New God, New Gospel, New Gladness
How Is Christian Joy Distinct?
Together for the Gospel | Louisville
The theme of this year’s T4G gathering is “Distinct from the World.” Under that banner, the point of my message is: the most basic, most essential distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian is not new decisions of the will, not new deeds of the hands, not new doctrines in the mind, but a new delight in the heart.
The most basic distinction between the body of Christ and the world is not godly decisions, not good deeds, not genuine doctrines, but glad delights in the glory of God — the beauty of God, the excellence of God, the holy majesty of God, the marvelous mercy of God — the person of God as revealed most in Christ.
Willpower Is Not Enough
The world can use its willpower to make decisions for Jesus. Judas certainly did, all the while loving money more than Jesus (John 12:6). The secular philanthropist can do good deeds. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). The devil himself knows more right doctrine to be true than anyone in this room (James 2:19). But neither the devil, nor the secular philanthropist, nor the whole unbelieving world does or can delight in the glory of God supremely.
When I say in my title, “New God, New Gospel, New Gladness: How Is Christian Joy Distinct?” I mean that everyone has a god; namely, the supreme treasure of their heart’s delight. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Delight, or happiness, or pleasure in the heart is nobody’s god the way I’m using the word. To talk that way is a category confusion. Delight and happiness and pleasure are experiential echoes in the heart of what we treasure. Delight and happiness and pleasure are not god; they are the worship of our god. Pleasure is not our god; our god is what we take most pleasure in. So everyone has a god, and this god is what makes us most glad.
And my point is: Christians have a new God; namely, God — our highest treasure and deepest pleasure.
And when I say in the title, “New Gospel,” I mean that everyone has a gospel. Everyone believes in some kind of good news, whether it ever comes true or not. And if pressed, everyone has something they believe is the best news. And the best news would be that something will happen to bring them what they think would make them the most happy. And my point is: Christians have a new gospel; namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified for sinners, and raised from the dead to reign forever.
And this is our “New Gospel” precisely because it brings us to what will make us most happy — most in duration and most in purity and intensity. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). For Christians the gospel of Christ is good news because it removes guilt and wrath and brings us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy; at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).
“Fundamentally, Christianity is not godly decisions, good deeds, or even genuine doctrines, but glad delights in the glory of God.”
If the gospel only brought us forgiveness, and justification, and propitiation, and escape from hell, and eternal life and health and wealth — but not God himself in person as our eternal friend and treasure, it would not be good news. Because forgiveness and justification and propitiation and escape from hell and eternal life and health and wealth all have this main and ultimate end: that we might have the fullest pleasure in God himself forever. None of the thousands of other gospels in the world can take guilty sinners and fit us with new gladness in the all-satisfying presence of God.
Therefore, the most basic, the most essential thing that distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian is that we have a new gladness in a new God through a new gospel.
Your Decision Is Not Enough
And to help you feel some of the weight that this carries, let me venture to say that, in the last 200 years, Christianity in America has been distorted, or to put it more seriously, ravaged, by the dominant teaching that decisions for God are more basic in defining a Christian than delights in God. The upshot of the dominance of this viewpoint is the emergence of thousands and thousands of professing Christians who have made decisions about God and joined churches, but have no new gladness in God — and, therefore, are not Christians.
The effort of this dominant viewpoint in American evangelicalism to define saving faith apart from the spiritual affections is biblically futile. To define saving faith apart from feelings of glad dependence, thankful trust, fervent admiration, pleased submission, contented resting, thrilled treasuring, eager reverence, heartfelt adoration is futile. You cannot strip away all those adjectives — glad, thankful, fervent, pleased, contented, thrilled, eager, heartfelt — from faith and have any saving faith left. What you have left is what the devil can do. Or mere oxymorons — like unthankful saving trust. But there is no such thing.
Conversion Is a Miracle
One of the reasons that this viewpoint holds so much sway over the American church is the belief that at the moment of conversion man, not God, must be in decisive, final control of whether saving faith happens. And since the view says we do have control over the decisions of our will, but we don’t have control over the affections of the heart, therefore affections of the heart are not allowed to be basic or essential to what a Christian is. For that would mean that in the moment of conversion a miracle must happen to awaken spiritual affections that don’t exist. And sinful man would lose control. The miracle-working God would have decisive, final control at the moment of conversion.
And we would have to confess the biblical truth that what we most need in the moment of conversion is not sinful, human autonomy, but the miraculous, divine gift of a new nature, with a new gladness, in a new God, through a new gospel. Which, the Bible says over and over, is what actually happens in conversion. A new nature is created with a new thankful trust, and a new fervent admiration, and a new pleased submission, and a new contented resting, and a new thrilled treasuring, and a new eager reverence, and a new heartfelt adoration. A new gladness, in a new God, through a new gospel is created by God.
Sometimes it’s called a new creation:
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. (Ephesians 2:10)
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Sometimes it’s called a new birth:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:3, 7–8)
Sometimes the Bible refers to it as a divine calling:
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23–24)
Sometimes it’s called being chosen out of the world:
You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19).
Sometimes it’s called the death of the old nature and the new life of holiness:
Our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. . . [and] as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:6, 4)
God Creates New Life
Whatever you call this moment of conversion, it is decisively the work of God — a new creation of God, a new birth by the wind of God’s Spirit, a mighty call of God out of the tomb of spiritual death, a divine choice of God out of the darkness of the world, in a divine union between us and the dying and rising Christ so that we walk in newness of life. Whatever this moment of conversion is called, it is the gift of a new nature, with a new gladness, in a new God, through a new gospel.
“In the last 200 years, Christianity in America has been distorted by the teaching that decisions for God are more basic than delights in God.”
If God waited for us to bring this about by our so-called free will, it would never happen. Sinners do not create new life. Sinners do not bring themselves to birth. Sinners do not call themselves out of the tomb. Sinners do not choose themselves out of the world. Sinners do not forge a union with Christ so that his death and his life are ours. This is the work of God bringing into being a new person.
And my point is that the most basic, most essential distinction between that new person — that new nature — and the world is not new decisions, or new deeds, or new doctrines. These are all necessary traits of our new nature. But they are not most basic and most essential. Most basic and most essential is new gladness in a new God through a new gospel.
God Gives More Joy
Now, with that introduction, I invite you to turn to my text; namely, Psalm 4:6–7,
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?”
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
This is “a Psalm of David” according to verse 1, but who are the others in the second half of verse 7? “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Who are “they”?
Earlier in the psalm, in verses 2 and 3, we read about them:
O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
There is David on the one side, and there are those who love vain words and seek after lies and try to turn David’s honor into shame. These are not the godly. They are not covenant-keeping lovers of God. They are the world. For “the Lord has set apart the godly for himself.” And those who love vain words and seek after lies are not included.
Nevertheless, they often prosper, as they certainly do in verse 7. Their grain and their wine are abounding. Wine is made out of grapes, not grain. So this is a reference both to a bountiful harvest to provide the sustenance of food, and a bountiful vintage to provide for the refreshment of wine.
These are the gifts of God, which we see in Isaac’s blessing over Jacob:
May God give you of the dew of heaven
and of the fatness of the earth
and plenty of grain and wine. (Genesis 27:28)
These good gifts of God are meant to awaken thankfulness and joy in the bounty and the refreshing sweetness of God himself. But as David looks at the unbelieving world enjoying the bounty of its grain and wine, he says to God in verse 7, “You have put more joy in my heart.” More joy than that. More joy than bountiful food can give. More joy than bountiful wine can give. That is, more joy than having every basic need met, and more joy than having the overflow of superadded pleasures of taste and gladness.
God Gives Better Joy
But we have to be careful here. Both the Hebrew and the context, for those of you who don’t read Hebrew, show that more is being contrasted here than quantity. The way the Hebrew communicates distinction is with the preposition “from” (min). For example, in Genesis 3:1, when it says, “The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field,” it is literally, “The serpent was crafty from any other beast of the field.” And we are left to decide from the context: Is the craftiness of the serpent distinct from the other beasts in the quantity of its craftiness, the frequency of its craftiness, the subtlety of its craftiness, the wickedness of its craftiness?
And so it is here in Psalm 4:7, “You have put joy in my heart from the time of their abounding grain and wine.” And we are left to decide from the context whether this joy that David has is distinct from the joy of harvest and wine in quantity, in source, in kind. And so we are thrown back on the context where all of us English readers can do very serious thinking.
The closest contextual clue we have for how our joy is distinct from the world is in verse 6, immediately preceding. There is the prayer, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” So in verse 7a, you have David’s affirmation, “You have put superior joy in my heart” — superior in some way, in kind, in source, in amount? And on one side of this claim you have the hope of the light of God’s face shining on David, and on the other side you have abounding grain and wine.
And I ask, Why would David put it together in this way if he didn’t want us to contrast the joy that comes from grain and wine with the joy that comes through the shining of God’s face? Almost everyone who has lived has tasted the pleasure of food and drink. And some societies like ours have a stunning abundance of food and drink. We enjoy these pleasures morning, noon, and night.
But David is claiming that there is another joy that is not necessarily attached to having food and drink. It is a joy that comes from being in the light of the face of God. This is a new joy, a new gladness. Verse 3: “The Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him” (Psalm 4:3). And what the godly call for in verse 7 is this: “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” Because this gives a different joy, a greater joy, than the world has when their grain and wine abound.
‘Let Your Face Shine’
So what does it mean for us when the light of God’s face is lifted up upon us? Let’s widen our lens and see how this phrase is used in the Psalms.
Psalm 80:3 — “Cause us to return, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” The shining of God’s face draws sinners back from straying and then saves them.
Psalm 119:135 — “Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” The shining of God’s face illumines the word of God and takes us into his counsel.
Psalm 44:3 — “Not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.” The light of God’s face is the free gift of his delight in us and brings victory over our enemies.
Psalm 31:16 — “Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!” The shining of God’s face is the brightness of his steadfast love and brings salvation with it.
Psalm 67:1–2 — “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” The shining of God’s face is the shining of his grace which brings blessing not only for us, but through us for the nations.
So this is some of what it means for us in Psalm 4:6 when the light of God’s face is lifted up upon us. These are all objective blessings from God to us.
His saving work in us that overcomes our blindness and subdues our rebellion and causes us to return to God. (Psalm 80:3)
The opening of our eyes to the wonders of the meaning of God’s word. (Psalm 119:135)
The expression of God’s delight in us with victory over our foes. (Psalm 44:3)
The shining of his steadfast love that makes a blessing to the nations. (Psalm 67:1–2)
The Thrill Is Never Gone
If those are the objective blessings of being in the light of God’s face, what are the subjective effects when this light brings us to God, opens our eyes, pours his delight over us, and makes us a blessing to the nations?
It is obvious that the psalmist considers the light of God’s face to be a thrilling place to be. But it is made explicit for us:
Job 33:26 — “Man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy.”
Psalm 16:11 — “In your presence [same word as face in Psalm 4:6: “before your face”] there is fullness of joy.”
Psalm 17:15 — “I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”
A shout of joy. Fullness of joy. Satisfaction in the morning. Because the light of God’s face is lifted up upon us.
“The most basic thing that distinguishes a Christian is a new gladness in a new God through a new gospel.”
And in all three of those texts, our joy is in God himself — not his gifts. We see his face and shout. Before his face we are full. When we see his likeness we are satisfied. To be sure, God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (abounding grain and wine), but when attention is called to the light of his face, and the prayer goes up: “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” (Psalm 4:6), the cry is not mainly for the joy of grain and wine — or any created thing. The joy of his face is joy in the person of God, the radiance, the brightness, the beauty, the glory of God.
This is the new gladness of the psalmist. And given this context, I conclude, it is better than the gladness of the world in every way: the source is infinite and supremely beautiful, the duration is eternal, and the quality of it is unique because no mere man can see and enjoy the holy beauty of God. He must experience a miracle.
God’s Light Overcomes Our Blindness
And on this side of the incarnation and the cross, this new gladness is described with striking relevance to our text like this:
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. . . . [But] God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” [to remedy our blindness] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6)
What was the psalmist crying out for in Psalm 4:6? “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” That prayer is answered supremely when God causes the eyes of our heart to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel. Once we were blind and saw in the gospel nothing compelling. We thought we had a better god and a better gospel and a better gladness because our grain and wine were abounding. Then God shone into our hearts, and the “light of God” was lifted up in the face of Jesus. And we awoke from death.
And when we awoke, we didn’t only see spiritual beauty with the eyes of our heart (Ephesians 1:18). We also smelled the sweet spiritual aroma of Christ with the noses of our heart (2 Corinthians 2:15–16). And we tasted the satisfying goodness of God with the tongues of our heart (1 Peter 2:2–3). And we touched the healing fringe of the garment of God with the finger of our heart (Matthew 9:20; 1 John 1:1). And we heard the song of God rejoicing over us with gladness (Zephaniah 3:17).
And what is the point of a new fragrance of Christ, a new taste of divine kindness, a new touch of wholeness, a new sound of God’s song, and a new sight of God’s bright and smiling face? What’s the point of those sensuous images of conversion? The point is: the most basic, most essential distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian is not new decisions of the will, not new deeds of the hands, not new doctrines in the mind, but a new delight in the heart — new spiritual beauty, new spiritual taste, new spiritual touch, new spiritual fragrance, new spiritual sound. A new gladness, in a new God, through a new gospel.
Springs of Life Will Flow
And from this new heart of gladness, surpassing all the joys of the world, flow all springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). Out of the abundance of this heart of new gladness, the mind thinks new thoughts, the will resolves new decisions, and hands do new deeds (Matthew 12:34–35). From this new gladness in our new Treasure, we joyfully sell all we have to possess the treasure of God’s presence (Matthew 13:44). From this new gladness in our great reward, we rejoice in persecution (Matthew 5:11–12). The abundance of this new gladness overflows through affliction and poverty in a wealth of generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).
From this most basic, most essential distinction from the world flow all the other distinctions:
- From this new gladness comes new godliness.
- From new prizing comes new praising.
- From new delights come new duties.
- From new desires come new disciplines.
- From new happiness comes new habits.
- From new preferences come new purchases.
- From new contentment comes new kindness.
- From new cherishing comes new charity.
- From new pleasure comes new patience.
- From new satisfaction comes new sexual purity.
- From new cheerfulness comes new faithfulness.
- From new treasuring comes new tenderness.
- From new joy comes new justice.
- From new rejoicing comes new risks for what is right.
- From new savoring in the soul comes new sweetness on the tongue.
- And from new life in the heart comes new love through the hand.
May God make the truth clear and compelling: The most basic, the most essential thing that distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian is not new decisions of the will, not new deeds of the heart, not new doctrines of the mind, but a new gladness in a new God through a new gospel.