It Is Right to Live for Maximum Pleasure

Seven Reasons from the Bible

New Canaan Society | Washington D.C.

Let me begin with a question and then we’ll circle back around to the answer in a few minutes. The question is this: why would you want to be forgiven by God for your sins? Why? There is more than one right answer to that question, but there is only one answer that makes all the other right answers right. Keep this question in mind as I set the stage in relation to where it came from.

The gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:4–5 like this:

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.

That’s what Paul calls “of first importance” and he calls it the gospel. That work of God in Christ purchases and obtains for us spectacular benefits. And when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, those benefits become yours.

Benefits of the Cross

We’ve been hearing about some of those. Let me list some of them off. One of the greatest benefits is something Tim talked about last night, which is the gift of justification — the gift of righteousness, a medal hung around your neck of the achievements of Christ’s honor so that when God sees you, he sees Christ. That was obtained for us when Christ died and rose again. When we believe, we’re united with him and the medal is hung around our neck, and God himself salutes the medal. Justification is an astonishing benefit of the cross.

Another gift would be propitiation.

God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (Romans 3:25).

He doesn’t sweep things under the rug; he punishes sin. It happened in Christ so that his wrath is removed, and all I get is the smile of his acceptance, though I don’t deserve it. Propitiation is a spectacular benefit of the cross of Christ.

Another one would be redemption. A ransom is paid. And the ransom was of infinite value. I was a slave, and now I have been bought and I’m free. That was purchased at the cross.

So, we have justification, propitiation, and redemption, or ransom. Another one is rescue. I was doomed to spend eternity in everlasting suffering, wrath, hell, and condemnation. And now I have been saved, rescued, and I don’t have to go to hell anymore. That was purchased and obtained for me at the cross of Jesus Christ.

We also have eternal life. I will now live forever and very soon for me, probably, it will be pain-free and sin-free forever. That was obtained at the cross for me.

We also have forgiveness of sins. All my sins — past, present, future — are paid for, forgiven, as I trust in Jesus.

Glorious Means to the Ultimate End

These are spectacular benefits obtained at the cost of the life of the Son of God, and none of them is the ultimate reason for which he died. All the things that I just named are means to the end for which he died. It is idolatry to make a means an end.

My message is about the end, the ultimate end, for which he paid with his life. It is not justification; it is not propitiation; it is not redemption; it is not rescue; it is not eternal life; it is not the forgiveness of sins, and those are unspeakably glorious. We will sing hymns about all of those forever, and we will not be committing idolatry. If you don’t celebrate the means as essential means and blood-bought means you’re not saved. But they are means; they’re not the end.

Why Do You Want Forgiveness?

Now back to my question: why do you want to be forgiven? Let me begin with an example from everyday life.

Suppose I get up in the morning, having asked my wife politely to move the laundry basket from its inappropriate place beside the bed onto the chest at the end so we don’t stumble over it. And I’m going to have devotions, and I stumble over the basket, which didn’t get moved. And I turn to her as she’s just waking up, and I speak out an unkind, mean-spirited word of criticism to her before she’s even awake and wound her spirit. I think I am justified because she didn’t do what I asked her to do.

Now it’s half an hour later in the kitchen, and her back is to me, and there’s ice in the air. And I know what needs to happen here: I need to repent and apologize. It doesn’t really matter, men, whether she should have moved the basket. That’s just totally irrelevant. We so often justify our mean-spiritedness because she’s just not measuring up. We feel this sense of warrant. But that just doesn’t compute with Christ’s call for us to love as he loved. If that was how he treated us we would be in hell this morning.

So, there’s ice in the air, her back is manifestly pointed toward me. I know what needs to happen: I need to repent, apologize, and be forgiven. Why do I want to be forgiven? Here are two or three wrong answers:

  1. If she doesn’t forgive me, she might not make supper for me tonight. That’s a terrible answer.
  2. Or worse, she’d probably make supper, but no sex tonight. It’s not going to happen with this ice in the air. That’s a terrible answer.
  3. I hate a guilty conscience. I’m going to live with this all day long. I’m going to be miserable today. That’s another lousy answer.

It’s not wrong to want supper, sex, or a clean conscience. It’s not wrong. But why do you really want her to forgive you? It’s a really simple answer, and every one of you could give it. You want her back. You want her to turn around and hug you, you want the ice to go away, you want the embrace, you want the woman back, you want your wife. You want things to be whole.

The Goal of Forgiveness

Now, I’m asking you, why do you want to be forgiven by God? To get out of hell? It’s not wrong to not want to go to hell. I don’t want to go to hell. To have a clear conscience? To have a better marriage? To have a medal hung around your neck, and to have God favor you? Those are not the end of forgiveness. I’ll read you the end of forgiveness from 1 Peter 3:18:

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . . (1 Peter 3:18).

Christ died so that you would glorify him by enjoying him forever. I change the Westminster Catechism in relation to this. The Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is:

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

I change that to this: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” The chief end of why Christ died is so that we would glorify God by enjoying him forever. Christ died to purchase your everlasting happiness in God because your happiness in God magnifies God. If you are not supremely happy in God above all other things, you are not glorifying God. You glorify what you find most pleasure in. And for this he died, so that Christ would be magnified by your being satisfied supremely in him at the cost of your life.

Supreme Satisfaction

Let me give you the text where I get that idea. This is Philippians 1:20–21. The idea I’m talking about is that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, and that Christ died for that glory through that satisfaction. That’s what he died for ultimately, nothing beyond it. That’s not a means to anything. When you get there, you’re home. That’s it. There is no more means to anything beyond your supreme satisfaction in him to his glory. That’s the end. Everything else is a means. Here’s the text:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20–21).

Now there’s a logic there, and if you don’t think about it, you will miss one of the most glorious truths in that text. It’s in the word “for.” Paul’s supreme passion — I hope it’s yours — in life is, “I want Christ to look great in my life and in my death. My desire is that Christ will be magnified in my life whether by life or by death, for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” How does that logic work? What does that word “for” mean in Philippians 1:21? Take the “life” pair out of that verse, and just say the death pair to see if the logic is working. Paul would be saying, “My passion is that Christ would be magnified in my death (my body through death), for to me to die is gain.” How is Christ magnified in my body by my dying? He says, “For to me to die is gain.”

So he’s magnified when, in my dying, when I lose everything on this planet and all I get is Jesus, and I call it gain. Who looks great at that moment? Christ looks great. He says, “My passion is that Christ would be magnified in my death, for to me to die is gain.” I paraphrase it this way: Christ is most magnified in my dying when in my dying I am most satisfied in Christ, or in my life. That’s where I get that idea from the Bible.

The implication of that is this: if God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, and if Christ paid the price of his infinite blood for that glory through that satisfaction, your vocation for the rest of your life on this planet, 24/7, is to maximize your pleasure in God. Period. No qualifications. It changes everything. Money, sex, and power — they’re dead. In God I find my supreme satisfaction.

Seven Reasons to Live for Maximal Pleasure

All I want to do now is go to the Bible and push on you until you see this. Because I have eight reasons that the Bible makes crystal clear that you must now walk out of here — if you’re on the same page as me — saying, “My vocation is now to do the hardest thing that ever could be done, namely, to stop enjoying everything else supremely and enjoy God supremely only.”

1. You are commanded to pursue pleasure in God.

Serve the Lord with gladness!
     Come into his presence with singing!

You don’t have any option. It’s gladness that’s commanded.

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

Delight yourself in the Lord . . . (Psalm 37:4).

It is a command. It’s not icing on the cake of Christianity; it’s the cake by which we glorify God. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” You will become like and glorify what you find most pleasure in. And if it’s not God, it’s an idol.

Beholding the glory of the Lord we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In beholding, enjoying, and treasuring, we are being shaped. You are commanded in the Bible to seek your joy in God.

2. We are threatened with terrible things if we will not be happy in God.

God threatens us if we will not be happy in him. Deuteronomy 28:47–48 says:

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you . . .

Jeremy Taylor once said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy in him.” And that’s true. It’s not a rhetorical flourish. That makes us serious — massively serious — about happiness. You go to hell if you are not happy in God supremely.

3. The nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

John 6:35 says:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

These are parallel, right? He says, “He who comes to me will not hunger, and he believes in me will never thirst.” How do parallels like that work? Come and not hunger; believe and not thirst. They are mutually illuminating, aren’t they? It’s not like there are two different courses of the meal out here and belief gets one and coming gets the other. Coming and believing are the same here, and what you get at the end is soul satisfaction. You get bread and water for your soul if you come and believe. Therefore, my definition of believing is coming to Jesus for the satisfaction of your soul.

That’s why I’m asking, why do you want to be forgiven? Are you coming to Jesus for the total satisfaction of your soul, knowing you were made for this? You were made to see and savor Christ. You come for satisfaction. The very nature of faith gives evidence to this.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . . (John 1:11–12).

So, what is believing? It is receiving. Receiving as what? Boredom? No, we receive Jesus as treasure. He’s our treasure. The nature of faith shows us we should be pursuing our joy in him all the time.

4. The nature of evil teaches us to pursue satisfaction in God.

What is evil? What would be your definition of evil? Here’s Jeremiah’s definition of evil from 2:12–13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
     be shocked, be utterly desolate,
     declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
     the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
     broken cisterns that can hold no water.

What is evil? Evil is putting your lips to God as the fountain of life and saying, “Yuck,” and then putting your lips to the dirt of the earth and saying, “It’s got to be here. It’s got to be here. It’s got to be here.” That’s evil, and all other evils come from that evil.

So, the very nature of evil says, “Come to the fountain, drink from the fountain. Drink, drink, drink until you’re so satisfied that you know it can’t be found anywhere else.”

5. The nature of conversion and discipleship teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

The shortest little parable teaches this clearly. Matthew 13:44 says:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

How many years did I read that without noticing the phrase “from his joy”? King Jesus is found one day in a field, and we will have him at any cost, right? We will sell everything: wedding ring, grandfather clock, computer, books, house. We will sell it all with joy.

What a life! This is freedom and total satisfaction. Some might say, “You’re losing everything man. Don’t you know this Christianity thing is crazy?” People will call you hateful. They’re going to come for you someday. Make my day. For joy he sold everything to have that gold, that silver, and that precious stone called King Jesus.

6. The call for self-denial is a call to pursue your joy in God.

This is the biggest objection I usually get. People say, “You’re teaching everyone to pursue joy in God all the time. That’s not self-denial. You’re just contradicting Mark 8:34.” To that I respond, read the next verse.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (an instrument of execution and death to self) and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:34–35).

Here’s my paraphrase of that: if you are not willing to lose your life to gain Christ, then you will gain life and lose Christ. Of course, we must lose our lives to gain our lives. Christ is our life. Of course, we must sell everything.

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).

He is saying, “Until I am your supreme pleasure that outstrips all other things so that if you lost them all completely you would say, ‘Gain,’ you cannot be my disciple.”

7. The nature of pastoral ministry implies that all of your people should be pursuing joy in God.

In 2 Corinthians 1:24, Paul says:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy . . . (2 Corinthians 1:24).

What a great banner to hang over the pulpit. He is saying, “I work for my people’s joy. That’s what I live for.” Why? Because when they are most satisfied in him, he is most glorified in them. That’s why the world was made and why the Savior died.

If you go a few verse further in Philippians 1 from where I started, Paul says:

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith (Philppians 1:22–25).

That’s awesome. The apostle Paul said, “I’m staying on the planet for your joy in God. That’s why Christ died, and that’s why I live.”

The eighth reason is tomorrow morning’s message. You cannot love people unless you pursue your joy 24/7 in God. And that sounds exactly opposite to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, when he says, “Love seeks not its own.” So I hope you will be here for that.

Delight Is Our Duty

I will close with an illustration of Philippians 1:20–21. You can’t glorify God unless you pursue joy in God above all things. The day that you’re persuaded by Immanuel Kant, or some stoic philosopher, or some other kind of skewed theology that you should stop pursuing your joy in God and seek something else more, is the day you say farewell to a life that glorifies God.

I’ll be married 47 years in December. Suppose I ring my own doorbell on my anniversary as I get home, which I never do. It’s my house, right? I just walk in and kiss my wife. But this time I’m ringing the doorbell because I’ve got behind my back here a big bouquet of purple roses. My wife loves purple. Purple roses are unusual. I made an extra effort. So, I ring the doorbell and she comes to the door, looking quizzical, and says, “Why did you ring the doorbell?” And I say, “Happy anniversary.” Then she says, “Oh Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And suppose I said, “It’s my duty. I read the book on how husbands buy roses.”

I have told that story a hundred times in every country and every state I’ve been in for thirty years. Everybody laughs at duty. It’s profound that you would laugh — so profound. Do you know why you laughed? What’s wrong with duty? We have cadets here. Duty is a good thing. To throw your life on a grenade out of total allegiance to your brother is a good thing, and you’re laughing at it. No, you’re not. I know why you laughed. You should have laughed. If you didn’t laugh, you’d be sick. You’d be bad husbands and soldiers. Here’s why you should laugh. Yes, duty is a good thing, but at that moment, that’s not what magnifies your wife’s worth. She does not feel honored by, “He’s performing his marital duty in buying me flowers.” That gives her no sense of being valued.

Now, rerun the tape. Ding-dong. “Happy anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “I couldn’t help myself. Nothing makes me happier than buying things for you. In fact, I’ve made some arrangements for tonight. Why don’t you go get changed and put on something nice because we’re going out. There’s nothing I’d rather do than spend tonight with you.”

Now, not in a million years would she respond to that by saying, “I can’t believe how selfish you are. Nothing makes you happier than to spend the night with me. You, you, you. Nothing makes you happier.” And you laugh again. Your laughter is my message. That’s all it is. Your laughter is my message. I am seeking my happiness in her. I’m saying, “I want to be with you tonight.” And she doesn’t feel like that’s selfish, she feels glorified, honored, treasured, valued, and wanted.

So, what is Sunday morning about in church? Ding-dong. Heaven opens: “Hello church, why are you here?” And we say, “It’s my duty. Christians go to church on Sunday morning.” That door shuts. The right answer is: “I want you. nothing would make me happy on this Lord’s day morning than to meet you, and be with you, and treasure you, and value you. You are my treasure.” That’s the right answer.