The following is a lightly edited transcript.
The aim of God. I know it sounds incredibly presumptuous to talk about the aim of God, but this little book here called the Bible, this book is I believe the word of God from which I will take all of my insights and answers tonight. The God who inspired it, what’s he about in creating the universe? What’s he about in running history in the way he’s run it and sending his Son into it. What’s the point?
Here’s my answer to that. God’s aim or the aim of Jesus Christ or the aim of Christianity is to maximize your pleasure and to magnify his greatness. To maximize our pleasure, and I’m thinking quantitatively and qualitatively. To maximize our pleasure qualitatively and quantitatively and to magnify his Son Jesus Christ. And magnify is a tricky word because there are two ways to magnify something, with a magnifying glass or a telescope. Or say a microscope or say a telescope.
They magnify in exactly the opposite ways. A microscope magnifies by making little things look bigger than they are. So you can see them. And a telescope magnifies by making huge things that look little to the naked look more like they really are. That’s very different. A star looks little to the naked eye. It’s very big. A telescope magnifies by making that little thing to the naked eye look like what it really is. Whereas a microscope takes a thing that really is teeny weenie look like what it isn’t making it bigger. Now if you do the latter with God, that is if you try to magnify God with a microscope you get blasphemy.
You can’t make God look bigger than he is or greater than he is. He’s always greater than we think he is and our job is to try to see him for what he really is. And so my argument is that God’s purpose in creating the universe and his purpose in sending his Son and his purpose in sending me here tonight and his purpose in Christianity all over the world is to maximize our pleasure and to magnify like a telescope Jesus Christ who is greater than anybody thinks he is and needs to be made to look that way in the world. Which is what we are designed to do. Your life was created to magnify Jesus Christ in delighting in him. So let me talk about the destruction of this pleasure.
The Destruction of Pleasure
My assumption in that title, I gave these folks who promoted this thing the title undoing the destruction of pleasure. The pleasure I have in mind is the pleasure God means for us to have for ever and ever which is ten thousand times greater than anybody can imagine and ten thousand times longer than you can count. So, both quantitatively in terms of time and qualitatively in terms of exquisiteness of satisfaction. What God has to give to us is better than anything anybody else can give you. And that is being destroyed.
So, what do I mean by that? The destruction of pleasure. What is the destruction of pleasure because Christianity is designed in it’s whole enterprise in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world is living a perfect life, is dying on a cross at age thirty-three. Is rising from the dead three days later. Is reining in heaven today. Is planning to come back again.
That whole what seems like a mythological thing to the world is all designed to undo this destruction of God’s willed pleasure for his people. So what is this destruction that I have in mind? I could put it in one word but that wouldn’t communicate all I want to so I’m going to put it in that word and then show you four things that flow from this one destructive word. The one word that destroys pleasure is sin. And Christianity teaches that every one of us has sinned not just in that we’ve done wrong things. Things that our own conscience condemns, things that the law of God condemns. Things that the world condemns. We know we’ve all sinned.
However you want to define it you know you’ve sinned. Because you have standards you have fallen short of. Even if they are not God’s standards you have fallen short of your own standards. And if God has higher than yours then you know you have fallen short of his. Everybody in this room is a sinner. It doesn’t take any big authority to prove that. You know you’ve done wrong. You know your conscience condemns you. You know you feel guilty from time to time. And if you let yourself believe in a God you know that God has something to do with this. So seeing is real. And the Bible says everybody is a sinner but now what? So what? Now what?
Four Destroyers of Infinite Pleasure
Four destructive things stand in the way of my everlasting and infinite pleasure because of sin. So I want to tell you what these four things are. Give you a biblical underpinning for them so you know I’m not just thinking them up. They come out of this book that has been around for a couple of thousand years. And what is Christianity’s undoing of these four things to release the possibility that this pleasure might flow again toward me, a sinner.
1. The Wrath of God
Okay, that’s the agenda. So here’s the first thing that comes from sin. The wrath of God. So the Bible teaches God loves the world and that God is angry with the world. Not either or. It’s not you have to chose between a loving God for some religions and a wrathful God in other religions.
Christianity has both because his wrath flows against sin which is the destruction of the pleasure he designed for us which is a pleasure in him which would magnify him. If you take pleasure in something you show that something to be great, you treasure it. And if you treasure God or take pleasure in God he is shown to be great. And if something robs you of your pleasure in God it makes God look small, smaller than alcohol or smaller than sex or smaller than money or smaller than preaching or smaller than writing books or smaller than family. Whatever you take most pleasure in God is shown to be smaller and God gets very angry when he is shown to be small. He has to. It would be unrighteous and unjust if God did not love his own glory and hold it up for our enjoyment. So the wrath of God is real.
The Bible says the wrath is revealed against heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Romans 1:18. so that’s the first thing we got to deal with. There is got to be some solution to this. If we are ever going to be happy forever we’ve got to get the wrath of God off of us somehow. And it is real and it’s in the world.
Here’s the second destruction of pleasure: suffering. I don’t know your backgrounds. I don’t know your health condition right now. I don’t know the relationships you have right now. You have all tasted some suffering. But mainly probably we in America know suffering by watching it. We live in a Disneyland compared to the rest of the world. America is a place of one mammoth luxury. Whereas in the earthquake in India right now they are still trying to dig bodies out. El Salvador’s earthquake.
The folks that died in the fishing boat when the submarine hit it. Just I mean if you have-if you watch TV or you have a homepage on your Internet provider like I do. You just hit it and every time it comes up there is a new suffering, right? So that is a destruction of pleasure. It’s a destruction of the pleasure of the people who are under the rubble in India. It’s a destruction of the people who are at the bottom of the ocean in a submarine or because they were in the belly of that ship when the submarine cut through it.
Suffering is a mammoth obstacle to pleasure. I’m sitting beside a guy today at noon as we had lunch and he said could I ask for prayer for my boss at work because her sister who lives in, I forget now where he said. Boston Massachusetts or somewhere. Was feeling sick yesterday and went into the doctor and the doctor said this looks funny.
Let’s do some blood tests. They find out she has pneumonia and lo and behold it’s this blood pneumonia and they got to take her leg off tomorrow. A mother of four had a little discomfort last week and they are taking her leg off tomorrow and she might die. And she is married to a man who’s first wife died of blood pneumonia and they found it on the very same day, February 10 five years ago. Is that weird or what?
So here is a destruction of pleasure. So you can point to everywhere in your life and say you say God is after our pleasure in this world? Well you got to say something about suffering here because suffering is a massive destruction of pleasure. And if it’s God’s goal that we have pleasure then suffering doesn’t make any sense.
3. Deceitful Desires
Here’s the third one. The deceitfulness of pleasures that people do chose is a destruction of real pleasure. Now I chose the word deceit because that’s the way the Bible talks about it. In one of Paul, the apostle’s letters that he wrote in the New Testament, he said that we are to be new in Christ and to put off desires of deceit. It’s always fascinating to me these phrases. Deceitful desires. What’s a deceitful desire? It’s a desire that in it’s very nature promises you pleasure for a season and deceives you because it won’t pay off in the end. Most pleasures that are outside God are like that. They are deceitful.
They look so attractive this thing that you can do to have so much pleasure. When pleasures that are short lived and half baked take over your life it’s a destruction of pleasure. You think you are living for pleasure. We think well how can you commend Christianity as the pursuit of pleasure when the problem with the world is they are pursuing pleasure. That’s not the problem with the world. The problem with the world is that people are pursuing pleasure that is so half baked.
It’s like investing your money in a savings account instead of mutual funds. Now that’s a risky analogy. Saving account, what do you get? One percent maybe. If you have your money in mutual funds for thirty years you’d average fifteen percent. So anybody that comes along and sells you the pleasures of the savings account over the long haul is destroying the maximization of your financial pleasures. Which I don’t think are very important pleasures. It’s just an analogy. Deceitful pleasures are the destruction of pleasure. So that’s the third obstacle.
Here’s the last one, namely death. If you are going to die, which you are. Then either that will introduce you into nothingness and so all of your pleasures will be over and that’s a destruction of pleasure. Or you’ll be introduced into hell and that will be the end of your pleasure. Or you will be introduced into heaven. Those are your three post death options I presume. Philosophically. Really good, really bad, or zero. And the really bad and the zero are the end of pleasure. And the really good is the enhancement and the extension of pleasure forever more. Which is if that is true that’s what I want. I want to maximize my pleasure so that I get the intensest kind, and I want to extend it not for eighty years, but for 80,000 centuries of years. That’s what I’m after. So those are the four destructive obstacles.
The wrath of God, suffering, deceitful pleasures that don’t pay off. And death. Now Christianity, my argument is Christianity, God his Son Jesus Christ, this spreading of the faith called Christianity is designed to undue those four destructions of pleasure.
Undoing the Four Destroyers
So how? Just mention how and then raise one crucial objection.
1. Undoing the Wrath of God
God planned the undoing of the wrath of God for all who would receive it. Now how did he do that? He did it according to Paul’s letter to the Romans by sending his Son into the world, and let me read you, because this is so close to the heart of Christianity. Jesus Christ crucified on a cross in the place of sinners like you and me to bear the wrath of God for us so that we could escape from it, that’s the essence of Christianity. Called substituting Christ for sinners.
Here’s the way it reads in the book of Romans. Being justified or being counting righteous as a gift by his grace, God’s grace, through a deliverance or a redemption which is in Christ Jesus whom God displayed. So he displayed his Son publicly as a, now here a big religious word, either some translations say propitiation, some say expatiation. The word means appeasement. That is taking the wrath of God and removing it. Removing it off of sinners who deserve it. Me.
Escaped in Christ
How did that happen? How did you and I who are sinners and deserve holy just wrath from a God that we’ve dishonored. How did we escape it? How does it get taken off of us if he is just, if he is holy? And his answer is I send my Son to bear it in your place. So let me read the rest of that. To demonstrate his righteousness or his justice because in his forbearance, that is his patience he passed over sins previously committed. He send his Son to demonstrate, I say, his righteousness at the present time so that he could be both just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.
Now let me explain that if I can. Just briefly. God had two aims. He wants to be just. He has to be just if he’s God. And he wants to justify us and we’re ungodly. So how do you justify the ungodly and be just? You can’t. No judge in Hannibal County Court downtown could justify a guilty rapist. And say alright, we’ll let you go. And I’ll just declare that you now are innocent. And you go and justice will be served. And nobody would agree that justice is served.
So how does God do this? How does God say to John Piper, a sinner who deserves wrath and punishment and hell, “Not guilty, John. My child, I adopt you. You can now live in heaven. forever and have your pleasures maximized by me who knows about pleasure more than anybody else.”
The Son Absorbs the Cost
How can that possibly be just? And the answer is and we may not conceive of how it can really be but this is what he says. I will send my Son who is himself God and there is the great mystery of the trinity here of how Jesus Christ can be God and be man but I will send him. He will clothe himself with flesh and he will in your place bare my own wrath.
You know the magazine that I took this out of has a big article on God and violence. Or I think the title of it is called Violence and the Atonement. The atonement is what happened at the cross when God atoned for our sins so that our sins can be taken away. Jesus could bear our wrath. We could be forgiven and we could be justified, not guilty in God’s presence forever. And do you know what the article is about? Divine child abuse. Is that what the cross is? That’s what the article asks. Is the cross of Jesus Christ an instance of divine child abuse? Isn’t that a provocative question?
In a sense it is and it would therefore be a horrible thing unless two things. One it was to deliver millions of people from abuse and he was going to raise him from the dead. Because it was God who did the cross. The Bible is real clear on that. God isn’t wringing his hands in heaven saying oh dear, look at what they are doing to my Son when they put the thorns in his head and drives the nails through his hands and thrust the sword up into his side and spit on him and pull out his beard and put a mask on and slap him and ask him to prophecy and make him and put the robe on him and hit him with rods and strip him and make him shamed. That was not an accident. God sent him so that that could happen. So that I the guilty sinner who deserved to be treated like that can go absolutely free in heaven forever with God as his child instead of his enemy.
So my answer to the first question how do you solve the destruction of pleasure through the wrath of God? The answer is the cross of Jesus Christ. 2000 years ago when he was crucified. And even pagan historians write about this. This isn’t a mythological thing. This is so different from Greek myth and Roman myths and other kinds of myths in various cultures. There are all kinds of historical corroborations that this man Jesus Christ lived, died, and then it gets more controversial on the resurrection. But also rose.
2. Undoing Suffering
What have we got to say about that? What did God do? What is Christianity say about the undoing of suffering? Let me answer it in two stages. Undoing it in this world and undoing it in the world to come. How does Christianity go about undoing it in this world?
And I admit here that Christianity undoes it incrementally. That is in stages. Christianity does not have an answer nor pretends to have an answer to remove all suffering now in this age. Like tomorrow, do it and it will be gone. But it does have an answer for how to move toward the removal of suffering. In fact it is the job of every Christian to move towards the removal of as much suffering as he can. Both in that life and in the life to come.
So in this world the answers are two. One is healing. Both supernaturally and naturally. James. The book of James written by Jesus’ brother says confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. We prayed for that woman who is going to have her leg taken off tomorrow. That tonight the blood would flow and she wouldn’t have to have her leg taken off. I do not know whether God will answer that pray. He can and he often does. But we don’t tell God how to run the world with any absolute certainty. He’s God not us but he tells us to pray for things and often he answer our prays when he deems them wise and good for us and for others.
So healing is one way. And naturally as well. God wonderfully ordains that there be science and that there be antibiotics. And that there be surgeries. And that there be anti-malarial medicines that save people and all kinds of things. This is all of the wonderful common grace of God that we are able to develop that. The world doesn’t acknowledged that but Christianity teaches us that it is so. Here’s the other thing besides healing. The incremental removal of suffering and healing.
But love. Christianity teaches its people. I’ll read you a verse from the Bible. Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. Now some of you may have a conception of Christianity that what Christianity does is get people to stop drinking or smoking or doing bad things so that they can go to church? Read their Bibles? Pray? And that’s the end of your conception.
That’s not the point. This verse says at the cost of his own life he redeemed the people who would be passionate for good needs. And the good deeds in his mind are elevating the suffering of widows and orphans and people underneath the rubble in India. So you could say if you want to you can use arguments about earthquakes and floods and disease. And say oh that can’t be a good God if that happens.
Or you can go the biblical route and say what he does incrementally now is create a people who head towards El Salvador. I’ve got a Son named Benjamin. My Benjamin is twenty-five. He went through his period of pain and rebellion as well. But God got a hold of him in a pickup truck in Georgia a few years ago and made him cry for thirty minutes on his way to Peach Tree City. And he met Jesus and he decided he wanted to become a missionary instead of a metal worker where he is making good money. And now he’s at Moody Bible institute. And last year when the earthquake happened in Turkey. Remember that one? He quit school and went to Turkey for three months. That’s Christianity. And spent his whole three months there getting way behind in his studies and saying who cares about studies?
I’m a Christian. I’m not a student first. I’m a Christian first. I know God. Who cares about education if it just makes you a private little self-serving pig. So I’m not trying to sell Christianity on the basis of the Christians you know. Maybe that’s who they are. I want to sell Christianity to you on the basis of what God says it is. What Jesus came to make it and it says to make a people zealous for good deeds. That’s what I meant at the beginning when I said I’m a human. I don’t want to throw away my life watching soaps. I got a letter from a woman the other day who came to my church in 1986 and said I . . . she thought I was crazy. Way too emotional. Christian hedonist.
Christianity stuff. She was here at the university. She gets married. She is sort of a nominal Christian. She falls away from church and Christianity and she told me in the letter and she told me in the letter that she was in bondage. Absolute bondage to soap operas for twelve years. I never had anybody tell me that. I assumed that was true because I can’t imagine why anybody watch them unless they’re in bondage. But she said she was in bondage and then God got a hold of her. And now-so I think a lot of people have a conception of life it’s just veg in front of a TV or veg. Just veg. You know? Christianity is about getting people off of sofas.
Out from in front of sofas and on the streets and in India and in El Salvador. And in the ghettos and even Universities where there are people who don’t know God throwing their lives away. Either trying to make lots of money or have lots of sex. Throwing lots of parties or whatever your thing happens to be. Get into the games of internet or whatever. And that’s not what it’s about. The most deep and satisfying pleasures now and in the age to come are in giving your life away to make people happy in God.
So love. Jesus said. A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you. That you love one another. By this all men will know that you’re my disciples that you one love another. If you see people who aren’t loving people don’t even assume they are Christian. I don’t care what they say about Jesus. Don’t assume a real Christian is a lay your life down 24/7 kind of service of delivering people from the destruction of pleasure. Even if he’s dragging them out of saloons.
I have a pastor friend who I was praying with about my son. He said I want to give you courage brother because I had a daughter and they’d call us almost every week to get her passed out on the disco floor. This is a pastor. And he’d go down there and put her in the car and take her home crying their eyes out that their daughter would drink heavily or get drugs and just passed out on the floor. When you pull a young lady out of that situation. And she went there to have pleasure. And it wasn’t working.
When you pull her out of there you’re for her not against her no matter what she feels. For you are a loving person to try to rescue people from deceitful pleasures. Well that’s my answer to what Christianity about ameliorating or the undoing of the destruction of suffering in this age incrementally.
3. Undoing Death
What about ultimately? I mean, who cares about increments if it lasts forever. You know if we are going to suffer forever partially than that’s not the maximization of our pleasure. So Christianity does have an answer and the answer, it’s all over the Bible.
Let me read you one of the pieces from the last book of the Bible. Revelation. I will wipe away every tear in their eyes. And this is people who have received his Son now. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And there will no longer be any death. There will no longer be mourning. There will no longer be any crying or pain. For the first things have passed away. Someday it’s going to all be over. All pain, all crying, all depression, all arthritis. All cancer. All Alzheimer. All car accidents. All earthquakes. All floods. All diseases is going to be over.
And if you knew the Bible in detail you’d know in the future there’s not just this kind of ethereal future with gold streets and glassy ponds and that never appealed to me as a kid. There is going to be new heaven. And a new earth. Lions lay down with lambs. And children will play upon the whole of the adder. We will beat our swords into plow shares and war will be no more.
And all that is good in this world which is much will be preserved and all that is bad will be done away. And all those who trusted in Christ who purchased all that for us will have it and all those who have rejected him will not have of it. And I’m here tonight to try to maximize your pleasure. Then and forever.
And I’ve already answer I suppose the question about death so I’ll leave that off. Resurrection is the answer of death. We will be raised. If you believe in Christ the Bible teaches oh death where is your victory? Oh death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our lord who gives us the victory over death. That’s the ultimate undoing of the destruction of pleasure.
4. Undoing Deceitful Pleasure
But I passed over this undoing of deceitful pleasures which is going to lead me to the final things I wanted to say. How does Christianity undo deceitful pleasures? This is where we get into misunderstanding. Because there are so many deceitful pleasures in the world that Christianity in trying to rescue people from them gets the bad rap of opposing pleasure.
So if you got five things in your life that you devote yourself to for pleasure. And Christianity teaches they are all deceitful. Say money. Or illicit sex. Sex is God’s idea and we just mess it up in the way we handle it. And along comes Christianity calling people away from deceitful pleasures to real pleasures, it can be easily misunderstood.
So here is the kind of verse from the Bible that I have in mind when I say undoing deceitful pleasures and undoing the destruction of real pleasures. Psalm 16:11 when David wrote in the Old Testament you make known to me you God make know to me the path of life. In your presence is fullness in joy at your right hand are pleasures forever more.
Now either that is true or false. If it’s true then to leave God to abandon God, to resist God, to reject God is suicidal. And foolish. Because at his right hand are pleasures forever more. And fullness of joy. I love those two adverbs. Well maybe one is an adjective. I’m going to lose my grammar here. Fullness and forever. Fullness and forever! I want both. I want quality, full. And I want quantity forever. I don’t want 99% proof pleasure. I want 100% proof pleasure. And I don’t want it to last a hundred years, I want it to last hundred eons of years. And that’s what Psalm 16:11 says is at God’s right hand. And I’m praying I have my eyes open.
And I’m praying that your eyes will be opened to see that this God who made a world like this which is just lavish with delights that are wholesome and are all little teeny weenie echoes of what he really is and what he has to offer us would get into our heads and make himself known so that we don’t keep going down the suicidal track of deceitful pleasures.
Another of scriptures says the fruit of the spirit is joy. Joy. The spirit of God is given to his children when they believe in Jesus in order to help them be happy. Jesus said I speak these things to you, the things that are written in the Gospel of John. I speak these things to you so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be full. Jesus said that.
Now think about his joy. He’s God in the flesh. The joy of God is an infinite joy. Nobody has a joy like God has joy. I mean if you were infinite and you had all wisdom and all power and all goodness, wouldn’t you use it to infinitely increase your joy?
I would and God does. God is the happiest being in the universe. Because he has all the resources at his disposal and he has designed for his happiness to be shared. So he sends his Son in the world to remove all the obstacles. and destructions of pleasure. And he tells his Son now say this, I speak these things to you so that my joy, which is infinite, might be in you and your joy might be full. And that is awesome to think that we are designed for God-like joy.
Those are four destructive obstacles to our everlasting and maximum pleasure. Wrath of God. Suffering. Deceitful pleasures. And death. Christianity has an answer for those four obstacles.
Answering Some Objections
I’ve spoken on this theme, which is my favorite theme to talk about all over the country and I know the kind of objections that Christians raise to this. I mean when I talk like this Christians get bent out of shape because they don’t think that’s what they learned what is really teaching. And so I have to defend this to Christians. And I would guess that unbelievers who know about Christianity would have some of the same objections that those Christians do because they are learning their Christianity from Christians who have a misconception of Christianity.
So let me just tell you what some of those objections are and what I say to those folks. Maybe there are some of you who are Christian and who don’t like this way of talking about Christianity. First objection. Well I hear you talking. But I can’t believe the Bible really teaches that you should pursue your pleasure. Because you see the implication of what I am saying is if God and Christ and Christianity are all designed to pursue the maximization of my pleasure in God which magnifies him, then I should pursue it.
My life goal should be the maximization of my pleasure. Which sounds just dangerous to talk about to most Christians. And it is dangerous but so is everything else that the Bible says. The Bible is one of the most dangerous books in the world. You can’t take a sentence out of the Bible without it being dangerous.
You can fall off the horse on the right and on the left and on the front and on the back. Staying on the horse of truth is no small thing. Danger is everywhere in the Bible. So when it commands, this is my response to their question, is it really taught in the Bible? When Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord,” it’s a command. It says delight yourself in the lord. Or Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” That is another way to say it. I mean there is commands all over the Bible to rejoice.
The Bible is a demanding book. But you know its main demand? Be happy! Be in God! And all that he is for you in Jesus. That’s the main demand in the Bible. It comes out in different language. Trust me. What is trust? It’s counting on all that God is for you in Jesus. And he is such great things for you, you wouldn’t honor that if you didn’t take pleasure in it.
The Bible threatens terrible things if we will not be happy, Jeremy Taylor said the nature of faith proves this is biblical. What is faith? I’ll read you this text from Hebrews, another book in the New Testament. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he awards those that seek him.”
Now let me say that slowly. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith, you got to trust God. You got to trust him or you can’t please him. And then it defines faith in two ways. You must believe that he is and that he rewards. That’s just mind boggling. You cannot please God if you don’t come to him, trusting him for reward.
You see what the essence of faith is then? Faith is coming to God for the satisfaction that there is in him. He’s our reward. What he is for us in Jesus Christ is the award that we trust in. so you can’t honor God or please God if you don’t come to God for pleasure in God. Or what about sin?
Finding Satisfaction Elsewhere
How does the Bible define sin? This is really interesting. I’ll give you one quote from Jeremiah 2:13. Where it says, be astonished, be appalled, oh heavens, for my people, this is God talking in Jeremiah. “For my people have committed two great evils.” So now what is the definition of evil? “My people have committed two great evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water and have hewn out, dug out for themselves cisterns. Broken cisterns that can hold no water.” That’s evil. That’s the biblical definition of sin.
So let me put it into my own words. Sin, according to the Bible, is contemplating as a fountain of life and joy and infinite and everlasting pleasures and saying no. And turning our back on it, infinite, everlasting, all satisfying pleasures. And trying to carve out of the world and all of it’s possibilities cisterns from which to drink which can hold no water. So the Bible chooses to define sin in purely hedonistic terms!
The problem with the world is not that the world is trying to be happy. That’s not your problem. The problem with the world, especially as Louis said is that we are like little children content to make mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what a holiday at the sea is like. That’s what’s wrong with the world. Not that the world wants to be happy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. It’s finding it in mud pies instead of a holiday at the sea. Or finding it in the world the broken sisters instead of the fountain of life. Which God offers to us.
So yeah, it’s biblical. That’s my answer to these Christians who get bent out of shape when I say these things. It sure is biblical. It’s all over the place. That’s why I wrote that book desiring God, which is my attempt to show this truth. Let’s see, I don’t want to take too much time before I open it up. Here’s another really common question. They say, now wait a minute.
Lose Your Life to Save It
Wait, wait, wait, wait. That sounds totally contradictory to what I’ve heard as a call to self-denial. Don’t you believe in self-denial? Isn’t that the essence of Christianity? Didn’t Jesus say he who would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross. That’s a place of death and suffering and crucifixion and follow me. Don’t you believe that? It’s in the Bible!
They say to me, and I say I really believe that. I really believe that. So what are you saying? Well just read the rest of the verse. Keep reading. Keep reading. That’s my usual response to people when they point to a verse and say what about this? I say keep reading. Just keep reading. Because you know what the rest of that verse says? The reason I call you to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me is because he who seeks to save his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. So what is the reasoning there? What’s he arguing? How’s he arguing?
He’s saying, now look, you don’t want to lose your life ultimately, do you? You want to maximize your pleasure because that’s why you have got capacities for pleasure. You want to satisfy them. Yes. Well then lose your life! Huh? Because if you try to save your life, you lose it. And you don’t want to lose it do you? No. Well then lose it so that you can save it. That’s the way Jesus talked. He’s not easy to come to terms with. And I commend him to you.
I mean you’re going to get forty minutes of what I hope, I believe, is Jesus talking, teaching tonight. But you need to go to these gospels yourself and read this strange man called Jesus. Because he blew people’s minds right and left. His enemies sent people to him and they come back saying nobody talks like that man. We didn’t know what to say to him. And that’s the way he is. Which is going to be part of my answer to the question how you know these things are true. But what do I say then about self-denial?
That’s saying Jesus said again later in the Gospel of John 12:25 where he said he who loves his life will lose it. But he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Now that little qualifier, in this world, is key to unlock this saying. If you are bent on maximizing the amount of physical pleasures and material comforts in this world and you don’t care about what happens to you in eternity, or you don’t care about the quality of the spiritual, moral dimensions of your pleasure here, then you lose. You will get a lot of pleasure in that world, physically and materially.
I brought along that novel by John Grisham. I’ve not read this, my wife just finished reading it. And my Son, Barnabas, read it. And so I pick up, I said, hmm, I wonder if I should read this? And I read, I just want to read you the first paragraph. Some of you may remember it if you’ve read it. Grisham sells, he sells millions and millions of novels. They are all over every airport I go to, just plastered with Grisham novels.
Down to the last day, even to the last hour now. I’m an old man, lonely, unloved, sick, hurting, tired of living. I’m ready for the hereafter, it has to be better than this. I own the tall glass building in which I sit. Ninety-seven percent of the company housed in it below me. In the land around it half a mile in three directions the 2000 people who work here and the other 20,000 who do not. And I own the pipeline under the land that brings gas to the building from my fields in taxes. And I own the utility lines that deliver electricity. And I lease the satellite unseen miles above by which I once barked commands to my empire flung far around the world. My assets exceed $11 billion. I own silver in Nevada and copper in Montana and coffee in Kenya and coal in Angola and rubber in Malaysia and natural gas in Texas and crude oil in Indonesia and steel in China.
My company owns companies that produce electricity and make computers and build dams and print paperbacks and broadcast signals to my satellite. I have subsidiaries with divisions in more countries than anyone can find. I once owned all the appropriate toys, the yachts, the jets, the bonds. The homes in Europe, farms in Argentina, an island in the Pacific. Thoroughbreds, even a hockey team.
But I’ve grown too old for toys. The money is the root of my misery. I had three families. Three ex-wives who bore seven children. Six of whom are still alive and doing all they can to torment me. To the best of my knowledge I fathered all seven and buried one. I should say his mother buried him. I was out of the country. I’m estranged from all the wives and all the children. They’re gathered here today because I’m dying and it’s time to divide the money.
That’s make believe. But it’s not make believe. That’s not make believe. You want $11 billion? You can have it. You can have it. I want Jesus forever. I want you with me forever. There’s an illustration and maybe I’ll stop with this. You’ve all perhaps heard the hymn “Amazing Grace.” How sweet the sound to save the wretched. It means the man who wrote that is John Newton, slave trader become pastor. And he gave an illustration of that $11 billion business.
He said suppose, a hundred years ago you are riding in a carriage to receive an inheritance, a huge inheritance, millions of dollars, in New York. And you’re riding in your carriage to receive an inheritance. And a mile from New York, your carriage breaks down. And you try to fix it and you can’t fix it. So you have to walk a mile to receive your inheritance. What would you say about the person who spent that mile grumbling. My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken! You would say he is a fool. He’s going to an inheritance. That’s the way most of us are.
You can have an $11 billion inheritance in Jesus. I’m not talking about material physical things. I’m saying relationships matter. You know relationships matter. I was talking to a woman who was in tears after my preaching yesterday because of the way God had touched her and she had a Son who is gone into all kinds of sexual horrific stuff. He’s in treatment now because of addiction to sexual stuff. And he’s just, its just devastated her. And this kid is professing Christian. And the kid in treatment calls his mom up and says this is what’s happening and I’ve agreed that you should call me every day while I’m in Last Vegas tending to the guy I work for, for his vacation here. And ask me. And then she stepped in and suggested some things that she should ask him. Have you read your Bible? Are you praying?
He said, no don’t ask me that. Don’t ask me that. If you want to ask me about the Bible and if you want to ask me about praying, make it relational. She didn’t know what he was talking about. That woman is about my age. He said, ask me if I found something in the Bible that will help me know God as a person better. Or help me love the guy I work for more. Or put a relational twist on it mom. And she was asking me what’s going on here?
And I think I just was bursting in side with what was going on here. Because you young people know the $11 billion is not the answer. It’s relationships that’s the answer. You know that, you know where your pain comes from. And you know where your deepest pleasures come from. And they don’t come from money and they don’t come from drink and they don’t come from drugs and they don’t come from success in studies.
And they don’t come from success in business. They come from whether anybody around you likes you. Loves you. Cares for you. Sits down with you over pizza over at the hut. And talks back and forth in a really happy, affirming way with you. You know relationships are where it’s at. And God made you that way and he’s the ultimate person and to know him and have a relationship with him will be the ultimate pleasure. And he has made his way home to the father and to the mother like that mother. So that you can enjoy infinite pleasure.
More than Empirical Evidence
He is after all the destructions to destroy them. If you ask me right now, okay I think I am catching on to what you think Christianity is, why do you think it’s true? Why do you think it’s true? And there are four kinds of evidence. And I won’t go into any of them. You can ask questions about it if you want. Historical evidence we could pursue. You can buy books on the historical reliability of that book that are very competent. But a reason I don’t put a lot of weight there for you tonight is because what you wind with after the best historical arguments is high probabilities. And frankly, I’m asking you to risk your whole life on it. And it’s very hard to risk your whole life just on high probabilities. The second is world view considerations.
I’m a Christian in large measure because after fifty-five years, as I keep asking questions about how the world fits together. How to make sense out of things like God, my joy, my sin, justice, beauty, love. The judicial sentiment that makes my blood boil if I’m mistreated and my conscience which makes others blood boil if I mistreat them. And morality. Well all these realities. How do you make sense out of that thing called the universe and the world? And I have come to believe Christianity makes more sense out of more realities than anything I’ve ever seen.
If I ever find a system of thought or a philosophy of life or a being out there somewhere that makes more sense out of more reality, I’ll buy it. I don’t think it will ever happen. So there is this world view considerations.
I think the third one is the most powerful for me. Namely, personal self-authentication. I would just ask you if you’re pondering is Christianity true, how do you decide whether to trust anybody? That’s just an existential question. How do you decide whether to trust somebody? And I think your answer would be, well, I try to spend time with them and watch them and see how they behave and listen. Read between the lines of their talk and see if they are authentic person. And check their track record. And then after enough dealings, you say I’m going to trust them with my money or with my marriage. I’ll marry them. Or whatever. And you got to do that with Jesus. You got to decide. You have no choice not to decide. You will either except him, or you’ll walk away from him. Whether you except him will depend on whether you trust him.
And you come to trust him by opening up this book, especially those four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament where his story is told in four different ways and just reading them. Over and over and seeing whether or not, standing forth from those gospels is a Christ, a person, who wins your trust. That’s why I am a Christian. As I have contemplated the man, the God man Jesus Christ as he’s presented to me in the Bible I cannot turn away from him as a fool or a maniac or a lair or a trickster or whatever. And the same thing goes with those who wrote about him. Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter. When I read these men’s writings they are so penetrating. They are so coherent. And they are so, they drive home to my soul so deeply.
It’s very hard for me to say they are in a dream world. They are in a mythological dream world. They have won my trust. And the last is if God is God and this is his book, it would not be surprising to me and it is not surprising to me if he were to shine forth in absolutely indescribable, inarticulate ways from his word to your own soul. And I pray that he does that.