What Kind of Heart Does Christ Deserve?

The Call of Christian Hedonism

Bethlehem 2019 Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders | Minneapolis


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

And Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” And they said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:56–58).

Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . .” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father . . .” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:5–6, 8–9).

And Jesus cried out, “Whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45). For Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

“By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3), and “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

He Became Sin

And yet, “though he was in the form of God, he 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” (Philippians 2:6–8). “He committed no sin [none!], neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

And so it came to pass that “by the one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). For God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

And when that time approached, he said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). So “after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

Exalted on High

“God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 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).

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to” him (Matthew 28:18). “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35).

“God has put all things in subjection” to him (1 Corinthians 15:27) — all “angels and authorities and powers” (1 Peter 3:22). He is now “the head of the body, the church. . . . the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). He has authority to forgive sins (Luke 7:49). He speaks, and “the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41). He commands unclean spirits, and they come out (Luke 4:36)! He rebukes fevers, and they depart (Luke 4:39).

He causes the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk, and lepers are made clean (Luke 7:22). He commands the dead, and they live (John 11:43–44). He suffers the little children to come to him (Matthew 19:14), but “scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, and brings down the mighty from their thrones” (Luke 1:51–52). He does “not break a bruised reed, or quench a smoldering wick, until he brings justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20). In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Unsearchable Riches

“No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). To know him is to know “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). And he is coming again on the clouds, even as they saw him go, but this time with the holy angels and with power and great glory (Mark 8:38; 13:26). He will deliver us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

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). In that day, “he will dress himself for service and have us recline at table, and he will come and serve us” (Luke 12:37). For he will still be “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29 KJV).

“God has no beauty that Christ does not share. And Christ has no beauty that God does not share.”

And yet “his eyes will be like a flame of fire, his feet like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice like the roar of many waters. . . . And from his mouth will come a sharp two-edged sword, and we will see his face like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:14–16). And so we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

And we will see no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). “Rejoicing in hope” (Romans 5:2; 12:12) will give way to the joy of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). The pleasures of every taste that bound us to Christ in this world (1 Peter 2:3) will explode into the pleasures of heavenly feasting (Matthew 25:10). And we will know, finally, not in part, but perfectly, that in his presence “is fullness of joy” and at his “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

How We Respond to the Stupendous Reality of Christ

How shall we respond to this Christ in a way that honors him as we ought? What shall our thoughts and affections be so that his greatness and his beauty and his worth are properly reflected in our thinking and our feeling? How shall such an immeasurably magnificent person be duly glorified in our response to him?

Christian Hedonism exists to answer that question. But before we state the answer of Christian Hedonism, let’s keep laying more foundation from Scripture. We began with a short, inadequate, precious, glorious, biblical portrait of Jesus Christ.

Let’s consider how the totality of Scripture brings forth and forms our response to the greatness and beauty and worth of Christ.

Know His Beauty

We have already seen that all the fullness of deity dwells in him. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. And we have beheld and embraced this divine glory. If you have seen him, as he stands forth from his word (John 17:20; 1 Samuel 3:21), you have seen God. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (see John 14:9).

Therefore, if you have met God, as he is truly revealed in the Old Testament, you have met Christ. If you have met Christ, as he is truly revealed in the New Testament, you have met the God of Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah.

God has no beauty that Christ does not share. And Christ has no beauty that God does not share. To know the beauties of Christ is to know the beauties of God. And to know the beauties of God, revealed anywhere in the Bible, is to know the beauties of Christ — for the Word is God (John 1:1–2).

Therefore, all the language in all the Bible that describes the proper affections of the human heart toward God is describing the proper affections of the human heart toward Christ.

The Language of Joy

Consider, then, the scope of this language and what is fitting for our heart’s response to God, that is, to Christ. It is the language most prominently of joy.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
   nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
   and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
   and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

All while I starve!

Then I will go to the altar of God,
   to God my exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

It is language that takes joy beyond a mild experience to greater depth and strength and exuberance.

In your presence there is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11)

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. (Luke 6:23)

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! (Psalm 33:1)

It is the language of gladness.

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Be glad in the Lord. (Psalm 32:11)

[O Lord] you make him glad with the joy of your presence. (Psalm 21:6)

It is the language of delight.

You give them drink from the river of your delights. (Psalm 36:8)

Delight yourself in the Lord. (Psalm 37:4)

It is the language of contentment.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. (2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 4:11)

It is the language of desiring, panting after, thirsting, fainting.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
   so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
   for the living God. (Psalm 42:1–2)

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
   as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)

Whom have I in heaven but you, [O Lord]?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)

It is the language of tasting.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

It is the language of sweetness.

How sweet are your words to my taste,
   sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)

It is the language of exulting.

The poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:19)

Those who love your name will exult in you. (Psalm 5:11)

I will be glad and exult in you . . . O Most High. (Psalm 9:2)

It is the language of pleasure.

At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

It is the language of satisfaction.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
   when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. (Psalm 17:15)

My soul will be satisfied . . .
when I remember you upon my bed,
   and meditate on you in the watches of the night. (Psalm 63:5–6)

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)

It is the language of happiness.

How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of him . . .
who brings good news of happiness,
   who publishes salvation,
   who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

Therefore, since God has no greatness, no beauty, and no worth that Christ does not share, all the language of the Bible about how our hearts should respond to the greatness and beauty and worth of God applies to Christ. If our heart is right toward God, Christ is our exceeding joy, Christ is our gladness, our delight, our contentment, our desire, our sweetness, our exultation, our pleasure, our satisfaction, and our happiness. Christ himself, not first his gifts, but himself.

God made the human heart to relate to himself this way. To relate to Christ this way. If our hearts do not respond to God in Christ this way, we do not respond as we ought. We are falling short. How serious is this?

Five Pictures of Satisfaction

When we turn to the New Testament for confirmation and clarification of this affectional heart-relation to Christ, we see at least five pictures of it — and they show the matter to be very serious. There is a picture of a treasure, a picture of food and drink, a picture of family relations, a picture of excrement, and a picture of a death wish. Let’s look at each just briefly. These are clarifications and confirmations that the description we just saw of how our hearts should respond to God are, in fact, what the New Testament teaches.

1. Treasure

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

This is a picture of what it means to embrace Christ as the King of your life. This is not about heaven in the abstract. This is about the King of heaven offering himself and his rule in people’s lives. It’s essentially the same as when he said, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). The path into discipleship with Jesus and the path into the kingdom are one path.

“If our heart is right toward God, Christ is our exceeding joy, Christ is our gladness.”

And what is that path? Jesus says it’s the finding of a treasure, and then, with joy, selling or renouncing everything to have that treasure. And for years I overlooked the phrase in Matthew 13:44, “in his joy” (apo tēs charas). In his joy he sold all he had. This is like David Livingstone saying, “I never made a sacrifice in all my journeys through Africa.” Of course, you did! You even died in your tent in Africa thirteen years younger than I am right now! “No,” he would say, “I got Jesus.”

Before I was a Christian Hedonist I used to think that it was the choice — the decision — to sell all for the kingdom that most honored Christ. I don’t believe that any more. He is more honored — rightly honored, glorified — when we sell all with joy.

2. Food and Drink

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

Come to me, and I satisfy your soul-hunger. Believe in me, and I satisfy your soul-thirst. Which means that in the mind of Jesus, true saving faith is a spiritual coming to Jesus in such a way that your soul-thirst and your soul-hunger are satisfied with Jesus.

Jesus means that only he can do that for us. Only he is that nutritious, that beneficial. And to the degree that we enjoy Christ as our soul-satisfaction, we magnify his life-giving fullness.

3. Family Relations

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

The love in view here is not love that you might show to your enemy, even though you have little affection for him. This is love for mother and father and son and daughter — family affection love, the kind of affection that makes you heave in sobs when he or she dies. If your love for Jesus does not exceed those loves, you are not worthy of him.

And to be worthy of Jesus in this verse does not mean to be deserving of him. We don’t deserve anything good from him, including himself. To be worthy of him is the same as what Paul means in Colossians 1:10: “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” It’s a walk that is fitting. Suitable. Showing how much the Lord is worth to you.

So, Jesus is saying, “If you have an emotional bond with your most precious family relation that is greater than the bond of your heart with me, your heart does not reflect my true worth. Your heart is false about me. You are unsuitable to be my follower.” That’s serious.

4. Excrement

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as excrement, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

This is the only place where Paul uses scatological language. And the point is not to show the intrinsic worthlessness of things, but the infinite difference in value between Christ and everything else apart from Christ. The difference in preciousness is so great that, by comparison, everything else is like dung.

When Paul said in the next chapter, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. . . . I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11–12), he meant: When I am in need, I do not lose my contentment in Christ, craving more than I have. And when I have plenty, I am not lured away from contentment in Christ by the pull of the plenty.

The preciousness of Christ is put on display by the measure of our contentment in him — with or without anything else.

5. Death Wish

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21–23)

My desire is to die — to depart and be with Christ. Why? “For that is far better.” Three emphatic words in Greek to make a massive point: Better. More better. More better by much (pollō mallon kreisson). Which meant for Paul that to be with Christ was more desirable than all that life could offer here, and all that death could take. Christ is more desirable than anything or anyone.

These are the five pictures of how our hearts are to respond to the greatness and beauty and worth of Christ.

Experience Christ Himself

To sum up to this point: We began with a sketch of the greatness and beauty and worth of Christ. Then we asked, How shall such a magnificent person be duly glorified in our response to him? And I said that Christian Hedonism exists to answer that question.

“The preciousness of Christ is put on display by the measure of our contentment in him.”

But then we put that on hold while I drew your attention to the language of the Bible in describing what our heart response to the greatness of Christ should be. He should be our exceeding joy, our gladness, our delight, our contentment, our desire, our sweetness, our exultation, our pleasure, our satisfaction, and our happiness.

And then to confirm that this is in fact how the New Testament intends for our heart to respond to Christ, and how serious this is, we looked at five pictures of Christ’s worth reflected in the heart’s desire:

  • He is so desired as a supreme treasure that we will sell all to have him.

  • He is so desired to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the soul that we turn from all fountains and all food to eat and drink of him.

  • He is so desired as a family member that our affection for him surpasses all our family loves.

  • He is so desired as a supreme value that everything by comparison is but excrement.

  • He is so desired above all that life can give, or death can take, that we would rather be at home with the Lord, if it was just our joy in view, without regard to others.

Or to sum it up another way:

  1. Christ, supreme in greatness and beauty and worth.

  2. Scripture, God’s word, defining with absolute authority what is the fitting way for the human heart to respond to such greatness and beauty and worth.

  3. Christian Hedonism implicit in these five pictures: God’s command to all his creatures: a life devoted to as much satisfaction in Christ himself as is possible in this life and the next.

Or to say it with even more precision: Christian Hedonism is a life devoted to experiencing Christ himself as our supreme Treasure with as much satisfaction as possible in this life and the next.

Christian Hedonism’s Essential Question

For some of us (pastors, teachers, elders, theologians), this life of devotion to Christ as our supreme satisfaction involves answering a never-ending stream of questions about Christian Hedonism. This is why we study and teach and preach and write articles and books. Of all the questions that have ever been asked, or could be asked, I suppose the two most important ones are these:

Is such a life — which you call Christian Hedonism — essential, necessary, in order for the human heart to glorify Christ as he deserves? And if so, how does it?

Where Your Treasure Is

Let me answer them in reverse order. How does a life devoted to satisfaction in Christ glorify Christ? You all know intuitively it does. To spend time with someone because you have to feels belittling to the person. But for a man to spend time with a woman because he enjoys her makes her feel honored. Dutiful dating is demeaning. Dating for joy is honoring.

But how does it work? How does a life devoted to satisfaction in Christ glorify Christ? Consider these words from the book of Job, which, if Eliphaz had not used them to indict Job wrongly, would have been pure truth:

If you lay gold in the dust . . . then the Almighty will be your gold. . . . For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty. (Job 22:24–26)

“The intensity of my treasuring communicates the worth of the Treasure.”

This is the meaning of Jesus’s statement: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If you stop seeing earthly gold as your treasure, and you start seeing the Almighty as your treasure, your heart will follow this new sight with delight.

Which means that you can follow that experience backward as well. Where a person finds supreme delight in God as his gold, God is shown to be a treasure, and the gold of the earth inferior. And there is the answer to how a life devoted to satisfaction in Christ glorifies Christ.

He Deserves Your Satisfaction

When you desire Christ above all things, you implicitly show that Christ is valuable, precious, desirable — a treasure. And the more intensely you desire him, and the more suffering you endure without losing your satisfaction in him, the more valuable you show him to be.

That is the meaning of glorifying Christ. To communicate to him and to Satan and to other people: My satisfaction in God ascribes worth to God. The intensity of my treasuring communicates the worth of the Treasure. Christ is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

Therefore, yes, Christian Hedonism — a life devoted to enjoying Christ above all — is essential for the human heart to glorify Christ as he deserves.