Feel Christ (with German Interpretation)

German Shepherds' Conference | Bonn, Germany

Let me begin with my life mission statement and my church’s mission statement, which are the same. I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

Now some of these words are very important. So I don’t say that I exist to spread a “persuasion” or a “conviction” or a “mere belief.” I want to spread a passion — that is, a joyful embrace or a heartfelt desire — for the supremacy of God. And the goal there is not just for the belief of the peoples, but for the joy of all peoples. So I’m putting a very high premium on joy, or satisfaction, or delight. And this first message is intended to be a defense and explanation for why I regard that as so important.

The Importance of Affections

I’ll begin with maybe four or five clarifying comments. First, I’ll give a definition of emotion or affection. I mean a spiritual experience, not primarily a physical one. So when I say words like joy, fear, gratitude, desire, hate, anger, tender-heartedness, peace, loneliness, sorrow, regret, shame, or hope. All of these I’m going to call emotions or affections. But I don’t want you to think mainly of physical responses, like shaking knees or sweaty palms or a fast heartbeat. It isn’t the physical dimension of this that counts, it’s the spiritual dimension of these emotions.

And the reason I know there is such a thing as spiritual emotions is because God has them. I just read this morning in my devotions from Jeremiah that God has fierce anger, and we read in Hosea that his compassion grows warm for his people. But God has no body, and therefore these emotions cannot be physical with God.

The second reason I know that exists is because I will have these emotions after I die. Because Paul said that to die is to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8), and that is far better (Philippians 1:23). So I assume if I have joy in him here, I will have more joy in him there, even though I have no body. So when I put a very high importance on emotions, don’t think I’m talking about it being mainly in physical terms.

Here’s clarification number two. Why do I emphasize passion and joy over doctrine and right thinking? Because right thinking is a means to right feeling. Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will make you free. Free from what? From sin. And what is sin? Sin is not merely doing bad things. Sin is doing good things for bad reasons, with bad motives. So if knowing the truth sets me free from sin, and sin is that inner badness, then the emotions matter when it comes to the fruit of truth. So I’m putting emotions at a very high level, because right doctrine and right thinking are a means to those emotions. So right thinking about God leads to right feelings for God. Tomorrow night the emphasis will fall heavily upon right thinking. But tonight, it’s about feeling.

Here’s clarification number three. People ask, “Why do you emphasize right feelings over right behavior?” The reason is that right doing or right behavior without right feeling is not right behavior. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” So the behavior of the lips is worthless if it doesn’t come from a heart of joy. So I put passion or joy over behavior for these two reasons. Because behavior without passion is hypocrisy.

And secondly, true passion, true affection for God will change behavior. Sometimes people ask me, “Where is love in your mission statement?” Now here it is again: I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. So my answer to the question “where is love in that?” is to say, that’s the meaning of love! That’s the definition of love. So for me to love someone is to do what I can do to awaken in them passion for God.

Here’s clarification number four. How does your emphasis on emotion relate to the glory of God? My answer is this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. That’s my main point. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I think one of the most important things a pastor can do for his people is to persuade them that is true. In other words, persuade your people that in order to give God the most glory, they must be profoundly happy in God. Most people have separated these two things, they have pursuing the glory of God over here, and maybe an optional happiness in him over here.

Biblical Evidence for Pursuing Joy in God

Now, all of that is by way of introduction, I have five steps now, and I’ll tell you what they are so that you can know where we’re going. First, I want to give you biblical evidence that that sentence is very important and is biblical. Second, I will give implications for your people. Third, I will give implications for pastoral work. Fourth, I’ll give implications for preaching. And then finally, I’ll give some wider challenges in the evangelical world. Let’s go to Philippians 1:20.

What I’m looking for in Philippians is whether or not it is biblical to say “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” We’ll read Philippians 1:20–21 and then we’ll take it apart:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Now, notice that Paul says it is his “eager expectation and hope” that Christ would be honored. And another word for “honored” would be magnified, or glorified. And he says he wants Christ to be magnified in “life” and in “death,” which you can see at the end of the verse. Then notice that those same two words (“life” and “death”), occur in Philippians 1:21, which says, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” And notice that the two verses are connected with the word “for,” or “because”.

Therefore, let’s look at the death pair. He says in Philippians 1:20, “I want Christ to be magnified, whether by death . . .” And then he says, “For to me, to die is gain.” How is Christ magnified in Paul’s death? He answers, “Because for me, to die is gain.” Now, how does that work? How do you make Christ look great in your dying? And the answer is, as you die, you remember that you’re leaving behind everything on the earth, and all you get is Christ. So you’re leaving your wife, children, vocation, and earthly dreams. It’s all being cut short. And you’re gaining, simply, Christ. And Paul says losing all of that is gain.

Now, how can that be? It can be because Paul is more satisfied in Christ than anything. So here we have an argument with the very words that I’m looking for. On the one side, we have Christ being magnified, and on the other side we have the language of gain, or I’m going to say “satisfaction” or “joy” or “delight.” So my paraphrase of Paul is that Christ is most magnified in my death when my death happens with the greatest satisfaction in him. So that’s my biblical evidence that my sentence is true. God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.

Implications for the Church

Here is step number two, which is the implication for your people. If you persuade them that God is most glorified in them when they are most satisfied in him, they will have to devote their life to pursuing that satisfaction. It’s a world-changing thing when a person is persuaded that they not only may but must pursue their longest and fullest happiness. I am not interested in a satisfaction that lasts only 80 years. I don’t care how big it is. I will only be satisfied with a satisfaction that lasts 80,000 years. Psalm 16:11 says:

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fullness of joy;
     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

So when I say that the implication for our people is pursue that with all you might, I don’t mean pursue the pleasures of vocation, or pursue the pleasures of sex, or the pleasures of drink, or the pleasures of money, or the pleasures of holidays. Paul said, “I count all of that as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” You will have a hard time persuading your people that they must and should pursue their maximum joy 24/7.

Commanded to Be Happy

So, let me give you a few biblical arguments that might help them be persuaded.

Number one, the Bible commands us to be happy.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
     Serve the Lord with gladness!
     Come into his presence with singing!

God isn’t interested in your service without gladness. Second Corinthians 9 says that the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), not the other kind. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Psalm 37:4 says, “delight yourself in the Lord.”

Threatened for Joyless Service

Number two, we are threatened with terrible things if we don’t pursue satisfaction. Listen to this amazing verse in Deuteronomy 28:47–48. It says:

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, therefore you shall serve your enemies . . .

It says, “Because you didn’t serve him with gladness, you will serve your enemies.”

The Nature of Faith

Number three, the nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God. John 6:35 goes like this:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

He parallels coming to him and having hunger taken away, and believing in him and not having thirst. So believing, in John 6:35, is interpreted as coming to Christ so that your soul will be satisfied. And that’s what faith is. That’s number three.

The Nature of Evil

Number four, the nature of evil shows that we should pursue satisfaction in God. This is Jeremiah 2:12–13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
     be shocked, be utterly desolate,
     declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
     the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
     broken cisterns that can hold no water.

So what are the two evils? One evil is to taste the fountain of God’s living water, and then turn away from it. They have left joy. They have forsaken joy and satisfaction. That’s evil. It’s evil to turn away from joy. And the second evil is that they tried to dig it out of the earth and find water, and there was no water. So what we say to the world who is all after worldly pleasure is that they’re not nearly interested enough in pleasure.

The Nature of Conversion

I have one more argument that might persuade your people that they must make the pursuit of joy in God their main pursuit. Number five, the nature of conversion teaches the pursuit of joy in God. I’m getting this from Matthew 13:44. It’s a very short parable:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

So to be converted means to experience the kind of joy that enables you to say:

Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.

So conversion is from joy. It says from joy. Don’t miss that. From joy, he sells everything to have Jesus.

Implications for Pastoral Work

Enough on the second point that your people will be affected by this message in pursuing joy. Now, what’s the implication for your pastoral work? Let’s go to Hebrews 13:17. Now first, this verse looks like it is mainly addressed to the people. But the implication for the pastor is huge. It says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them (the pastors) do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

How do you pursue love for your people? Because this says you will be of no advantage to your people if you are doing your work sadly. But we want to be advantageous and beneficial to our people. But the verse says, in order to be useful to them, we must be happy in our work, not groaning in our work. So the main battle in my life, as a pastor, is to keep my heart happy in God. I mean more happy in God than in writing books, more happy than in being married, more happy than in having children, and more happy than anything.

This is no small warfare. We must put to death these alternative pleasures every day. Gouge out your eye, cut off your hand, because there’s an alternative joy that’s greater. So pastor, when you get up in the morning, make war on your discouragements and get your heart happy in Christ. It’s amazing how many times the New Testament speaks of joy in suffering, not joy in spite of suffering. That’s the third point, namely implications for the pastoral ministry.

Implications for Preaching

Second Corinthians 1:24 says:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

This is amazing. Paul says that his apostolic mission is to work together with the people of God for their joy. It will color your preaching if you believe this is your goal. I believe in preaching about sin and seeking conviction for sin, but I don’t preach about sin as an end in itself. I want people to conquer their sin so that they can be satisfied in Christ. In fact, I would define sin as not being satisfied in Christ. So every sermon, whether it has a very firm, fierce, negative point, or a happy, joyful one — they’re all aiming at the joy of our people. So I hope that you will put a very high premium on right thinking but not as an end in itself. Right thinking or right doctrine is a means to knowing, loving, and treasuring Christ more.

Implications for Evangelicalism

Here’s the last observation, namely, the implications for the wider evangelical challenges. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If this grips your church, it will protect them from a constellation of errors. Let me give you two pairs of errors that they will be protected from. If you keep emotions or affections, satisfaction in God, at the center, and don’t let it get cut off from right thinking, then you will be protected from dead orthodoxy or intellectualism. And the reaction to that is anti-intellectualism and emotionalism. In other words, if right doctrine is always serving right emotion, then you won’t have dead orthodoxy, and there won’t have to be a reaction against it in emotionalism.

There’s always a reaction to an error. In America today — and I would suppose this would be the case in Europe as well — there is much dead, right doctrine. And over on the other side, in reaction against that, you have the worst extremes of the Charismatic church, and more recently, the emergent church. And those exist because they see this and they don’t want it, and neither do I! And I think we can protect ourselves from both by saying right thinking is essential as a means to right feeling. That’s one pair of errors, intellectualism and emotionalism.

The other pair has to do with what happens when you cut off emotions from behavior. And there are two dangers: one is legalism, and the other is antinomianism. The meaning of legalism is thinking that doing is the essence, that doing is what makes a church good. And it’s always external. Nobody was better externally than the Pharisees. And Jesus was always pointing out, “But inside, you are dead men’s bones.” So how do you keep legalism from happening in your church? By constantly telling both the wicked and the righteous what matters is the heart. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So don’t try to clean up the mouths of your people. That just puts a mask on the problem. We must press on to the inside, and give them the kind of heart by the power of the Holy Spirit that will produce the kind of fruit that God wants.

So over here you have legalism — that is, an emphasis on externals and behaviors without any deep, wonderful reality in the heart — and then you get the reaction among younger people (often) who say, “I don’t want any of that hypocrisy.” And then they’re going to have their Christian freedom and do anything they want. And I don’t think the remedy for that is to become legalistic. The gospel is very risky business. When the gospel is rightly preached, people say, “Shall we sin, that grace may abound?” That’s how wonderful the gospel is. It sounds too good to be true. So that’s the end of point number five. Those are the implications for wider evangelicalism. These two pairs of errors.

Where we’re going to go, Lord willing, tomorrow evening, is that I have said that right doctrine is supposed to yield right feeling. So we will ask, what is right doctrine? And why is right thinking important? But the main point, one more time, is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The implications of that are breathtaking.