The Gospel-Shaped Heart

Treasuring the Glories of Christ

China Partnership Pastors’ Gathering | Hong Kong

Let’s begin by giving an overview of where we are going in our three messages.

God — the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — created you and all other human beings for his glory. Isaiah 43:7: “Bring my sons and daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone whom I created for my glory.” 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Every person was created to live for the glory of God.

To that end, God has given you a mind so that you can know him as he really is. And he has given you a heart so that you can treasure him above all things. God gave us minds so that we would know ultimate truth. And God gave us hearts so that we would treasure ultimate value. There is no truth higher than God. There is no value greater than God. And God gave us bodies that we might act in accord with his truth and value.

We were created to make God look magnificent as the sum of all truth, and to make him look magnificent as the most valuable treasure in the universe. God shines brightly through his people when we know him accurately and deeply as he is revealed in his word. And God shines even more brightly when we treasure him more than health, more than wealth, and even more than life itself. As the psalmist said, “Your steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). And as Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). In other words, Christ is more valuable than anything in the world, and we glorify him when our minds know him for who he really is, when our hearts treasure him above all things, and when we act in accord with that knowledge and that treasure.

Thinking Fuels Loving

“Knowing is not the ultimate goal of creation. Loving the God we know is ultimate.”

I am going to argue that the mind is meant to serve the heart. Right thinking about God exists for the sake of right feelings for God. Scriptural doctrine exists for the sake of spiritual delights. Both thinking and feeling are necessary to glorify God fully, but both are not ultimate. Knowing is not ultimate. Loving is ultimate. The devil knows more theological truth than you ever will in this life, but none of it awakens love in his heart. He hates what he knows about God. Therefore, knowing is not the ultimate goal of creation. Loving the God we know is ultimate.

The task of the mind is to provide the fuel of truth for the furnace of the heart. And the task of the heart — the furnace — is to burn with white-hot love for all that God is for us in Christ. And the task of the pastor is to keep pouring more and more fuel — more and more biblical truth — into the hearts of his people, and to pray for the flame of God’s Spirit to ignite the truth.

Only the flame of the Holy Spirit can ignite the fuel of truth so that it burns with love and joy. That’s why the devil can know so much and not love God. The Holy Spirit does not ignite the fuel of knowledge in the heart of the devil. So every preacher is utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit. We cannot make the fuel of truth ignite with the flame of love in people’s hearts, but we can provide the fuel of biblical truth. And we can pray that the Spirit would set it aflame. And we can seek to burn with love as we preach and care for the people, but only God can satisfy the human soul with God!

That is where we are going in the three messages:

  1. The Gospel-Shaped Heart: Treasuring the Glories of Christ
  2. The Gospel-Shaped Mind: Knowing the Glories of Christ
  3. The Gospel-Shaped Mouth: Preaching the Glories of Christ

Dead Hearts Don’t Desire God

Our first focus, then, is on the gospel-shaped heart. There is a reason why I am calling it a gospel-shaped heart. Without the gospel, our hearts are spiritually dead in sin. That is true of every person in the world without exception. When Adam and Eve sinned, the whole of humanity fell into a hopeless condition of sinfulness.

Romans 5:18 says, “One trespass led to condemnation for all men.” Romans 5:19 says, “By the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners.” And Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”

The essence of our sinfulness is that by nature we exchange the glory of God for other things that we desire more. Romans 1:23, for example, says, “They exchanged the glory of God for images.” The human heart was created to treasure God above all things. The essence of sin is that we don’t. We desire other things more than we desire God. God is not the supreme treasure of any fallen human being apart from the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Two Massive Obstacles

Therefore, two massive obstacles stand between us and what we were made to be. We were created to enjoy God above all things — to glorify God by treasuring him above all things — but now there are two massive obstacles between us and that destiny of everlasting joy in God.

“We dishonor God by preferring other things, which is the moral outrage of our depraved condition.”

One is the problem of depravity in our own hearts. The other is the problem of justice in God’s heart. We dishonor God by preferring other things, which is the moral outrage of our depraved condition. Therefore we are under the just and holy condemnation of God. So there are two obstacles between us and everlasting joy in God: our rebellion against God, and God’s wrath against us. We don’t want God as our supreme treasure. And God’s sentence against such treason is eternal destruction.

The Resolution

The gospel is the good news that God, in his great mercy, has sent his only Son into the world to remove both of these obstacles.

He does this first by absorbing the condemnation of God that belonged to us. Romans 8:3b: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh.” God condemned sin! He executed it. Punished it. Whose sin? Ours. Christ had no sin. He condemned our sin “in the flesh.” Whose flesh? Christ’s flesh. Not ours. We escape the condemnation. Hence, Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

For all who are in union with Christ by faith, the first obstacle to joy is removed. God’s wrath — his condemnation against our depravity — has been executed, but not on us, but on Christ. This is the great exchange, the great substitution. This is the heart of the gospel. God’s wrath is removed. He is no longer against those who are in Christ Jesus. He is for us.

When we trust Christ, we are united to him. He bears our condemnation. We bear his righteousness. “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The legal obstacle of God’s justice and wrath is removed. He is for us forever in Christ.

What about the second obstacle, our depravity? In our natural condition, we do not want God. We may want out of Hell, but we do not want the truth, beauty, and value of God as our supreme treasure and pleasure. He does not satisfy us in our natural condition. Our hearts are dead to the beauty and worth of God.

“Christ died not only to absorb and satisfy God’s wrath, but also to purchase new hearts for his people.”

What is the remedy for this seemingly hopeless condition of spiritual deadness toward God? The answer is that Christ died not only to absorb the wrath of God and satisfy his justice, but also to purchase new hearts for his people — just as the promise of the new covenant says (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). Jesus said at the last supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). This means that by his blood Christ purchased the new heart promised in the new covenant. Christ bought for his people the mercy of new birth. Ephesians 2:4–5:

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.

As depraved sinners, who do not prefer God over everything, our only hope is the free gift of new birth. God takes out the heart of stone and puts in the heart of flesh, and (wonder of wonders) we see God in Christ for the first time as all-satisfying — more to be desired than all the world.

Christ purchased the removal of both obstacles that kept us from eternal joy in God. He rescued us from both obstacles in the one act of dying in our place. By his suffering, he obtained our justification before the justice of God. And by his suffering, he obtained our transformation by the Spirit of God.

God is no longer against us. And we are no longer blind to his beauty. He is now all-merciful toward us. And we are now all-satisfied in him. God delights in us in spite of sin. And our sin is being overcome as we delight in God above all things.

The Goal of the Gospel

“The ultimate goal of the gospel is not forgiveness. The goal is God.”

Christ did not die only to forgive us our sins. Forgiveness is always a means to an end. When you have wronged your wife and need forgiveness, the ultimate thing you want is not forgiveness. You want her. You want a restored, sweet, and happy relationship. Forgiveness is a means to that.

And so it is with God. The ultimate goal of the gospel is not forgiveness. The goal is God. 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” And what do we find when he brings us to God? Psalm 16:11: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The ultimate goal of the gospel is to glorify God by restoring to God’s people the beauty and worth of God as their all-satisfying Treasure.

Listen to the words of Jesus as he describes the coming of God’s kingdom into his people’s lives:

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. (Matthew 13:44)

This is what happens when the power of the gospel breaks in on our dead hearts. We see the king as more valuable than anything in the world. And don’t miss the word “joy.” In our joy, we let go of everything we have that stands in the way of having the Treasure — the King in all his glory.

From Darkness to Light

Paul describes how this can happen to a dead, human heart that has no joy God at all. He says it is like the creation of light at the beginning of the world. 2 Corinthians 4:6: “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.” When God speaks and says to a human heart, “Let there be light,” that heart awakens from the darkness and sees the glory of God in the face of Christ!

And from then on the Christian says with Paul in Philippians 3:8:

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

This is the gospel-shaped heart. The gospel triumphs in the depraved human heart and rescues it from emotional treason. We were traitors of God-given purpose, namely, to find our greatest joy in God. We were belittling God by finding his gifts more satisfying than himself, but Christ purchased for us a new heart, a new taste, and a new sight. And suddenly, we tasted that God is more to be desired than anyone or anything. When God saved us, we saw the glory of God — the beauty, the worth of God — in the face of Jesus Christ and were satisfied in him.

We are now free to obey with joy the most important commands in the Bible. Don’t have any other god’s — any other treasures, any other pleasures, any other admirations— nothing before me, the one true God (Exodus 20:3). Love God! Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say rejoice!” Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord.” Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous!” Psalm 90:14: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” The gospel brings us home to God in whom “is fullness of joy; and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

One End, Not Two

The Westminster Catechism asks at the very beginning: “What is the chief end of man?” And it answers: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Isn’t it amazing that the writers of the Westminster Catechism thought it important to put the enjoyment of God at the very head of the entire Catechism of the Christian life? And isn’t it amazing that they did not say, “The chief ends of man are to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” They saw glorifying God and enjoying God as one end, not two.

“Our joy in God, especially in suffering, is the way God is shown to be glorious.”

Why? Because they had seen in the Scriptures what Paul said in Philippians 2:20–23. Christ is magnified —glorified — in our bodies when he is more precious to us than life. He is glorified when we say, “To die is gain,” because we gain more of Christ. In other words, Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially when we are about to lose everything but Christ.

So you can see that Christ’s being glorified and our being satisfied are not separate acts. They are one. Our joy in God, especially in suffering, is the way God is shown to be glorious. So the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Or here’s the way Jonathan Edwards said it:

God glorifies Himself toward the creatures in two ways: . . . God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.

The glorification of God and the satisfaction of the human heart in God, are not two ends. They are one. And that one end — God being glorified in our being satisfied him — happens in the gospel-shaped heart. This is the ultimate goal of the gospel. This is the ultimate reason Christ died: to restore the heart so that it treasures God above all things — the God in whose presence is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).