Before we can speak of gospel depths — which is where I am going — we must know what the gospel is. And a great light shines on the meaning of the gospel when we know why God created the universe. And before we can know why God created the universe, we have to know who God is. So let’s begin at the beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:1–3, 14)
This means that the Son of God is the Word, and is with God, and is God, and was not made. He is not a creation. Because “without him was not any thing made that was made.” If a being was made, it was made through the Son of God. Therefore, the Son of God was not made.
Therefore, from all eternity, before there was any universe of created reality, there was the Father and the Son existing in eternal mutual love and pleasure. “This is my loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased (Matthew 3:17). “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31).
And along with the Father and the Son, in perfect mutual love and delight, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son is a third eternal, uncreated Person. “I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). The Spirit is another Counselor, a Counselor and Teacher in his own right — a Person, sent from the Father and the Son (John 14:26; Luke 24:49). And as the Son is co-eternal with the Father, so the Spirit of the Father and the Son is co-eternal with them. That is what it means to be the Spirit “of God,” and the Spirit “of Christ” the Son (Romans 8:9).
Eternal Trinitarian Joy
Therefore, before there was any created universe, there was God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit — infinite in love and happiness in the fellowship of the Trinity, existing absolutely and forever, never having come into being! This triune God simply was, and is, and always will be: “I am who I am,” he said to Moses (Exodus 3:14). The absolute, ever-existing, independent God.
“God created the world so that he would be known as greatest Treasure and enjoyed as greatest Pleasure.”
But not only ever-existing before all things, but also happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. Two times Paul calls him the happy God, using the word “blessed” (makarios) — a word used almost fifty times in the New Testament to refer to the happy condition of the saints (Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. [Romans 4:8]).
The glory of the blessed God.” (1 Timothy 1:11)
The blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. (1 Timothy 6:15)
Therefore, ultimate, eternal reality — absolute reality, God — is, and has always been, complete and perfect and without any defect or deficiency or sense of inadequacy. He is infinite in greatness and beauty and value. He is greater than the universe in the way a man who wears a ring that he made is greater than the ring. He is more beautiful than all the beauty of the universe in the way Victoria Falls is more beautiful than a magnificent painting of the falls. He is more valuable than the universe in the way a wife is more precious than her cooking.
It is good to be still and let this sink in — to know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). And the universe, by comparison with God’s greatness and beauty and worth, is insignificant. I say that carefully. I expect you to hear it carefully. And that includes all seven billion people created to inhabit the earth.
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales. (Isaiah 40:15)
Until this sinks in — that the universe, and every created thing in it, is like dust in the scales on one side, and God is like Mount Everest in the scales on the other side, virtually everything in the Bible will be distorted. We won’t see it in its proper proportions and relations.
The Grand Design Is Glory
Then, in a way we cannot conceive, this infinitely happy, great, beautiful, valuable God — Father Son and Holy Spirit — created the universe. Out of nothing. He “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). Why did God do that? He did not need the universe in order to make up for some deficiency. He was not coerced by anything outside himself. There was nothing outside himself.
The answer he gives is that he created the universe, with humans as the apex of the creation, for his glory.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20)
And not only the material world, but also the people in it. This is his design:
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. (Isaiah 43:7)
Known, Enjoyed, Shown
What does for my glory mean? To increase my glory? To improve my glory? No. I think it means three things. God created the world for his glory means that he created it
that his glory be known as the greatest Treasure;
that his glory be enjoyed as the greatest Pleasure;
and that his glory be shown as the greatest Treasure and greatest Pleasure by being thus known and enjoyed.
Apart from all the exegetical foundations for those three statements that we could appeal to, I would simply appeal to this: It is inconceivable that for his glory would mean that he created the world for his glory not to be known or to be known as something less valuable than it is; and it is inconceivable that for his glory would mean he created the world so that people would find his glory boring, or distasteful, or something less than the all-satisfying beauty that it is; and it is inconceivable that for his glory would mean that our knowing the treasure and enjoying the pleasure should be hidden from others around us.
Therefore, the universe exists to communicate the glory of God for man to know and enjoy and show as the supreme Treasure and Pleasure of our lives.
The Central Drama of the Universe
To this end, God planned that there be a central drama to the universe he created. The central drama of the universe is not the birth and death of galaxies or the fusion and fission of atoms. The central drama of the universe is the history of humanity. This central drama in the theater of creation is the main way God fulfills his purpose to create all things for his glory.
The main plot in this drama is that sin has entered the world through Adam and Eve, all human beings have become sinners. Sin is a failure to glorify God. At its root, sin is the exchange of the glory of God as our Treasure and Pleasure for other things or people we prefer (Romans 3:23; 1:23). Therefore, sin is rebellion against God’s purpose for the universe and brings down his righteous and holy wrath against the outrage of mere men treating God as though he had little greatness, little beauty, and little value.
Therefore, the great double issue — the great double-problem, the great double-crisis — in the drama of the universe is: What will become of man, and what will become of the glory of God? Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 that every single human being is by nature a child of wrath (see also Romans 5:9). We are locked in a spiritual blindness of rebellion. And the sentence is eternal punishment from an omnipotent and unimpeachably righteous Judge (Matthew 25:46).
God Is Not Idle
But God does not watch and wonder what will become of his creatures and his glory. When the fullness of time had come, God fulfilled a promise:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)
The good news — the news of happiness, the gospel — is the news, “Your God reigns!” God has not created the world in vain. He has not designed it for his glory only to blunder it away into a catastrophe. He reigns. He is king.
“The King has come. But that’s not good news until we hear that the King has come to die for his rebellious subjects.”
But why should that be good news? His created humanity is by nature rebellious. Guilty rebels do not regard the reign of their sovereign as good news.
Even less so when the news intensifies that the king not only reigns, but has come:
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14–15)
This is not good news — this is not gospel — is it? We are by nature children of wrath, and the king has come!? This is scary. Hadn’t John the Baptist said to the religious leaders, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). If the king reigns, and he has come, and we are rebels by nature, this is not gospel!
First a Savior
But it is. What makes it gospel? The angels tell us:
Fear not, for 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. (Luke 2:10–11)
Oh, the king has come all right — The Son of David, the Christ, the Messiah. As the angel said to Mary just weeks earlier,
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.(Luke 1:32–33)
Of this king, the angel now says, he is Savior. Not first a Judge. Not first an executioner. But first, as Savior. That’s good news. That’s gospel.
To Serve, Not to Be Served
And how will he be a Savior? Jesus answers:
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:15)
Paul echoes the Savior:
I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel. . . . For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that 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 15:1–4)
He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25)
God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10)
One will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
Then Peter adds his witness:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
And so he quotes Isaiah 53 which says it as clearly as if it happened in his own day, not seven hundred years later:
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. 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 53:5–6)
The King Has Come to Die
Yes, the Lord reigns! Yes, the kingdom has come. But no, that is not good news, until we hear that the king has come to die for his rebellious subjects. Justice will be done. Righteousness will be vindicated. The glory of the king will be upheld. And, wonder of wonders, rebels will be pardoned. Even adopted into the king’s family. Because the king has become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13), and in his flesh our sin was condemned (Romans 8:3). And now, for all who are in Christ, the wrath of God is spent (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). Justice is satisfied.
What makes that good news is that by faith in Christ, we are raised from spiritual death and given the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:5–8), and eternal life (2 Timothy 1:10), and forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43), and justification (Romans 3:24, 28), and peace with God (Acts 10:36), and escape from hell (Romans 8:1), and the enjoyment of all the promises of the new covenant (Luke 22:20), including — as the capstone of all gospel blessings — the enjoyment of God himself (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 5:11).
Everything for Eternal Good
In fact, when you try to list all good things that Jesus obtained for us by the shedding of his blood and rising again, you realize that this includes everything that serves our eternal good. Recall the gospel logic of Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
In other words, the gospel logic of Romans 8:32 is: Because God gave his Son for us, he will with him give us all things. And I think all things means everything that serves our eternal good.
So if you are given singleness instead of marriage, it’s because the blood of Jesus secured the eternal good that singleness will do for you. If you are given a disability that is not healed in this life, it is because the blood of Jesus secured the eternal good that this disability with do for you.
“God wrote our names in the Book of Life. It’s never the other way around.”
This means that there are thousands of good things in this age that Christ did not die to secure for all his people in this age. There is no promise in the cross — in the blood, in the gospel — that in this world all Christians will have health, or a job, or marriage, or wealth, or a home, or success in business. If these things come to a Christian, they are shown to be gospel blessings — blood-bought blessings — when they become occasions for knowing and enjoying and showing the glory of God, that is, when they work for our eternal good.
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all,” will most certainly give us all things with him — in this life, all things that serve our eternal good, including affliction and loss and sorrow (Romans 5:3–5), and in the resurrection, everything good for us with no affliction or loss or sorrow.
Beneficiaries in Jesus
You might think that the infinite value of the blood of Christ, as the Son of God, would be enough to give us solid, unshakeable hope. You might think that these gospel promises will hold for us, and we will be safe forever. But in fact, these blood-bought promises only hold for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, the confidence we have in the gospel is based not only on the truth of the events, and what God achieved through them, but also on whether we are beneficiaries of these events — whether we are in Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)
That is where the blood-bought, gospel blessings are — in Christ. The question is: Are you in Christ? And here is where I want to move into “gospel depths.” I could, of course, simply say, the mark of our union with Christ is faith in Christ. So if you would be in union with Christ, trust Christ. That’s true, and you can see it in Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:8, and elsewhere.
But God has chosen in his word to take us deeper. In fact, he takes us back into the depths of eternity. And he shows the depths of eternity to be gospel depths. He shows us not only that the central event of the gospel — the death of Jesus — was accomplished in his own mind before the creation of the universe, but also that he chose the beneficiaries of the gospel before creation. He chose who would be in Christ,” and thus rescued from rebellion and wrath. This is what I mean by gospel depths — Christ crucified, and our union with him in the depths of eternity past.
Elected to Eternal Union
In 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 Paul links God’s choosing with how we are united with Christ.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus [literally: “from him, by means of him are you in Christ Jesus” — ek autou de humeis este en Christ Iēsou], who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)
As we are reading verses 26–29 (he chose, he chose, he chose), we want to ask, chose for what? And verse 30 gives the answer: He chose, he chose, he chose, and so “from him are you in Christ Jesus” (verse 30). If you are in Christ Jesus, you were chosen by God to be in Christ Jesus.
God at the Bottom of It All
And this is no contradiction to what we said earlier, that we are united to Christ through faith. Why did you believe? How did you, a blind, dead, rebel, believe? Here’s Spurgeon’s answer. See if it doesn’t fit your experience.
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, “How did you come to be a Christian?” I sought the Lord. “But how did you come to seek the Lord?” The truth flashed across my mind in a moment — I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” (Autobiography, 164–165)
Indeed. And when did God choose to put Spurgeon — and you — in Christ Jesus? Paul says in Ephesians 1:4,
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world.
He saw us united to Christ before the creation of the world.
The Book of Life
Here’s the way the apostle John describes God’s choosing to put us in Christ Jesus before creation.
All who dwell on earth will worship the Beast, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (Revelation 13:8)
Before creation, there was a book. It’s called “The Book of Life of the Lamb Who Was Slain.” In other words, it’s the book of those who will have life because the slain Lamb, Jesus Christ. To be in the book is to be in Christ — and to be the beneficiary of his death. God wrote these names in the book before the creation of the universe.
And he didn’t write them in the book because he foresaw they would believe. They believe because he wrote them in the book. John didn’t say, “Their names are in the book because they didn’t worship the Beast.” He said they don’t worship the Beast because their names are in the book (Revelation 13:8). Or as Luke says it in Acts 13:48, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). It’s not the other way around. It’s not because he saw they would believe he appointed them to eternal life. No. He says, Because they were appointed to eternal life, they believed.
Or, as Jesus puts it in John 10:26, “You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.” Not the other way around. Not: Because you do not believe, you are not of my sheep. But: Because you are not of my sheep, you do not believe.
Never Based on Foreseen Faith
So John says being in the book keeps you from worshiping the Beast. Luke says being ordained to eternal life brings you to believe. And Jesus says being part of his sheep, is why you believe.
In other words, God’s choosing who will be rescued from rebellion and wrath in Christ is not based on foreseen faith. If you have faith in Christ today, and are thus united to Christ, it is because God chose you for this before the foundation of the world.
So what I mean by “gospel depths” is that both the central event of the gospel two thousand years ago, the death of Christ for sinners, and your union with Christ through faith on the day of your new birth were accomplished in the mind of God in the depths of eternity before the creation of the world.
The Effects of Gospel Depths
So let’s close with four brief reasons for why God has revealed this to us. What effect does God intend for these gospel depths to have on you?
1. God intends for these gospel depths to deepen your humility by rooting it in God’s eternity.
Paul makes this explicit in 1 Corinthians 1:28, 31:
God chose things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. . . . Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
If God’s free, gracious, unconditional choice of you to be in Christ does not break the back of our self-exaltation and self-reliance and self-serving, and awaken in us a glad eagerness to boast only in the Lord, then this truth has not yet made its way into our hearts.
2. God intends for these gospel depths to deepen your zeal for holiness.
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)
God intends, by means of the gospel, to fill the earth with his glory. This is why he created the universe. This happens because the gospel produces humble, holy people. And God reveals that this was the eternal purpose of choosing us, so that our zeal for holiness would increase.
3. God intends for these gospel depths to deepen our confidence in and our commitment to finishing the Great Commission.
Remember Jesus said that people believe because they are part of his flock — his chosen flock. Well, he also said this:
I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)
Paul took heart in his mission from this truth. Jesus came to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid, but to press on in his evangelism in Corinth, “for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:10).
The boldest and most confident missionaries and evangelists should be the people who know that God has sheep scattered among all the peoples of the world, and the “sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).
4. God intends for these gospel depths to deepen and sweeten your experience of being loved by God with a personal, everlasting love that had no beginning and will have no end.
So many Christians experience the love God only as a love that offers and waits. He offers us eternal life, and then waits to see what our self-determining will can do. And this offer and this waiting is all many people experience of the love of God. He offers and he waits.
God has given us a window on the gospel depths of his love. And he has done this so that we will exult in the wonders of being loved personally from before eternity, not because we believed or performed, but because he delighted to love us (Deuteronomy 10:14–15).
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive. (Ephesians 2:4–5).
If you are alive tonight, that is, if you know God in Christ as your greatest Treasure, and you enjoy God in Christ as your greatest Pleasure, and you show God in Christ to the world, it is because you were loved and chosen from before the foundation of the world.
So be humble, and be holy, and be courageous in love for the glory of God.
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