The following is a lightly edited transcript.
The theme for the conference here at JAMA is: “Lord, let your glory come down: repentance, reconciliation, and revival.” And I’m going to take two of those words — glory and reconciliation – and go to a passage of Scripture that draws them together, and think with you about those words and those realities and how they’re related.
Welcome Like Christ
In Romans 15:5–9, Paul is addressing Roman Christians. Some of them are Jews and some of them are Gentiles. They don’t eat the same food. They don’t drink the same drink. They don’t make much of the same days. And there are conflicts in the church — just like in yours and mine. And he’s pleading with them to live in harmony. And he relates it, as you will see now, to the glory of God.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
There are three references to the glory of God, all in the context of living in harmony with one another in the church. “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Now, how do you do that? What does welcoming to the glory of God look like? That means welcome each other in such a way that you make God look glorious. I think that’s what “for the glory of God” means: you’re welcoming each other, you’re receiving people different from you, in such a way that when people watch it happen, they conclude that God is glorious.
Now it’s tough to figure out a way to be harmonious and reconciled and welcoming across differences — generationally and ethnically and in taste of music and food and leisure — to welcome each other in such a way that people think Christ is glorious. So that’s what it says: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Be reconciled and reconciling with one another in such a way — namely, the way Christ did it — that people will conclude God is glorious because of what they’ve seen.
Let me go back to that text and just read you two other verses that might give you a clue how that happens. This is Romans 15:1–2. I started at verse 5 but let me go back to verse 1.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
So one of the ways that we welcome one another as Christ welcomed us, to make God look glorious, is that we do it in self-denying, other-advancing ways. I deny some of my preferences in order to accommodate you. Now the way God comes in there — because that just sounds like a horizontal thing — is that he is the one who, in his glory, is satisfying your soul, giving you rest, so that you don’t have to have your way all the time because God is your treasure. God is your satisfaction. God is your joy. So I can let you have your way even if it isn’t my way because I’ve got Jesus.
Now it seems to me, then, that the way this works is that we are called upon to welcome one another, be reconciled to one another, live in harmony with one another, as Christ welcomed us, so that God looks glorious. And the way we make God look glorious is by denying ourselves and dying for others, so that they might know and be satisfied in the same God that I am. So it’s coming from my satisfaction in the glory of God, and it’s leading to their supreme satisfaction in the glory of God. Welcoming one another is from him and through him and to him. That’s what it seems to me Romans 15:7 is saying.
Who’s at the Center?
Now this is a problem, and here’s the problem I’m going to raise and try to deal with: there are a lot of people who don’t feel loved if you tell them or show them that you’re loving them — welcoming them, accepting them — like that.
Here’s what they might say. They might hear you talk, they might hear me talk right now, and they might say, “So, let me get this right. You’re accepting me because you value the glory of God so highly? And you are welcoming me into your church and your life and your family and your circle with a view to me also coming to value him? Did I get that right?” And you’d say yes. And they would say, if they’re a typical American, “I don’t feel loved by that. That’s all about God. That’s not about me. His value is drawing you to me? And his value is what I’m supposed to get? And what about me? I thought love was about me.”
That’s the way all of us are by nature. I mean, just be honest. When do you feel loved? If you’re honest, you would own that your natural bent is to say, “I feel loved when you make much of me, make me the center — not God. You treat me as through God is the center, and God is the supreme value, and God is the reason you’re coming to me. And where do I fit in? This isn’t love.”
We’ve got a real problem on our hands. And I think the way to address the problem is to ask whether, when Paul said in verse 7, “as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God,” he really meant that. Let me pose the question more clearly. Here’s the verse: “Welcome one another [accept one another, receive one another] as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Now the question is — I think it’s the most illuminating question — Did Christ welcome us for the glory of God? In other words, when Christ died for us, to cover our sins and provide our righteousness, was he doing it, ultimately, that his Father and himself might be magnified? And if he was, was he loving me?
Now that’s the question I want to answer because if I can figure out how Christ loved me, then I will know how I should love. And if I have to destroy my whole natural bent to define being loved as being made much of, I will destroy it. I just want to know, in truth: What does it mean to love and be loved? What does it mean to accept? What does it mean to welcome? What does it mean to receive in such a way that love happens and God is glorified? That’s what I want to know. And that’s my contribution to the theme of this conference. The glory will come down and be seen when we welcome one another like that. So that’s where we’re going.
How Jesus Welcomes Us
Let’s start by answering the question: Did Jesus love me and save me and forgive me and justify me for the ultimate purpose of making much of himself and his Father? My answer to that is a resounding yes, but I’ll need to show you from texts.
Making His Mighty Power Known
Let’s start with the Old Testament. Around our church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, we talk a lot about being God-centered. So every now and then, I try to make plain to our people: What do we mean by this? Is this just jargon? Has this gotten so old it doesn’t have any meaning anymore? And I chose this verse to explain it a few weeks ago: “Both we and our fathers have sinned. . . . Yet he saved them for his name’s sake” (Psalm 106:6, 8). Did you hear that? “Both we and our fathers have sinned.” So I need a Savior. “He saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.”
So what does God-centered mean? God-centered, at our church, means we talk about salvation that way: God saved me for his name’s sake. God saved me to show his power. We talk about it and we like it. We like it. We really, really, really like it that way. And most Americans hate it because we, by nature, are so self-centered. For God to come to us and say, ‘I’m saving you for my name’s sake,” would turn most people off. We want a God who puts us at the center of the universe, and we’re happy to bow down to God and be God-centered, as long as he’s me-centered. “If he will make me the center of the universe, I’ll make him the center of my universe, because then I’m really at the center of his universe.” And the Bible simply won’t have it. God won’t have it. He’ll brook no competitors to the centrality of God in his own affections.
So the first text we’re seeing is Psalm 106:8. “He saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.”
For His Name
Here’s the next one. I’m just setting the Old Testament trajectory to take us to Jesus. Isaiah 43:25. God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” “I blot out your transgressions,” God says, “for my sake. That my glory might be known.”
Psalm 25:11 teachers us to pray like this: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” I love to pray like that. I love to say, “O God, show the magnificence of your grace and your glory and your longsuffering and your patience by forgiving me. I get the forgiveness, you get the glory.” And I want it to be that way. I think that’s the mark of being born again.
To the Praise of His Glory
That’s the Old Testament trajectory that shoots the arrow, and now, we go to the New Testament where the cross finally happens, and we find out more immediately why Jesus died for us, why Jesus saved us. Did Jesus welcome us, accept us, receive us for the glory of his Father?
This is Ephesians 1:4–6: “In love [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” God predestined us through Jesus Christ — that means through his work on the cross and his resurrection —to adoption. Why? Unto the praise of the glory of his grace. So there it is, as clear as you could ask for it. Why did he adopt me? Why did he send Jesus Christ in order that my sins would be paid for, righteousness would be imputed to me, and I could be welcomed into the Father’s family? Why? To the praise of the glory of his grace.
So, if someone is asking me, “Now you’re telling me that the way Jesus loves me is that he dies for me in order that his Father might look great? Is that what you’re saying?” And I would say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Christ died for you so that he might make the Father look magnificent to you.”
Every Tongue Confess
Or Philippians 2:5–8: “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, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So now, there’s the eternity-to-the-cross plan: incarnation, humility, obedience, death, crucifixion.
Next verses: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Why? “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).
Now, sum that up: Christ left heaven, was massively and perfectly obedient to his father, was voluntarily executed on the cross, in order that every knee would bow to him and bring his Father glory. So now the person asks me, “Let me get this straight now. You’re telling me that the reason Jesus came into the world and the reason he was obedient and the reason he died for me is so that all knees would bow, and every tongue would say, ‘Great is the Lord Jesus,” and his Father would be shown to be great and glorious.” And I would say, “Yes that’s why he did it. He did it for that reason.”
Or take Romans 3:25–26: “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Now, sum that up: Why did the Father offer his Son on the cross in that text? Answer: To prove to the world that God sweeps nothing under the rug, but that he deals with all God-belittling sin. And the way he deals with it is by proving he is just and righteous, by sacrificing his Son in the forgiveness of sins, that it might be plain: God brooks no indignities against his glory. He is righteous through and through, and he is just. And therefore, if sins are going to be forgiven, there will be an atoning sacrifice, and Christ will pay the penalty.
So, someone says, “Now, let me get this right. You’re telling me that the way Jesus loves me, and the way he dies for me and welcomes me and receives me and reconciles himself to me is by acting in a way to prove that his Father is righteous.” I say yes.
Conspiracy for Glory
Jesus, in the last prayer with his disciples in John 17, prayed some amazing things for you. The very first thing out of his mouth in that magnificent prayer in John 17 is this: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” He’s praying for you. This is called the high priestly prayer — meaning, he’s interceding as a priest for you with the Father, and the first thing out of his mouth is: “Father, the hour has come.” What hour? The hour of his death. “Father, the hour of my death has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” This is a conspiracy. God’s going to glorify the Son, and the Son’s going to glorify the Father, and that’s what’s happening on the cross.
So someone says, “Okay, let me get this straight now. You’re telling me that when Jesus prays for me that I might be accepted with the Father and have everlasting life and be welcomed and be received and be forgiven and go to heaven, that he prays like this: ‘Glorify me that I might glorify you’? Where am I?” If you read the first five verses of John 17, you’re not there. God is there and the Son is there, and they’re dealing with what’s going to happen on the cross. “Father, glorify your Son and the Son will glorify you.” And there’s nothing new there.
Back in chapter 12 of John, he was so in agony. Listen to these words. This is John 12:27: “‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? [The hour of his death.] But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”
All For the Father
Now there are the texts: Old Testament texts with a trajectory toward the cross and New Testament texts. All of them are saying the same thing — namely, when Paul said, in Romans 15:7, “Welcome one another. Accept one another. Receive one another. Be patient with one another. Love one another. Forgive one another. Be reconciled to one another, as Christ welcomed you,” and then he added “to the glory of God,” he meant that’s the way Jesus welcomed you: to the glory of God.
So this is not an issue between you and me. This is an issue between you and Jesus, not whether you like the way I love you — namely, with my satisfaction in God impelling me toward you, and my passion that you would be impelled toward him, so that he’s the bottom of it, he’s the top of it, he’s the middle of it. You’re quite secondary in this affair of love. He’s everything. If you don’t like that way of loving you, you’ve got to deal with Jesus — not me. You’ve got to deal with Jesus.
In the Korean American scene, I pray that your branch of the church would not be as guilty as so many who are simply stripping the gospel of its God-centeredness — stripping the welcoming teaching of its God-centeredness. “Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.” And Christ, therefore, we’ve seen in all these texts, did a dying work, a suffering work, an obeying work, a rising work, in order that he might welcome you. And he did it all to make the Father look great.
Made for God
Now, let me close with a brief effort to bridge the gap between this Christian message that I just gave and the world who thinks, “There is no love for me if I’m not at the center of your love. If you put God at the center, God at the bottom, God at the top, you’re not loving me. You’re loving God.” I want to bridge that gap. I don’t want to just make trouble. I don’t want to just be hard for the world to understand. I’d like to save the world. I’d like the world to experience glimmers of Holy Spirit-given awakening and insight that would enable them to say, “Oh, oh, that’s what I’ve been missing all my life.”
That’s what I would like to happen, so let me devote five minutes or so, here, to just try to make that plain. Here’s the way it works, if I understand the Bible. Psalm 27:4 goes like this:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
Now think on that for just a moment. This is the way a person speaks who has been awakened to God and his Son and his redemption: One thing have I desired. What is it? To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. Why? Because when I see the beauty of the Lord, when I see the infinite grandeur and greatness and holiness of God, everything in me is finally at home and satisfied in him. And in that moment, I am being deeply, profoundly, and ultimately satisfied. And he is being deeply and profoundly and ultimately exalted. And therefore, his exaltation and my being loved are the same thing. They aren’t at odds.
Here’s the key. Here’s the key that just might unlock some of your unbelieving friends to what I’m saying, which sounds so counterintuitive, countercultural. It just might open them to point out to them things like: Why do people go to the Grand Canyon? Why do people look into the sky at night? People don’t go to the Grand Canyon in order to have their self-esteem built up. People feel small on the edge of the Grand Canyon. People feel small when they look into the stars at night. And yet, people love to do it. Now I think the reason they love to do it is because written on their heart, still, is the message: You were made not to be the center of the universe. You were made to have God at the center of the universe.
There’s this little hook that you might be able to get into their hearts as they perceive: “You know what? Usually, I like to be made much of. I like the praise of my boss. I like the praise of my wife. I like the praise of my kids. I like people to say good job. Usually that makes me feel good. But you know what? When I’m going to sleep at night, that doesn’t make me very happy. It’s not big enough. It feels like it’s stroking me, but it’s not going very deep.” And you say to them, “That’s right. It’s not going very deep because you weren’t made to be stroked like that.”
And they say, “Well, what am I made for?” And you say, “You’re made not to be unhappy; you’re made with your soul to expand big enough so that God becomes your treasure, so that God becomes your joy. Your ego is nowhere near big enough to satisfy what God made you for. He made you for himself, and he means for you to enjoy him and be satisfied in him, and therefore, to make much of him, so that you get the satisfaction, and he gets the praise and he gets the glory and he gets the honor. And the two come together without any conflict anymore.” And if God were in that conversation, they might simply say, “I never thought of it that way. Would you teach me more? Would you show me more about how Christ or God being made much of is really what my soul will find most satisfaction in so that it becomes my joy to do it?”
So let me go back to the verse. What I said I came to do was try to put two words together: glory of God coming down and reconciliation. I chose the Romans 15:7 to work on. Now just apply this to your friends, the people you don’t like very much, the conflicts in your church, whatever your issue might be right now: Welcome, receive, accept one another, as Christ welcomed you to the glory of God. And the reason, when you welcome somebody, in order to make God look good, the reason that is loving to them is because what will satisfy them most deeply is for this God to be made big and to be made number one in their lives.