I’ve been asking students and other audiences for years, Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you or when he, at great cost to himself, frees you to enjoy making much of him forever? Which one prompts you to feel more loved.
And I want to go beyond that question. In fact, I want to explain a misunderstanding that the question has created. I want to show where the question comes from, and then go at it another way. So, I’m trying to do some adjusting here with an old question that’s been very useful and prone to misunderstanding.
The aim of that question is not to deny that God makes much of his children. So when I ask: Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you or when he enables you to make much of him? I’m not trying to play them off against each other, but it sounds that way before this message is over, I’m going to show you — maybe more than you’ve ever seen, I hope — how much he makes of you as his children.
So that’s my corrective. I don’t mean for that question to be a denial of the biblical truth that God, astonishingly, in his grace makes much of his redeemed children. Let me tell you where the question was coming from, and then head off in a different direction, and circle back around to what I’ve been trying to do all along.
I care more about nominal hell-bound Christians, who believe God loves them, more than I do about genuine heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel God loves them. Does that makes sense? I’m more worried about the first group. I’m desperate to rescue the first group. The second group are going to make it. By definition of what I just said, they’re heaven bound. They’re going to make it. They’re struggling along the way because they don’t feel loved by God.
“Jesus is not a mere cosmic doctor, bellhop, or butler to give us all the stuff we wanted before we were born again.”
Now I’m going to talk to those people this morning — some of you in this room — but I want you to know that’s where this question came from. This question was aimed to try to help people discover what’s at the bottom or the root or the foundation of their happiness. That is, are they born again? Is God down there, or is self down there? Is the bottom of all my joy, is the joy of all my joy that I get made much of, or is it God? That’s what that question was aiming to probe into people’s lives about.
Let me try to analyze this just so you feel what I feel about my concern for the churches. My concern for campuses, where a lot of people grew up in Christian homes, and they’re not born again, but they feel loved by God.
What Do You Really Want?
What if you believe that to be a Christian is to turn to Jesus to get everything you wanted before you were born again? And what makes you a Christian is not new wants but a new source. What if you believed that? Suppose what you wanted all along was to be wealthy, and you hear a preacher, and you turn away from yourself, and you turn to Jesus in prayer and in obedience to get your wealth.
What if you wanted all along to be healthy? And you stop being self-reliant and going to only doctors that you started praying and relying on Jesus for the thing you always wanted, namely health. What if you always wanted to escape the pain of hell? Then you turn to Jesus in order that your body would not feel that kind of pain forever.
What if you wanted a happy marriage or peace of conscience? Then you turned away from the world and you turned away from self-reliance, and you relied on Jesus for a happy marriage? Would you be a Christian?
All the same desires remain what they were before you were born again, you just have a new bellhop — a new butler. The meal is the same. But there’s a new butler bringing it in. Does that make you a Christian? It doesn’t. That’s not what the new birth is. It’s not leaving everything the same — all the same desires that you had before. The new birth is way more radical than that.
What Makes a Person New
So, I’m probing, I’m digging into people’s hearts asking, What’s at the bottom of your joy? It’s okay to want to have a happy marriage. I want to be healthy. And I turn to Jesus and I ask him for those, and he wants me to. But Jesus is not a mere cosmic doctor, bellhop, butler to give us all the stuff we wanted before we were born again. The new birth is the awakening of a whole new range of delights, namely Christ in his glory, in his fellowship.
And if all your desires have stayed the same, and you’re just using Jesus to get them, you’re not a Christian. You haven’t been born again. There’s nothing new in you. The root hasn’t changed. And I’m concerned about people like that. And there are millions of them, I fear, who are in our churches and on our Christian campuses.
What makes a person new, what makes them born again is that they don’t just delight in God’s gifts. They delight in God. Jesus is not just a means to get what you always wanted as a dead, blind sinner, but he becomes your joy. That’s what it is to be born of God.
So, when I said, “Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you or when, at great cost to himself, he frees you through the new birth and the atonement to enjoy making much of him forever?” I’m trying to separate the wheat and the chaff, now, so that it won’t have to be separated at the last day.
He Loves Me for Him
But that question was so prone to misunderstanding. And it sent genuine believers, away kind discouraged. And so, I’m going at it differently now.
This morning I want to talk to those of you in this room who are born of God. God is at the bottom of your joys and you struggle to feel loved by God. You’re really saved. Something deep and profound has happened to you. You are awakened and Jesus is your all. You would die for him — yes, you would. And you get up in the morning and you go to bed at night and for whatever reason, Satan’s hammering you — because of your genetic makeup, your parents, or whatever. You do not feel loved by God. So that’s who I’m talking to.
Here’s my new question: Why does God, over and over and over again in the Bible, describe his love for us in a way that immediately reveals he’s loving us for his own glory? Why over and over and over again does God say astonishing things about his love for us, and his plans for us, and his care for us, and then adds on that he’s doing it for the praise of his name?
There are a lot of people who say, “Look, if he’s loving me just to get glory for himself, he’s not loving me.” Or they say that if he’s making much of me just so that, in a roundabout way, I’ll make much of him, he’s not loving me. That’s what a lot of people feel, and therefore, as they read the Bible, which is a very God-centered book, they often come away scratching their heads
Five Ways God Loves You for His Sake
I’ll just give you five examples of how God loves you for God’s sake. This is a test to see how you emotionally respond to the way God protests his love for you. And then I will turn to the stunning ways God really does make much of you.
1. Predestined to Adoption
God shows his love for us by predestining us for adoption as sons.
He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:5)
Let that land on you. From before the foundation of the world, God decided to make you his adopted child. It is off-the-charts amazing that a human being — all of us sinners — could be embraced by God and brought into the very family of the Creator. That’s off-the-charts amazing. And then the next phrase says,
to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)
Now do you feel deflated by that? You were just telling me that I’m coming into your family. You were just loving me and embracing me and welcoming me and giving me an incredible privilege, and you ruined it by saying it’s all to the praise of your grace. I hope you don’t think it’s a downer, that you were brought into his family for the praise of his grace. I hope that feels to you like part of a gift.
2. Created for Glory
He shows his love for us by creating us. You didn’t have to be, but he brought you into being as an eternal soul — never to end, heaven or hell, here we come — forever. To be is amazing in its own right. Here’s what God says about creating you in Isaiah 43:6–7:
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.
Is that’s okay? He gave you the gift of being for his glory. Do you feel loved when he says that? Or does that kind of mess up love?
3. Saved for Glory
God shows his love for us in sending a Savior.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those
with whom he is pleased!”
Why? A Savior has come! We get the Savior, he gets the glory. Great news of joy: a Savior born for you. And what do the angels say? God is glorious. A born-again person loves that.
A born-again person doesn’t say, “I think I should get the glory. He died for me. He came for me. What’s all this ‘glory be to God from the heavenly hosts’? No, no, no. A born-again, person doesn’t think that way at all. Their joy is in that response. “I get the Savior, I get the help and I get the joy. He gets the glory, and it is my joy to say that forever.”
4. For God’s Sake and Mine
God shows his love for us when Christ died for us. This is 2 Corinthians 5:14–15:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Well, is it for my sake or is it for him? And if you push those apart, you just don’t get it. You’re missing the God-centeredness of the love of God. It is for me that he enabled me by his blood to enjoy making much of him.
5. With Jesus for Glory
God shows his love for us in the way Jesus prays for us. What does he pray for you? What’s the ultimate prayer of Jesus for you? It’s John 17:24:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Do you feel loved when Jesus prays that for you? He looks you in the eye, and he says, “I have prayed for you, and what I want for you more than anything in the world is for you to be with me and see my glory.” That’s my best gift of love to you. It has to be so. He is infinitely valuable. The best gift he has to give is Jesus. He gives himself for our enjoyment forever.
Seven Ways God Makes Much of You
So my question is, Why does God do that? That’s just the tip of the iceberg in the Bible. Over and over again, he tells us he loves us, and he tells us in a way that draws the attention back to himself — his glory and his grace. Why does he do that?
“Jesus is not just a means to get what you always wanted as a dead, blind sinner.”
Now, I’m going to answer that question in the last two minutes of this message. I’m going to answer that question as clearly as I know how to answer it because I think there’s an answer in the Bible. But this is the place where I want to remedy the misunderstanding of my original question: Do you really believe he makes much of us?
You might respond to this so far: “What you just said in the last ten minutes of this message, Piper, kind of makes me wonder whether you just don’t feel begrudging about all the good news of how much God makes of us. And you’re in a hurry to get to God and downplay the astonishing statements in the Bible of how much God actually makes of us.”
This is a remedy for that criticism. I have seven ways God makes much of you. When I say you, I mean those of you who’ve been born again are in Jesus Christ by faith alone. So get ready to be amazed. And if you’re not amazed, you’re asleep. If not physically, spiritually, which is not a good thing to be.
1. God Is Pleased with Us
God makes much of us by being pleased with us and commending our lives. C.S. Lewis preached a sermon called “The Weight of Glory.” What is the weight of glory that we can barely tolerate? Here’s the quote from Lewis:
To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son — it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (The Weight of Glory, 38–39)
“Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). God makes much of you, son and daughter, by being pleased with you.
2. Heir to All
God makes much of us by making us his fellow heirs with Christ, who owns everything.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
The whole earth will be yours, at your disposal someday.
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)
You are an offspring of Abraham in Christ. You will inherit the world. So, you don’t need it now.
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)
So, he makes much of you by making you the heir of everything. The universe will one day be your personal playground.
3. Served by the Master
God makes much of us by having us sit at the table when Jesus returns. And he will serve us, as though he were the slave and we the master. Listen to this most astonishing sentence of all the parables maybe.
Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. (Luke 12:36–37)
That’s not a picture of the Last Supper. That’s a picture of the second coming. You sit down at the table. Jesus goes on the floor with a towel, gets off his white horse with a sword dripping in blood after decimating all your enemies, and he serves you.
4. Judge Angels
God makes much of us by appointing us to carry out the judgment of angels.
Do you not know that we are to judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3)
And if you feel especially competent right now, to take your seat upon a judgment bench and pronounce judgment on beings who are a thousand times more powerful than you are, you will.
5. God Rejoices
God makes much of us by ascribing value to us and rejoicing over us as a treasured possession.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29–31)
The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
And we always celebrate, in the Book of Revelation, our loud singing of the Lamb who was slain, who is worthy. But what will his voice sound like when he says, “Thank you very much. May I sing now?” And he sings his love song over you.
6. Glorified Bodies
God makes much of us by giving us a glorious body like Jesus’s resurrection body
He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:21)
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:43)
Most of you in this room right now are not happy with your bodies, right? Very few people are, right? I’m old now. I get less happy with my body all the time. But it’s sad to be unhappy with your body at the beginning. You know, you’re not tall enough. You’re not shapely enough. Your hair’s not right. Your complexion is not right. Your proportions aren’t right. Nothing’s right.
“I get the help and I get the joy. He gets the glory, and it is my joy to say that forever.”
I just hope you can get over that because you’re going to shine like the sun. You will be so absolutely stunning — every one of you in Christ, so absolutely stunning — that nobody will be able to look at you except with new eyes, which is why we have to have new bodies. We have to have new bodies, not only because our old bodies aren’t what we want them to be. We have to have new bodies because the eyes of the old bodies would be blinded by the other new bodies.
In Revelation, Jesus shines like the sun (Revelation 21:23). We’re going to be like that. If you tried to look at the sun, you would go blind. You will shine like the sun. You will. You students who feel so insecure and so inadequate and wish you were another human being, you will shine like the sun. It’s just a matter of time. I’m 68 — it is just a very short time.
I remember sitting in chapels at Wheaton College. It was like yesterday. I just retired from 33 years in the pastorate. Where did those years go? It’s more like 33 days. Don’t worry too much. God has assigned you your body, okay? Be okay with his gift. You’ve got another one coming, which will make all of us look like cinders here.
7. Seated on the Throne
Finally, most amazingly maybe. God makes much of us by granting us to sit with Christ on his throne. I’m almost afraid of these verses, lest they sound blasphemous.
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
The comment I will risk is that we’re going to share the rulership of the universe with God. That’s what throne means, right? We’re ruling the universe together.
The church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22)
The Bible’s language for how much God makes of you is extraordinary and beyond comprehension. Do you hear me saying that God makes much of you? More of you than you can comprehend? More of you than you can even dream? It would be worth a study to gather these together.
Now back to my question: Why does God over and over again in his words say things to that effect — loving things, stunning things of affirmation and affection, and put it in the context of “it’s for my glory.” Why does he do that?
Here’s my closing effort at an answer: It is a greater love to say it that way. It is a greater love, to love us for his glory, than if he made us the end rather than himself. God’s love for us, that makes much of us for his glory, is a greater love than if he ended by making us our greatest treasure rather than himself. Making himself our end is greater love then if he only made us his end.
“You are so precious to God that he will not let your preciousness become your God.”
The reason this is greater love is this: self, even a glorified self — the one that shines like the sun in the kingdom of the Father — will never satisfy a heart made for God. He sent his Son to die that he might have you and that you might have him. He won’t let you settle for happy thoughts of self — not even a glorified self. He will not let your glory, which he himself creates and loves, replace his glory as your supreme treasure.
Glory in this truth. Glory in, revel in, bask in the fact that God loves you enough to say that he loves you for his glory. That way of loving you is greater than if he didn’t love you that way.
Or put it one more way that might stick: Children of God, you are precious to God, but you are so precious to God that he will not let your preciousness become your God. God will be your God, and that’s what it means to love you.