How Is God Supreme in Loving Us?

God-Centered Love, Part 2

Biola University | La Mirada

Yesterday, I tried to define what it is to be loved by God. I said that it isn’t being made much of by him. It is being enabled by him, through the cross and through the work of the Holy Spirit, to enjoy making much of him forever. Now, tomorrow what I want to do is ask, if that’s the way God loves us, then how do we love him? What’s the reflex of a God-centered love toward us when it finds an appropriate reverberation in our hearts? How do we love him? Now, there is a third part to this complex of thought, and that is how do you love other people? And I thought, though that’s the third thing, I could stick it in here, but the more I thought about how to do this — to do number three in the spot of number two before I lay out number two — it didn’t work.

And so, I’m going to give yesterday’s message all over again, but I’m going to use totally different texts to do it. In other words, I’m going to make a case for God’s supremacy in loving you and me, and then I hope if I have time at the end, having re-established yesterday’s point afresh, I will try to do something on how we love each other because of this. Because if you get a handle on what it is to be loved with God-centered love, it changes everything. It changes the way you relate to God and changes the way you relate to people. It changes the way you define the meaning, purpose, and the end of your life. Here’s a way we’ll go about it this morning.

The Most Remarkable Displays of God’s Love

If you find maybe the six most remarkable ways that God has loved the world, or loved his church, and you analyze those six ways of loving and you find that in every one of them God was making himself supreme in the act of loving us, then you’re forced to conclude that to be loved by God is to have God devote himself to displaying himself to you for your enjoyment of him. What I did was try to walk from the beginning to the end, and look at the six ways that God has undertaken massively to love us, and what I have found is that in all six of them, the goal of God in loving you is to glorify God.

This is very crucial, and you’ll see how crucial it is, I think, as we unfold these. Let me just take them one at a time, and then in the time we have left, I’ll try to bend it out horizontally so that if this is the way he’s loving us, we can see how we ought to love one another.

1. Predestination

Let’s start with predestination. That’s back as far as I want to push it. Before the foundation of the world, God elects and he predestines his own. Here are the key verses from Ephesians 1:4–6:

[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (here comes the key phrase, the purpose of it all), to the praise of his glorious grace . . .

Before the foundation of the world, God chose you and predestined you to be his children unto the praise of the glory of his grace in love. So what is love? Love is to be so targeted by God that you are brought to a point where you praise the glory of his grace. He is the center, he’s the star, he’s the goal. And love is to get you to a place where you can see him, know him, and enjoy making much of him forever, unto the praise of the glory of his grace.

The Stumbling Block of God’s Demand for Praise

I mentioned C. S. Lewis yesterday. He has had a tremendous impact in my life ever since college days until now. In his book on the Psalms, he’s very honest and says that in his early days, in the early twenties, as he was being pursued by the hound of heaven and brought relentlessly to Christianity, one of the stumbling blocks he could not get over until divine grace illumined him in this regard was that God, everywhere he read in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, sounded like a vain old woman wanting compliments. This is a big stumbling block. I read it in the London Financial Times a week ago. There was a man who said he cannot bow to Christianity because of God’s demand for praise. And Lewis said he sounds like an old woman who wants to be complimented all the time.

Well, what I want to do is to say yes, he is demanding compliments, he is demanding admiration, and he is demanding praise all the time, everywhere in every act, and that this is the essence of his love because you were made for admiration of him. I was just thinking this morning that I have to speak in a couple of weeks at a graduation service and I think the Lord gave me this morning what he wants me to say. I think I’m going to say it here too. It would be called something like The Consummation of History and the Admiration of Christ. We were made, and history was created, so that you might admire. Ayn Rand, who wrote Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness, was an atheist, a philosopher, and a brilliant woman who is probably today in hell, to my great sorrow, said in one of her characters in Atlas Shrugged — which I thought was a great book, only dead wrong — “Admiration is the rarest of pleasures.”

Now, for her that was a cynical comment about the absence of “atlases” in the world. Where are the businessmen philosophers? That was her god. She hated Christianity. But that sentence was absolutely true: “Admiration is the rarest of pleasures.” And the reason is that we were made for one colossal, great admiration: God. And he is seldom seen for who he is. And in order to bring us to the fulfillment of that profound, deepest joy and satisfaction, he presents himself to us in every act of love as the goal of our lives. He is saying, “Here I am. Know me, see me, admire me, and bring that admiration to climax with compliments of me and praises to me.”

The solution for C. S. Lewis was to notice that praise was the consummation of all authentic joy. He commented about people praising their favorite wines and praising their favorite sports teams and praising their favorite poets and praising their favorite landscapes and praising their little children and praising their girlfriends and boyfriends. The world, he said, rings with praise for one reason, it’s not added onto joy, it’s the consummation of joy. And therefore, to seek his admiration and his praise is to seek our fullest and consummate joy, therefore, it is love. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act. It cannot be any other way. You may not follow him in this. If you exalt yourself, you detract people from what satisfies them, namely God. Therefore, you can’t imitate this. That’s predestination. Next is creation.

2. Creation

Isaiah 43:6–7 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.

Do you wonder why you are in existence? There is no doubt why you are in existence. God created you for his glory, and that was an act of love, because your deepest satisfaction and your most everlasting and satisfying joy lies in seeing and savoring the glory of God. And when you see it and savor it, it is magnified. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. His power and his beauty and his all-satisfying perfections reverberate most resoundingly, clearly, and powerfully in the satisfied soul, not in the dutiful soul.

If you try to do worship out of duty, or study out of duty, or service out of duty, he’s not shown to be great. He’s shown to be a slave master. But if you do worship out of joy, if you serve out of joy, if you lay your life down for other people out of joy, people are going to say, “What kind of treasure must you have to be able to let goods and kindred go like this for me?” And then he is seen to be great.

A Microscope or a Telescope?

When it says you were created for his glory, beware lest you think you add to his glory. This word glorify is very tricky because there are other English words that end in “FY” that mean that you increase something. I’ll just go ahead and say it, this is a pretty sterile room, right? And suppose somebody said, “I think we need to beautify this place. Let’s put some flowers somewhere.” This is Southern California, things are green here all the time, right? They’re brown in Minnesota, three-fourths of the year. So beautify would mean what? It would mean we increase the beauty. If you take that over to God and say that to glorify God means to increase his glory, you are blaspheming. That’s heretical.

Beware of that when you hear the term, “you were created to glorify God.” Don’t think you were created to increase the glory of God, to meet some deficiency in God, or to add to the shortfall of “poor” God. The best analogy I know to help people get a handle on what glorify or magnify means is by contrasting a telescope with a microscope and how they magnify. So if I say, let us all magnify Jesus Christ together, do we mean it with a telescope or a microscope? Now, a microscope takes teeny little things and makes them look bigger than they are. And a telescope takes unbelievably big things that look little and makes them look more like what they really are. Which way should you magnify God? Tell me, telescope or microscope? That’s correct, a telescope.

If you try to magnify God as a microscope, you are a blasphemer. It would be the thought, “Poor God, he’s so little, I must help him look better than he really is so people can put their trust in him.” That’s blasphemy. The true state of affairs is that God is breathtakingly magnificent, and in a world that is under the power of the devil, saturated with the flesh, every possible demonic and fleshly and worldly means is used to keep us in the dark. And because of that, God looks, at best, like a teeny pinprick of light in a big night sky, and all the other exciting things around us seem so much better. Your job on planet Earth is to put a telescope to people’s eyes so they say, “How did I miss that?”

I remember Soren Kierkegaard has a great parable about this. The carriages that went out into the night in Soren Kierkegaard’s day had candles on the carriages, so there were these big candles and they were protected from the wind because they had globes around them. To see at night, they’d put the candles up front with a couple in the back, and you’d go out into the night. But with the candles there, if you were to look up, you couldn’t really see anything. And his whole point was, God is in the business of blowing the candles out so that you can see the stars.

Most of the stuff you like in this world are candles, but they’re so close that they keep the stars from shining through, even though a star is about six trillion times bigger than the sun. You don’t even notice it because this little candle of pornography, or this little candle of trying to make good grades, or this little candle of trying to get your figure just right is just so bright and dominant that you can’t see beyond it. This text says, you were created for the glory of God, so help each other. Now, here you can hear the love of each other and how it’s coming out here. How do you love each other in view of how God loves you? Take a gun and go out and shoot out some candles. It might mean you take a hammer and just put it through the front of your computer screen.

3. Incarnation

Romans 15:8–9 says:

Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness . . .

So here he is. He has come into the world as a Jew, as a servant to the circumcision. Christ became a Jewish person born under the law, a servant to the circumcision. Why? It was to show God’s truthfulness “in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.” In other words, Jesus became a man to prove God tells the truth. God is the issue here, but that’s not all. First, he came to the Jews to vindicate the promises made to the patriarchs, and the second purpose for his coming was “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9).

Now notice the two coming together here. This is just a beautiful text to help you put it together — that is, the self-centeredness of God and the love of God. Because notice what it is we glorify him for: mercy. You get the mercy, he gets the glory. That’s the essence of my theology. I get the help, he gets the honor; I get the joy, he gets the credit. It’s the best of all worlds. It keeps God at the center and makes me as happy as I can possibly be.

I minister in a denomination that owns Bethel College and Seminary, and it’s about eight miles from my church. Students come to our church and we get into conversations sometimes about a paper that they need to write. It’s called an “integrative senior paper” in the seminary, in which you write your vision of what it is, after three or four years of theological education, that holds it all together. In other words, what’s the big, overarching, integrating motif of the Bible, of theology, of life, and of the world? What’s the big picture that you come away from your studies with?

The students that have hung around my church for a while, they all write the same thing. It’s the glory of God. This is a given. This is just easy. And they make a case from the Bible and Jonathan Edwards that it’s the glory of God, and they get into big controversies. And I scratch my head, how can they get into a controversy? This is not controversial, this is easy. But here’s the controversy. Others, for whatever reason, have this notion that love is the integrating motif. God loves the world, and everything comes under the covenant of love, and everything can be understood in terms of love.

Now that’s not too bad. That’s not a bad thing to say about God. God is love, according to 1 John 4:8. But what’s wrong with that? This phrase right here in Romans 15:8–9 is the phrase that I point students to in order to see this. It says, “In order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Here you have mercy and love, and here you have God being glorified. Now in the order of the grammar, which is the means and which is the end? It says, “In order that God might be glorified for his mercy.”

So that’s why I stress what I stress. The love of God is central, but it is in order that we might see the full panorama of the glory of God. God’s love to us is his doing whatever he has to do, even at the cost of his own Son’s life, so that we would see and taste and savor and enjoy and magnify the whole panorama of his glory, which is more than love. You cannot account for hell in terms of love. You cannot account for all of God’s character only in terms of love, which is why Romans 9:22 says he desired to show his wrath and make known his power. Wrath is not love, and God means for it to be known in the universe. The whole panorama of the glory of God is what we will see, know, admire, stand in awe of, and be satisfied by. And love is that massive commitment to get us there to enjoy it forever.

4. Propitiation

I know I could choose other ways that God loves and saves, but this one in Romans 3:25–26 is so powerful and so clear. I think it would be a good one to use. We’ve seen predestination, creation, incarnation, and now we’re at propitiation. Romans 3:25 says:

God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation . . .

A propitiation means an appeasement of his own wrath. God, wanting to placate his own just and holy wrath, interposes the blood of his Son in order to subdue his own wrath justly that he might save. But now listen to how it’s said:

God put [Christ] 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 (Romans 3:25–26).

So why did he put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood? It was to publicly demonstrate for all the demons and all the world and all the church to see that his righteousness stands, even though he did something in history which makes it look like he didn’t care about his glory, namely, he passed over sins. And what is sin according to Romans 3:23? It’s falling short of the glory of God. If God almighty just passes over sins and lets it go, what does it look like he disregards? His glory. And if God disregards the infinitely valuable, he’s unjust. And this text says, therefore, he put Christ forward as a propitiation to demonstrate his justice, his righteousness. He is saying, “I do not disregard my glory. I do not allow it to be trampled underfoot by men without vindicating my infinite value. And my Son’s death is the demonstration that I do not take the neglecting and lacking of my glory lightly.” That’s what he’s saying.

So the very heart of our salvation, Christ’s death for our sins, Christ’s righteousness as our robe, is not merely a means by which we are made clean and acceptable, but a means by which God’s righteousness is vindicated. It’s a display of his glory and the value of his glory and the righteousness in upholding that glory. That’s what the cross is at bottom, and because it is that, it can be love because the love purchases our forgiveness.

The Greatest Good of Forgiveness

I like to ask people, so what’s the big deal about forgiveness? Why do you want to be forgiven? Because sometimes when we’re talking about the benefits of the cross or the benefits of God’s love, we terminate on certain words and we don’t think through what good they are. Most everybody likes the word forgiveness — at least when we are receiving it — and I do too. It’s a very precious thing. But you need to ask why. Why do you want to be forgiven by God for your sins? Now here’s the wrong answer: “I don’t want to go to hell.” No, it’s not a wrong answer. It’s just not the ultimate answer. I don’t either. I am scared of hell and that fear is meant to take me somewhere. And if it doesn’t, it does me no good whatsoever.

So what’s the real, positive reason for why forgiveness is so precious? It removes the barriers to fellowship with God. That’s the goal. God is the goal. Forgiveness is just a code word for getting to God and liking being there. Because if he’s angry, you won’t want to be there. But if he’s not angry, you will want to be there. And wanting to be there is worship, and that’s what he’s after. So even the word forgiveness, which may sound very man preoccupied, is getting sin out of the way for what reason?

If a husband and a wife need to forgive each other, that’s not an end in itself. They want the restoration of the hugging and the kissing and the talking and the peace in the kitchen. They don’t like all this tension that is just so horrible. But forgiveness is just a little thing that gets it out of the way. It gets the anger out of the way. It gets the resentments out of the way. It gets the grudges out of the way so you can love each other again. And what is that? Looking at each other and liking and being together. That’s what God wants. He wants you to look at him, like him, and delight in him.

5. Sanctification

We’ve seen predestination, creation, incarnation, propitiation (the work of the cross), and now we’re looking at the work of God in sanctification. Philippians 1:9–11 says:

It is my prayer that . . . [you may be] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

God is at work in you by the Holy Spirit to fill you with fruits of righteousness, which come through Jesus Christ, to what end? To the glory and praise of God. Why is God making you into a new person? Why is he sanctifying you, weaning you off of sin? Answer: to the glory and praise of God. Sanctification is to display God. You are being shaped into the image of God’s Son to put God on display. You are being made chips off the old block so the block can be known.

There’s a verse in 1 Peter that Justin and I, as we were praying this morning before we came over, referred to, and it’s a verse that functions as a kind of philosophy of ministry verse at our church which captures this. It goes like this. This is 1 Peter 4:11:

Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

We are called to serve. That’s what sanctification is. It’s making servants out of people. But how do you serve so that you don’t get the glory but God gets the glory? How do you do a thing so that you don’t get the glory but God gets the glory? How do you do 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.

How do you do that? That’s what 1 Peter 4:11 is designed to answer. It says, “Let him who serves, serve in the strength that God supplies.” You must assume a demeanor of absolute helplessness and learn what I call living by faith in future grace, by which you lean on the enabling power of God, given to you moment by moment as you walk into the future, such that you are doing what you do in the power that he supplies because the giver gets the glory. We must become the kind of people who so lean on God’s moment by moment enabling power that when we do what we do, God gets the credit.

Help for Us, Glory for God

There is no more satisfying way to live than that because we are getting moment by moment help and he’s getting moment by moment glory. We get the help, he gets the glory. We get the satisfaction of being loved and cared for. I mean, isn’t it an amazing thing to hear God say in Hebrews 13:5–6:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”


The Lord is my helper;
     I will not fear;
what can man do to me?

We get all that promised help of, “I’ll be with you. I will help you. I’ll never leave you. I’ll stand by you. I’ll uphold you, I’ll help you. I’ll strengthen you. Now give me the glory.” I mean it’s the best of all worlds. I get everything I need as long as I don’t demand the credit, the glory. Let’s give it all back. Be a mirror, be a reflection.

6. Consummation

At the end of the age, Jesus is coming. Why is he coming? Why is Jesus coming? Listen to the answer in 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10:

[Those who do not obey the gospel] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed . . .

This is what Ayn Rand had no idea about. She said, admiration is the rarest of pleasures. It was more rare to her than it had to be. It doesn’t have to be totally rare. I’m not admirable in any way that could satisfy your soul. You were not created to admire me or any human. You were created to admire an infinitely admirable Christ. Right now, we walk by faith and not by sight. We see through a glass darkly, and what we see in the Bible, in the cross, is beautiful if you have eyes to see. It is foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, but to those who are called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).

But there is coming a day when the skies are going to be rolled up like a scroll, and this glorious Christ whose hair is like white wool in the image in revelation, and whose chest is like gold, and whose face shines like the sun so that you can’t look upon it, will stand forth from his invisibility. And it says that all the angels of heaven will be with him. Heaven will be desolate except for the throne of almighty God, the Father, and every angel will come attending him and there will be lightning from west to east, and then you’ll know what admiration is. According to this verse, on that day he comes to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at. “Marvel” is an old-fashioned word for admire. He’s coming to be marveled at. So if somebody asks you, “Why is Jesus coming back?” answer, “He’s coming back to be admired in the way that he ought to be admired today, and I want to get a jump on that day and admire him with all I can.”

God-Centered Love for People

Then, in this last 30 seconds, this is the way you love people. Surely you can finish this sermon. The way you love people is by the spillover of your joy in admiring God and the pursuit of their same enjoyment in admiring God, which means your love for others has to be God-centered and it has to be essentially the display of God in the world. That’s both in deed — let your light so shine that men may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father, and thus be satisfied (Matthew 5:16) — and it is speech. Seminarians, people who are here aiming at ministry, and undergraduates who are here aiming at secular employments of all kinds, and ministries perhaps, make your life permeated with the spillover of your admiration in the all-satisfying God, and make your aim by speech and deed to display him in such a way that you are pursuing people into this experience of infinite, everlasting, all-satisfying admiration.

That’s what it is to love other people. And there’s a key called suffering because the world really doesn’t care about what you say and the world really doesn’t care about the bad things you avoid. The world cares, will you lay down your life to help me or to help those who don’t have any witness in the world, the unreached peoples, or to those most disadvantaged because of the AIDS plague and to the 10 million orphans in Africa? Will you risk malaria? Will you risk being forgotten in the homeland? Will you risk losing everything because you are so totally satisfied in your God? Then the world will listen and they’ll wonder, “What must this treasure be that keeps you joyfully loving me?”