely worthy of total obedience though. So as his infiniteness of dessert and worth rises, my sin against him becomes increasingly heinous, and if it rises to eternity, then my one sin against him is worthy of an eternal destruction.

Now I think both those arguments are valid. My own sense is that the biblical accent falls on the second one, and we talk about that because the Bible talks about people being judged for this life, judged for this life more than it talks about people being judged for their eternal sins. So I think for both of those reasons, hell is a just response.

And just to put it in the Christian Hedonist context, we have to go back to that earlier question of God seeing things through narrow lens and big lens, God having capacities to will one thing and have that not be the central will. So when it says in Ezekiel 33:17, “He does not delight in the death of the wicked.” Does that mean that God is eternally miserable because of hell? And that would be a human logical deduction.

I would say no. It means that God, in viewing hell that way, sees it as non-delightful and when he broadens out and says hell exists for this large reason, then as a part of the historical whole and the whole tapestry and the whole mosaic, it’s right and good and wise that it exists. And I totally delight in my goodness, rightness, and wisdom in doing it.

Pastor John, I have a question for clarification purposes maybe. On page 55, you mentioned convert to a Christian Hedonist. And I’m wondering, are there two categories? There’s Christians and there’s the elite Christian Hedonists? Or is it more like all Christians all truly elect our Christian Hedonists whether they know it or not? And so part of that corollary is for maybe some sects of Christianity, for lack of a better term, that emphasize the aesthetic lifestyle. We want to tell them, no, there’s more.

Right, right. There’s no elite Delta Force in Christianity, although there are differences of maturity for sure, and differences of the degree to which you glorify God. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian Hedonist; you don’t have to know it, and you don’t have to even agree with it, but you are. And what I mean by that is the seed of treasuring Christ above all things is in you.

And if I define Christian Hedonist as a Christian is a person who at root at least longs to talk like Philippians three, seven, I count everything as loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. That’s the way Christianity is. Or Matthew 13:44, “He found a treasure hidden in a field and from joy he sold everything he had to buy that field.” Or Jesus saying, this is Luke 14:33, “Unless you renounce all that you have, you can’t be my disciple.” If you’re a Christian, you have in essence renounced all that you have.

Now, none of us is perfect and life, I’m 65 and I have to do that renouncing afresh every day. But I think at root, I’ve been born again and the seed, the reason I wake up every morning and have to do some fresh renouncing of my anger or renouncing of my worldly desires is that I’ve been born again. There’s this root Christian Hedonist down here. I’m a new person and the new person is a Christian Hedonist. He loves Christ more than he loves anger. He loves Christ more than he loves lust, but he still has to become what he is, right? That’s the biblical genius of sanctification.

We going to do one more question? Is it last question time, or are we done? We’re done. Okay, then I’m supposed to close. All right, let me close this way because I think we got one minute, maybe or two.

What I discovered in getting ready for this afresh was that the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the first three are — this is Galatians 5:22 — “Love, joy, peace.” The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. So when you become a Christian, you receive the Holy Spirit. So it says in Romans 8, if you don’t have the Spirit, you don’t belong to Christ. So you have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work producing love, joy, peace. Those three things are belonging to Christ according to John. John 15:11, “I have joy because his joy is in me.” John 14:27 said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” And then in John 17, “The love with which you had, I want to be in them and I in them.”

So the relationship between the two chapters, namely the foundation of Christian Hedonism, is that God is happy, and conversion, I get born again by the Holy Spirit, go like this, that what I get in conversion is the God of chapter one. He’s happy, he’s peaceful, he’s full of love, and by his Spirit, he comes into me. And when I experience happiness, peace, and love, what I’m experiencing is the presence of God in me, the Holy Spirit working out his love, joy, and peace.