Our Desires and Their Fulfillment in Christ

Part 1

Campus Outreach Christmas Conference | Atlanta

The question is, isn’t our concern with our desire just symptomatic of old 20th century and now 21st century preoccupation with ourselves? Isn’t this typically American, our desire? I can see the write-ups already and the skeptics. It’s just another typical American self-fulfillment conference. Shouldn’t you concern yourself with God, not your desire? Or the question might be asked, “Where is the place for suffering with our desire on the front burner of this conference?” Those are the questions I want to try to answer tonight and tomorrow morning on our desire. Where is God in this front-burner concern with our desire? And where is sacrifice? Where is suffering in this call to consider our desire?

Three Great Facts

So here’s where we begin. Three great facts, and these are biblical facts. First, there is a being in the universe whose name is God, who is infinitely glorious, infinitely beautiful, infinitely powerful, infinitely majestic, and magnificent above all other realities. There is such a God and there is no more important fact in all the world than that he is that way. That’s the first fact.

The second fact is, therefore, God’s supreme motive in all that he does in creation and redemption is to display and uphold and magnify that majesty and that glory. His main burden in all that he does in creation and redemption is to uphold and display and to magnify the way he is, so that he looks good in the universe.

And the third great fact is this: you were created and redeemed to join him in that enterprise of displaying and upholding and magnifying his glory.

Created for His Glory

Take creation first and then redemption. For example, Isaiah 43:7 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 . . .

It’s crystal clear in that text: you were created for his glory. That means to magnify, to display how great he is. You are on the earth to make God look good. That’s why you’re here. There’s no other basic reason. You are on planet earth to make God look good, like he is.

That’s creation. Take redemption. Romans 15:9 says:

I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised (the Jewish people) to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Now get the order of the thought there. You might say, “Well, wait a minute. I thought our motive and God’s motive was love, love towards us? ‘For God so loved the world,’ and now you say his basic motive is to display and to uphold and to magnify his glory?” Get the relationship between mercy, or love, and glory in Romans 15:9. He became a servant to the circumcised — that is, he became incarnate as a man — in order that the nations might glorify him for his mercy. So which is ultimate? Answer, glory is ultimate, mercy is penultimate. He shows us mercy in order that his glory might be displayed in us. So it’s true that he loves the world, but that’s not the ultimate aim. His majesty, his glory is the ultimate aim, and then we are to join him in this ultimate aim.

Think in that clip right there, I quoted my dad and said that the most common text that I heard over and over again as we prayed together as a family and the exhortation that was made to me as a boy was, “Whatever you do, Johnny, whether you eat or drink (it doesn’t get any more basic than that), do it all to the glory of God.” In other words, join God in this enterprise that was expressed in creation and redemption. Now the question is how? And you heard the key sentence on the clip, and I’ll state it as the thesis of this message. You could call it the thesis of my life, and I hope it’s the thesis of yours, namely, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

Our Lifelong Vocation

Now, this is huge and I hope you get it. Here’s the implication of that sentence and those facts. If that’s true, if God is most glorified — that is, seen to be most magnificent, most wonderful, most spectacular, most powerful, most beautiful — when you are most satisfied in him and your commission on the earth is to magnify him that way, then it must be your lifelong vocation to pursue your satisfaction in him relentlessly, never taking a break from the pursuit of your maximum satisfaction in God, because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Therefore, if you let up on the pursuit of your heart satisfaction in God, you will both destroy worship and undermine virtue.

The very heart of worship is delighting in God, perceiving him as glorious as he really is, and giving expression in song and prayer and confession to that awesome God. If you try not to pursue your joy in God, you will destroy worship. Churches are destroying worship everywhere with a theology that discourages people from pursuing their joy in God. And you will undermine virtue. But I won’t tell you why yet. That’s almost what the rest of this conference is about because we’re going to move from our desire to their desire and what the relationship between the two is. So here I’m answering my first question, isn’t the preoccupation with our desire just symptomatic of a self-centered American culture? And my resounding answer is, no, when God is our desire.

Nothing is more non-self-centered and radically God-centered than to say I live for one thing, to be satisfied in God and not money, to be satisfied in God and not sex, to be satisfied in God and not family, to be satisfied in God and not success, to be satisfied in God and not ministry. Then you are God-centered. But if you try to do the self-denial thing at an ultimate level and say it’s wrong to seek your desire, you destroy God-centeredness and in a very subtle way pump your powers. Because if you aren’t pursuing satisfaction in God, then you think you’re really something special and can be motivated by something higher than God.

Paul’s Eager Expectation

So to defend this thesis, that God is most glorified in you, when you are most satisfied in him, that text in Philippians contains a sentence. I’ll highlight the sentence and then with as much speed and time as I’ve got here, I’m going to give you about eight arguments in defense of this thesis from the Bible. The first one, just to develop the thesis from Philippians 1:20–21, is that Paul said this:

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 (there’ his goal) in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live (which corresponds to life) is Christ, and to die (which corresponds with death) is gain.

Now since those two pairs correlate with each other — “to live is Christ and to die is gain” correlates with living and dying in Philippians 1:21 — let’s just take the death pair. Paul is saying, “My desire and my eager expectation and hope is that Christ might be magnified in my death, for to me to die is gain.” Do you see it? How is Christ made to look great, magnificent in your dying? Answer: when dying is gain for you. If the last thing you want to do is die, you won’t magnify Jesus in your death. Because the next two verses, especially Philippians 1:23, says that to die is to depart and be with Christ is far and away better, and therefore, since it is far and away better, when the end comes, you say, “Yes!”

That is, if he’s your treasure, more than the girlfriend, more than the career, more than health, more than money, and more than retirement. Of course, if those things are more important, you won’t say, “Yes,” you’ll say, “No, no, no, no. You can’t be a God of love if you take me.” If that’s the case, then you don’t show him to be great at all; you show this world to be great. That’s why I said I’m after martyrs here.

I don’t think the Muslim world will recognize Christianity as great until there are martyrs. I mean if Christianity just gives you America, why should they be impressed? Everybody wants America. “Come to America, get rich. Do the thing.” That does not impress anybody. That’s why the health and wealth prosperity gospel is so blasphemous — that gospel which lures people to Christ with the promise of prosperity. Who doesn’t want prosperity without any new birth? New birth gives you a ravished sense of God that endures beyond death.

What does it say in Psalm 63:3? The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life, and if it’s better than life, then when you take life you leave the best. When that is true of your dying, your dying magnifies Jesus.

Mandated to Maximize Our Joy

Now just back up from that text for a minute and say, “Well, maybe it is biblical after all, to say Christ is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” Because that’s what he said — “Christ will be magnified in my dying if in my dying I’m so satisfied in Christ that I say it is ‘gain’ when I die.” That’s where I got that sentence. Do you wonder where that sentence comes from? God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. It came from that sentence in Philippians 1. Now, is this really biblical? I mean that that text alone to me is enough to show that it is. But this message meets with some surprising resistance and I want to give you more reasons for seeing it to be so.

I’ve given you reasons for why I believe it is biblically mandated that you draw the inference from the sentence (God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in the him) that you should devote your whole life to maximizing your pleasure in God for his glory. They’re not different; they’re the same. Your maximum pleasure in God and his maximum glory in you are one. To me, that’s the gospel. That there is a universe where that’s true is unspeakably wonderful to me, that I don’t have to choose between pursuing the glory of God and the joy of my heart is the best news in all the world, and God made it that way.

Argument number one is that God commands us to pursue our pleasure, and the commands of course are all over the place.

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

It’s a command like, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” And the commands are everywhere. So I’ll leave them for you to find. God commands you to be happy. It’s not icing on the cake of your duty. Don’t play off duty and obedience against the pursuit of joy. I had one person say to me, “I don’t think you should go around encouraging students, or anybody else for that matter, to pursue pleasure in God. I think you should tell them to pursue obedience to God, not pleasure in God.” And I said, that’s like saying, “Eat fruit, not apples.” Do you understand that? Not many were laughing. It’s not a joke. Here’s what I mean. Obedience (fruit) is the big word covering what God tells you to do. When you do what God tells you to do, you obey. One of the things God tells you to do in Psalm 37:4 is delight yourself in the Lord.

So are you supposed to pursue obedience? Of course, all of it. And one of the fruits (apples) is:

Serve the Lord with gladness!
     Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
     It is he who made us, and we are his;
     we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:2–3).

Make a joyful noise to the Lord . . . (Psalm 100:1).

You’re commanded to serve the Lord with gladness. You’re not suggested. That’s my first argument. You are commanded in the Bible to pursue your happiness.

Threatened for Joyless Service

Here’s the second argument: you are threatened with terrible things if you don’t. Deuteronomy 28:47 says:

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies . . .

Jeremy Taylor said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” And there it is, Deuteronomy 28:47. “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy, you’re going to serve your enemies.” That’s argument number two. We’re threatened with terrible things if we will not be happy. I’m not playing games here. This to me is absolutely serious. The pursuit of joy is one of the most deadly serious businesses in life.

Paul defined his apostolic ministry in 2 Corinthians 1:24 like this:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy . . .

He defined his whole mission as to work with people for their joy because it takes work to stay happy in Jesus. It’s blood earnest. You get your head chopped off for being happier in Jesus than being happy in life, and it doesn’t come natural to anybody. It takes tremendous miracles in your life for you to leave this place tonight and want to go home and not do the pornography thing. It takes a miracle that you can be so ravished with Jesus that the thought of putting illicit sex into your eyes would be less preferable than gouging it out with a screwdriver, to use Jesus’s language (Matthew 5:29).

The Nature of Faith

The third argument is that the nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God. I get this from Hebrews 11:6, which says:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

So faith must believe two things: God is, and when you come to him, you come to get reward. If you don’t come to God for the reward of God, you don’t have faith and you don’t please him. If you try to come to God to give instead of to get, you blaspheme.

God is not a receiver. God is a giver. He will get the glory of being the bountiful one in the universe, not you. You are bankrupt. You come to get. He exists to give. Therefore, it says without faith you can’t please him, and faith believes that he is and that the only way to come is for reward. You don’t reward him. You are not rewarding God. Sorry. You are not impressive. You are not rewarding. God is infinitely rewarding to you, and if you will have it so, he will be pleased with you.

The Nature of Evil

Argument number four is that the nature of evil teaches that we should pursue satisfaction in God. What is evil? How would you define evil? Jeremiah 2:12 goes like this. Here’s the definition of evil for Jeremiah:

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’s evil? Jeremiah says, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me as the source of their all-satisfying joy, and they are trying to find it in places where it can never be found.” That’s the essence of evil. Therefore, if you are to pursue the opposite of evil, you have to go back to the fountain, which is the pursuit of your thirst-quenching joy in him. That’s argument number four on the basis of the meaning of evil.

The Nature of Discipleship

Argument number five isb that the nature of discipleship teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God. Now what do I mean there? What is discipleship? What is this thing? Here’s one verse. 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.

What does it mean to become a Christian? Are there non-believers in the room right now? What does it mean to become a Christian? It means that while I’m talking, or maybe tonight as you pray by yourself in your room, that God mercifully opens the eyes of your heart to see the treasure of Christ. There’s the crucial little phrase in that one verse of Matthew 13:44. It says, “from joy” he goes and sells everything that he has and buys that field. Now it’s just an image. You can’t buy Christ. The image is, are you willing to let it all go for Christ? Is he that precious? Is he that valuable? Which means becoming a Christian is forsaking stuff, not in order to lose but to gain. There is no such thing as ultimate self-denial. That’s going to be my sixth point. Argument five and argument six are almost the same.

The Nature of Self-Denial

Number six is that the call to self-denial teaches the pursuit of satisfaction. You see here he has this treasure he’s found in the field. He thinks, “My goodness, there’s a million dollars in there.” He closes it and goes away and sells his diamond ring, he sells his car, he sells his computer, he sells his house, he sells all of his toys, and he gets a hundred dollars to buy a field with a million dollar treasure in it.

That’s what faith is, it’s resting in God. So inexpensive to you and so expensive to Christ, and you buy that field. So yes, there’s self-denial. You deny yourself the ring, you deny yourself the car, you deny yourself the house, you deny yourself whatever you have to give up. You deny yourself that in order to get gold. Give up tin, get gold. Give up sand, and you can get diamonds. Give up the gutter, and you get the seashore. There is self-denial. You’re going to hear it tomorrow morning big time, so I won’t linger over argument six.

The Nature of Love

Argument number seven is that the demand to love people teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God. Maybe you would say, “Where in the world? How can you get that? Because it seems like pursuing your own satisfaction in God is going to make you the termination of those affections. It’s all going to revolve around you.”

That’s not the case, because what the Bible teaches very clearly is that when God meets your needs, when he becomes your treasure, that becomes an expansive force inside of you, longing to increase and increase and increase your joy in God, and you increase your joy in God by folding others into your joy in God so that your joy in their joy in God expands your joy in God. That’s why love is produced by the pursuit of pleasure in God. For example, listen to Acts 20:34–35. It says:

You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Now do you know what the most important word in that verse is? Remembering. Why? Because when I was doing my doctoral work in Germany 25 years ago, whenever it was, I read ethicist after ethicist arguing that you must get out of your head any thought of personal gain if you’re going to be a loving person. Now, I was a simple person and I read my Bible, and I saw the opposite on every other page. I thought that sounded ethically and philosophically noble and high-minded; it’s just not biblical because it’s the opposite of what I just read.

Paul said in Acts 20:35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak . . .” So we’re talking about love here — “help the weak.” Then he says, “Remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed to give . . .” Those ethicists would have to say, “Forgetting the word of the Lord, how he said it is more blessed to give . . .” Because if you remember that he said it’s more blessed, your motives will be contaminated by the desire for the blessing as he promised in it. But it’s not contamination. It’s not contamination to want to be blessed in loving people. If your blessing is not material aggrandizement, but the joy of seeing God’s satisfaction extended into their lives.

I’ll just ask you a very practical question. When you are loved, do you feel more loved when the person loving you does the sacrificial thing joyfully or begrudgingly? And if you answer that you feel more loved when he does it joyfully rather than begrudgingly, what you are saying is that to be a loving person, they need to pursue their joy in loving you. Because the opposite would be that they should really be begrudging about it and not want any reward in it, not get any satisfaction from it, because then it can be really seen as selfless, and then you will really feel loved. That is not the way you experience it and you are lying in the hospital and I walk in as a pastor and you open your eyes and say, “Oh, pastor John, you didn’t need to come,” and I say, “I know I didn’t need to come and I didn’t want to come, but I had to come because I’m a pastor.”

You would not feel loved at that moment. But if I said, “I know I didn’t have to come, but frankly, I’ve learned over the years that I get tremendous satisfaction out of bringing hope to people.” Never in a million years would that person lying in the bed say, “Oh you get satisfaction. That’s all you ever think about, how you get satisfaction.” Because they would see something very profound, namely, that your pursuit of satisfaction in the loving act of extending the joy of Christ to them, is drawing them up into your very satisfaction, which is where they want to be. They want to be satisfied in God. They desperately need God, and you’re bringing them God and it’s your delight to bring them God.

Our Joy, God’s Glory

This is the last argument and I’m done for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning. The last argument for pursuing your own satisfaction in God is that it glorifies God. So I’m just coming full circle and ending with Philippians 1:20–21. Let’s just say it again. Paul says:

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 (magnified) in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

If you count Christ to be such a gain that to die and lose everything on earth is to lose nothing ultimately but to gain the best, he will be magnified. So yes, he is mightily glorified when you pursue your being satisfied in him. That’s my prayer for you, that you will be so wrought upon by the Holy Spirit in these days that your heart will be so disengaged from all the worldly things that preoccupy your affections now, and that you will be ravished by Jesus — by his word, by his Father, and by his Spirit, by his cause, by his people, and by him in it all — that the things fall away. And when people see that behavior, the radical, lay-down-your-life, dying kind of behavior that comes from that kind of preoccupation with Jesus, they will say, “Your God must be very, very great.”