The Pleasures of God Roundtable

Chapters 7–9

Bethlehem College and Seminary

So my understanding is we’re doing this book again, The Pleasures of God, and chapters 7, 8, and 9: “The Pleasure of God in Doing Good to All Who Hope in Him,” “The Pleasures of God in the Prayers of the Upright,” and “The Pleasures of God in Personal Obedience and Public Justice.” And there’s an epilogue, and there’s a shift that’s starting.

I pointed out in the chapters that these three chapters, unlike the first six, include attitudes and actions of us that God delights in. The first six had none of that. In his Son, in all that he does, in creation, in his fame, in election, that’s God delighting in what God does. Now the question includes are there things we do, attitudes we have that he enjoys. And so that’s where we’re going. So I won’t say anymore. Who’s got the first question?

My question relates to all three chapters: 7, 8, and 9. A common theme that runs to those is faith. And your definition of faith is being satisfied in all that God is for us in Jesus. And it sounds great, but it also sounds confusing to me. And I was wondering if you could just draw out the implications, go to some texts and just explain that a little further for us.

Good. You’re right. That comes up in this book, my definition of faith as being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. Or sometimes I say, faith is being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us to put the future focus on it. And it comes up in this book at the point where I ask why is it that faith produces obedience? Because my argument is in the chapter on God’s delight in obedience, where it comes to Saul who’s just disobeyed and he says, “Does God have more delight in sacrifice or in obedience?”

And the clear answer is he would enjoy your obedience, thank you very much, rather than your deciding what you’re going to do with all these sheep that you’re supposed to have wiped out from the Amalekites. And so I ask, why is it that obedience is pleasing? And I think the answer is it comes from faith or hope in God which magnifies God as the all sufficient trustworthy one.

And why? Why? And my answer, one of the answers is faith produces obedience. It changes our lives because I define it that way. It is not merely a decision to believe a doctrine. Faith is an action of the heart. I just read this morning, where was I reading this? Maybe in my own book, I can’t remember. Scougal! It was a quote from Scougal that faith is to spiritual reality what the senses are to natural reality. And he uses the phrase, “It is a vital sensing reception of” — and keyword — “persuasion of reality that’s out there.”

So God comes to us as a glorious being and faith perceives not just a fact, but the beauty of a fact, the value of fact, the worthiness of a fact and it embraces like that. So texts that incline me that way, the main one is John 6:35 where he says, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

And so there’s the parallelism between coming and never hungering, believing and never thirsting. And in John’s way of thinking and writing, I think we should lay those on top of each other and let them interpret each other. So believing is a coming to him as a fountain. So is never to thirst or flip it around, coming to him is not a geographic action, it is a spiritual motion toward him as bread to satisfy our souls.

So, “You’ll never hunger, you’ll never thirst” means, “You’ve believed in me, meaning you’ve eaten of me, you’ve drunk from me, you know now where your satisfaction is found.” A second text that’s not as explicit, but I think perhaps more compelling because people have thought about it is at the beginning of John, he came to his own and his own did not receive him.

But to as many as received him, and then you got the opposition who believed in his name. So receiving him and believing him or think are just oppositional; they’re synonyms in John’s way of thinking. He gave right to become children of God. Well then I ask, “Receive him as what?” And I could simply answer, “Well, for what he is.” “Well, what is he?” “God, Savior, Lord.” “Is he valuable?” “Yes.” “How valuable? Infinitely valuable?” Well, should you receive him that way? Yes. If you don’t, if you receive him as kind of valuable but not as valuable as my car, are you a Christian? No. So it’s in pushing on words like receive; we all grew up with words. Believe in the Lord Jesus, receive the Lord Jesus.

And I just want to teach you guys to lean on those words, press into those words and ask what does it mean to have faith? So my answer is I come to that definition. Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us because I think receiving Jesus and trusting Jesus has to be defined in terms of how good he is, how valuable he is, how all satisfying he is. And he’s presented that way. You find a treasure hidden in a field, you sell everything you have, you go get that field because it has now become your treasure. That’s not something that happens alongside faith. It is right in faith, which is why I think faith is so transformative when it really happens. Where are we going?

The other text that comes to mind too, giving that answer is 1 Corinthians 1:30 where it says, “God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus whom God made our wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” So there’s no stress there on faith explicitly, but as I’ve thought of that definition before, I’ve thought that’s another good text where why do you say all that God is for us in Christ for that section. I think 1 Corinthians 1:30 is a great place to go. And then the question that I have also is about all three chapters and the focus is on human response obviously.

And we as people who cherish the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty believe that God worked all things according to the council of his will and that he even has king’s hearts in his hand. So it seems that God has our prayers and our obedience and our hoping in him all in his hands. And so my question is, isn’t the delight a little contrived? Wouldn’t it be more of a delight in his heart if it was really of our own free will? And it wasn’t him saying, “Brian is going to hope in me. Brian hopes in him.” And now I’m happy instead of just, “Okay, Brian can go either way,” and he wants to delight in me so that makes me more happy.

That is really a good question and it’s a question that I think is right at the root of everybody who struggles. Everybody struggles with the sovereignty of God. They would not only say God’s delight is contrived, everything is contrived, the world is just one big contrivance. Now some people put a negative spin on the drama that God has created the actors in, directed, staged and become the chief character in.

Some people would view that and bow down and worship, worship God for making that kind of world. And others would stand back and say, “It’s a sham, it’s just contrived and all the emotions in it are contrived.” And what they are saying is that, may not use the word philosophically, but philosophically for this to be non-contrived, for this to be truly glorious, men must have ultimate self-determination. That’s really key to press on that because a lot of, I don’t want to use labels here, but those who stumble over the complete sovereignty of God don’t like that phrase. But if you lean on them, they do insist on it. Ultimate self-determination.

So, for example, there’s one group who would say, “We must have God influencing us because we’re dead in our trespasses and sins if we’re to believe.” So prevenient grace is not just the prerogative of a Reformed soteriology but also of Wesleyan one say. But when you say, “Okay, prevenient grace must wake us from the dead and bring us to a certain point,” then they’ll stop and say, “And at that point God must take his hand away so that the decisive act is mine,” which means “I finally,” that’s what I call it finally or ultimate self-determination. “I finally cast the vote, I finally make the choice. And right here I’m hovering between life and death and God has brought me to a hovering point and I decisively.”

If you believe philosophically that must be in place for God’s relationship to you, not to be contrived or for the world, to not be a contrivance, then there’ll be nothing I can do to persuade you. Because I don’t find that presupposition, that philosophical assumption in the Bible. And I find contradictions of it in the Bible where God in fact is the decisive guide.

Now, why then if God is decisive in guiding the king’s heart, would a good choice by the king be delightful to God and not a contrivance? And one simple answer would be to say God has found a way, created a way to bring about choices that please him such that the human is really accountable, really responsible, really engaged and that is in the soul of man a beautiful thing. It’s beautiful.

And if you insist, God must be not doing that for that to be beautiful. I think you’re raging against the Bible and against God. I’m saying while I may not be able to explain it to anybody’s satisfaction, including mine, yet that God can both maintain governance of a human soul and use secondary means and genetic dispositions and environmental influences and all manner of spiritual engagements so that when an inclination comes from that heart and a decision is formed, that’s real, it’s beautiful.

It’s not a contrivance that’s artificial, and yet, God did it. It’s the mystery of the intersection between divine sovereignty and human volition that we affirm because the Bible affirms it. We affirm it’s beautiful because we see it as beautiful. When you guys love each other well, I say, “That’s a beautiful thing.” And yes, I do say, “Praise God.” I say, “Praise God.” Paul said, “Thanks be to God that you who are once slaves of righteousness have become obedient from the heart.” Why would he say thanks be to God that you become obedient from the heart? Well, did I become obedient from the heart or from God?

He’s thanking God for your heart being in a certain way and producing obedience. And that’s all over the New Testament. But the question is absolutely, totally vital and relevant that we think about, and you guys have to come to terms with your future ministry and how you’re going to talk about this. And I would just recommend to you all sometime in your life to read Jonathan Edwards, The Freedom of the Will. I don’t know of anything more penetrating on this very issue. The thesis of that book is that God has complete governance of all things, and this is not a contradiction of human moral agency of a beautiful and real kind. Men can be really blameworthy and really praiseworthy under this absolute governance.

Your title for chapter 7, “The Pleasures of God in Doing Good to All Who Hope in Him,” would you be able to unpack a little bit some of the practical implications of what hope looks like for you? So in the midst of doubt, is hope, you saying a promise from the Scripture is hope. You’re doing something, there’s hope persisting in as long as the doubt persists. So would you be able to unpack what that practically looks like?

That’s doubt and hope. Let me say something positive about hope and then try to stir in the doubt piece. The title of that chapter, I think, comes from Psalm 147:11 that God does not delight in the strength of the horse or the legs of a man. The Lord delights in those who hope in his steadfast love. And I think the contrast there between strength of the horse, legs of a man.

I mean, he’s got nothing against men’s legs or horses or horses. He made the horse, he delights in the horse, delights in the horse. He made the legs, he delights in the legs, he wants the legs to run to do righteousness. What he’s saying there is people that are leaning on their legs for their accomplishments and their achievements or depending on the stallion to get them through the line or whatever, without hoping in God, they’re not pleasing him.

Anything that inclines our hearts to depend decisively on man or nature is displeasing to God. Anything that leans us towards counting on him, depending on him, trust in the Lord with all your heart. In all your ways, acknowledge him and he’ll direct your paths. God wants us to depend on him. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth seeking to show himself powerful for those whose heart is whole toward him. He loves to be strong. Anytime we depend on ourselves, we’re saying, “We don’t need your strength as decisive and our strength is decisive.”

If we depend on him, we’re saying, “Your strength is decisive, not mine.” And God delights to be glorified in that way. So what I mean by hope in him is whatever the challenge is in front of you, financial challenge, relational challenge, you name it. That moment, God has brought you to that point so that you will rely, hope, trust, I’m not distinguishing trust and hope here. Hope is just a future word for trust, I think, in him. And so that’s what I mean.

So I’ve got a challenge like leading this Q&A beforehand, I should say, “Lord, I glanced at these chapters again last night and this morning, I’m not depending on that. I’m not depending on my memory. I am decisively counting on you to bring to memory the thoughts, the texts and the words that would be most helpful.”

I think the Lord delights when I say that, if I mean it. Now doubt, it’s a rare human being or a rare moment in any human being’s experience where at that moment of expressing confidence there isn’t this niggling, might not happen, I might blow it. He might not come through, and those thoughts rise. That’s what I mean by doubts. Those thoughts rise. And I think they rise probably in this age in the most devout person you can imagine, because I’m thinking of the apostle Paul. Why would God in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9, bring Paul to the point of despairing of life? And he said, “That I may learn to rely on him who raises the dead.” Well, did you have to bring him to that point?

And evidently, he felt like Paul would benefit from being pushed to the limit of life where nothing could be counted on except God to wean him off of every other reliance. Because up until that point, something was rising up in his heart and saying, “Well, if God doesn’t come through, then maybe I can bank on this and God.” Little doubts. And so I think that’s what happened to Job as well. Job was a really good man. He was totally good. I mean, “totally” is an overstatement. He was the best there was, according to Job 1–2. And God saw down in Job’s heart some stuff like sediment at the bottom of a nice clear glass. You look at the glass. That’s clean water, shake it. Woo. Maybe it’s not as clean as I thought it was. That’s the way all of us are.

We look like we’re going through life pretty clean. Bump us. Sediment rises, sediment of pride, sediment of self-reliance, sediment of anger, just kind of lying down there and you bump us with suffering. And there it is. Oh, he’s not as clean inside as I thought. Piper looked like a real saint and then got ticked off at his kid or his wife or something. Something ugly came out, and so Job was that. He was clean, he was really good. I think he was forgiven and a saint and God bumped him. And then you saw the real stuff, the doubt began to emerge and then got repented of at the end. I repent and dust and ashes, I heard of you with the hearing of the ear and now I see you face to face. Now my answer to what to do at that point is no point in denying it.

God can see it. Just confess it as part of your sinfulness, I believe, help my unbelief. I mean, isn’t that the way we go to God? I believe. Help my unbelief. That little statement in Mark 9 where the man cries out like that. So I think confess it to God, confess your doubts to God and then take hold on the promise that will sustain the faith and then renounce it, say no to it and then act on the basis of this. And your action often is what will dispel the doubt. If you wait to act until the doubt’s gone, I don’t know if I can do this. And God says, “I’m going to help you, but if you wait until the doubt’s all gone, probably won’t.” But if you let faith rise above the doubt, even when the doubt’s still there and trumpet in action, God often just kills it. Just kills it in the action. I’ve tasted that many times.

Pastor John, my question’s about chapter 8 just about prayer. And as future pastors, we want to be passionate about prayer ourselves and know how to exhort our people to pray well. And that’s been a big focus in the last few months around Bethlehem and there’s a lot of different ways that people try to motivate others to pray. There’s focusing on God answers prayer. Look what happens when people pray or have prayed in the past and different ways. And often guilt can be used as a motivator. How do you suggest that we motivate ourselves and our people to pray more?

That’s really good. And whenever it comes to motivation, I don’t want to be reductionistic, meaning pick one that I like or that seems to be effective and just use it, I want to be biblical. If prayerlessness is called folly, call people fools for not praying. Now that will be guilt producing. You just don’t leave it there. You never leave a Christian congregation wallowing in guilt. That you take them through the valley of disappointment in themselves and guilt before God and out through gospel gates into joy.

That’s regular, I think. So the first thing to say is don’t be reductionistic. Read this book, do your word searches on prayer, prayerfulness, praying, intercession, and all the places and you’ll just absolutely be blown away. You’ll just be blown away. I mean, what you find in here. And I think the main motivation is the one I touched on in here and that is, God delights in the prayers of the upright and the reason he does is the same reason he delights in those who hope in him.

I argue that prayer is hope in God given verbal expression or heart expression. It’s turning faith or hope in God into longings expressed to God. You have promised this, I ask you for this, you have said you’re like this. I ask you for like this. So hope is invisible and prayer is making it more apparent, more visible, more active and then obedience is going to take it a step further. But I think the deepest motivation for prayer is that God delights in our enjoying him by depending on him for everything we need by giving expression to it in prayer. He would want us moment by moment to be counting on him for the next step and asking him for blessing on the next step.

It might be artificial to say, “I don’t know that I can take the step off of this platform without God.” Well, you can’t, but you might not have to ask him to help you at every step because then your mind can’t have anything else in it like getting ready for Greek test or something. You can’t, but you can as regularly, this is what praying without ceasing, I think pray means as regularly as your rhythm of mind can have it. Ask that every step, every situation you walk into, God be on it, God be in it. God would multiply it, more would come of it than just human interaction.

I just think walking through life like that is constantly lifting up a heart of need and desire to God and turning our hopes into requests and God simply delights to be dependent on that way. And what could be more pleasing than for us to walk in constant communion with the God who loves us, who’s promised to help us, who hears our prayers and would work for us as we move through the day. And then I sure would stir in the same things Jesus does and say answers to prayer are a great blessing. Pray and I’ll give you what you ask that the Father may be glorified in the Son. So I love to answer prayer from my glory.

Maybe the last thing to stress though it’s implicit in what I’ve said is that God made us to fellowship with us. I just read again in the Exodus and then in 1 Corinthians, where he brought them out of Egypt that he might dwell among them. Same thing, you are the temple in 1 Corinthians 3. The church is the temple of God — a habitation of God. God wants to dwell among us and fellowship with us, be known by us, commune with us and communing with God is a two-way street always not communion, it’s just one way. This is one of the ways, this way and our talking back is this way. I don’t think you ever should read the Bible without praying. It’s always as you see things, tell him how you feel about what you see. Ask him for things that are triggered by what you see.

That’s just any Bible reading that’s been followed by prayer, and there was no prayer during the Bible reading. That’s odd. That’s really odd. I can’t pull that off him. If this is God speaking, I mean let’s pretend Jesus walks up on the stage and starts chatting with me. Well, I’m not going to look at you guys while that’s happening. Okay? I’m going to be looking at him, and I hope that my face, everything about it, if my mouth is shut, everything about it is saying, “I’m glad you’re here. You are awesome. Can’t believe you’re talking to me. This is wonderful.” What did that mean?

This dynamic here would be two ways. Even my mouth is shut. The heart would be just going out constantly to Jesus saying things about him and what he just said to me, even if it’s, “I don’t get it,” which happens a lot when you read the Bible. “I’m not sure I get this, Jesus.” Say that to Jesus. Don’t say it to a commentary, don’t say it to your desk, say it to Jesus. So communion is just a huge, that’s what the Christian life is ultimately is communion. So you would try to, the hardest thing I think in commending prayer to a people is to awaken in them a desire for that; most people are satisfied with the way things are.

And that’s what awakening is. That’s what revival is. Awakening is people becoming dissatisfied with themselves, their level of communion, their level of fellowship, their level of enjoyment, their level of knowledge, their level of repentance, their level of holiness; everything they are are not satisfied and therefore their cry to God becomes more intense and then God begins to move and the level of longing, the level of holiness rises. And if it rises among a lot of people at the same time you call it, revival or awakening. Where are we going?

You say that in talking about God’s pleasure and obedience, that obedience comes as we’re satisfied in Jesus, all that God will be for us in Jesus. And it severs the root of temptation. In my experience that happens less frequently than I look forward to. And you even mentioned that we have to know that obedience is for our good and I see that as motivating me often more than just being so satisfied. The temptation’s not really even an issue. And I wanted to see how you bring those two concepts together.

Yep. Excellent question. I’m hearing the same question. I don’t want to get yours wrong by just immediately computing it into another one that I’ve heard before of should you do what you know to be right if you don’t feel like doing it. You’re pointing out the times are not as close together, farther between, few and far between. When I’m so satisfied in God that obedience is an overflow and there’s no warfare in it, there’s no battle, there’s no need for any additional motivation than just being satisfied in God. And that’s probably honest and true about most of us. So when I say it’s the overflow of satisfaction in God, I define love, you can say obedience, as the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others from 2 Corinthians 8 to where that’s what happened to the Macedonians. But here’s my answer to how to put the two together.

I don’t deny that there are right things to do, that the Bible says to do and we should do even if our satisfaction in God is small and we are not over flowingly eager to do them. Do it anyway. But the difference between that and hypocrisy, I mean that’s the question to ask. There is such a thing as hypocrisy. The Pharisees did all the right things too when they didn’t love doing them for God’s sake and he called them whitewashed tombs. I don’t want him to call me a whitewashed wall or tomb. Well what’s the difference between hypocrisy and doing what you don’t feel very much like doing? And the difference is this, when you face something that you need to do, homework, a tough conversation you need to have with somebody, giving to the church, not looking at pornography. So a bunch of those, all right. If you don’t feel much like doing it but there remains the wherewithal in you not to do it, then number one, you repent.

So your life and my life will be one of constant repentance, because in heaven you will not bear the testimony you just bore to me. You won’t. In heaven, you and all of us here will never have deficiency in desire to do what’s right. We will love it and completely 100 percent that’s what it will mean, not to sin anymore. But now life is repentance, meaning life is a steady state recognition of shortfall, a confession of that to God. So that’s number one. I’m saying to God, “I’m sorry that my emotions are not all that they should be for you or for this act of righteousness.” Second, you ask him, plead with him for help. “Change, restore to me the joy of my salvation. Incline my heart to yourself, satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love.” You cry out for help. Do that all the time.

And then third, you write the check or you don’t click on the pornography or you make the call and you’re saying all the while, “Restore to me the joy in that.” And when you’re done — this is A.P.T.A.T. — then you thank him at the end. So the difference between, I mean the reason I think you can live a holy life in what you just described is that God delights in that repentance. God delights in that prayer and God delights in that obedience flowing from that repentance and that prayer even though in that moment your resting in Jesus is not as deep and strong as it ought to be. And then we want to get better. I mean, I long for the day when my contentment in Christ is so great, there are no more battles. But Paul said he fought the good fight, kept the faith, he finished his course, now there’s laid up for him a crown of righteousness and that was the point of his death. And so I frankly expect to fight on my deathbed against sinful thoughts.

Pastor John, on page 181, you address something that happens in, I think many people’s hearts. “Does he delight in me or himself?” That seems to be opposites. And as a pastor, I want to teach and preach in such a way that, that problem doesn’t appear in people’s hearts. So can you help me? And if I can’t do both at the same time, which is it more, is it important for them to see him as delighting in himself or is it more important for them to feel his delight over them? How do I work that?

I feel that that question is almost the same question that Brian asked. At least my mind in answering the two is exactly the same sequence of thought, that the question I’m referring to earlier was, “If God governs your choices, isn’t his delight in your good choices a contrivance?” And now your question is here’s a person and the Bible says, or does it say, “God delights in those who hope in him?” And Piper kind of works it around to the point where he is really delighting in himself and is he delighting in me or is he delighting in himself? That question feels like it has the same impulse behind it or the same possible problem behind it. Namely, in order for me to feel cherished, I must be so independent in some way. So autonomous in my virtues and my qualities and my personality and just me.

I want them to love me for me. You can hear that, right? I want him to love me for me. If that means God’s affection should terminate on me as having ultimate value, it’s atheistic, it’s rebellious, it’s treasonous. But if when the person is saying, “I want him to love me,” he means because as a person, I trust him. I love him. I hope in him. I’m part of his covenant. I’m a creature of his. I bear his image. All those answers would be Godward and God would be delighting in me for his sake. Maybe an analogy would be in Psalm 27, can’t remember the verse, where the psalmist cries out, “Forgive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake.” Now I want to be forgiven. I want him to look at me and say, “Your sins do not count against you. I receive you, welcome you. And I’m canceling your sins and I’m welcoming you.”

And then it adds, “For his name’s sake.” And I really believe there are a lot of people where that last phrase ruins it. It ruins it. Because I don’t know, I don’t want to be too hard on them, because they’re on their way maybe to the right place. But I think deep down they’re not God-centered people. They’re not finding their ultimate pleasure in God’s glory, but have this longing to be the glory. I want God to recognize my glory. And the glorious thing is, he does. I mean C.S. Lewis wrote The Weight of Glory. And you know that the weight of glory was in that essay? The weight of glory was, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

And he uses the phrase, “We will become an actual ingredient in the happiness of God.” I think that’s true. And that should be enough for us. And I think it should intensify our delight in that when we realize God brought me to that point, God chose me into that situation. God shaped me into a part of his bride. Can we just say, “A saint that he will delight in.” Isn’t that what it says in Ephesians 5, that he’s washing and cherishing and nurturing this bride so that she could be pleasing to him. He’s doing all that so that when we get to heaven and God says, “Well done,” and he might even say, “I like you.”

I think our hearts at that moment should say, “Thank you, thank you.” And what would thank you mean? I mean the alternative to thank you is “Well, yes, you would. I mean, wouldn’t it?” If he says, “I like you,” and you don’t say, “Thank you.” Meaning, “You brought me to the point of likability. You did that. You worked in me — God-exalting character. You conform me to the image of your Son and you delight in your divine Son and I’m conformed to him and therefore you’re delighting in me.” If that’s not the mindset and the attitude, then it must be something like, “Well, you should. You should delight in me,” and nobody wants to say that.

We want to say, “Thank you.” So labor in your ministry to show that God is ultimate in this universe, he’s the most important reality and that that’s really good for us. We were made to be glad in that. And we become the kind of people, we get glorified. We become the kind of people who not expect that God terminates his delight on me, but that I, in reflecting the worth of the Son, receive as delight in me, delight in the Son. I can’t imagine why, how I could get any better than for me to be so changed by God that I’m conformed now in my character and my responses, my personality are all shaped now by my conformity to Christ. Because we will see him as he is and then become like him.

And God in seeing us in that moment will not only say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He would say, “Well, you are something. You are something to behold, my child.” And he will delight in us and we will not want to crave that for our, I did that or that’s terminating on me without any reflection back to his worth. I just don’t think we’ll want to go there. So we got our work cut out for us to help people who for some reason they stumble over that a lot and I’d like to help them. And you guys may figure out ways to do it better than I have. Next question.

My question is in regards to chapter 9, “The Pleasures of God in Personal Obedience and Public Justice.” As Christians, we want to fuse our faith and politics together in the appropriate way. We don’t want to withdraw, we don’t want to just stand and condemn, but we also don’t want to commit political idolatry and put our hopes in legislation and in candidates. So how do you recommend approaching the public sphere? And the second question is, what issues of justice do you think the church is just missing it on? We’re awakened for the most part to issues like abortion, but other issues that they’re just missing it are blind to see.

If they’re blind, I’m probably part of the blindness. And I’m sure that in two centuries, as Christians look back, they’ll be able to see them a lot more clearly than we do. While I’m on it, before I go back to your first question, I suspect a lot of it in the West will have to do with materialism and security, and things that we take for granted that God may inform us someday. That wasn’t a very good lifestyle in this world that you chose. You were so much a part of your culture there. You had no idea what you were swimming in, in terms of materialism and worldly security, and choices you were making that were just so distant from my will for you. Hard to say because I’m just part of that.

I believe in a wartime lifestyle. But do I have it? Compared to some rich Americans, I do, but compared to most poor people, I don’t. Let me go back to your other question of the chapter, which is called “The Pleasures of God in Personal Obedience and Public Justice.” And I added that last part that’s not long and I’m not an expert in it and I don’t know much about it. Don’t consider myself an expert in public justice. I added it because we have to ask the question, “Does God care only about our private moral choices or does he care about the extent moral choices that become public in terms of justice?”

And I work with a few proverbs there to show that God doesn’t just delight in the true and proper balances of a shopkeeper when he’s selling and he puts the potatoes here and the weight here, if inside that weight there’s some hollow and he’s cheating at this person, making them get less for their money than they should, God just hates that. It’s an abomination to the Lord. And when the person, at cost to himself, puts exactly honest weights in the scale, God looks upon that with delight for, here’s what I’m pressing on, two reasons. One reason is it’s coming from faith. Anything that is not from faith is sin.

So I asked myself the question, “Does God give a hoot about unbelievers’ integrity? Does God give a hoot about an unbeliever’s honesty?” And my answer is, yes and no. The no is whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Meaning, if he is putting honest weights there, not trusting in God, not believing in Jesus, living his own life as though God were not in existence — this treason — this is part of a treasonous lifestyle.

I was thinking about this, this morning. Here’s the analogy I thought of. If there were a king who had subjects and he taught all of his subjects remarkable skills in tapestry or lots of other things by which they could make clothes for themselves, make tools for themselves. And the kingdom was happy and all of their weaving and all of their metal crafting was an honor to the king, because they were doing it out of love for him and he taught them and they were depending on him.

And then a rebellion started in the country and half the people were swept away and they joined another leader and rebelled against the king. And over in that other kingdom they were making tools and making tapestries because he taught them. Now how would he feel about that? He would look at that tool-making and that tapestry-making in that rebellious kingdom and how would the king feel about that? And I think he would feel ambivalent about it.

He would say, “I taught them that. They’re making a beautiful thing. They’re using my skills. My skills are good. I like what I see. They’re not stupid. They’re doing it the way I said, and they’re turning it on me.” That’s what all unbelieving integrity is. All unbelieving business skills are that. However, God looks down, I think, and he sees not only the displeasure of how rebellious they are. He says, “Those are vestiges of my image. Those are vestiges of my common grace or experiences of my common grace. And in that sense, I like it now.” Now your question. In view of that, how do Christians think about public sphere?

Now here I bump up against, I don’t know, kinds of questions I answered. I’ll tell you what. I haven’t read enough to be sure. But number one, we in ourselves and in the church want to be obeying out of faith. And everywhere we intersect with public life, do what is right, do what is good, do what is loving, do what is just. And that will immediately engage us in certain kinds of caring about issues, care about the homeless, care about the poor, care about crisis pregnancies, care about kids who aren’t getting the kind of education they need. Care, care, care, care, care. Everywhere your heart is intersecting within your personal life, in your community or your country, you will be making choices that will be public and that will involve right or wrong, just or unjust, beautiful or ugly. But what about investing a lot of time in helping structures look like integrity without faith?

This is the old question between social involvement and evangelism. Evangelism wants to help people get right with God and then out of that live a public life of obedience and justice. Other people. Now this is a question, are some people called to help a company or a political party or a group formulate laws or policies that reflect more of God’s character, whether the people living them and obeying them are Christians at all or not?

And my guess is yes. I think that’s almost inevitable that if you live in the real world, if you work for 3M or Apple or Microsoft and you work for those companies and say you’re mid-level manager of some kind, what difference will your faith make there? And you’ll say, “Well, I should talk to people about Jesus.” Well yes, that’s exactly right and that’s where it stops. Maybe the reflection stops for a lot of people and that’s true.

But surely as you have a say in what kinds of policies you’re going to opt for honesty. We’re not going to pull the wool over our customer’s eyes are we? I mean we’re not going to say, “The chip is this fast and it’s not this fast just because we want to beat you inside.” We’ll say, “No.” And you may not at that point in that committee meeting, you may not say, “Because I’m a Christian.”

You may not. You may say that in various other settings. So I think inevitably and some people very intentionally and by calling should move into their ordinary secular jobs with Christ as their Lord. And both work towards spiritual awakening in the lives of the people around them and work towards what you might call external conformity to what a life of faith would look like if there were faith. Now whether that even gets at what you were thinking about, I’m talking out of my own struggles and my own reflection.

Let me close this question with an image. I think public integrity, public honesty, public justice where there’s no faith is like a seashell that washes up on the beach. And you walk along and you see it and it’s one of these big conk types, maybe that big and you can listen to it, it’s got the ocean inside. And you pick it up and it’s beautiful, but the animal is gone. There’s no life in it. I think that’s what public integrity, public justice without faith is.

You look at it and say, “I’d put that on my shelf. I’d rather have that than a crummy old ugly stone from the gutter because that’s beautiful,” and that it is. And Christians know why it is. It’s of God. And so I think it’s legitimate to nurture that, cultivate that, pursue that. And we have different callings. I personally think it would be a mistake for me to invest major energy in that. I’m a pastor, I’m a writer.

I am working at the heart and mind level to try to capture people for the lordship of Christ, believing that that will have the biggest ripple effect, the biggest effect for worship and for obedience. Whereas others could say, “I’m called to go serve in the capitol as a representative from District 62B, and there to advocate for the shell and faith wherever I can. But I’m going to argue for the shell. I’m going to argue that this is a beautiful shell and we ought to have this policy, and this policy and this law, and this law because it’s beautiful and you have your reasons for regarding this. Beautiful. I have mine, if you want to hear them, I’ll tell you, but let’s put that shell on the shelf.”

Pastor John, quick question. So kind of in connection to that, I wonder, and I wonder if this is a delight in priority, like God primarily delights in holiness and godliness in the person’s lives, and then there’s a lesser delight in the public justice that takes place. Or if this is two different types of delight, kind of like God delights in magnifying his grace in a special way and delights in magnifying his justice. Another one. So I was just wondering if you could speak to that.

Good question. Oh my, they are different. I think I’m going to go with what you just suggested. Somebody could maybe show me why they’re equally strong. But I think since God does not delight in the death of the wicked, even though he appoints people to die even before they’ve been saved and does it with his left hand, you might say instead of his right hand. Therefore, it seems to me that there are actions that are good and he delights in them but not as good as this.

So there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous. Maybe there’s more joy, more joy. And God has a special delight in seeing people come out of darkness into light. And yet back to your analogy, if the issue were here’s a politician who will decide to vote in a just way that will result in the greater good materially and socially to the greater number, and he’s not a believer, and here’s one who is going to get saved. God cares about both of those. That’s what we’ve said.

God delights in this and he delights in this. But I would say, given what I see in the Scripture, his delight in seeing a person come out of darkness into light is greater than his delight in seeing an unbeliever vote in the most helpful, just way. Okay, now I’ve said it, that’s my answer. But let me back up and just make sure we don’t take that in the wrong direction. I think some evangelicals in history, I’m thinking a hundred years, have concluded from such an observation that this is worthless. And to give your life to that would be just a big, big mistake.

But if you look at what 90 percent of evangelicals are giving their lives to, it wouldn’t. Sitting in front of the TV and watching clean videos is not a great way to spend your life over against investing yourself in a public situation where you might influence people to vote in a just way or craft just policies. So I think it’s possible to maintain a prioritization of evangelism and the delight God has in people coming to Christ and valuing and blessing people who are engaged in helping people form judgments about policies and laws that reflect the character of God, even if they’re not believers.