The Pleasures of God

Session 2

God's Delight in Being God

Happy God

Let’s go straight to an overarching statement of God’s happiness. Is God a happy God? I’ve had so many people over the years tell me that the very idea of God being happy was life-changing for them. They never even thought of asking the question. The word happy just sounds too low. I admit it sounds too low because I suppose many of you, you’ve got joy in a nice religious, big, holy category. You’ve got happiness in the low television and food category. If you do, I’m sorry that I’m using it in a way that sounds disrespectful of the Lord to you.

The Bible has a bunch of words for joy, happy, pleasure, delight. If you try to do a careful word study to see which ones are low and refer to pizza and which ones are high and refer to God, they don’t pan out. They’re all over the place. All of them can be used for God in the Bible. I don’t know of any word for joy that a word study shows would not be used for God. So when I use pleasure, delight, joy, happiness, satisfaction, I’m just mashing them all together; I mean the same thing. I mean it really big, really deep. I’d like to sanctify the word happiness for you and just get it up out of the gutter if that’s where it is, and let God have it.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, . . . and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed [makariou] God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8–11)

“The gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” I’m fastening on this word blessed — “the gospel of the glory of the makarios God.” This is not eulogeō but Makarios. That word right there, I’m going to argue, means happy.

Who is the God in this verse? Yahweh, the one who absolutely is. “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). Picture this now: God has no needs. He absolutely is. This is mind-boggling. I’ll tell you: sometimes this makes me worship and sometimes this almost makes me an unbeliever. This is so scary. God just is. I can’t conceive a non-beginning reality. Every child’s going to ask you: Where did he come from? We’re all children really. The answer is: he just was. At that moment, the devil will say, “No way.” You can’t have a person always be. Every person we know comes in to being and gets shaped by personal development and education. You can’t just be a person without a beginning.

Do you know what rescues me from unbelief at that moment is to say, “On what basis are you saying that?” Because if you go back and back and back and back, and ask for a basis before that to say that shouldn’t have been that way, it doesn’t exist. There’s no basis back there from which you can say it shouldn’t have been this way, which opens up a glorious possibility: Why wouldn’t it have been this way? What you’re left to do as far as apologetics goes is to ask: Given this human being’s soul — personality, love, hate, complexity, depth, beauty, poetry, art — would that more likely be rooted in absolute being as person or absolute being as gas? That’s a no-brainer for me, unless the Holy Spirit pulls back from my life and I get tempted by stupid ideas. We will see that as a no-brainer someday. Every human being will see that as a no-brainer someday. That’s why Romans 1:21 says that everybody knows God — every atheist. Christopher Hitchens knows God.

There’s God: blessed, happy, profoundly satisfied, content. God is self-sufficient. He has no deficiencies, no needs. He’s full and without defect. If you wonder, Where can I go in the New Testament to find that word makarios? it’s used all over the Sermon the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3–10)

In every one of those, what does blessed me? It means profoundly, deeply content, and satisfied and blessed and rewarded. It’s a big word. It’s a very affectional, satisfied, completing wonderful word. It’s not some objective status. Those people are going to be satisfied. That’s the word used in 1 Timothy 1:11 for God. It’s the glory of the blessed God. My argument is that it’s a glorious thing to be God with no needs, so that all his acts outside himself are not intended to shore up his weaknesses but to display his strengths and beauties for the enjoyment of all who will welcome him as their treasure.

If God were moody, he wouldn’t be glorious. If he has bad days when his kids come home and he’s sullen tonight, he’s not a glorious God. He’s always excited about his kids coming home — totally. I sit on Talitha’s bed at night as an imperfect dad. She’s thirteen. She still lets me do this. I’m going to make her let me do this until she’s gone. I’ll put my hand on her head and I bless her, and I sing to her — same song every night. I generally say something like, “Since it says God never sleeps, he’s awake all night. Guess what? He never gets tired. If I stay up all night, you’re going to pay. I’m going to be so crabby you won’t leave the house. If God stays up all night, he is totally excited in the morning about everything he plans to do. He never has a bad day, never has a moody moment.”

That’s why this is glorious. When he’s called a happy God, that’s glorious. Wouldn’t that be glorious if you had a dad who was a Vesuvius of excitement about your life? Never, ever gloomy. Never bored. Never tired. Always totally one hundred percent in favor of what he’s doing. No guilty conscience. No sadness. No depression. Wow. This is glory. That’s called the gospel. The gospel is the gospel of that God: the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. There would be no good news if God were not happy, because the goal of the gospel is to have fellowship with God — and frankly, I don’t need any more unhappy people around. If God’s one of those, let me be annihilated please. The big overarching picture from that one text I would argue is, it is a glorious thing for God to be happy.

What Makes God Happy?

The question now for the rest of The Pleasures of God is: What makes him happy? What’s he happy about? What’s he glad about? Theologically, I might just stop here and say, “He’s glad about being God. Let’s go home, and that’s the end of the seminar.” It would be, but we’re Bible people. We’re not theological people first. We’re Bible people first. What we do is we get out our concordances. We look up all the places for joy, all the places for happiness, all the places for delight. We find all the ones that are talking about God’s happiness and God’s delight.

That’s how I wrote this book. That’s how I wrote these sermons. I devoted a week or two. I just looked up everything about joy, everything about delight, everything about happiness, everything about satisfaction, everything about blessedness. I found all the places where they are what God is experiencing and looked to see if they came into any categories, and I preached nine sermons and wrote nine chapters. That’s the way I did it. I want to be a Bible guy. Even though I may be right about God’s chief delight is in being God, that summary statement has very little power if I say that to anybody. But the word of God is written in a way that it has power.

1. God’s Pleasure in His Son

The first thing that gives God pleasure is his Son — God’s pleasure in the majesty and meekness of his Son. There seems to me to be a clustering of some texts around his greatness and majesty, and a clustering of texts around his lowliness and servant heart and meekness. God is really delighted in his Son for both reasons. Let’s look at these texts.

[Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. . . . Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:2, 5)

The word beloved is just so religious that it hardly means anything to us. I think we should leave be- off the front. The Greek is the same just loved. If it said loved, it would hit. This is a moment very high of majesty. Peter, James, and John are being given a glimpse, as it were, of the second coming of Christ. The first coming of Christ is not impressive. In fact, he’s going to be horrible to look at. We despised him. We do not look upon him. I don’t think Jesus was a handsome man. All these modern drawings that make him look so macho or whatever. I doubt it. I really doubt it because of what Isaiah 53 says. At any rate, God really delighted in his Son at this moment of great majesty. He’s giving them a glimpse of what this lowly, unattractive, ready-to-die Son of God is going to be like. At that moment he says, “Oh, how I love my Son. Oh, how pleased I am with my Son.”

Remember, God has no self-denying love for his Son. We all have to love each other with much self-denial. Because you don’t make me happy in lots of ways. You do things that make me mad, but I’m called to love you. I must deny that part of my response and work against it to care for you, love you. God never has to feel that way about Jesus. He totally obeys. He never sins. He is always doing what the Father wants him to do. He’s infinitely, totally pleasing to the Father. Therefore, the Father’s delight in the Son is never mercy-like. It’s always delight-like.

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:35)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)

Majesty of Christ

The next few texts just describe the majesty of Christ.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Hebrews 1:3)

If the Father is delighting in the Son, and the Son is the exact imprint of his nature, he’s delighting in his own reflection in the Son.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. (Philippians 2:4–5)

He’s the radiance of God. He was in the form of God. He has equality with God. He is the image of the invisible God. The glory of God in the face of Christ.

In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9)

Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. (Hebrews 1:7–8)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

All those texts just to say the deity, the majesty, the radiance, the power, the image of God, God looks at with great delight. He loves his Son’s majestic reflection of his own glory. It couldn’t be otherwise. Don’t ask God to be humble in the sense that he is self-effacing. We should be self-effacing. God should never be self-effacing, except when he becomes a man and has to model for us how to love, and then he calls all attention to the glory of the Father.

Meekness of Christ

Now what about his meekness?

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (John 10:17)

The love of the Father for the Son here is grounded in his lowliness, his sacrificial, obedient, self-giving.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
     my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
     he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
     or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
     and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
     he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1–3)

This text is quoted in Matthew 12:18–20. In other words, it’s pointing out that this servant, in whom the Father so fully delights, is so gentle that if he finds your wick, the wick of your little candle of faith, just smoldering — it’s not even making any light; it’s just smoke — he extinguish you but gently blow on your to light the flame again. That’s tenderness. There’s a grass that grows in Georgia that could be six feet tall. You could break it at the bottom and make a spear. If you hit one of them in the middle, you know it’s just going to flop over. If Jesus finds you that way, he’s not going to but you down. He props you up. A bruised reed, he will not break.

Diverse Excellencies

On the one hand, we have a majesty that is breathtaking. He made the world. He upholds the world. On the other hand, you have the most intimate, tender, kind, gentle, patient, loving, sweet, warm, breathe-on-your-wick friend, and the Father delights in that. It really makes God happy when he sees that.

One of the most moving sermons I have ever read on the excellencies of Christ is by Jonathan Edwards. Edwards argues that for us and for God, what makes Christ so delightful, so satisfying is not just his majesty and not just his meekness. It’s the conjunction of many diverse excellencies. It’s that way with people isn’t it? If you meet a masculine man and he’s all man, he’s not a very impressive fellow. He must have some feminine traits. If you meet a woman and she’s all feminine, she’s not impressive either. She needs some masculine traits.

My wife and I have talked about this a lot: what makes real masculinity and real femininity. You don’t want a woman to be a man. You don’t want a man to be a woman. But you do want a man to have a kind of gentleness and tenderness and sweetness that you often associate with a mother, like for folding in a wounded child. A child’s going to run to the mom maybe first. He’s got a skinned knee because “Daddy’s rough and tumble. Mommy, she just folds me in.”A man needs some of that. A woman needs a lot of things we associate with masculinity in terms of strength. Don’t get too bent out of shape that I’m calling some of those things masculine and some of those things feminine. I just think the beauty of masculinity is a right proportion. The beauty of femininity is a right proportion. I don’t like pansy women. I don’t like all-macho men. I like complicated people. Here’s Christ as Edwards saw him. In the person of Christ meet together,

infinite highness and infinite condescension . . . infinite justice and infinite grace . . . infinite glory and lowest humility . . . infinite majesty and transcendent meekness . . . deepest reverence towards God and equality with God . . . infinite worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil . . . an exceeding spirit of obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth . . . absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation . . . self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God. (“The Excellencies of Christ”)

That’s the glory of our Lord, which we see by grace and delight in, and God the Father sees not by grace, and delights in. Thus, God loves his Son and his delights in the Son with infinite joy because the Son is the perfect representation and divine radiance of himself.

Community in the Godhead

Now here’s one conceptual way of understanding the Trinity, which puts this in a trinitarian framework. I find this extremely helpful.

The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated, and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, . . .

Now he does mean eternally generated. The Son has no beginning. As long as God has been, God has been three. We’re not Arians here. We’re orthodox — meaning, we believe in the eternal deity of the Son. Generated doesn’t mean he started; it means he’s always been generated.

The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea.

As long as there has been God (which is forever), God has had a clear and distinct idea of himself. It is so full and carries so much of who he is that it stands forth, it subsists in the Son. It blows your mind. This is a conceptual model using human language.

The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God’s infinite love to and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons. (Writings, 131)

Let me say it in my own words here so you can see why this relates to what we’re saying about God’s delight in God becoming my delight in God, based in part on Romans 5:5, where God’s love is being poured out in my heart through the Holy Spirit. Please realize this is human efforts to conceptualize the mysterious. All three persons of the Trinity, centers of consciousness, have always existed. They bear different relations to one another. God is conceived of as the primal — we’re groping for language that doesn’t connote time — primal, originating, ultimate. And he has always had an idea, a clear and distinct conceptualization of himself, and it is so full and so complete that it stands forth and subsists in a replica, a radiance, an image of himself, called the Son, such that they could have a relationship. It boggles the mind, but it helps me.

Between them, flowing out from both of them (there’s a big church dispute over whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father or from the Father and the Son, and this conceptualization helps you see why the church settled on from the Father and the Son) because the Son is the fullness of the Father reflecting his fullness, they love each other. C.S. Lewis describes it like this. He said that if you walk into any room, there’s an esprit de corps, a feel of the energy that rules among these people. Imagine that in God. In God, that esprit de corps, that emotional energy, that would carry all of the Son in love to the Father and all the Father in love to the Son stands forth and subsists as a third person.

Now you’ve got a community in the Godhead, which is the ground of so much in this world, why things are the way they are in this world. My argument at this point is that the Holy Spirit is the subsistence or instantiation. The reason philosophers invent words like that is because if I say embodiment, which you could understand, it sounds like it’s got a body. Let’s just say embodiment anyway. You know what I mean. The Holy Spirit is the standing forth of the love of the Father and the Son for each other, such that he is a person, and that person is the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father. When I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, that’s what’s in me: God’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father, and my emotional life begins to change.

2. God’s Pleasure in Creation

Here we are at number two. The first one was: What does God delight in? What is a well-placed affection? Is the excellency of God so adequately reflected by the object of his love? Answer number one: the object of his love is the Son, who is the representation of the Father; therefore, there is no higher object that the Father could be delighting in than the Son, and therefore, the excellency of the Father’s soul is infinite. That’s the argument so far.

Where we were for the last ten minutes was in the Trinity. There was no creation yet. It didn’t exist. God had not created anything. God existed when there was no creation. We are not pantheists. Creation is not co-eternal with God and part of him. We’re not. We believe in creation out of nothing. God is God; we are not. We’re totally dependent on him, and so is the whole billions and billions of galaxies, which God flung out with his little finger.

Overflowing Fountain

Now we’re going to go to creation. Why did he make the world? He’s so happy, getting along just fine in the fellowship of the Trinity. This is one of the huge problems in theology. You try to make an explanation for it, and somebody will always find a problem with it. He did it, so I’m just dealing with what he gives me. He did it. He made the universe. He made us. So this is God’s pleasure in the display of his glory, overflowing from his trinitarian delight. That’s what I think is happening. The next thing that God delights in is displaying his glory, which is now overflowing. Edwards said,

It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that it is inclined to overflow. (God’s Passion for His Glory, 165)

That’s his explanation of why God created the world. What he’s intending to do is correct a lot of Sunday school curriculum. If the Sunday school curriculum says God created man because he was lonely and wanted a friend, and so he made man and woman, and now he can be happy. That’s not the way it happened. God was happy before. He wasn’t lonely. He is so full, that there’s something about him that would share his fullness with others. There are problems with that. I’m happy to live with those set of problems rather than another set of problems.

In moving from intra-trinitarian pleasure of God in his Son through the Spirit, we deal next with the most foundational pleasure of God outside the Trinity: the pleasure he has in going public with his intrinsic worth. God’s supreme zeal in creation is to display his glory in all that he does, or to make his name great.

Holiness and Glory

Let me define a few words here: holiness and then glory, and we’ll see how they relate. My definition of the holiness of God in distinction from the glory of God is that holiness is God’s intrinsic worth, his being unique. You all know that, you learn perhaps in Sunday school rightly, that something is holy when it is set apart. If you’re holy, if you’re being sanctified, then you’re being set apart for God. The basic root meaning of the word*qadosh* is set apart.

How do you apply that to God? He’s infinitely set apart — that is, sui generis. He’s in a class by himself, one of a kind. There’s a diamond in the world somewhere. I think I’ve seen a picture of it. It’s so big. It’s so magnificent. It’s in a class by itself. What do they do? They set it apart behind big, thick glass cases with guards all around it. That’s holy, holy, holy. God is set apart and in a class by himself because of his infinite diamond-like worth. He is infinitely valuable.

Now when that goes public, when he starts radiating the radiance of himself, we call that his glory. The radiance of his worth, it is the going forth of his holiness to be seen as the greatness of the radiance of the moral beauty that God is. Here’s a text that pulls those two together. You’re very familiar with this.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1–3)

Instead of saying holiness, which is what you would expect, he says glory. The language of the Bible I think puts glory more often in that position than holiness. Glory is the radiance of holiness: It’s the streaming out, it’s the display, it’s the manifestation, it’s what we see, and so we’re called upon to glorify him — meaning, not add to his glory but rather display or make his glory look like it really is.

For His Name’s Sake

Some of you have sat through a lot of these seminars and read a few things of mine. You know that one of the things I love to do is walk people from the beginning to the end of the Bible. I could do it in maybe thirty steps, and I could do it in six. What I do is try to show how all of redemptive history, from beginning to end, is intended by God to bring him glory. My goal is to show how God-centered God is, that God loves the glory of God. He means for it to be known. He’s passionate for his fame. That creates all kinds of problems for people. I try to solve them without destroying that truth. Isaiah is the only place I will do this in this seminar. Instead of doing the whole Bible, I’m just going to do Isaiah in the next ten minutes or so, and then we’ll be done. Try this sometime with any book of the Bible. Get out your concordance and look up name and glory and see if you can do what I did with Isaiah.

What we see here, you’ll find throughout the whole Bible: all of God’s acts and purposes are governed by his passion, his delight. What we’re asking is: What makes God happy? What’s his well-placed affection? The display and vindication of the glory of his name. That’s answer number two. The first answer was: he delights in his Son. The second answer is: he delights in the display of his glory, in the vindication of his glory, in the lifting up of his name, in the making known of his fame. That’s what God really likes.

Rest for the Glorious Name

Like livestock that go down into the valley,
     the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
     to make for yourself a glorious name. (Isaiah 63:14)

Now, oh, how I pray as we’re wrapping up this session, for some of you who are emotionally wired to be un-helped by a heavy stress on the majesty of God as serving his name — you hear that and you say, “Oh, that does not help me. I am not moved to worship. I’m not endeared to God when I hear that.” That’s not a good thing. You need to pray that that would change. I hope that when you see things like this, it would help. Because right here, God’s passion for his name is moving him to you like a shepherd to rest. That’s probably what your soul is craving right now. “I don’t want to hear anymore heavy theology. I need rest. I’m frightened. I’m scared. I’m burdened. I can’t emotionally any of this big stuff.”

One time I was using my Grand Canyon story. I said, “Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to enhance their self-esteem.” That’s one of my favorite lines, which I think is absolutely true. You stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon especially that new thing that goes out with a glass bottom. I can just feel the ice in my legs from standing on that thing. I’ve never been there but I can imagine it. You’re out there, and you’re not feeling warm fuzzies. “This is deep. This is one mile under my feet. I would just be paste if I fell off of this. You’re telling me that’s like God?” Yeah, I am. That’s exactly like God. One person said to me one time, “The only way I think I could enjoy him standing on the precipice is if he showed up in another form and took hold of me real tight and held me real close and real strong, and whispered in my ear, ‘I won’t drop you.’” That was so helpful for me to hear. Because that’s right. That is right. Bigness doesn’t do it. It’s got to be the mixture: the majesty and the meekness. So here’s rest, and the motive of the rest is to make for himself a glorious name.

Created for Glory

I will say to the north, Give up,
     and to the south, Do not withhold;
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,
     whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:6–7)

Sons and daughters, we’re all created for his glory. That’s what he loves. When he made us, he was being driven by this desire: I want my glory to be displayed through my creatures.

Restrained Anger

For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
     for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
     that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
     I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
     for how should my name be profaned?
     My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9–11)

What’s his passion for his glory moving him to do? Not get mad at you — at least not carry it out.

Glorious Mercy

What about mercy?

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
     and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. (Isaiah 30:18)

God’s God-centeredness is good news for sinners if you will have it. If you won’t, it’s not. Blotting out our transgressions — this is really close to the center of the gospel.

“I, I am he
     who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
     and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

If I were to go outside of Isaiah here, in Psalm 25:11, the psalmist prays, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” I hope you pray that way.

Divine Defense

Do you need defense? I do. I have enemies. Satan is the biggest one.

I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David. (Isaiah 37:35)

Reviving Righteousness

What about righteousness?

Your people shall all be righteous;
     they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
     that I might be glorified. (Isaiah 60:21)

You’re going to be righteous, that he may be glorified. That’s why God is sanctifying us. We were all bowed over Les’s body this morning. It was so sweet, so tender. All the family was around the bed praying, singing, thanking. His wife whispered, “Let’s all do Psalm 23. Pastor, lead us.” Which I was very happy to do. Thank God for memorization. Yes, Lord. Thank you. We had a sweet time. We got to that line: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Why does he care about whether we get holy or changed? Because his name is at stake, isn’t it? In our neighborhoods, in our work, when we don’t walk in righteousness, we just defile his name so bad. Nobody’s impressed with Christians these days. We have such a bad reputation. How are we going to change that? That’s what revival is for.

‘Go Out in Joy’

Joy — this is such a magnificent way to conclude.

For you shall go out in joy
     and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
     shall break forth into singing,
     and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
     instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
     an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 55:12–13)

Do you see what that’s saying? That is saying that God plans a new heaven and a new earth where the curse is reversed. All that is decaying and broken and degenerating and ugly will be reversed so that the new tree-clapping, sun-shining, river-shouting world in which we will spend eternity will be for him. I’m real happy for God to be God-centered. I’m so happy. Because look what he’s going to do: he’s going to make a name for himself by bringing my dog back or making a new one — maybe. I still have a love affair with Blackie because she was my best friend growing up.

All Who Thirst

Come, everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
     come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
     and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:1–2)

I just included that there to show how when God has laid out all these amazing promises for us based on his passion for his name, he now invites us to come and enjoy it. We can’t pay for it. We can’t buy it. It’s free. He gets the glory. We get the joy. That’s why all those texts read. And the way we get him the glory is to agree with that and live that, find our highest joy in him.

Unshakable Foundation

The righteousness of God is most essentially his acting in a way that upholds and displays his glory. What is right for God who has no book to obey? He wrote the book. What is right for a God who answers to no one is to act consistently with his worth, to value supremely what is supremely valuable, showing and valuing by the motive of all his works. This understanding of righteousness will be important later when we talk about the cross at Romans 3:23.

What I’m arguing here is that what we’ve just seen shows that the definition of God’s righteousness at its root — not its fruit, not its applications. The righteousness of God does a hundred things, like covenant keeping. Righteousness is not covenant keeping. It produces covenant keeping. God’s right is that he does everything he does in accord with his highest value — namely, his own worth. Therefore, God’s pursuit of his glory in all things is right. It is the essence of his righteousness. Here’s one little pointer to that in Psalm 143:11:

For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
     In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!

The hope that God might act to save sinners — not yet fully explained in the Old Testament — will rest finally not on our worth but on his worth, his passion for his glory. He will do it for his glory or not at all. If he does it for his glory — if Jesus is sent to the cross to die for you, for his glory — then the foundation of our salvation will be not fragile, resting in ourselves, but unshakeable, because it’s resting in him and his infinite worth.