Here we are now at bullet number 17 which is a very big bullet. We finally arrived and maybe I shouldn’t have put it off this long but here we are at the central issue of what is traditionally and biblically described as the gospel.
It’s very controversial to say “God is the gospel.” That sentence is not in the Bible, and I’m aware of that. The places where the word gospel is used don’t talk like that, and so it’s a judgment call on my part that that sort of risk needs to be taken in order to rescue the sentences that are in the Bible from terminating on the wrong thing or meaning the wrong thing. Sometimes you use non-biblical sentences or words to preserve biblical sentences like the word “Trinity,” which is not in the Bible. It’s a precious word that is intended to safeguard Bible teachings.
Greatest News in the World
So here we are now at what the Bible does say about the term gospel. Let me mention five ways to describe the gospel.
You can describe the gospel in the Bible in terms of events or a central event — like, the death of Christ or resurrection of Christ.
You can describe the gospel in terms of the achievement of the event. What happened when the event happened in the heavenly places between Christ and God? I mean, objective achievement before anything happens in your heart. You weren’t even there.
The gospel can be spoken of in terms of the offer of the achievement to you, and how it’s offered. Is it offered through works or faith?
You can describe the gospel in terms of its application to your heart; that is, the achievement, two thousand years ago, becomes yours. And you experience something between you and God because of what Christ did before you were ever born. That would be the application of the gospel event and achievement.
Finally, you get to where this whole conference is about: all of that, I’m arguing, is intended to get you to God. And if you don’t get to God, none of that is good news. Now I want to unpack those, especially the one called achievement because that’s the most central, foundational, crucial — although they all are so it’s say that is dangerous.
1. How the Gospel Happened
First, let’s talk about the gospel as event. It would be good, perhaps, to go to 1 Corinthians 15. When I was in college, I had a Bible professor named Phillip Hook, and I can remember the day he asked a question to the class, and waited a long time for an answer: What’s the gospel? After a long silence he said, “I’ll take you to the clearest definition of the gospel in the Bible.” This is where he took us: 1 Corinthians 15:1–3:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins.
So the first thing I’m going to say is the gospel is an event in history — totally non-subjective, totally objective, outside of you. If you live, die, exist, or don’t exist, that wouldn’t change it at all; it’s there in history. Two thousand years ago, the Son of God died. That’s essential to the gospel. Any de-historicizing, and demythologizing that says history doesn’t matter, facts don’t matter, just count it out — that’s not biblical. Christ died: that’s the main event.
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)
There’s the central event in history: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died, was buried, and has been raised from the dead.
2. What the Gospel Achieved
What was achieved when that happened? Now the reason we’re spending time here is because I don’t want you to go away thinking that in order to preach the gospel, all you have to do is say, “God is the gospel.” You would not have preached the gospel if you only said, “God is the gospel.” That little phrase is intended to make sure that what I’m talking about for the next twenty minutes probably gets to its appointed end. But you’ve got to go there and get people toward the end this way, and no other way.
What was achieved by the dying of Jesus Christ? Now there are a lot of ways that the Bible says it. I wrote the book Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. I wrote that to go along with the movie The Passion of the Christ. And the reason I wrote it is because I had seen clips of it, and I said, “This is going to be powerful, and it’s going to make one thing crystal clear: he died.” But it was not clear why in that movie. There were hints, but it wasn’t clear, and I just want to make it clear. There’s a reason, and there are fifty of them. I’m only going to talk about four.
I know that people like me are being criticized and dumped on in evangelicalism because they say we’re fixated on substitutionary atonement, and we don’t talk as though anything else happened when he died. Well, forty-nine other things happened when he died, and I just don’t have time to talk about them, but they matter. I don’t feel implicated by that criticism. However, I’m going to return the criticism and say that those who are debunking our views by saying that substitutionary atonement is over-emphasized, and now neglect it, are in a worse position than those who emphasize that and neglect some of the other less secular achievements. This one is all-important.
First, when Jesus died, the wrath of God was absorbed by him. Or to put it more biblically: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”” (Galatians 3:13).Whose curse? God’s curse. When God’s law was broken in the beginning, a curse fell upon humanity. That curse takes people to hell justly. If it is not lifted from us, we perish. If the wrath of God is not removed from us, we’re under it. What did Jesus say? John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Jesus taught that the wrath of God is on every human being. “I have come into the world to solve that problem, and I solve by taking the curse on me when I die. My death is God’s curse on me, and I absorb it.” Now it’s not yours yet. That redemption is not yours yet. That’s coming in point four. I’m just talking about the glory of what is objectively achieved at the death of Jesus. And what happened is: God poured his curse and wrath on his Son, and it was absorbed by him.
Second, Jesus paid the debt for our sins. First Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Isn’t it good to have clear sentences in the Bible? It’s so good. He himself bore our sins in his body. Let’s go back seven hundred years before that.
We esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
I picture myself as a little ten-year old boy, a Royal Ambassador children’s program at a Southern Baptist Church, White Oak Baptist Church. Wednesday nights I’d stand at the grand piano, reciting verses to my grandmother: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). I’m so glad I had a momma and a daddy who made me memorize the Bible as a little boy. What could be more precious than to go to bed night after night, as a sinful little kid who knows he’s bad, bad, and to hear the words, “He laid on him the iniquity of us all”? It’s just so clear, so clear. That happened before you were born.
Third, he provided in his dying the consummation of a life of perfect righteousness. There are about a half a dozen texts that this point pretty clearly. I’ll just pick this one: Romans 5:19: As by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners [I became a sinner in Adam], so by the one man’s [Jesus Christ] obedience the many will be made [counted, constituted] righteous. You’re not righteous. You’re not righteous. Even after you are saved, all of your obedience is contaminated. You cannot present your contaminated, pre-Christian moral efforts or post-Christian, contaminated, Holy-Spirit-wrought efforts to God as sufficient for why he should accept you. He’s not impressed with contaminated obedience. He is holy. “You shall . . . be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). “To get into my heaven, to be acquitted in my court, you must be not guilty. And the accusation in my court is Romans 3:10: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.”
The problem with John Piper in the courtroom of heaven is: not righteous; therefore guilty; therefore perishing. Period. Judges don’t forgive. Good judges do two things: they acquit the innocent, and they condemn the guilty. That’s all they do. We have a just judge, and the requirement in the courtroom is: not guilty. “That’s who I justify. I’m a just judge. I declare ‘not guilty’, the not guilty. I declare ‘condemned’ the guilty. You are all guilty. None is righteous, no, not one.”
That’s a hopeless situation — unless another righteousness could count as mine. It’s my only hope in the courtroom. Could another ‘not guilty,’ could another perfection wrought out by another person, somehow, in some mysterious way, be reckoned to be mine? That’s coming in point number four. All I’m arguing now is: that righteousness, that if there is some way I could have it as counted as mine, has been wrought and finished perfectly by Jesus. That righteousness has been performed and it came to its climax. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). And when he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), oh how much was finished. One of the things that was finished was: “The law is fulfilled. I have perfectly obeyed everything my Father has required of me.”
Now there it is. What a treasure, if there was some way in this courtroom it might become mine, but we’re not there yet. That was number three: objectively achieved, wrath absorbed, sin carried, righteousness performed.
Eternal Life Obtained
Fourth, eternal life was obtained, purchased. If your Bible is still open to Romans 5, I want to show you something. I wasn’t going to do this because it’s a little complicated, but it’s so significant for those of you who are pushing the edges on justification; that is, you really want to understand how it works. I read Romans 5:19, that there’s an obedience of one out there that might constitute me righteous somehow. Now Romans 5:20–21:
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now we have number four in a text, eternal life. And what I want you to see is how it was achieved. Verse 21 again: “As sin reigned in death [Adam’s sin caused a reign of death until death is conquered], grace also might reign through righteousness.” Now the question is: What does that mean? Is this righteousness in verse 21 the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, or the righteousness of Christ on the cross wrought out objectively for me and imputed to me by grace alone? That’s a big difference, a very big difference. The answer is: it is the righteousness imputed to me. And here’s how you can know that: the logic of the next chapter makes no sense if the righteousness in verse 21 is the real, lived-out, Spirit-wrought righteousness of the believer.
The logic goes like this: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). That question would never have arisen had he just said, “Grace is reigning in your life to produce more righteousness.” You would never think of saying, “Well then, shall we sin that grace may abound?” I just said, “Grace is reigning in your life to produce righteousness.” That’s not what it means. What it means is: Christ has obeyed perfectly. God has a righteousness in his Son that, by grace, can be counted as yours, yielding eternal life. And they hear the truth: “You mean, it’s not my righteousness, it’s his righteousness? And by grace alone it’s counted as my righteousness? Then let us sin.” That follows. It’s a stupid question, but it’s a plausible question. The other one is not plausible. This is plausible: if it’s his righteousness, not mine, and he’s willing to let me have it even though I’m a sinner, then magnify that grace; sin on.
All of chapter 6 is Paul’s way of solving that problem. He does not solve it by saying the righteousness of Romans 5:21 is my lived-out righteousness; the righteousness of verse 21 is the righteousness imputed to me by faith alone, and thus gives rise to: “Let’s sin that grace may abound because I get the righteousness from another.”
Those are the four things achieved by Jesus and available to you: wrath absorbed, sins borne, righteousness achieved, and eternal life obtained.
3. How the Gospel Is Offered
So you’ve got the event. You’ve got achievement. And you’ve got the offer of this to you. You should ask (especially if you’re not a believer in this room): is there any way I could get in on that, so that the wrath would not be on me, and my sin would be on him, and his righteousness would count for me, and I would have eternal life? Is there any way I could get in on what he achieved? And it would be really bad news if the answer were: Sure. Work. Work. And therefore, essential to the gospel is that this is free for the believing. I’ll give you a couple of verses on that.
Romans 3:28: “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” You can start to breathe a little easier.
Ephesians 2:8–9: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” If you can work to get it, you can boast in your works. If you can’t work or do anything to get it, but just receive it, you can’t boast.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Right at the center of the gospel is not just event, not just achievement, but a certain offer, a certain deal. And the deal is: You can’t work for it. You’ll never be good enough for it. You can’t perform enough for it. It’s been done objectively outside of you. The reason faith is the only way to have the benefits is that they’ve been accomplished and finished. You can’t add to them. You can’t do anything to increase the wrath removal. You can’t do anything to increase the sin carrying. You can’t do anything to increase the righteousness provided. You can’t do anything to increase the obtaining and purchase of eternal life.
All you can do is say, “Is there any way I can get it?” The answer comes: It’s free. Receive it. Embrace it. Fall on it. Everybody can fall unless you insist on standing on your own two righteous feet. That’s the third element in the gospel: event, achievement, free offer.
4. How the Gospel Is Experienced
If you believe in him, trust him, embrace him, receive him — this Jesus in whom are all those things. If you believe, you are united to him and it’s all yours. Let me just give you some descriptions of that. What is the experiential counterpart of the achievement? Here’s the objective achievement, and now, by faith, you get connected with it, and there’s an experiential counterpart of the achievement. Take wrath removal. The experiential counterpart is reconciliation with God. Here’s what I’m going to do. On each one of these, I’m going to push it all the way to “God is the gospel.”
This is what gripped me just a few years ago, which prompted me to write God Is the Gospel, because I think in the preaching of the gospel today, it’s not wrong that we get to the point of application and we celebrate these four things I’m about to mention (and they are infinitely valuable) but we can leave it and not push people through it to what they are all for — namely, God. So I’m going to push you all the way through it.
When wrath is borne, reconciliation happens. And reconciliation does not happen to enable you to say, “He’s not against me, now I get about my business and do what I like to do without any reference to him.” That’s not the point of reconciliation. Now I’ll read Romans 5:91–11. Watch this very carefully. Watch the sequence and flow of thought in Romans 5:9–11.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
There you have it. I just want to get people there. I want to get them to verse 11. I don’t want them to stop in verse 10 and just celebrate reconciliation. “I have good feelings. Nobody is mad at anybody anymore. Let’s just go do stuff, just go live our life.” And you feel good. “No, he’s not mad at me anymore. I’m just going to live my life. I’m just so happy he’s not mad at me anymore. I’m just going to go live my life.” That’s not the point. That’s not the point at all. The point is: “We rejoice in God.” The mark of the reconciled believer is joy in God, not just being reconciled with God. God is the gospel in the end. The highest, best, good to which all the others are leading, without which all the others would not be good news.
My experience with the first one is reconciliation. My experience with the sin bearing is forgiveness. And here to make the link with God is the gospel I would take you to Psalm 32. Psalm 32 begins like this (which is quoted in Romans): “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven.” So the sin, the transgression, fell on Jesus. He carried it and now I’m forgiven. He doesn’t hold it against me anymore. And the last verse of Psalm 32:11 says, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice.”
This point, more than any other point, did a shift in my thinking four or five years ago because I began to ask audiences this provocative question: Who cares about being forgiven? So what if you’re forgiven? What good is that? It’s a really good question to ask because you could give some very worldly answers that show you’re using God — like, “I hate a guilty conscience. I don’t sleep well when I have a guilty conscience. Forgiveness means I don’t have to have a guilty conscience anymore. I sleep better.” That’s a bad answer. What is forgiveness for?
And I’ve told this story twenty times. Say I get up in the morning and I trip over something my wife left on the floor, maybe a big pile of laundry. I’m the one who puts the laundry in front of the dresser, but suppose she did this time. And I trip over it, and she’s just waking up, and I ding my hand against the dresser, and I turn around and say something really ugly. She’s not even out of bed yet, and I’ve just ruined the morning, and there’s this awful feeling between us. I hate it when there’s an awful feeling between me and my wife. I really don’t like that. So we’re down in the kitchen now, and she has her back to me, manifestly, at the sink, doing something. And I’m behind her pouring my cereal. This is really bad. The ice is in the air. This is awful. What needs to happen here? Well, John Piper needs to ask for forgiveness. That’s what needs to happen.
Who cares about forgiveness? What is forgiveness? What do I want? Is it that I’d like to walk into this day with a clear conscience that I didn’t do wrong? Or that the wrong has passed? That’s not what I want. Do you know what I want? I want her to turn around and smile and hug me, and it’s really okay between her and me. That’s what I want. Forgiveness in and of itself is nothing. Forgiveness is a means to being back together again. That’s the point. It’s not mainly about a clear conscience or sleeping better or doing better at work because you’ve got it settled. The main thing is her back is not to me anymore. There’s no ice in the air between us anymore. There’s a smile; there’s warm, affectionate conversation. It’s all natural, and the one-flesh union is flourishing again. That’s why God forgives sin. So that he and you can have that. It’s about God. It’s about enjoying fellowship with him. That’s why your sins have been forgiven.
Righteousness has been objectively provided. The experiential counterpart is justification. So I’m back at Romans 5:1–2. You can see how this leads to God. In the courtroom, he pronounced you not guilty, just, righteous, which is totally unjust unless you are without unrighteousness. And Jesus is the only who is without unrighteousness, and God pronounces me that way because when I trusted him, his was counted as mine.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Right now I’m enjoying peace with him, and when I look into the future, I’m anticipating glory, his glory being revealed to me. And that’s why I’m justified. If you just stop and say, “I’m justified, I’m justified, I’m justified.” Somebody has a right to say, “So what?” And if you answer, “I don’t have to go to hell,” That’s not a good answer. It’s not a false answer; it’s just: Did God have anything to do with this? Do you want God? Do you want more of him? He justified you. He provided a righteousness for you so that when he looks upon you there would be only favor, and you would be welcomed into his flaming presence and not be incinerated but have fireproof clothing, so that in the flames you would see glory upon glory forever and ever. It’s like living in the eye of a hurricane: it’s quite safe and peaceful there but you wouldn’t want to move to far to the right or the left.
Finally, we get to eternal life. John 17:3 goes like this: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life was purchased and provided for us in the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ when he got triumph over death and it becomes ours. And what is it? What is it? Everlasting golf? Sex? Food? “This is eternal life, that they know you, Father, and the one whom you have sent: knowing us, treasuring us, enjoying us, fellowshipping with us forever.”
God is the highest, best, final, decisive, good of the good news, to which all the other elements of the gospel are leading, and without which all the other elements of the gospel are not good news — namely, the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Christ for our everlasting enjoyment. That was bullet point number seventeen, the biggest one and the most important one.
To Bring Us to God
This next point is very short. The clearest text that relates the cross and God is the gospel is 1 Peter 3:18. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” If that’s the only verse you take away, you’ll have the whole thing. The suffering of Jesus, which is the center of the gospel event, was intended to bring you to God. That was a short one. That was number eighteen.
Light of the Gospel
It’s not surprising, therefore, that you find the gospel described as the gospel of the glory of Christ. Let’s go to 2 Corinthians 4. Here we learn what it is to be lost, what it is to be converted, and how to minister to people between those two. Second Corinthians 4:4:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
This is the definition of lostness: to be lost is to be blinded from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. In a sense, God Is the Gospel is one extended exposition of that verse: “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” That’s really big. There is so much packed in there. Just let it land on you that when Paul chose to describe lostness, he said it’s blindness to glory. It’s blindness to glory. To be saved is to experience verse 6:
God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
That’s the solution to verse 4: conversion is the solution to lostness. How does conversion happen? Sovereign God looks into dead, dark, glory-ignoring heart and says, by sheer, unconditional, regenerating, sovereign call, “Let there be light.” And you had read your Bible, or listened to Billy Graham, listened to the radio, gone to church a hundred times, and it was nothing to you. And today you have no explanation for why, but you feel guilty for your sins. Christ looks precious. Everything is changed. You see with new eyes, and the whole book opens like a flower. And you know something’s happened. It’s called the new birth. That’s what happens and the essence of it is: glory is seen. Before you’re saved, do you remember what Paul says about the way you look at the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:23–24?
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
There are two people looking at the same gospel, the same cross, and one says, “That’s foolish,” and the other says, “Power, wisdom, and worship.” What’s the difference? Verse 6: God says sovereignly, “Let there be light.” What can you do, since God saves like that, God opens the eyes to see the gospel as glorious? You do verse 5.
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
I planted, Apollos watered, and God made the lights go on. Don’t be fatalistic about this. You’re hearing me talk right now like a Calvinist, which is because that’s what verse six says. God makes the heart see the glory. Don’t ever hear us Calvinists say, “Therefore God saves them, and there’s nothing you can do.” That is so wicked, so wicked, to say that’s what’s being said or that the Bible is saying. It’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that the reason you can go out of here with some hope that you could go to that mom or dad or brother that you shared the gospel with a hundred times, and they don’t want to hear any more about it, and believe that it’s possible — possible that at age seventy he might see it — is only because of verse 6, through your saying it.
I come here so aware that I’m a sayer, I’m a talker right now. I can’t do anything to make this happen. God is pleased like jets flying in formation — wherever the Holy Spirit, back here in this jet, sees Jesus Christ or his Father being lifted up, he flies in tandem with them. But if you stop doing that, he lands. The Spirit does not fly through Phoenix, saving sinners, apart from the preaching of the gospel. He does not do verse 6 without verse 5. So you have a job; it’s a glorious job. You’re free; you can’t make it happen. You cannot make it happen. It isn’t your responsibility. But oh, to tell the news, to share some of the things we have talked about that you can do. And God may be pleased to save the one you love. That’s bullet point number nineteen.
God Is the Gospel — for Unbelievers
I said a while ago that I would give you some clues that the unbelievers that you know have something written on their heart that’s a witness to what I’m saying. There’s a place to link up. There is some common ground. You’re not totally at a loss to help an unbeliever. You may say I’ve painted a picture of the radical god-centeredness of the gospel that is so otherworldly, no pagan sinner could even begin to want it. That is not true, I hope. And I’ll show you the way I think about clues that are in unbelievers.
Why do they go to the Grand Canyon? Why do they take trips to the Rockies? Why do they fly to Switzerland and rent a little chalet in the Alps? Because when you’re standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or standing at the foot of the Rockies, you feel small and vulnerable. So why do they go? And not only do they go, but they go into stores and they buy big glossy picture books to remind them of their insignificance when they get home. And you know why. If you’ve been tracking with me at all, you know what that is a whisper of in the human heart. God has not left them without a witness. They were made not for the salvation of self-esteem, but for something magnificent outside themselves. They know it. They know this; they know that the deepest, highest, longest pleasures they’ve ever had have not been when they stood in front of a mirror and liked what they saw. That’s fine. Nobody likes to be unpleasing in front of a mirror, but they know that’s so small.
But at the edge of the Grand Canyon, when the soul is just drawn out, and for a fleeting, God-given moment, they are non-self-conscience and only feel wonder, they have tasted a parable of what they were created for: God. You can help unbelievers with this. You can help them with this: to show that many experiences in their lives are pointing to the truth that heaven will not be a hall of mirrors in which they like what they see. You can help them feel how small that is. I don’t think there are going to be any mirrors in heaven. I just think Jesus will be everywhere you turn, and there will be a new heavens and new earth, and all the things that he has made will come into their own as witnesses to himself. There will be no competition.
I asked the guys on Thursday night (there were about five hundred of them in that room over there), Why do you guys go to professional football games, basketball games, why do you go to museums (maybe some of you don’t), or symphonies where there are artists and players of music that are way better than you are? Why do you go to movies where they can act so much better than you? I mean, you sit in front of a football game, and you watch these guys, and you know, “They are better than I am. I cannot do any of that.” You go to a movie: “I cannot act like that.” You go to a symphony: “I cannot play like that.” Here are all these things we go to documenting our inferiority. And we go. Why? Why do you turn on those games when they are so much better than you are? It just must make you feel really weak to watch these 350-pound guys bang into each other and get up off the ground not wounded. You must feel really vulnerable and weak.
And you go to a movie and you admire a performance or a play and you know, “I’m a dud when I get in front of a group; I can’t act at all so you feel inferior there.” And you go to a museum and you see this magnificent art, and you say, “I can’t even draw a stick figure; I feel really inferior in this room.”
No, no, that’s not what happens. Why? Because you’re being drawn out in some sweet moments of self-forgetfulness to admire greatness. It’s just a parable of why we’re made. We’re not made to feel great about ourselves mainly. We’re made to feel great about God mainly. All these things are testimonies in the heart of fallen human beings that they are made for God, and we can help them on toward that. And then when they feel absolutely inadequate and hopeless to get there, we can tell them about them about the event and the achievement and the offer and the application, all aiming to get them to the Grand Canyon, which is a million times more stunning even than what the Hubble telescope can see. You can connect with unbelievers like this. I believe with all my heart you can. So that’s bullet point number twenty.
Fight for Joy
The next bullet point is the question: “How do I become more like this? How do I see him more clearly, love him more dearly? You’ve said God is the gospel and we are created to see him and savor him and display him. I’m just not there; I’m not where I want to be. I’m looking through a glass that’s really dark. And the mirror kind of attracts me and so does lunch, frankly. It’s 12:15.”
I wrote this all in a book that’s called When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. That’s all that book is: it attempts to answer the how question. And I was going to talk about sovereign illumination, which we saw. I was going to talk about prayer: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14). I was going to talk about suffering: you have to get the skin ripped off, you have to get the old idols removed. They are very painful to give up. God uses suffering to knock the props out from under our lives, so that we fall on him and recognize him as all sufficient (2 Corinthians 1:8–9). And I was going to talk about pondering his excellency. And I had a list of fifteen excellencies of Jesus. That was bullet point number twenty-one.
Let Good Works Shine
I was going to comment that God created the universe not simply for us to have private enjoyment of himself, but for us to bear fruit from that enjoyment in acts of love and sacrifice that make his glory visible. Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” And my argument is that those good deeds flow from satisfaction in God and I had a whole slew of text that support that, from 2 Corinthians 8:2, to Hebrews 10:34, to Matthew 5:16. That was bullet point number twenty-two.
If you delight in God like I’ve encouraged you to do, you will be a loving person toward other people. With your soul satisfied in God, you will begin to spill over with generosity and sacrifice on others. It creates world missions.
All Good in God
And finally, I said I wanted to close and let Edwards have the last say because he is my teacher, and I would like to honor him in this way. The quote comes from “God Glorified in the Work of Redemption by the Greatness of Man’s Dependence upon Him in the Whole of It.” That’s a sermon title from 1731. And I’ll read this and then pray, and we will be done.
The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God’. The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.