For Men: Augustine, Sin, and Sovereign Joy

Campus Outreach National Conference | Chattanooga, Tennessee

Eleven days from now it will have been 66 years since I was born in this city. I mentioned that because I’ve now been a believer for 60 years, and I want to encourage you at your stage that you can make it. At least, I want to encourage you that you can make it to 66, because I don’t presume upon the grace of God, I cling to it and I plead for it daily. But I do want to bear witness that you can make it by God’s grace. He who began a good work in you, if He’s begun a good work in you, will complete it to the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. (Jude 24–25).

That’s the kind of exultation Jude feels when he contemplates the fact that God keeps him and doesn’t let him fall away.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me…He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?” (Micah 7:8–10).

I love Micah 7:8–10 because it does include a kind of fall: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I will rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light for me."

I want to be helpful for the next 50 minutes or so, to manage the failures of this past year and help you not be destroyed by them — to help you not be paralyzed by them. And I want to be helpful for next year or the next 60, 70, or 80 years, that God will empower you to fight the fight of faith every day so that you can say, when you’re standing in my place here, “He kept me. He has not let me down. He has been faithful to me.” That’s what I want to do. I want to help you.

I was reading in my devotions the other morning that, after the resurrection, Jesus was amazingly eager to have a restored relationship with all of his 11 disciples that had forsaken him. In Mark 14:50 it says:

They all forsook him, and fled.

So did you do that this year? Did you walk away? Some of you did. You just walked away. You said, “I’m done with it. I don’t care anymore. It’s too hard. It’s not paying off. I’m just out of here as far as the Christian life goes.” And that’s what they had done. At his hour of greatest sorrow, they left him.

So now, here he is risen with sovereign triumph over the universe in his hands, and what does He do? He meets Mary and he says:

Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ (John 20:17).

What’s the point in saying, brothers, your God, and your Father except, “I want you back.” He’s still your Father. And then he meets them in the room. Evidently, he passes right through the door and just shows up. What’s the first thing he says? “Peace be to you” (John 20:21). They must have felt like, “Oh, we are going to get spanked here really bad, or worse.” And instead he says, “Peace be to you.”

And then Peter, after Judas, did the worst. He said:

Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!

And Jesus says, “No, Peter. Three times you’re going to deny me.” But do you remember Luke 22:32?

I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

He doesn’t say, “If you turn again.” This is the sovereign, pre-crucified Jesus saying to Peter, “You’re going to deny me. And when you turn — I have that secured with the Father — strengthen your brothers.”

So then he comes to Peter on the beach after the catch of 153 fish, and he looks right at Peter and says, “Do you love me more than these?” And Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Again, he says, “Do you love me more than these?” And Peter says, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” A third time he says, “Do you love me Peter?” And Peter says, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you” (John 21:15–17). Do you get what’s going on? That’s three times he has Peter affirm his love for him after his three denials. Three times he has Peter say, just like you didn’t, that he does love him. And then after each time, Jesus says, “Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Shepherd my flock.” In other words, “I’ve got work for you to do Peter. Let’s go.”

If that’s where you were in 2011: “I threw it away, I denied it, I walked away.” I just want you to hear loud and clear that he will have you back for 2012. So let this conference be a decisive turning point. Just say it in your heart and to him, “I’m done with the failure. I’m so thankful that you will have me back. I’m coming back.” And hear those words: “Peace be to you — my brother, your father. Do you love me? I have work for you.” So I want to help you with the past year, but mainly, I would like to be of help for the rest of your life. I would like to be of help in the fight of faith, which is every day; and, in particular, the fight against lust, or bondage to pornography, or bondage to masturbation, or bondage to sleeping with your girlfriend, or in whatever form this physical thing, designed by God to be a good, holds you like a slave. I would like to help you with that. And I’m going to do it in a way that might be a little different. I’m going to tell you a story of a man’s life, namely Augustine.

Sovereign Joy in the Life of Augustine

Augustine was born in 354 AD, so 1600 plus years ago. And he was in bondage to lust for 16 years. He had a concubine all that time, and had a son with her. He never married in all of his life, but just had sex every day until he was 32 years old. The reason I want to tell you this story and go into his soul with you is because stories sometimes have an unusual power — examples of people that have failed and God rescued them — have power. And secondly, because his way of getting free was that a sovereign joy (his phrase) severed the root of the pleasures of sin.

They lost their power, not by a direct assault, but an indirect assault. It was not mainly an assault with things like, “I’m not turning it on. I’m not clicking the mouse. I’m not pushing the button. I’m not going to see her again.” Instead of those things, which are good, he was saying to God, “I’m coming, and I must have more of this.” So that’s what I want to do. I want to take you there.

I printed out an email that I got Monday, November 22, 2010 from a man who I won’t name, and I’m going to read it to you to show you what I hope happens to you.

Now, he does refer to one of my books, but I’m going to direct you to another book. The point here is not that he got help from a particular book. The point is the kind of help that he got, which he could have gotten better from Augustine than from me. So I’m directing all of your attention to Augustine, and I’ll mention a book of Augustine’s in particular. Here’s the experience of this young man:

A battle began raging in my heart from the time I was 13 years old, and it continued, with shame, into the earliest days at a Baptist seminary. I had given myself to the pursuit of pornography as a teenager, and my pursuit of it continued through Bible College and well into my adult years. I have vivid memories of being sprawled on the floor faced down before God, asking the Almighty to drive the insane pursuit of death from my heart. I purchased books, sought counsel, scoured the Bible, as if it were an encyclopedia, searching for the trick of my deliverance.

About midway through seminary one of your books was casually introduced to me during a lecture by a seminary professor — The Pleasures of God. Something about the title resonated with me, and I left class one afternoon set on purchasing it. That day was the dawn of a new beginning to me.

The Pleasures of God is not a book about sex at all, except that everything about God has implications for sex. The book is just about helping someone get a bigger vision of God and what he’s really like. So the book unpacks what God takes pleasure in, because you can judge a person’s character by what they delight in. So the premise is, if you know what God delights in, then you can know more of his character. And if you know more of his character, you’ll be shaped into it and be indirectly freed from these bondages that hold us. That’s what’s going on here.

It was different from any other book I had purchased, and I began painstakingly soaking the truth presented on each page. Your sermon series on Ruth awakened me to a sovereign God who was plotting for his glory. The words of Ruth changed me and began to transform my thinking. Pornography was the fruit of a far more sinister sin.

In the months and years that followed, the Lord introduced me to the power of a new delight. My life in Christ gradually stopped becoming a duty but instead became a pursuit of a higher pleasure. I laughed with giddiness years later as I read the testimony of Augustine. The work of Christ in Augustine’s life was eerily reminiscent of my own battles.

That’s why I’m going to Augustine. I’ve learned most of what I’ve learned from Edwards, Augustine, and people like that, about how to fight the fight of faith not only against lust but against every sin. They’re all fought the same way; namely, by a sovereign joy that masters you and severs the powerful root of other controlling pleasures. You fight fire with fire, joy with joy, pleasure with pleasure, and beauty with beauty. That’s the way you do it.

So Augustine was born in 354 AD, and after three decades of bondage to sexual sin he was converted and became the Bishop of Hippo. He was born, by the way, in North Africa. He was African, and he became the Bishop of Hippo, which is in present-day Algeria in Africa. So we’re studying the theology and the life of a North African here.

Not all of you even know who Augustine is probably, but I want you to feel how huge he is. You’ve heard names like Calvin and Luther outside the Bible, but Augustine was their teacher. He lived a thousand years before them, and all of them say he’s their teacher. So he is one of the most influential human beings that have ever walked the planet, both in the church and outside the church.

Adolf Harnack once said:

The greatest man the church has possessed between Paul the Apostle and Luther the reformer was Augustine. He entered the church and the world as a revolutionary force, and not merely created an epoch in the history of the church, but determined the course of its history in the West up to the present day. He had a literary talent second to none in the annals of the church.

And B.B. Warfield once said:

The whole development of Western life, in all its phases, was powerfully affected by his teaching.

So after Jesus and Paul, Augustine of Hippo is the most influential figure in the history of Christianity. If those statements are even close to the truth, what you’re seeing is that a man who lived in absolute bondage to sex for 32 years was then used by God to be the most influential Christian ever, outside the Bible. That’s amazing. We should be hopeful.

If I could just make one thing happen for 2012, aside from what's going on here, it would be that all of you would read Augustine’s Confessions. It’s a classic. It’s one of the most famous books in the world. You ought to read it just be an educated human being. It’s 350 pages, and it’s the only book I know of that is totally addressed to God. Every sentence in it is a prayer. It is unique and has unusual power. So get it.

Bondage to Lust

In that book, Augustine says:

As I grew to manhood, I was inflamed with desire for an excess of hell’s pleasures. My family made no effort to save me from my fall by marriage. Their only concern was that I should learn how to make a good speech and how to persuade others.

So at 16, he left his city of Thagaste and headed for Carthage. And his mother Monica, who is famous for praying for him all these years until he’s converted at age 32, says goodbye to him and pleads with him not to commit fornication, especially with another man’s wife. That’s what she ends her farewell with. So he continues:

I went to Carthage where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust. My real need was for you my God, who are the food of my soul. I was not aware of this hunger.

So he took a concubine and had her on the side for the next 15 years. He had a son as well, Adeodatus, and it’s tragic what became of them, but I’ll let that story go for another time.

When he was 30 years old he moved to Milan, Italy, and there he came under the influence of Ambrose, a pastor. And he attended, mainly for literary reasons, because Ambrose was a good speaker. He sat under his ministry week in and week out until God took him.

So I’m going to read you the account that he wrote in Confessions. I think we could say it is one of the most important days in church history, maybe one of the most important days in world history given the effect that Augustine had on the church and the church has on the world. As I read this, I’m thinking of those of you for whom this has not happened, or some form of it. As I read this account of his conversion and how God did it, maybe you will feel the Holy Spirit moving in your heart, mind, and body, beckoning you out of the bondages in which you live in a similar way. So listen prayerfully. Ask God to use it that way.

The day came when he was with his friend Alypius in a garden, and they were talking about the impossibility of purity, sexual purity in particular.

There was a small garden attached to the house where we lodged. I now found myself driven by the tumult in my breast to take refuge in this garden, where no one could interrupt that fierce struggle in which I was my own contestant. I was beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity. I was dying a death that would bring me life. I was frantic, overcome by violent anger with myself for not accepting your will and entering into your covenant. I tore my hair. I hammered my forehead with my fists; I locked my fingers and hugged my knees.

Just picture him on the ground, agonizing over whether he can let a lifetime of sin go. The battle became pretty clear for him between the beauty and pleasure of sexual lust versus chastity, or continence, with Christ.

I was held back by mere trifles. They plucked at my garment of flesh and whispered, “Are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, forever and ever?” And while I stood trembling at the barrier, on the other side I could see chaste beauty, the beauty of continence in all her serene, unsullied joy, as she modestly beckoned me to cross over and to hesitate no more. She stretched out loving hands to welcome and embrace me.

So now the battle has come down to these trifling clutches: “You will never have us again.” Think of pornography, for example, saying, “You’re going to make a decision never to see me again. Really?” Brothers, I bear witness that is possible. It feels impossible, but it is not.

So these trifles are clutching at him; these fangs in the garment of his flesh. And over a river is this beautiful woman called Chastity, or Continence. Who will win? It’s beauty against beauty. It’s joy versus joy.

There’s no victory in merely asserting, “No, no, no.” That’s not victory. Crossing that river into the arms of godliness and Christ, that’s victory. Having a new sunshine over there, a new kind of tree, a new and high and sovereign pleasure, that’s victory and freedom and hope and joy and salvation.

I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes. In my misery, I kept crying, “How long will I go on saying, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow?’” Why not now? Why not make an end to my ugly sins at this moment?’ All at once I heard the singsong voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain, “Take it and read. Take it and read.”

At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which the children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.

So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting, seized the book of Paul’s epistles and opened it. In silence, I read the first passage on which my eyes fell:

”Not in reveling in drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Romans 13:13–14).

I had no wish to read more, nor need to do so. For, in an instant, as I came to the end of this sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart, and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.

And then, at age 32, he turned and never went back. His choice not to marry may not have been the wisest choice. Marriage is a beautiful thing. Sex is a beautiful thing. But given what he had endured, I sympathize with his choice. I don’t want you to become Platonists, who solve the problem of the sinful use of the body by no use of the body. That’s not my goal. It was his choice to just never go there.

And he lived a chaste and celibate life until the end, and became the Bishop of Hippo, not by his own choice but because people saw him soaring in godliness and effectiveness of communication about the sovereignty of grace. So they made him bishop, and he was there until he died when he was 75. Brothers, there’s hope for you. There really is.

Augustine’s Theology

So he was converted and began to think it all through. That’s the way it happens sometimes, isn’t it? You think your theology comes before your experience, and sometimes it does, but often theology is an effort to understand what God has already done to you. It seeks to answer, “How did he do that? I want to understand because I would like to help other people.” So I want to take you on a brief tour of his theological reflections on how that happened to him.

Augustine’s arch opponent from then on was a British bishop named Pelagius, who lived in Rome. You may have heard the term Pelagianism somewhere in your reading or studies. Pelagianism from Pelagius, and Augustinianism from Augustine, are two radically different views of our nature, who we are since Adam, and how we come into fellowship with God and live successfully there — two radically different views.

Pelagius did not believe in original sin the way Augustine did. That is, he didn’t believe that our minds are so darkened by sin, and our wills are so bent by sin, and our emotions are so enslaved by sin that we couldn’t on our own break free into faith and godliness. He said, “You can.” And Augustine said, “No way can you break free on your own without a sovereign intervention of God’s grace in your life.” Augustine’s whole life was spent trying to understand what sovereign grace is and how you experience it.

He said things that drove Pelagius up the wall. He said things like this:

Give me the grace, O Lord, to do as you command and command me to do what you will. O holy God, when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.

That’s Augustinianism — “Command what you will, give what you command.” That’s the essence of what I believe and what Campus Outreach is built on. It’s another way of describing what it means to be reformed.

Augustine had 32 years of his life to prove that he was a slave. Will it take that long for you? It may not even be lust for you. It may be the praise of man, desperately needing approval from women or men. Enslaved to always be a second hander, looking for, “Please like me, please praise me, please accept me,” governing all your behavior to avoid anything other than that. That’s slavery. So I don’t know what your slavery is except that you’re male and I’m assuming you have issues with sex. We’re all slaves. How will we be free? Not Pelagius’s way.

Let me try to describe freedom the Augustinian way and the Pelagian way, because we get bent out of shape in regard to free will. Here’s what a Pelagian says about freedom. Let’s say on one side you have God and godliness and on the other side you have sin. For Pelagius, freedom is right in the middle, poised in perfect equilibrium, containing the power to go one way or the other. That’s what he would call freedom. Augustine looks at that and says, “That doesn’t exist in the universe, and it couldn’t. I’m either on one side or the other. I’m not poised in equilibrium, and my goal is certainly not to be there.”

He said some amazing things. I just wrote them down again last night, and was blown away by how he described free will, or wrestling with choices — between evil and good, Satan and God, unbelief and belief, etc. Regarding this kind of wrestling, he said, “I don’t want to live there. Wrestling with choices is a necessary evil in a fallen world, until the day comes when discernment and delight in godliness are one.” Do you understand what he’s saying?

Right now, even as a saved John Piper, I’m so affected by the remaining corruption in me that I’m struggling with what to do. Pelagian’s picture of freedom is that you can go this way or that way. But I don’t want to live hovering between good and bad, right and wrong, wrestling with my free will as to which one goes which way. I want to be totally enslaved to the good because the good has become compellingly beautiful to me. There isn’t a greater freedom in the world than to do what you want to do, with no regrets for a thousand years, because what you want to do is love godliness and love God.

Pelagius’s equilibrium isn’t freedom. In fact, biblically it doesn’t exist. Read Romans 6. We are either enslaved to sin or we are enslaved to God. There is no hovering in the middle. And the only way to move from here to here, as Augustine discovered biblically and experientially, is to be set free. We can’t do it.

That doesn’t sound very macho, so don’t try to be theologically machismo. Be theologically child-like.

…unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).

The attitude of a child is like this: “God, I’m a slave. I’m a slave to cravings and desires and longings and yearnings, and I can’t make myself love godliness. I can’t make myself love Jesus. I can’t make myself love chastity. I’m in love with all this stuff.”

That’s true. You can’t. And that’s what Augustine discovered.

So let me read you this amazing statement of his understanding of what happens.

During all those years of rebellion, where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke, O Lord? How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys, which I had once feared to lose. You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy.

That phrase captured me years ago, and I put it in the title of a book. I love that phrase. Can you imagine anything better than to be set free, not by sovereign wrath, or sovereign anger, or sovereign severity, but sovereign joy? Augustine continues:

You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not to the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. O Lord my God, my light, my wealth, and my salvation.

The way grace works, according to Augustine, is that grace is God giving us a sovereign joy in himself that triumphs over the pleasures of sin. Grace is God giving us, freely and powerfully, a sovereign joy in him that is superior to the pleasures of sin, and thus severs the root of their power. Any other way to try to get free results in despair or legalism. Either you will fail in despair, or you succeed and beat everybody up with your self-righteousness. But if you are set free, by a blood-bought, Christ-exalting, sovereign joy, then there’s no room for boasting in yourself.

Nobody boasts about enjoying a hot fudge sundae. You might boast about eating asparagus, but not about eating a hot fudge sundae, as if to say, “Look, I finished it. I finished the whole thing.” You don’t boast when you do what you want to do. You only boast if you do really hard things, and people admire you and pity you because you sacrifice so much.

So if you’re set free by God’s sovereign, supreme, superior joy, you’re not just hovering between two decisions. You are increasingly satisfied, though it’s only partial in this life, by what is good and beautiful and holy and God-exalting, which means you can do what you want to do. That’s freedom.

You know what’s going to be best about the second coming, after seeing Jesus? Not sinning anymore — not even battling sin anymore, or feeling the slightest inclination to any sin anymore. Can you imagine a more magnificent freedom than to do what you want to do for a billion years, every morning, every night, and it only gets better and better because you see more and more of him? Augustine penetrated to the bottom of his own soul, and the bottom of the Bible, when he realized this:

Every man, whatever his condition, desires to be happy. There’s no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things. Whoever, in fact desires other things, desires them for this end.

If that’s true, and I believe it is, then the battle for godliness is the battle for joy. If you try to deny your quest for joy, you deny that you’re a human being. God made you to be happy. You want to be happy like you want to eat?

Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe? Who can welcome in his mind something which does not give him delight? Who has it in his power to ensure that something that will delight him will turn up, or that he will take delight in what turns up? If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due, not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows.

So saving grace, sanctifying grace, and converting Grace, for Augustine, is God giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over other joys. We can be free. And he gives us that gift now, in measure.

That’s why I began by saying I want to help you with the fight of faith, not the drift of faith or the *coasting *of faith in 2012. It will be a fight. But when you’ve tasted the sovereign joy, when the sovereign joy has laid decisive claim to the roots of your emotions and your heart, then you know you can fight in the strength that God supplies and get the victory.

Pursuing Joy

So what follows, in Augustine’s understanding of the Christian life, is that we are pursuing joy. All of life is the pursuit of maximum pleasure in God. Again, he says:

The soul of man shall hope under the shadow of thy wings, they shall be made drunk with the fullness of thy house and the torrents of thy pleasures, thou will give them to drink. For in thee is the fountain of life, and in thy light we see light.

Now, I’ll keep reading here but listen. One of the reasons that this is not landing on some of you, with any effect at all — not stirring or moving or quickening or awakening anything — is because your capacities for longing have shriveled up. Matt Chandler was sitting on his stool yesterday and said some unbelievably wise words. He said, “This is the most entertained generation in the history of the world. You have universal access on your phone to all the information in the world, which means you can titillate yourself with anything, anytime you want, and you’re all bored.”

And I was sitting right here and I thought, “I bet they don’t think they’re bored. I bet they think they have instant access to non-boredom right on their phones.” And then he said, “And the tragedy is that you’ve got enough here to deceive you so that you don’t realize you are bored.” That’s profound. I hope you thought about that.

So right here, in the middle of this quote that I’m reading, Augustine is assuming something really scary and really terrible about this room right now; namely, that there are people in this room that have such a shrunken capacity for thrill, for magnificent pleasures, that they can hardly recognize them anymore. It just shrinks and shrinks with all this entertainment, and pretty soon you visit the Grand Canyon and you don’t see anything.

So here’s what Augustine says:

Give me a man in love; he knows what I mean. Give me a man who yearns. Give me one who is hungry. Give me one far away in the desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the eternal country. Give me that sort of man. He knows what I mean about sovereign joy. But if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about.

And if you’re in that category, I think, right now, you should right now be crying out in your heart, “Oh God, don’t let me be that man.” Which leads me to prayer.

If you say, “Okay, if this is the battle, if the battlefront is the battle to experience a sovereign joy that severs the root of all sinful pleasures, then what do I do? Is there anything I can do? Or do I just lie in my bed and wait for sovereign joy to show up?” The answer is that you pray like crazy, and expose yourself to as many displays of God’s greatness as you can, which is why I’m urging you to read Confessions. You pray and you cry out to God.

Here is Augustine’s effort to help you experience God with such joy that it conquers:

What do I love when I love my God? Not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is not these that I love when I love my God.

And yet, when I love Him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self, when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes a fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating; when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire. This is what I love when I love my God.

And so he prayed. I think this is why the Confessions are 350 pages of prayer. He knew that if God was the only one who could sever the root of the things that held him in bondage, all he could do was look to him and cry to him. He continues:

You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain. You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same. You welcome those who come to you, though you never lost them.

You are never in need yet are glad to gain; never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts. You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you.

So my question is: Do you know any taste like that at all? Has God become such a treasure to you? Has Christ crucified, risen, reigning, coming, and present become to you such a pleasure, such a spring, such a light, such a treasure? I’ll repeat one of Augustine’s quotes again to close:

How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose. You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, my Salvation."

So brothers, this is the battle to be fought indirectly against every bondage in your life. If you have blown it for 18, 20, or 25 years, be like Augustine and say, “I now renounce these, and I turn my face to Jesus Christ, and I turn my face to God the Father, and to his promise, that says, ‘In his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore’ (Psalm 16:11), and I receive it. I embrace him as my supreme pleasure.