What we have seen so far in this series of three messages is that
- Power is a capacity to pursue what you value.
- Money is a cultural symbol that can be exchanged in pursuit of what you value.
- Sex is one of the pleasures that people do value, and how we pursue it shows it’s relationship to the other values in our life, including its relationship to the glory of God.
And underneath these realities are the foundational truths that we were created to glorify and thank God (Romans 1:21) — that is, to treasure the glory of God over all things, to be amazed at his glory, to admire his beauty, to enjoy him and all his perfections, and be satisfied in him, and find a deep, settled contentment in his all-satisfying fellowship. That’s what we were made for. That would be our highest pleasure, and his greatest glory.
But since the fall, we have all “exchanged the glory of God” for other things that we reflexively find more interesting, more valuable, and more satisfying, which is a great insult to God (Romans 1:21), and if not remedied, will bring us to eternal and deserved ruin (Romans 2:8).
And in the meantime this exchange — the preference for other things over God — is like replacing the sun at the center of the solar system of our lives with some alien, inferior moon, so that the planets of money and sex and power, that were once held in their God-glorifying orbits, are now flying wildly and dangerously out of orbit.
- Money, awakening covetousness and greed, and becoming the currency of theft and bribery and embezzling and boasting.
- Sex, sunk into fornication and adultery and pornography and public nudity, turning God’s glory into shame, and our shame into human glory.
- And power, abused in every manner of self-exalting control and domination and exploitation.
All of this ruin and destruction because we have exchanged the glory of God for other things. We find more pleasure in other things and other persons than we do in God. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 16:11, “In his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.” But God says in Jeremiah 2:13, “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.” We are on a suicide dive away from everlasting happiness and money, sex, and power are at the controls.
There is one remedy, and that is to wake up to the all-satisfying glory of God. If that could happen, if the blazing beauty of the sun could be restored to the center of the solar system of our lives, then we would rediscover what we were made for and money, sex, and power would gradually — or suddenly — come back into their God-glorifying orbits.
And that remedy is what we turn to now. We have all insulted God by our preference for other things all our lives. We deserve great punishment. But God, in his unspeakable mercy, has done what we cannot do for ourselves to give us a future and a hope with him. He did something on the cross. He did something in regeneration. And he does something every day. And the result is that we find ourselves — unworthy though we be — in his presence and at his right hand where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forever more — and everything in life is changing.
1) First, he did something on the cross to bring us into his presence with joy. 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
If you have been fearful and discouraged by these messages, because you have fallen far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) — far short of treasuring and enjoying his glory — take heart. That is precisely why Jesus came into the world. That is why, as Peter says, the righteous died for the unrighteous. Remember Romans 1:18 — it was in “unrighteousness” that we suppressed the truth of God’s glory. That unrighteous, self-justifying, God-exchanging suppression of truth is what he died for. The righteous for the unrighteous.
None of us did, or does, love God as God deserves. Christ died for this. To what end? — “that he might bring us to God.” The ultimate aim of the cross — the death of Jesus — is not the forgiveness of sins, or the justification of the ungodly or the removal of God’s wrath, or deliverance from hell — as infinitely precious as those are. They are all means to the ultimate end. Peter tells us the ultimate end: “He suffered that he might bring us to God.” The presence of God. The sight of God. The knowledge of God. The enjoyment of God. He died to bring us here, though none of us does now, or ever will, deserve to be here.
2) The second thing God did to give understanding people a future with him was to restore himself and his glory as the all-satisfying center of our affections by opening our blind eyes to see the glory of God in Christ in the gospel. We call this new birth, or regeneration, or effectual calling. And the crucial statement of it is found in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
All unbelievers are blind to the glory of God in Christ. And Satan is hard at work confirming and deepening that blindness by every means he can. This the darkness that cannot see the all-satisfying glory of God in Christ. And so this is the darkness that exchanges the glory of God for other things — the darkness that deposes God from his place at the center of the solar system of our lives, and puts ridiculous lesser moons and planets in his place.
Look carefully at our condition in verse 4: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” What can’t we see, in unbelief? We can’t see the supreme brightness — light of the glory of Christ in the gospel. People can hear the gospel — the greatest work of God in the history of the universe — and not be moved. Just like people can stand before the Alps or the Himalayas or the galaxies and shrug their shoulders and turn the television. That is our condition.
And Christ died for us, God is able with justice to do verse 6 for us. Listen and ask if he has done it for you. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In the same way that God created light on the first day of creation with a sovereign word, “Let there be light!” God does that in the human heart. This is called new birth. God causes us to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. As Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9, “He called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The exchange is over! The idolatry is over. The great insult is over. And now there is one more thing that God does.
3) He keeps revealing to us in his word the glory of Christ — the beauty of Christ — so that we become increasingly like the one we admire and enjoy. Just a few verses earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:18, this is what he says: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
The Greek words for “beholding” and “being transformed” (as you can see in English) are present tense, which means ongoing action, not once for all, but continual. This is what God does daily as we look to him in his word. It is what he does weekly in the preaching of his word. And it is what, I pray, he is doing right now as I speak. God opens our eyes to see glorious things in his word (Psalm 119:18) — to see him in his word (1 Samuel 3:21). And then, by his Spirit, he conforms us to those things. He conforms us to himself. We become most like what we admire most.
When we are born again, and God grants us to recover the glory of God as our greatest treasure, and our sweetest pleasure, then the sun returns to its place at the center of the solar system of our lives and all the planets start to return to their God-glorifying orbits. Including money, sex, and power.
So let’s move toward a close by seeing some examples of what happens to money, sex, and power, when our sins are forgiven, and we are born again, and the glory of God in Christ has been restored as the greatest treasure and sweetest pleasure of our lives.
We turn first to 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. Paul is writing to the Corinthians to motivate them to be generous in their contribution of money to for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He is taking a collection among the churches or the poor and he wants them to be ready when he comes. So he lifts up the example of the believers in Macedonia.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
God’s grace in the gospel had come to Macedonia and people had been dramatically converted. The fruit of that conversion was seen most astonishingly in their joy and then in what their joy produced. Verse 2: “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty . . .” So their abundant joy was not in the absence of affliction — evidently affliction had increased since they became Christians. The joy was not owing to the absence of poverty. It says they were in “extreme poverty.” So this was a joy in the midst of affliction and poverty. What was it in?
It was in the grace of God (verse 1). “The grace of God had been given.” That is, Christ had been preached, who suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring them to God. God’s grace had opened their eyes to God’s glory. They knew God. God was no longer their enemy. They were reconciled. They were rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). And this joy was so strong, that it was not overcome by affliction or poverty.
And what was the effect? Verse 2: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Their joy overflowed in generous giving of money in the midst of poverty. This is a picture of what happens to money when our joy is no longer in money but in God. We are freed from the greed and fear and covetousness. And our money becomes the instrument of love and expression of God’s superior value to us.
Our money becomes the objective extension of our joy in God to others. That’s what it says, our joy overflows. It is the joy in God that is flowing in the generosity to others. The point is to reveal that God is so satisfying we can find our joy in giving rather than getting (Acts 20:35), and hope that the beneficiaries see the real gift, namely, a picture of the all-satisfying glory of God’s grace.
This is what you find again and again in the New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews:
Hebrews 10:34 — “You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”
Hebrews 11:24-26 — “Moses chose to be mistreated with the people of God . . . because he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
Hebrews 13:5-6 — “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Treasuring God above all things, turns money into the currency of worship and love.
In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 Paul confronts certain ascetic false teachers who believed that sex in marriage and eating foods freely were at best for second class Christianity. He called these teachings demonic.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods.
That’s the false teaching. Here’s Paul’s response (middle of verse 3):
That (that is the marriage and the food) God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1–5)
For those who know the truth of the gospel and who revel in the word of God concerning the all-satisfying glory of God, and who pray (Hallowed by your name!) and dedicate everything to God, the sex of marriage and the pleasures of food are made holy — that is, they are set apart from the sinful use of the world and made pure and precious and beautiful participation in the goodness of God.
Everything God made is good. Everything is for the sake of worship and love. And this is true both in the feasting and the fasting. In the sexual union and in abstinence. Sex is made for the glory of Christ — for the Christ-exalting glory of covenant-keeping faithfulness in marriage, and for the glory of Christ-exalting chastity in singleness. Sex is always an occasion to show that the giver of sex is better than sex.
Finally, when the glory of God’s all-prevailing, all-sustaining, all-supplying power is our joy, rather than the exaltation of our own power — we live powerfully in the power of God. We surrender our power. We gain his power. And we gain to serve, not to lord it over anybody.
We are content to jars of clay. 2 Corinthians 4:7 — “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” This is our joy.
We are content in weaknesses. 2 Corinthians 12:9 — “‘My grace [Jesus says] is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore [Paul responds] I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” We love to be the place where Christ’s power is exalted not ours.
How many hundreds of times in my ministry have I leaned on 1 Peter 4:11 — “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies [Why?] — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Money, sex, and power — three precious gifts of God. Three dangers ready to destroy our souls. Three beautiful possibilities for worship and love. The difference? Living in the light — “the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ” — satisfying the soul, setting us free, celebrating God, sending us to serve. The blazing sun in its place, and all the planets flying joyfully in their place.