What I’m going to do in my three messages is talk about three of the discoveries that I’ve made in my life that have been most shaping for the way I think about everything — the way I do ministry and the way I do my fathering and husbanding and everything else. These are three discoveries, and most of them were made between the ages of 22 and 25.
Those were the epoch-making years of my life in terms of paradigm-shifting and the discovery of things that would shape the rest of my life. Not much has altered in what I discovered in those days. I’ve simply been trying to go deeper and apply farther what the Lord, through some really key living teachers, some really key dead teachers, and his word, showed me in those days.
So, I’m going to mention what those are now. I’ll give you just a statement about each of the three, and then we’ll tackle the first one and then tomorrow morning the next one, and so on.
Paradigm Shifting Discoveries
First, God is radically God-centered. Christ is pervasively Christ-exalting. God does everything he does from beginning to end to magnify his greatness. He is relentlessly self-exalting, and this is really good news. That’s the first point.
The second point then tries to draw out some implications of that — namely, that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. And if that’s true, and if I can show you that biblically and persuade your heart as well as your head, you will be freed 24/7 for the rest of your life to pursue your fullest and longest happiness. In fact, I will argue, that you dare not neglect to pursue it. It would be sin not to pursue it because God is most glorified in you when you engage in that pursuit, even though it may cost you your life.
And the third point is that a life of love — a life of risk, a life of sacrifice to others, a life of laying down your life, however God calls you to do that — is rooted precisely in the radical pursuit of your own happiness.
An Emotional Crisis with the Glory of God
Now, those three theses are counterintuitive — all three of them. The fact that God’s God-centeredness, or Christ’s relentless calling of us to make much of him, is good for us is not what people feel at first. For many, it feels kind of off-putting that God would be self-exalting. They think, “We shouldn’t be self-exalting. So, if he is, and we don’t like ourselves if we are, then we wouldn’t like him either, would we?” There are some things that are a little bit tricky to figure out. It took me about three years to just kind of make my way through these things, and then it has taken the rest of my life to try to just continually see them and purify them.
The other two are also counterintuitive because the fact that God’s being glorified and people being loved should happen through the pursuit of our happiness is not the way we usually think. Usually, it’s just the opposite. We think, “I should restrain my desire to be happy so that I can glorify God and I can love people.” And I’m going to argue that’s exactly backward.
So, that’s where we’re going. I hope you’ll listen and that God will meet us and teach us from his word. And I’ll just say this, though you know this already, to make sure you know that I know it: Be good Bereans. Remember, they were nobler than the Thessalonians because they went home from the synagogue, they opened their scriptures, and they tested these things to see if they were so (Acts 17:11).
It doesn’t really matter what John Piper thinks; it matters infinitely what God thinks. We only have one access to what God thinks, and that is the Bible. And so, if I can show you in the Bible these three things, then you should believe them, and you should spend the rest of your life trying to come to terms with their implications for your life. But if I can’t, then you shouldn’t believe them, and you should go on and listen to Rory.
The Problem of Praise
So, here we are. Number one: God is radically, pervasively, profoundly, centrally, God-exalting. God is a God-exalting being. Now, here’s the way I’m going to come at this. I’m going to give you four or five stories of people who, when they have seen that in the church or in the Bible, have abandoned the faith because of it. And you’ll know some of these people.
I start this way so that you will feel the magnitude of this, the weight of it, and how dangerous it is. I mean, why would I even focus on this? I’ve focused on this for a lifetime. This has been my life, to say these things. This first one especially has been what my life is about, and now I’m going to start with stories about how this has driven people away.
I’m quite aware that as I begin to talk, people are driven away, and some don’t come back. And so, it’s risky to do what I’m doing. But if you don’t feel the risk, I don’t think you’ll feel the weight of it. I don’t like talking about things that are just ho-hum. Life is just too big. We get one shot at life. I have a good friend named John in Pakistan right now, who emailed me yesterday that his best friend was kidnapped, and he’s pleading with me to pray. This is where I live.
For all I know, he could be lying somewhere with no head because a horrible knife was used to slit his throat. I just am not into frothy things. I want to say things that when I see them in the Bible just shock me. They just shock me. They’re edgy. So, I’m not looking for simple things or comfortable things. I’m looking for the things that are right up on the edge of tolerance. And this is one of them — God is radically God-centered.
The Audacity of Supreme Love
Now, here are some stories. Erik Reece, who you probably haven’t heard of because there’s no reason you should have, teaches environmental journalism and writing and literature at the University of Kentucky in America. In 2009, he published a book called An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God. And in it, he said something that shocked even a national public radio religion editor, who brought him on to the radio, which is where I heard the interview. Somebody told me about it and I went on to listen to the online replay and wrote down what he said, so you could hear it.
What he wrote on page 28 of his book was, first of all, Matthew 10:37–39. Now, here’s a little background. This man grew up in a fundamentalist home just like I did. He rebelled against it and threw it all away. He’s not a believer anymore. I loved it. I love my parents. They are the happiest Christians I’ve ever known. Usually, fundamentalists are thought of as being dour, unhappy, and negative, and life is filled with a bunch of don’ts. And my dad used to say, “Do so fast, you don’t have time to don’t.” That was the spirit I grew up in — you should be doing so fast that you don’t have time to don’t.
And therefore, I never felt like the fact that he didn’t take me to movies when I was little was a bother at all. And when I was in the eighth grade and we were rewarded to go see a movie because we had the best attendance, I said to Mom and Dad, “What should I do?” They said, “You decide.” And that’s the way they were. Anyway, you don’t need to hear about my background, but Erik Reece grew up in that kind of home and he threw it all away.
So, I wrote him a long letter after I read this. He never responded to me, but I wrote him and told him everything I’m going to tell you to say, “You don’t have to go the direction you went. There is another way to go.” But he quoted Jesus in Matthew 10:37–39 when he says:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
And here’s what Erik Reece wrote, “Who is this egomaniac speaking these words?” Now, that’s what Terry Gross, the religion editor on NPR, read and thought, “Whoa, calling Jesus an egomaniac. Let’s interview this guy.” And so, she interviewed him and she quoted that sentence and he said, “Do you want to elaborate on that?” And here’s what he said. I jotted it down from the verbal NPR interview:
Well, it just struck me as who is this person speaking 2000 years ago, a complete historical stranger, saying that we should love him more so than we should love our own fathers or sons. It just seemed an incredibly egomaniacal kind of claim to make.
So, there’s one snapshot of a man who listened to Jesus say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” and said, “You’re an egomaniac.” And you have to sympathize a little bit with that, don’t you? I mean, if you said that, I’d call you an egomaniac. If you said, “You have to love me more than you love your dad, John,” I’d say, “Who are you?” Which is what he’s saying to Jesus. People stumble over this. They really do. They stumble over these incredible, self-exalting ways that Jesus talks.
Stumbling Over the Psalms
Another one is CS Lewis. Now, everybody knows CS Lewis. He was converted when he was 29. And before he was 29, what he said was that when he read the Psalms, he struggled. I’ll give you a long quote later when he came around and got his way over this hump, but for a long while, this was a huge blockage, just like it is for Erik Reece. He said when he read the Psalms he would hear how they are just filled with, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” And he knew that Christians believed those were inspired by God.
So that is like God saying, “Praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me.” And he wrote that this sounded to him like the craving of an old woman who wanted compliments. That’s what he said. So, he said, “Why would I want a God who just constantly says, ‘I need your praise, I need your praise, I need your praise’?” I’m inserting the word need because that’s the way he was feeling it. And so, CS Lewis couldn’t get over it, until God did something.
The Absurdity of Worship
The third story is that there was a man who writes for the Financial Times in London, I don’t know if he still does, who wrote a book review in 2003. That’s when I tore it out and copied it. And in the book review, this is what he said. He is writing this as a total pagan unbeliever, who didn’t go to church and didn’t understand or care about church or religion:
Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being, who for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?
Why are you singing heartily to him, making much of him? Don’t you know he’s just an immoral tyrant, who needs adulation in order to be complete? That’s Michael Prowse. When he hears the call for worship, he says, “I don’t get it.” So many people who hear these central things just say, “I don’t get it. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Jealous for His Name
Most of you know Oprah — one of our less helpful exports, I think. Oprah Winfrey grew up in a Christian atmosphere, and she left it to go into a kind of spirituality that’s broader. Here’s what she said happened. Somebody told me about this, and I went and listened to this interview. She was in a church service when she was 27 or 28 years old, and just like some of you probably, she was a professing believer. There were things about God she really liked, and that’s what was being talked about until suddenly something was said that killed it. Here’s how she described it:
Then he said, “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.” I was caught up in the rapture of that moment until he said, “jealous,” and then something struck me. I was 27 or 28, and I was thinking, “God is all. God is omnipotent. God is…also jealous? A jealous God? Jealous of me?” And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit because I believe God is a God of love and that God is in all things.
And that was the end of her official Christian presence in the church. Exodus 34:14 says, “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” And again Deuteronomy 4:24, says, “The Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” So, yes, Oprah, he’s jealous, which means he gets very angry when he doesn’t have 100% of your affections. If you start sharing your affections around like a wife sharing her affections around with other men, your heavenly husband is going to get very angry.
And she didn’t like that. She was thinking, “It’s like God saying he has to have all my affections and that I can’t share any of my affections. He has to have it all for himself. He’s jealous.” After that, she was finished and she just stumbled right over that stumbling stone.
One last story or illustration. This is more recent. I didn’t know it, but somebody pointed this out to me. People are always pointing out these things to me and that’s how I accumulate these stories. Brad Pitt was interviewed by Parade magazine a couple of years ago. He too grew up in a conservative Christian home, as a Southern Baptist, which is what I grew up in. And here’s what he said:
Religion works. I know there’s comfort there, a crash pad. It’s something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it’s going to be all right in the end. It works because it’s comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn’t last for me.
And then he was asked why, and here’s what he said:
I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, “You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it.” It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense.
The God-Centeredness of God
So I’m here to try to help it make sense. In fact, I’m going to push on it until it’s coming out your ears, that God is as self-exalting as they say he is and more, way more. They’ve seen a little of his God-centeredness and they’ve stumbled over it; I’m going to just argue from the Bible that it’s the best news in all the world for us. In fact, I’m going to argue it’s really close to the center of our faith.
You know that the center of our faith is the cross of Christ, where God sent Jesus into the world to die for sinners and then rise again. It’s the core of our hope. Our sins are forgiven there, our righteousness is provided there, and eternal life is obtained there. The cross is the crux. And I’m saying that the centrality of God in his own affections is close to the center because it’s where God’s God-centeredness and my rebellion meet that creates the need for the cross. And I’m going to argue that it creates the deepest intelligibility of the cross. The cross makes most sense if you see God’s God-centeredness and the nature of your sin. So, that’s our task. It’s a very, very big deal.
All Things to the Glory of God
Now, I mentioned that my story was that as I grew up in my parents’ home, they were believers and saturated me with the Bible. One of the biblical texts that was most common for me to hear from my dad or see at the end of a letter where it was on daddy and put a verse under it was 1 Corinthians 10:31. He would say, “Johnny, whatever you do, whatever you eat, or drink, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
But there’s one thing I never heard my dad say. I think if he listened to me all the way through, he would have agreed, but I never heard him say, “God does everything for the glory of God.” And I think that’s really important to say. Here’s one of the reasons, and then I’ll try to prove it from the scriptures.
What I find all over the country and some around the world, though I don’t get to a lot of places, is that a lot of people think it’s good for us to be God-centered but they really stumble over God being God-centered. They think it’s right for me to say that you should be God-centered, but if I say God is God-centered, that doesn’t sound quite right. That message that God is God-centered, I think lands on us. So, a function of this for me is that it has been a kind of spiritual test for many people as to whether your God-centeredness is a cloak for me-centeredness.
The way it’s a cloak for me-centeredness, and you test yourself right now, is that if you are God-centered because you’ve been taught and believe that he is you-centered, then you’re God-centeredness is just a form of me-centeredness. If what you most like about God is that he likes you, you’re me-centered.
So, I think it’s a real test to throw out in congregations the God-centeredness of God to see how they respond. Because if you don’t work your way through your negative response to that, the negative response might be a symptom that your God-centeredness is really all about you. And until you come to thrill at God’s God-centeredness, there might be a defect in your faith.
So, here we are at the Bible now. We need the Bible under all of this because if it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t really matter what I say. Here’s the way we’re going to put Bible under it for the next little while. I’m going to walk you through six high points of redemptive history from predestination to consummation, and then maybe go back and sprinkle in a few other historical points.
The aim is this, and you should just be watching for this and asking if it’s true. I am seeking to show you that at every point along the way, and I’ll leave out a lot of them, God intentionally says to us, “I am doing this for my sake. I’m doing this for my sake. I’m doing this for my sake.” That’s what I’m looking for. What I find in the Bible is an unremitting, relentless intention of God to show that everything he does he does to make himself look great. That’s what I’m going to argue.
So, let’s start in eternity past with predestination, namely Ephesians 1:5–6. And you can either look these up now, jot them down and look them up later or just listen. The passage says:
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 …
So, grammatically, reality is portrayed here. And what’s ultimate, grammatically? This little prepositional phrase in Ephesisans 1:6, and that’s what’s ultimate in reality. I’m a pastor who does exposition for a living, and therefore, I love It when I find in these nitty-gritty things called conjunctions, nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, and prepositional phrases, which speak of massive realities.
Here we have that he predestined us to a certain end. What end? Well, that we might be adopted into his family. How did he do it? He did it through Jesus Christ. What does it accord with? It accords with the kind intention of his will. And to what end did he do all of that? It says, “unto the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6). He did it to get praise. He did it to get our praise. He did it for his name to be exalted, specifically here, for the character of his grace to be exalted. We will spend eternity making much of God and his grace. He will be the focus of everything and he should be now because that’s what he designed the world for.
Let’s go to the second point, creation. We started with predestination, and now we’re moving up into time with creation. I’m going to give you Isaiah 43:6–7. It says:
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.
So, you were created for God’s glory. Isaiah 43:7 says, “whom I created for my glory.” That means you were created in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 says that male and female were created “in his image.” What does it mean to create something in your image? Theologians talk about whether that means rational or moral or relational, and I say, “Let’s bracket that for a moment.” What are images for? Images are for imaging, right? If I worked hard and put an image of John Piper here, the point would be to make you think about me. If I drew a picture of John Piper up there and walked away and left it there, it would mean that I want you to think about me.
That’s why you’re on the planet. You are made in his image in order to image him to the people who are also in his image and don’t know it. That’s what images are for. You are there to make him look good. And you don’t do it with makeup and buff. You do it with character. You do it with radical, loving sacrifice. You do it with what we were trying to say here earlier about how you glorify God in your body. But we’ll get to that later. So in both predestination and creation, God says he did it for his sake, for his glory.
We skipped over all the way from creation to incarnation. We can come back and pick up a few highlights in the middle, maybe later. Let’s focus on Romans 15:8–9:
I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs …
So, the first purpose of the incarnation is to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs so that God is demonstrated to be trustworthy. God keeps his promises. And then here’s the last piece:
And in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
So, he became a servant to the circumcision to do two things: To vindicate God’s promises and to see to it that the nations, the Gentiles, glorify God for his mercy to them.
Maybe a lot of you memorized Luke 2:10–14 when you were a kid like I did. It says:
“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
So, the angels, on the night of God’s entrance into the universe through the birth of Jesus, said, “Glory be to God.” They didn’t say, “Man is incredibly valuable. Look how he’s being pursued.” They highlighted God’s amazing glory that he would send his Son to pursue sinners like us.
I choose that word because it ends in a-t-i-o-n, and because when it comes to the death of Jesus, there isn’t anything much more important than that aspect of his atoning death. When you propitiate somebody, you take away their anger. Somebody’s angry at you and their anger needs to be propitiated. You can do that by saying you’re sorry sometimes or paying them, or whatever it takes to take their anger away. And that’s what happened at the cross.
God was, in his great justice, angry at sinners, and Christ absorbed that anger and removed that. So, this is really important because remember I said that at the center of our faith is the cross and what happened at the cross for our salvation. And now, I’m arguing that the cross, or what happened at the cross, was one of the most amazing manifestations of God’s God-centeredness. If you want to look at it in your Bible, it’s Romans 3:23–26. Actually, the whole paragraph is crucial from Romans 3:20–26.
If you were to ask me to vote on my take on the most important paragraph in the Bible — and it’s risky business to vote like that — I would vote for Romans 3:20–26, but I don’t care if you believe that or not. I just care that you believe the truth of it, however you might compare it to other texts. So, here’s the text:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …
Exchanging the Glory of God
Now, I draw that in here, even though I’m going to read Romans 3:25–26 because defining sin in relation to glory is important for understanding what’s coming next and what went before. Remember back in Romans 1:23 Paul was saying that all people have understanding and all people are guilty because they know God. And though they know him and have seen his divine power and his deity, nevertheless, they exchange the glory of God for images. They exchange it.
So, the glory of God is given to them as their enjoyment, their treasure, and their satisfaction. It’s what they should worship and treasure above all things. But they look at it and then they trade it. They trade it for other things. They exchange it — that’s the word in Romans 1:23. Now if you exchange something, you lack it, and that’s the verb used in Romans 3:23. All have sinned and lack the glory of God. It’s always translated as “fall short of the glory of God,” and we talk about how arrows fall short, like the word is hystereō in Greek. It means lack. You lack the glory of God and they say, “Whoa, I lack; of course I lack, I’m human. I’m not God.”
But in the context of Romans 1:23 it means you just exchanged it. Everybody has. All of you have. You did today, which means that you’ve made some choices today that reflected that something else was getting the upper hand in your value structure. You were valuing whatever more than you value your relationship with God. That’s what sin is. Sin is the kind of behavior that flows from treasuring anything more than you treasure God at any given moment. So, that’s a crucial starting place for understanding Romans 3:25–26.
The Son of God for Sinners Slain
Let me read these now, because this is God’s remedy for you and me who live that way every day. We sin every day because we don’t love God with all — 100% of our heart, soul, mind, and strength — and that’s the greatest commandment (Mark 12:30). That’s the number one in the Bible and we don’t do it.
We’re all deserving of hell every day. And the only reason we aren’t there is these two verses. Romans 3:25–26 says:
Whom God put 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.
The cross is described in Romans 3:25 as a demonstration of the righteousness of God. This is when Christ was executed, as Isaiah 53:10 says it was the will of the Lord to bruise him. I had a friend one time who worked in a prison ministry. Most of the men had very bad experiences with their dads. And on one Good Friday sermon, he said, “Who killed Jesus?” Just shout out some names. The people said, “Pilot killed him,” and, “The Jews killed him,” and, “The soldiers killed him.” And when they were done, he said, “No, no, no. His dad killed him.” And it was just total silence.
And then he preached from Isaiah 53:10. It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. So, God gave his Son for you. He gave his Son. And when he took his Son’s life, what was he doing? It says he was demonstrating his righteousness. He was showing something about himself. He was upholding and vindicating something about himself. Now, why did he need to do that according to this text?
The reason is given very, very clearly. It says because — which is one of my favorite words in the Bible — this was to demonstrate his righteousness because, in his divine forbearance, he passed over sins previously committed. What does that mean? That means throughout the Old Testament, God was forgiving people right and left and punishing them less than they deserved often.
You’re The Man
Take, for example, David. David should have been fighting with the army. He was walking on a roof and he saw a naked woman bathing. Since he’s the king he can do anything he wants, so he gets her and he lies with her and she gets pregnant. But she’s married. Her husband is a faithful warrior defending the king, whose wife he just raped, and David thought, “Oh, man, what am I going to do now?”
So he calls for Uriah and tries to get Uriah to go down and sleep with her so it looks like it’s his baby. But Uriah, loving the king, the same king who had just slept with his wife, and loving his calling as a soldier, and knowing that his brothers were risking their lives every hour on the field, won’t go down and enjoy his wife, and he sleeps outside the door of the palace.
And so, David says, “Well, let’s get him drunk and see if we can do it that way.” It’s just getting more horrible at every minute. It’s just getting worse and worse. David is sinking into the mire of sin, but Uriah won’t do it. Even drunk the man’s integrity is holding his way. And so, David says to Joab, “Get him killed, put him to the front of the army, and handle it that way.”
Joab does whatever the king says and gets him on the frontlines and he gets killed. The note comes back and he says to the messenger, “Don’t worry about it. Some people die this way. Some people die that way.” And then David marries her so that maybe people won’t count the months of the timeframe too closely.
So David is guilty of rape, finagling, and murder, and God sends Nathan the prophet to David. And he tells him a little parable about a man who had one sheep and a man who has several sheep. The man who had lots of sheep, when he had a guest, went over and took the sheep from the man who had one sheep and sacrificed it. That’s like David taking Uriah’s wife. He could have had any woman he wanted, so why take this man’s wife? And David gets real upset at this man who takes the sheep. And Nathan says, “You’re the man.” That’s very dangerous. Prophets don’t have good jobs. It’s really dangerous to say to the king, “You’re the man that you hate.”
The Lord Has Put Away Your Sin
The next thing out of Nathan’s mouth after David wilts is “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). That’s what it means here when it says that in God’s forbearance he passed over sins previously committed. There were millions of those, and the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. Every single act of forgiveness in the Old Testament was not accomplished by those bulls and goats, which means that for centuries injustice in the universe was mounting up — not in the way America thinks about it and probably not in the way Australia thinks about it, but just the opposite.
God was looking more and more unrighteous because he did not punish the likes of David. I mean, imagine yourself being your Uriah’s father. I have four sons, and if President Obama took Molly, or Leslie, or Shelley, or Melissa, my four sons’ wives, and slept with them, and got them pregnant and then tried to get my boys to cover it up, who in their integrity wouldn’t sleep with them, and then had them killed in Iraq, and somebody came along and said, “We should let it go this time. He’s forgiven. He should stay in his office with no repercussions,” I would be furious.
That’s what happened to David, though there were some repercussions. The baby died. But he didn’t lose his job. He didn’t go to jail. He didn’t get his head chopped off as he should have. I would call that a massive injustice, and it is. God had to solve the problem of his own unrighteousness. That’s where this verse comes from.
The Vindication of God’s Righteousness
God’s main problem in the world is how he can be just and treat people so well, which is the opposite of the problem America thinks he has. They’re always in God’s face about how bad he’s treating the world with a hurricane or an earthquake or something. God does no human being any wrong. Every breath you take is undeserved. If we all got wiped out here, he would have done nobody any wrong — none. If we suffered the worst torture on the way to death, he would have done us no wrong. So, God was viewed in God’s sight as massively unjust, apart from some way to vindicate his righteousness.
And the reason his righteousness was compromised is this: If sin is a falling short of the glory of God, or lacking or despising or belittling of the glory of God, which it is as Romans 3:23 says, then every time God passes over sin, he’s acting as though his glory had no value. He’s acting as if it doesn’t matter, just sweeping sin under the rug. It gives the impression, “You can trample my glory in the dirt every day and there’ll be no consequence.” That is radically unjust; it’s wrong.
And so, what does God do? Romans 3:25 says, “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation…to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” It was a demonstration. What Christ’s death means is that God hates sin and loves his righteousness and his glory. It is God demonstrating, “I will vindicate my glory. I will show my anger at sin and I will save sinners in such a way that their salvation in no way belittles my glory or compromises my righteousness.”
So I’m arguing that the cross is the central demonstration of God’s God-centeredness. It is the place where he vindicates his righteousness most magnificently. He elevates the value of his glory by making the vindication of it the price of the infinitely valuable Son of God. And as Christ goes down into the grave through suffering and agony, the value of God’s glory that has been trampled on for centuries goes up. And Christ knew exactly what he was doing. If you read John 12:27–28, Christ says:
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.
Philippians 1:9–11 is Paul’s prayer of what he’s praying for the Philippians. And when you pray, you’re talking to God; you’re asking God to do something. Let me read you what Paul asked for:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may [be]…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Collapse that down and get it clear. Paul is saying, “I’m praying, Father, for the Philippians, and I’m asking you through Jesus to fill them with fruits of righteousness that come to the praise of your name. I’m asking you to make something happen here that will bring praise to you.” There’s the God-centeredness of sanctification. Sanctification is when we find fruits of righteousness growing in our lives and we’re becoming more holy. And Paul says, “God, make that happen for your sake. Make that happen for your glory” (Philippians 1:11).
And lastly, in our pilgrimage through redemptive history, let’s just jump from sanctification all the way to the end of history, consummation. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says that Jesus is going to come back. Hasten the day, Lord. And why is he coming? You can put it in a sentence, and I’ll let Paul do that:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (he’s talking about unbelievers), when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Christ is coming back for those reasons — to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at. He’s coming to get marveled at. He’s coming to get the praise of his glory. Jesus is coming, and he fully expects, anticipates, and will demand, “Glorify me. Marvel at me.”
The Reason God Made the World
So, I conclude from those six passages of Scripture — and there are dozens and dozens more — that God does all things for his glory. In fact, I don’t know how many serious readers there are out there, but I’ll tell you the book that blew me away and turned my world upside down. It was published in 1765 by Jonathan Edwards, and it’s called The End for Which God Created the World. You can get it on Amazon Kindle. It’s just incredible.
If you go to Amazon Kindle you don’t have to have a Kindle to get it. You can just download a program, put it on your Mac or PC whatever, and you have two volumes of the greatest things that have ever been written. It’s just absolutely unbelievable. I feel like, “Where was that all my life? Why did I have to pay $80 a volume for 26 volumes of Edwards’s works from the Yale University Press.” You don’t have to.
But there it is, The End for Which God Created the World. That has text after text after text to show you what I just gave you with six texts, and I have lots more written here. I think I am going to skip over them though since it would be good to get to the concluding point.
Good News of God’s Glory
I said at the beginning that this is good news. It is good news that God, from beginning to end, is radically God-exalting. Now, CS Lewis, who stumbled over this and said it sounded like an old woman needing compliments is the one who helped me most in 1968 and 1969 when I was struggling with it the most. I’m going to read you the key quote from Lewis. This comes from his book Reflections on the Psalms.
What he says here was the key that unlocked the love of God for me in his self-centeredness. I believe that what I just shared in the last 30 minutes or so of God’s radical God-centeredness is love to me. And the key to seeing how that can possibly be is found in this quote from Lewis. I’ll read it, and then I’ll stop and explain it and we’ll be done. And then we’ll pick it up tomorrow. Remember what he was stumbling over was that God was constantly saying, “Praise me, praise me, praise me,” in the psalms. For 29 years this escaped him, and some of you may be in that category. You may be 28 years old and the sensibleness of Christianity may just be escaping you, and this may be the conference where things fall into place. Here’s what he said:
The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists, in telling everyone to praise God, are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy (here we are getting right to the heart of the matter — this is the sentence that blew me away) because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment (that was the key, but I’ll keep reading); it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.
Enjoyment and Praise
Is he right that praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment? I think he is. If he is, and if God is the most glorious, most beautiful, most admirable, most amazing being in reality, and we were made to see him, know him, love him, enjoy him, admire him, value him, and be satisfied in him, then for God to continue to lift himself up for us to see and then to tell us how to bring our pleasure to consummation in him is not egomania; it’s love. That’s my answer. Psalm 16:11 says:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fulness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I’m using these two gestures here so you could pick them up tomorrow — fullness and forever. David is saying, “God, in your presence is fullness of joy — your presence, your beauty. I see you. I know you. I’m with you. I’m watching you. You are fully satisfying. And it never stops, but it gets better and better. It goes on and on. You never get boring at all because you’re infinite. There are resources of wonder in you that will surprise me every day of eternity.”
“I will never be bored with you. I will always be satisfied in you. I will increase in my delight in you, and if that’s true, then the most loving thing you can do is lift yourself up for me, oh, God. Don’t ever let yourself become obscure to me. Keep demonstrating how magnificent you are in history, in the universe, and in my life. Let the heavens declare your glory in front of me. Let the cross center your glory, that all the historical acts of history display your glory. Don’t go invisible on me. Stay visible to me because you’re the one who satisfies my soul. And go ahead; keep telling me to praise you because if praise doesn’t only express but completes my joy, then I want all the joy possible. So, keep telling me, reminding me, and helping me to praise you.”
How God Pursues Our Joy
I’ll close by summing it up like this. God’s God-centeredness, or God’s self-exaltation is not egomania; it is love. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most virtuous and loving act. You dare not copy him in this. It’s idolatry. Adam and Eve tried to. That was their mistake. God alone can love us by lifting up himself. We copy him by lifting up him, not by lifting up ourselves. We were made to know him and love him.
When he lifts up himself, he lifts up beauty for us to see, know, admire, love, and be satisfied by. And when he summons us to praise him, he is saying, “Now bring that to consummation.” It may seem counterintuitive, but I don’t think it is. Well, yes, it is counterintuitive, but it’s not counter-reality.
So, maybe the last sentence I should say is this one: The reason God seeks our praise, unlike Erik Reece said, is not because he won’t be God until he gets it, but we won’t be happy until we give it, which is why it is love.
Now, here’s where we’re going tomorrow. Not only do we find joy in God, but we make the discovery from the Bible that our finding joy in God is the way by which he is glorified, which means that we should pursue our happiness maximally and eternally all the time, without exception.