The following is a lightly edited transcript.
The topic that you heard announced a few minutes ago was “Future Grace for Finishing the Task.” But I want to move there slowly by taking the theme of the week, as I understand it — namely, “God’s Heart for the Nations,” and analyzing it for a little bit. There is an ambiguity in that phrase “God’s Heart for the Nations,” and the ambiguity is found in the word for, heart for.
What does it mean to have a heart for something? I can think of at least two different meanings. One would be that you have a heart for something when you are pleased by it, or attracted by it, or delight in it. So you might say, “I have a heart for Appalachian sunsets, or I have a heart for cycling. I like to tune into the Tour de France these days every chance I get, to see if Armstrong is where I want him to be.” That’s one possible meaning.
The other possible meaning would be that you have a heart for something or somebody or some group, not because it or they delight you, or please you, or satisfy you, but because you want them to be delighted by, or pleased by, or satisfied by something good that they don’t presently care about, or that they don’t have the advantage to enjoy. So you might say you have a heart for the poor, meaning you want the poor to be benefited with relief. Or you might say you have a heart for the unborn, meaning you want them to have a chance to live.
Heart for the Nations
So if I take those two possible meanings for the theme “God’s Heart for the Nations,” my guess is that most of you would lean toward the second meaning — namely, that God doesn’t look upon sinners with delight. God doesn’t look upon fallen, rebellious creatures with satisfaction. God is not drawn out with something beautiful in the nations, who are in full sway of rebellion against him. If there is a sense in which God is for the nations, or that God has a heart for the nations, it’s because there’s something in God that wants those nations to have a delight in something, or a satisfaction in something, that they don’t presently have.
But now even if you buy that second definition of the theme, there’s still an ambiguity. What does he want them to be satisfied with? What does he want them to be pleased by? What does he want them to experience? And at this point, the answers would just tumble from our lips probably. But the reason I’m digging into this and pressing it is because, frankly, I think in the church, we’re human beings, and we are wired as fallen human beings to give the wrong answers to these questions. We are wired to put ourselves and the nations at the center of the missionary enterprise, and I think that’s a big mistake. I think it undermines what we’re all about.
Seven Questions to Gauge Your Vision of God and the Nations
I want to check you on this. Instead of giving you the answer, I want to give you a test. So I’m going to give you a seven-question exam. You don’t need to answer the questions out loud, but you just answer them in your own head. And I’ll tell you what I think the answers are, and then I’ll spend the rest of the time tonight, and really the rest of the week, I suppose, giving biblical reasons for why I think these are the right answers.
1. Do you feel loved by God because he makes much of you, or do you feel loved by God because he gives you the freedom and the ability to enjoy making much of him forever? There’s a continental divide in American evangelicalism, not to mention the world, on how you answer that question — and in the Southern Baptist Church.
I’ll ask it again because it’s the most important one. This is a feeling question. This is not first a theological question. This is a gut question about where you are. Are you a twentieth-century person, or a biblical person? You just have a few more months in the twentieth century for it to have its massive self-effect on you. It has been the century of the self above all other centuries, and we’re all infected. Do you feel loved by God because he makes much of you, or do you feel loved by God because he has enabled, by his Spirit and by his Son’s death, you to enjoy making much of him forever?
2. Who is the most God-centered person in the universe? Answer: God is.
3. Who is uppermost in God’s affections? Answer: God.
4. Is God an idolater? Answer: no, he has no other gods before him.
5. What is the energy from which all creation springs? Answer: the energy of worship in the Godhead, as the Son worships the Father and the Father worships the Son, and that worship stands forth in a full person called the Holy Spirit — the embodiment of the energy of the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. And in that triune personhood in one essence, the energy of delight in God’s being God spills over in a universe because God will make his ultimate aim to display the joy and the glory that he has in himself for the enjoyment of his creatures.
6. What is God’s chief jealousy? Answer: to be known, admired, trusted, enjoyed, obeyed, above all other things in the world.
7. What is the chief end of God? Here I’m paraphrasing the Westminster catechism and asking, What is the chief end of God? rather than, What is the chief end of man? The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever. Not many people know this. The world doesn’t know it. The world is so far from it. And unfortunately, not many people in the church know this. Because we are so utterly saturated with man-centeredness in our day and in our century.
Three Essential Passions
Let’s take this banner again, “God’s Heart for the Nations,” which I believe with all my heart is a right theme to have. However, if it is to be sustained, and if it is to be carried through over the long haul, we must know that beneath it and undergirding it is a superior allegiance in the heart of God — and that is God’s heart for God before and undergirding and enabling the mission of his heart for the nations. We don’t get that. If it doesn’t bottom on God’s allegiance to God and aim at God’s allegiance to God, we will find ourselves in an idolatrous enterprise, begetting more people like man-centered Americans. We don’t need more people like that; we need saints.
So there are now three allegiances or three things that stand underneath this theme. One is the supremacy of God in the heart of God, and I hope, in your heart. A second one would be that this is good news. Many people do not hear the God-centeredness of God as good news. It is so weird, so strange, so foreign, so seemingly self-exalting and megalomaniac-like, that it doesn’t sound like good news at all. It shows how far we are from the Bible. First is the supremacy of God and a passion for it. And second is: Is that good news? Is there any joy to be had in that? Will that satisfy hearts forever? And the third is: If the supremacy of God is the foundation of all things, and God’s heart for his supremacy is the foundation and goal of missions, and if this is good news, then the life that comes from the embracing of that good news has to yield holiness, Christlikeness, without which we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
Now those three things, (1) a passion for the supremacy of God, (2) a passion for joy in God, and (3) a passion for holiness as the spillover of that joy in God, those three passions must be in place for me to handle rightly God’s heart for the nations. And the life that accomplishes those three things or exhibits those three passions I call living by faith in future grace or a future grace for the finishing of the task. So you can see we have lots to do before we get to the description of that life, and I’ll just begin tonight. My aim is to ignite those three passions in your heart, to fan the flame of a passion for the supremacy of God, a passion for joy, and a passion for holiness. And I will feel like I have accomplished my purposes if I can do that.
Grounded in Glory
So let’s go, first of all, to a passion for God. God’s passion for God is the foundation of your passion for God. I grew up in a home in Greenville, South Carolina. My dad is an evangelist. And every night when he was home, which weren’t many nights, he would lead the family in prayer. And when he didn’t, my mother did. And always, there would be the theme of the glory of God. And I thank you Daddy for it. He’s 81 and still holding forth in Easley, South Carolina through mission ventures that he’s created over the years.
I didn’t understand everything in his prayers. But what I did hear, clear as a bell, was, “for the glory of your name.” And when he would quote things to me, or when he would give me counsel as I went off to college, he would say, “Remember Johnny, 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, son, do all to the glory of God.” So there are reasons in my roots for why I am driven by the glory of God.
But he never showed me what gripped me in 1968 — namely, that God’s passion for the glory of God underlay my passion and his passion for the glory of God. If we really understood the foundations for the call to live for the glory of God, you need to know that it’s rooted in and founded on God’s passion for the glory of God. And once I saw that, oh, the difference it made in my life. I want you to see that. I want you to see it from the Bible, not from me and my theology.
For God’s Sake
So I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour of the Bible. I’ll give you from the Bible what I think is probably the most God-centered, hammering, Godward text that I know of in all the Bible — namely, Isaiah 48:9–11, and I’ll read it for you. The context here is Isaiah foreseeing the day much later than when he lived, in which the people would have been taken into captivity in Babylon, and would be brought back. And why would they be brought back having been rebellious the way they were? God gives the reason like this and Isaiah 48:9–11.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
There are six hammer blows in this text:
- “For my name’s sake.”
- “For the sake of my praise.”
- “For my own sake.”
- “For my own sake.”
- “How should my name be profaned?”
- “My glory I will not give to another.”
Is there any doubt the fundamental motivation of God in rescuing his people from Babylon? His glory. His Holiness. “I will not be profaned.” And if you think that he’s being profaned in many ways, he is — but it will not last indefinitely. And the reason you can know in the hardest possible mission field that it will not be an indefinite profaning among all those people is that God loves his glory, and he will not suffer it to be trampled indefinitely by unbelief in any mission field.
God’s Passion for His Glory
So let me take you on this tour. I want you to see the scope of the Bible on this issue. This is what gripped me. I took up, in 1968, a book by Jonathan Edwards called The End for Which God Created the World. I owe that book such a massive debt that a couple of years ago, I wrote a 150–page introduction for it and published it in God’s Passion for His Glory. And the only reason I did that book was to pay a debt to Jonathan Edwards. I wanted that book to be available today. And I have been so transformed by the message of that book in terms of missions, and worship, and evangelism, and pastoral care, and everything else, because it all relates to this, that I wanted to pay my debt with a long introduction to tell my story of my experience with Jonathan Edwards. So I did.
But now here is Jonathan Edward’s book in five minutes — at least half of it. Half of it is sort of philosophical. The other half is simply drenching you with Bible, and that’s the half that made the biggest impact on me. And so I want to drench you for five minutes or so with texts, all of them making one point: *the ultimate goal of God in creating the universe and in the history of redemption is to uphold and display his glory for the enjoyment of his people that he is gathering from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. That’s the meaning of the universe. The universe exists to display the glory of God for the enjoyment of his creatures, his people being gathered through you from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. Now you need to see that from the Bible, not hear it from my lips. And so I’m going to take you from eternity to eternity in a few minutes, pointing to the highlights of redemptive history and the places where God, in his infallible, inspired, revealed word told us why he’s doing what he’s doing.
Why did he choose us in eternity? Ephesians 1:4–6: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 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.”
And here’s the terminus: “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” All election, all redemption, all adoption, all justification, all glorification is unto the praise of the glory of his grace. And if you had to pick one thing where it all terminates, it’s glory, glory. That’s where it all terminates. That’s the point of the book of Ephesians.
Why did he then create you, having chosen you? Isaiah 43:6–7: “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.” You were made for his glory.
Why did he call Israel? Why did he choose this people? Isaiah 49:3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Or Jeremiah 13:11: “I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.” I chose this people to be a glory for me.
Why did he rescue them from Egypt? Remember how they became slaves? Psalm 106:7: “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” So here he has a rebellious people at the Red Sea, and he saves them. Why? That he might make known his mighty power. We must strike this note again and again and again. God saves people for his glory.
Or why did God give them the promised land? What a grumpy, murmuring people so many years in the wilderness. They don’t deserve anything except judgment, even after they’ve all died out in the wilderness and you’d think you’d have a new people to start out with. No way, they are one rebellious lot. Why did he give them victory over all those peoples? Second Samuel 7:23: “And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?” He was making himself a name.
Just incidentally, in passing, do you know how Rahab, the harlot, got saved? She was one of the ones who was the beneficiary of God making himself a name at the Red Sea. She said, “We have heard of the mighty works and how God glorified himself at the Red Sea” (Joshua 2:10). And she humbled herself before that and was saved by faith. I’ve already read why God saved His people from the exile.
Let me read you another text that describes the same event from a different angle. Ezekiel 36:22–23: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name. . . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name. . . . And the nations will know that I am the Lord.” There’s a note missing in contemporary American evangelism. And it’s this one: our evangelistic fruit needs to hear God say, “It is not primarily for your sake that I save you. It is for my sake that I save you because I’m bringing you into an enjoyment of me, that will result in exalting of my name in your life.” They need to get that, or they may not be saved. If God isn’t preeminent in their affections, maybe they’re just buying into the music, or buying into the youth group, or buying into the friends or whatever else might attract them to our churches.
Did Jesus talk this way? Jesus sought the glory of his Father in all that he did. Listen to John 7:18. He says, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” Jesus, modeling true humanity, lived for the glory of his father. He said that every answer to prayer is designed for the glory of God. Remember that text? John 14:13–14: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Why do you pray in Jesus’ name? The Father gives and the Father is glorified in the Son. I work at it.
I’ve got five kids and we’ve taught them all how to pray, and we’re working on Talitha right now. She’s four. She’s with the kids tonight. And I detect about age 7, 9, 10, 13, 15, 17, some sloppy prayer-ending. I say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s this Jesus name amen• stuff? Do you know what you’re saying, when you say “in Jesus’s name, amen”? Do you know what this is? You don’t deserve anything from God. There are no answers to prayer coming your way because you have any merit or any worth in God’s sight. Any answers to prayer that are coming your way are coming because of the worth of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the righteousness of Jesus. When you go before the throne boldly in him, it’s a throne of grace for one reason: Jesus bought it all. And so when you say “in Jesus’s name,” you say it slow and you mean it. Don’t you throw that away; you mean it. “In Jesus’s name, Father, so that you get the glory through what Jesus did, when you bought my right to pray for you to answer for your sake.” Let’s teach our kids how to pray. Let’s teach ourselves how to pray.
What about the last hour, the greatest event in history? Did He do the greatest thing in the world, the cross for the glory of God? This is Gethsemane: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27–28). For this purpose, I have come to this hour, Father. Tomorrow morning, and all through the night, and in all the strength you give me to live out this obedience, glorify your name.” And you know what the Father said? “Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
Most Important Paragraph
The most important paragraph in the Bible, if I had to choose one, would be Romans 3:20–26. And the key verses there, you’ve built your life on it, I would presume; I hope so:
God put [Christ Jesus] 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. (Romans 3:25–26)
Now do you see what’s at stake in the cross? The righteousness of God was at stake in the passing over of sins. Exactly the opposite problem that all Americans have with God. All Americans have a problem with God; namely,, things go bad for them. That’s their problem with God. Do you know what Paul’s problem with God was? Things go good for sinners. He passes over former sins done beforehand.
I’ll give you one as an example. David commits adultery with Bathsheba and then he kills her husband, indirectly. Nathan is appointed to go bring this to David’s attention. Nathan arrives, tells a parable, and David gets all worked up that in the parable a man killed a little sheep, the only one that his neighbor had so that he could feed his guests. And he’s furious. Nathan says, “You are the man.” And the text says, “David humbled himself when Nathan said, why have you despised God?” He humbled himself and the next thing out of Nathan’s mouth is, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). That’s a massive problem with justice that nobody in America feels, except a few biblically informed people.
We expect God to forgive our sins. We expect things to go well for us. And when somebody gets sick, or when some accident happens, or when we lose our job, or there’s a divorce, we get mad at God, as though we deserve anything differently. You don’t deserve anything from God. God owes you nothing. This is not rocket science. Sinners deserve nothing from God. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Whether it’s a 4-year-old, a 40-year-old, or a 400-year-old, it makes no difference. God owes me and you not one more second of life. Who do we think we are? Well, we are man-saturated, rights-asserting Americans; that’s who we are. And seldom do we think about the rights of Almighty God over us. And they are absolute — and we have no rights, none before the living God, none before the living God, no rights whatsoever, which means every breath you take is a gift of grace.
And that’s a massive theological problem. How can God be a holy and just God and let you off the hook? How can he just wipe it away? And the answer is: he can’t just wipe it away. It took the blood-shedding of his own Son. That’s what makes this the most important paragraph in the Bible: grace abounds for the nations.
I’m preaching through Romans right now and we’re in Romans 5. I’m just still brimming with last Sunday. We’re in Romans 5, and it talks about the transgression or the condemnation being in response to one transgression, and the free gift being in response to many transgressions. And you know what’s inside the word many? Billions upon billions, upon billions of transgressions were covered by the blood of Jesus. If you ever needed anything to make you stand in awe of the glory of God, vindicated by the blood of Jesus in the just and righteous passing over of sins, count them.
What about the second coming? I said I was going to take you from eternity to eternity. Why is Jesus coming back? I’ll read you the answer from 2 Thessalonians 1:8–10 “Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . 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.” Do you hear those two verbs? He’s coming to be glorified and marveled at. God never ceases to be God-centered. Christ never ceases to be Christ-centered. Jesus is coming to be marveled at. He’s coming to put himself on display for your marveling. That’s why he’s coming.
Good News for Sinners
We’ve got to ask this second question: Is that good news? It doesn’t feel like good news to a lot of people. It sounds to many people like God is a colossal megalomaniac here, doing everything for his own glory — I mean, did not 1 Corinthians 13 say, “Love seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5)? So how can God be loving and from eternity to eternity be seeking his own glory? How can this be loving to me? How can this be good news to me or to the nations?
There is no conflict in God’s mind between his pursuit of his glory, and your pursuit of your joy or the nation’s pursuit of their joy, if you pursue it in him. The way I say it with a rhyming phrase is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If God is going to love you, he must give you what’s best for you, right? If he’s going to love you, he must give you what’s best for you, the most glorious thing possible. And what is that? Himself. And for you to benefit to the full in a gift, you must enjoy the gift, you must delight in the gift. It must be a satisfying gift. And so God gives you himself for your enjoyment, and he stuck with the fact that he’s the best gift he can give you.
If he humbled himself and said, “Oh, I mustn’t give them myself. I must give them John Piper,” you would lose big time. Or if you go to the mission field and offer yourself, instead of offering God as their satisfaction, because it will sound humble of God, because he won’t be putting himself in center stage, he won’t be lifting himself up to be enjoyed, but you. That’s treachery.
Let the Spring Flow
A couple of illustrations might be a good way to close with this. How do you glorify an all-sufficient, thirst-quenching mountain spring? Let me define glorify for you quick or magnify. Magnify and glorify are interchangeable. Get this right with your teenagers and people in your church. It does not mean beautify. Beautify means to make something more beautiful. So people naturally think glorify means make something more glorious. So let’s all glorify God, which is blasphemy. So what do you mean when you say magnify God or glorify God?
Let’s define it by distinguishing microscope and telescope. A microscope magnifies in one way, a telescope magnifies in another way. A microscope magnifies blasphemously, a telescope magnifies worshipfully. Because a microscope magnifies by taking something teeny-weeny, and making it look very big. If you do that with God, you’re a heretic. He’s not teeny-weeny, and you can’t make him look big, bigger than what he is. But a telescope magnifies in a different way. It takes something that looks teeny-weeny, like a star, and makes it look like what it really is: magnificent. That’s what your life is supposed to do when I say magnify God or glorify God. He looks teeny-weeny or maybe non-existent to the nations or to American secular culture, and our job as churches and as people is to so live that, through the telescope, for the world, that little teeny speck of light up there dazzles them with irresistible glory. That’s what we’re about.
So how do you glorify or magnify a mountain spring? The answer is not that you take buckets of water from the valleys, and dutifully work your way up the mountain trail and pour them into the spring and say, “There, I have served you well by adding to your glory.” You know that’s not right. How do you glorify a mountain spring? Answer: You get down flat on your face and put it in the water and drink and drink and drink until you are satisfied. And then you lift up your face out of the stream and say, “Ahh.” That’s called worship, and that’s the goal of missions. To the degree that you do that begrudgingly and dutifully, instead of with delight, you detract from the glory of God. God is satisfying, or he’s not glorious.
Delight in the Duty
One last illustration, and I’ll be done. Noël has heard me give this one too many times and some of you have too, but it’s my favorite. Do you want to glorify your wife? This is an analogy. I’m not worshiping my wife. I’ve been married for 31 years, going on 32. So here I am; it’s December 21. This coming December will be anniversary 32, and I come home with 32 red roses behind my back. That’s a lot of roses, and a lot of money. And I ring the doorbell, which I don’t ordinarily do, and she comes to the door and looks puzzled as to why I’d ring the doorbell, and I bring the roses out, and I say, “Happy Anniversary Noël.” And she looks and says, “Oh, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty. I read it in a book: you’re supposed to give your wife roses, and I’m fulfilling my husbandly duty, because duty is a glorious thing.”
Why do people laugh at duty? I have no idea why people laugh at duty. Duty is a good thing. Why are you laughing? You should be laughing; it’s all right. Every time I’ve ever told that, people laugh. You need to analyze your laughter here, folks. Your laughter is so profoundly theological, it’s unbelievable. It’s good. It’s the best theological thing you ever did with laughter. What’s wrong with duty at that moment? The answer is: Duty at that moment does not magnify the worth of my wife. It magnifies my moral resolve.
Let’s replay this thing and get the answer right. Ding-dong. Noël open the door. “Happy anniversary, Noël.” “Ah, Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” “I couldn’t help myself. Nothing makes me happier than to buy things for you. In fact, I want you to go change clothes because I’ve arranged for a babysitter, and we’re going to go out tonight because there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend the night with you.” Not in a million years would she ever say, “Nothing you’d rather do. All you ever think about is what you’d rather do.” Why? Why? Why does duty fail at that moment and selfishness succeed? “Nothing you’d rather do than be with me.” It’s because she is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in her. Remember this is an analogy.
So I close by just making the point again: God aims to be glorified in you. His ultimate purpose in the universe is to display his glory for the enjoyment of his people being gathered in from all the peoples, and tribes, and tongues and nations. And though this is very God-centered of God, though it is very self-exalting of God, God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act, because nothing satisfies my heart more than when he gives himself to me, all glorious, to be enjoyed.
And so I say to him, “The reason I’m here at the door in worship is because there’s no place I’d rather be, and there’s nothing I’d rather pursue than you. And nobody gives me joy like you. And nobody gives me satisfaction for eternity like you. And nobody would so completely satisfy my heart, that I have the wherewithal to lay my life down in the hardest mission field of the world,” which takes us now to the life that we’re going to talk about tomorrow.