Why God Is Not a Megalomaniac: Encouragement for Pastors

College Park Church, Indianapolis

Something Brian just said triggered something we were talking about in the car on the way over from the hotel that might be helpful to say, that this ministry, the Crisis Pregnancy Center ministry here in central Indiana, is evangelistic, and it is rescuing babies, and it’s rescuing women from the mistake and trauma of being abortive and post-abortive. Those two things, in a lot of people’s minds, don’t fit easily together. “Well, are you a social action kind of guy or are you an evangelistic kind of guy?” and we’re always looking for ways to say yes — both-and at Bethlehem — that would be compelling and help the people who have the bent in both directions to like the people on the other side and affirm them.

Immediate Aid and Eternal Relief

The way that we have said it is very much like what you just said. We say, as a church, we are committed to diminishing or reducing suffering in the world, especially eternal suffering, and when you say it like that, it kind of disarms both sides because the social action people, they’re all about, “Yeah, reduce suffering.” They don’t think too much about hell. Some of them don’t, if they’re leftward leaning, and the others who really believe in hell and rescuing the perishing don’t want to be distracted by too many earthly improvements.

When you say, “We really want to reduce suffering in the world. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan, especially eternal suffering,” and when you say especially, you really do say something, I think, absolutely true and proportionate because if there is hell, then to go there is 10,000 times worse than any suffering that could be experienced in this world. And therefore, if you could rescue people from that, even short of helping them here, be all they want to be, you would have done them the best thing. But then again, it’s not either-or, and to try to make it either-or is simply un-biblical because the Bible is so filled with summons to do good deeds for people, and thus display the kind of Christ who rescues them from their eternal destruction.

So what you just said just triggered all of that in my mind. Maybe a personal word about why am I in Indianapolis would be helpful because pastors like to get insight into how to run your lives and how to make choices. I’m going to be preaching in my own church tomorrow night, and had to get that sermon ready, what is today? Friday? Okay, Wednesday. And so this is not an easy thing to do, to come down here. So why in the world are you here? Because you’re a pastor, and you’ve got a church to take care of, and a family that wonders where I’ve been this spring. The answer is that, as I look at the opportunities I get, once a year or so, I say to myself and to the speaking committee that helps me make choices, “I want to breathe upon the cause of the sanctity of life.”

I want to say yes to this with my body and my mind, not just in my church where I preach on it every January alongside Martin Luther King. Those two weekends go back to back. That’s another little thing I might toss in here, is that if you ever wondered, how do you do this in the local church, how do you make this an issue, Roe v. Wade comes around every year. We march the capitol, 5,000–10,000 people.

The way God, in his providence, has set it up, Martin Luther King weekend and the Roe v. Wade weekend come back to back every year. It’s really interesting in this because a lot of people who are big on racial justice aren’t big on pro-life issues, and a lot of people who are kind of, it’s the favorite right-wing white issue to be anti-abortion, are not the least interested in talking about racial issues.

When a church puts them back to back, it kind of dislodges people’s categories that don’t know quite what kind of church you are because not too many churches fire off about racial issues, and then fire off about abortion. They tend to choose those, not one or the other. And so just, not only do we try to do that, but I say, “Okay. Find me a place that is the speaking where I can go do this.” So this is the place this year. I’m not going to do this anywhere else this year, but tonight’s event looked significant to me, and that I could share with pastors is just icing on the cake as far as why I would come to Indianapolis. So that’s a little bit of background, how we think about issues like that, how we think about eternal suffering and the suffering of the unborn.

I may say a little more tonight along those lines, but mainly, tonight I just want to encourage people to be obedient in the long haul. Just don’t give up. Don’t be a flash-in-the-pan type pro-life person. Give yourself to this in some way in a steady, ongoing way. For pastors that would mean, for me, it’s been preaching at least once a year for twenty years on this issue, and they’re all online. You can see everything I’ve ever said about pro-life at the Desiring God website, so nothing is hidden, and you can see how repetitive I am or not. It’s not easy to preach on an issue like racial justice and pro-life year after year, after year, after year, and say things fresh, new, engaging, and compelling. I try not to use old sermons in my own pulpit.

I think I’ve done that, in 27 years, twice, to preach an old sermon that I’d already used before. When I go on the road, I’m happy to use old sermons, but at my own church I feel like they’ve got to get fresh off the front burner kinds of things. So this is my talk for this pastor’s luncheon. This is old, and yet I thought it through in a fresh way, and it’s another little thing. These things keep coming to my mind. I hope they’re helpful. I asked the Lord, “Bring to my mind what would be helpful,” and I just forgot it. I was going to say he evidently didn’t think that one was going to be very helpful. Oh, yeah. I just thought of it again, so maybe he does. I taught in college for six years, taught Bible and Greek. Then, God just said, “Preach,” and so I moved over and became a pastor.

The Role of Pastors

I thought the upshot of becoming a pastor would be I would lose the leisure that attends the academic role. You get your summers off. You teach three courses, get them down once, don’t have to prepare them again, huge amounts of time to reflect, think, and write. I’m going to lose that as I go under this pressure cooker called the pastorate, where it’s always on call and all kinds of administrative things to do, as well as study and preach, and therefore I would be sacrificing the discovery dimension of this book. I was so stupid. I mean, that was really stupid of me.

This is all to explain why this little fresh preparation is a gift. What I’ve discovered is God loves pastors, and he loves desperate pastors who, on Friday, know they’ve got to preach on Sunday. Family issues are pressing down, and community issues are pressing down, and church issues are pressing down.

And he’s got to go to this book and get life for his people and his own soul. When God sees a pastor on his face, desperate and pleading, you know what? He comes through, and he comes through with freshness. I believe, I really believe, that I have had less time to study, less time to reflect, than had I been in academia, and have been given more insights than if I had been in academia; more insights into people, more insights into the word, more insights into eternity, more insights into me and my sin, than if I had had that kind of relatively easy life.

Now, if you’re a teacher in a college or a seminary, I’m not implying that there’s not a way to live there that’s very fruitful. I just mean that, for me, to be pressured to get ready for this little event right here on the plane, coming down, trying to rethink some old things, gave me new light. New light happened, and I was falling asleep. I was trying to stay awake. I’ve got to prepare because I got up at 4:30 this morning, so here we go.

I do have something prepared, but none of that was it, and now we’re ready. I do hope that there will be time for Q&A, so be storing up anything, a question that comes to mind at all. Probably, we can even start the question before 1:00. I know at 1:00, some of you may need to go. I can stay here until 1:25, I’m told, so that’s the plan.

God’s Passion for His Glory

Here’s where I’d like to go. What I have focused on in my thought life and ministry life for the last thirty years or so is the assumption, and now it’s a biblically warranted assumption, that God is infinitely passionate to display his own glory. That’s kind of the hallmark of my life. That just undergirds everything, that God is passionate to be glorified.

He loves his glory. He loves his name. He loves his fame. Key text: Isaiah 43:7. “Bring everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” So there’s a basic statement, “I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,” so that is basic for me. That’s just my starting point for almost everything. The question that came next for me is how does joy in God relate to that? It is essential to that for two reasons. Now, I’ve never said it quite this way before. This is what came to me on the plane. I’ve always said, God is passionate for his glory, and he does everything that he does to magnify his glory. He created all of you to glorify him. Let me put in a parenthesis here to make sure you know what I mean by that, by this analogy of telescope and microscope.

Magnify, glorify are ambiguous words. You can magnify God on the analogy of a microscope, which magnifies, or you can magnify God on the analogy of a telescope, which magnifies, and if you do this one, you’re a blasphemer because microscopes magnify by taking things that are teeny-weeny and making them look bigger than they are. You try to do that with God, you blaspheme. You can’t make God look bigger than he is. He’s not little. He’s big. Now, what telescopes do is magnify, but they magnify paradoxically to make big things look more like what they are, rather than little things look bigger than they are. We look at the stars, and they look little. That’s the way most people see God, right? He’s like twinkle, twinkle little star.

Your job is to say, “Can I put a telescope to your eye and show you that star is a thousand times bigger than our sun? You just don’t see it, right?” In my life, God created you to make plain how great he is. That’s the way my little 11-year-old girl, when I say, “You’re created for the glory of God,” and I ask her, “Now, what does that mean? Like, the catechism, what does that mean? Then, she comes back with, “I’m supposed to talk and do things that make God look great, like he really is.” I say, “That’s exactly what you are supposed to do.”

The Relationships Between Joy in God and God’s Glory

So now the question becomes, “If that’s the passion of God, that we magnify him and his glory like a telescope, how does joy in God relate to that passion?” I’m going to say it is essential to that passion. My joy in God, your joy in God is essential to his passion to be glorified for two reasons.

Joy in God Preserves God’s Glory from Arrogance

One, without joy in God, his passion to be glorified looks and feels like arrogance, megalomania, and vanity. You preach this, you preach God’s passion for God’s glory, a lot of people get this glazed look on their faith like, “Frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in God like that.” We don’t like people like that. Why would we want a God like that? If I were here, saying my main agenda is to get glory for me, you wouldn’t like me, And rightly so.

So why should we like him if his number one passion in the universe is to get glory for himself, which it is, so joy in God is the answer to why God is not a megalomaniac, and the way it works is this; in upholding and displaying his glory, he upholds and displays the one reality for which I am made and from which I will be most satisfied. If you have a Bible and you want to look at it with me, let’s go to John 11. If you don’t, just listen carefully.

A few years ago, maybe five or six, I can’t remember, this little story of Lazarus became the main textual place where what I just said is rooted, gave me a textual basis for saying the reason I must stress people’s joy in God, not primarily God’s gifts, but joy in God, is because that’s the only way that I can rescue God from megalomania. Let’s read this, and you’ll see, maybe, I hope, what I mean.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. (John 11:1–2)

Now, the reason that little verse is tossed in, I think, even though that event had not happened yet, that’s going to happen in John 12, this is interesting, is to show how much affection there was between Jesus and this family, because he just said, “This is the Mary who anointed him with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. You ever had anybody do that to you? Of course, you haven’t. But if it ever happened to you, you would say, ‘This is strange. This is amazing. A woman wiping my feet with her hair.’“ So this was a special relationship that Jesus had with this family.

John 11:3: “So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ Now, there it is named. You love. You love this family. You love Lazarus. “‘he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’” (John 11:3–4). So now we have Lazarus loved, and his sickness is said to be for God’s glory, that the Son, me, may be glorified through it.

So now we’ve got the two things I’m interested in, my being loved, and God’s being glorified. How do they work? John 11:5: “Now Jesus loved Martha.” So not only Lazarus but he loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus, so he’s underlining the love piece here. He loves us. He loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Then, the next word in my ESV translation, rightly so, is so. Maybe in yours, it’s therefore. If you don’t have a so or therefore, you’ve got to get a new version, because that Greek word oun is really there and really matters.

It has to be translated either therefore, so, or something like that, because the whole logic, the whole stunning cataclysmic logic of the verse hangs on it, right? He just said he loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus; therefore, when he heard that Lazarus is ill, he stayed two days longer where he was. “That’s strange. This man is sick. You can heal him, and you’re not going. Two days until he’s dead,” and he calls that love. You see that? I’m going to say it again. I don’t want you to miss it. I’m not making this up.

Now, “Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha, Mary; therefore, when he heard he was sick, he didn’t go. That’s what it says; therefore, he didn’t go. Therefore, wherefore, love.” Now, how does love relate to John 11:4: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it”? How is it that it’s love to let him die? Answer, because the glory of God’s going to shine through his resurrection, so love, even when it is hard, many of you are going through hard things, and you’re saying, “This doesn’t feel like love.” I mean, Martha and Mary would not have said, as they watched their brother gasp, his last breath, “We’re being loved here by the sovereign of the universe who could have stopped this. We are not feeling loved here,” and Jesus is just not computing that way.

He has a plan, and the plan is to display glory, which is more loving than keeping a person from dying. Now, therefore, I assume the way that works is to say, the reason it’s loving is because it’s better for you to see the glory of God than to skip death, to avoid death, which means the glory of God is your treasure. The glory of God is your beautiful, satisfying reward. So if that’s true, then my premise that God does everything to display his glory, uphold his glory, magnify his glory, is love, not megalomania. And the reason we experience it as love is because our joy is found in it. If our joy, if Lazarus or Martha and Mary saw the display of God’s glory and said, “I don’t like it. I don’t want it. I just wanted him not to die, so you’re not a faithful Messiah,” then they wouldn’t have felt loved.

But God says they’re loved because he assumes that, when they see glory, they will be satisfied by it. So the first reason for saying that joy is essential to God’s passion for his glory is that joy in glory, which enables the display of it to be called love, keeps it from being called megalomania, vanity, arrogance. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act. If you and I try to do, that won’t work, because here’s the reason it won’t work, because I’m not worthy of your joy. If I say, “My main goal in life is to be like God, namely to see to it that I get exalted everywhere,” that would be distracting people from what really would satisfy them, namely God.

So I can’t take God’s place and join him in self-exaltation. I have to let God be the self-exalter, and then I join him in exalting him because he’s the one being for whom self-exaltation preserves the very thing that satisfies my soul, namely his glory. I’m made to see it, savor it, magnify it, enjoy it, and therefore, it is a loving thing for God to uphold his glory, provided I find my joy in it. Now, that’s the first reason that I say joy in God is essential to God’s purpose of being glorified in all things.

God’s Glory Is Magnified through Human Satisfaction in Him

Here’s the second one. There are only two. There are only two. The second one is God’s purpose to be glorified simply would not be achieved if I didn’t delight in his glory because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

In other words, if you have a truth, a friend, a cause, and you dutifully submit to that truth, friend, cause, but take no delight in it, the glory of that truth friend cause is smaller in people’s eyes if you’re passionate about it, if the cause consumes you, if it’s your bread and butter and dessert, if you love the cause, the friend, the truth, then that truth, friend, cause shines off of your own delight in it with greater clarity.

Now, go to Philippians 1, just to see this briefly, and then we’ll draw out an implication and throw it open for questions. Philippians 1. This is the text, just like John 11:1–6 became the premier foundation for the first point. This text has become, for me, the premier foundation for the second point, namely that God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him.

If you try to believe him and obey him without being satisfied in him, you diminish his glory. Now, where is that in Philippians 1:20? “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body.” So there’s the goal. “That’s why you’re made, Paul. Yes, you should be doing this. I want, with my body, my mind, everything I am, to show that Christ is magnificent.” That’s what he’s saying is his desire and hope in Philippians 1:20, “Whether by life or by death,” so he’s saying, “If I’m alive, I want people to look at me and say, ‘Christ is great,’ and if I die, I want them to look at the way I die and say, ‘Christ is great.’“ That’s the point.

Now, the connection between Philippians 1:20–21 is the key for how satisfaction in Christ or God works. “For to me to live is Christ,” so there’s the live part. “I want my life to make him look magnificent, and it does so when to live is Christ and,” last part of verse 21, “to die is gain,” which corresponds to the word death in verse 20. “I want him to be shown to be magnificent by my life and by my death.” Now, just take the death pair. “I want my body to be the means by which he’s shown to be magnificent when I die, for to die, to me, is gain.” Now, how does that logic work? “Christ will be shown to be magnificent in my death if my death is experienced by me as gain.” The link is in Philippians 1:23. “I am hard-pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

So what he’s saying when he says, “Dying is gained,” it’s not, “Finally I won’t have to suffer anymore.” That’s true, but that’s not what he’s drawing attention to. He’s drawing attention to the fact that, when he dies, he will be with Christ. In other words, the intimacy and the closeness of the fellowship that he now enjoys by the spirit, through a glass darkly, will then be face-to-face, deep, powerful, wide, big, great, and all-satisfying to his soul. So now, I think, we can translate the flow of thought like this. “I want, according to God’s design for my life, for my body to be a means of magnifying Christ, even in my dying, for that will happen when, in my dying, I so value Christ that letting everything else go, wife, children, retirement, it will be gain.”

Christ will be so precious, such a treasure, so cherished, so desired, so satisfying, that if I lose everything that life offers here, I will call it gain. So the logic, to me, is quite compelling. Christ is magnified when I am satisfied in him, in death. You could all just translate this into hospital situations, where you have seen this come true. Saints, lying there, knowing their hours are numbered or days, and they, not always with ease, because sometimes the pain is great, say, “It will be all right. It will be all right. It will be gain. I love you, but I love him more. I could not love you so much if I did not love him more.” No relative, except maybe some unbeliever, is going to be offended by being told by you, “I’m on my way to the greatest satisfaction I could have ever imagined, and therefore to leave behind you and everyone else will be gain.

At that moment, who’s getting the glory? Christ is getting the glory. God’s getting the glory, even though you are getting the satisfaction, because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. So back up, summarize, my big premise in life is that God does everything for his glory. It sounds a little bit megalomania. He’s got a big head, and we don’t like people like that. That problem is solved by my delight in God, because when he preserves his glory for me, and I delight in it, it is shown to be love that he opposes his glory for me, and so it’s not megalomania. It’s the opposite of megalomania. It’s love towards me. God is giving me the one thing that will satisfy my soul forever, namely himself and his glory.

Then, the second answer for why this only works, this passion in God, for God only works if we have joy in God, is because that glory is magnified precisely in our being satisfied in him. Now, here’s the result of all that for pastors, for me, anyway, and I pray so for you. That means that the gospel, Christ, crucified and risen for sinners, is a means to our enjoying God, and nothing short of that, because that’s what will bring most glory to God and keep him from being seen as a megalomaniac in his self-exultation, the gospel that we preach, Christ crucified. “I resolved to know nothing among you, except Christ and him crucified.” That gospel is a means to this. Now, I wrote a whole book called God is the Gospel because there’s no burden by this.

Implications for Preaching

In your preaching, make sure that as you preach the gospel, and that must be the bread and butter of your preaching, is the gospel, Christ, crucified, for sinners, taking our place, taking our punishment, providing our righteousness, all of that, to an end, and the end is 1 Peter 3:18, which says, “Christ suffered once, the righteous for the unrighteous,” and here comes the key phrase, “That he may bring us to God,” and if you don’t get people there, the gospel ceases to be the gospel. I fear that we, pastors, sometimes terminate our gospel preaching on forgiveness of sins, justification, escape from hell, healing, help from the Holy Spirit, all these things, which are good, precious, beyond words, but they’re all a means to something else. Justification, as an end in itself, who cares? Forgiveness, as an end in itself, who cares?

I mean, that’s controversial to say that, but you all know, from experience, that’s the case. My favorite illustration is I get up in the morning, I trip over some laundry that my wife left on the floor, and ding my hand against the dresser, and I say, “I told you to pick that up last night.” She’s been hardly awake yet, so the first thing she’s hearing, coming out of her Christlike husband, is damnation. “I told you to pick that up,” and she’s obviously wounded, hurt, angry, and so there’s ice in the air in the house, and you go downstairs and you wonder, “Will this be resolved within a week?” And she’s got her back to you, as she’s doing something in the sink. It’s manifestly to you, and you’re kind of putzing around, getting your cereal, and you know what’s required of you.

You must ask for forgiveness. You’ve got to ask for forgiveness from this woman because laundry is no big deal, but talking to your wife like that is a big deal. Why do you want forgiveness? That’s the issue. To illustrate that forgiveness is not an end in itself here. She’s got her back to you, and you need to ask for forgiveness. We can say, “Well, I don’t like having a guilty conscience at work. That’s why I want forgiveness.” Well, that’s low. What you really want forgiveness for is this marriage was made, not to have her back to you, but her front to you, and not to hug you like a tree but fold you in. I mean, I mean this. I mean this. It’s not a, “Okay,” but rather, “We’re done with that. It’s over. We are back, together,” and that’s why Christ died. That’s why we have forgiveness.

That’s why we have justification. That’s why we’re out of hell. I just fear that there are many people in our churches who treat the gospel as a means to his gifts and not to him. I’m looking at the clock. I went over my time. My exhortation is, brothers, know him well as the satisfaction of your own souls. That’s our main job, and then show him well in preaching — him as the object of people’s joy, and him as the goal of the gospel.

Now, I’m going to stop here, because I know some of you have probably been looking, “I got to get out of here, and I need a comfortable place to do it,” so this is your opportunity. I’m going to take 15 minutes and entertain questions. If you have to go, I will not be the least offended. I understand you got things to do. So you can ask me about anything under the sun. If I don’t know what to say, I’ll just say, “I don’t know. Next question.” So who will begin?

Voices have been raised, questioning and affirming aseity, and I’d like to hear you discuss that and talk about the importance of that. That God’s passionless.

You want to define that for the folks, aseity? That God is passionless. I think the historic reason for that doctrine is he needs to be immutable. God is not the victim of his emotions. We are. They just come, and we don’t know. Where did that come from? And we feel down, or we feel up, or we feel angry, and so we feel like there are all kinds of influences around us, shaping our emotions, and that’s what people want to protect God from with that doctrine, I think, and that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. God should not be viewed as ones that, when you do a bad thing, God goes, “Oh. I, surely, wouldn’t have felt. I just didn’t see that coming, and wouldn’t have chosen to feel this way. I feel so angry or bad.”

In knowing all things, and I would ultimately say, ordaining all things, he’s never taken off guard by anything but all of, now, here I’m going to tip my hand on the other side, all of his emotions are planned. He knows they’re coming, and he ordains that they be. His will, his infinitely wise and sovereign will, gives rise to actions which receive appropriately, tailor-made, perfectly righteous responses, like joy and anger. So I’m not going to go with aseity if we don’t use biblical language, and the Bible says he gets mad, really mad, and it uses words like his snort is breathing out fire. I mean, the images are strong. They’re not sort of soft emotions. They’re big emotions.

Then, you’ve got Hosea on the other side where he says, “I can’t let you go. You deserve to be divorced. I won’t let you go. I’m just going to get you like bands around here. My love grows warm in the morning.” Hosea talks that kind of love language, and so we just got to be biblical here, and then handle the big picture of God’s immutability in a way that says, here’s my little analogy, it’s the best shot I got to handle God’s seeming movement emotionally with the steady, glorious, big, solid, immutable, trustworthy God that we need under our feet, day in and day out. And it’s the difference between riding a helicopter about 80 yards above the Pacific Ocean in a monsoon, 60–80 foot waves, wind blowing and beating, and your helicopter’s going, “Voom, voom, voom, voom.”

And you say, “This ocean is really in turmoil.” That’s one picture. Now, picture yourself in a satellite 200 miles up, riding over the Pacific Ocean. What does it look like? I’ve got this DVD set Mark Dever gave me about three weeks ago. He’s so blown away by it. This pastor in Washington, he said, “I’m going to send this to you and your family. Watch it. You’ll worship. It’s all about the ocean. It’s called the blue planet,” and the reason it’s called the blue planet, I didn’t know this, is that 70% of this planet is covered by mile-deep water. I knew it was covered by water. I didn’t know it was covered by mile-deep water. Seventy percent of this planet is under mile-deep water, so when you look at the planet from the sky, it’s blue. It’s water, and it looks unbelievably serene.

That’s my analogy of God. If you take God a piece at a time, get down close to his attitude towards Herod, he killed Herod with worms, right? He killed him. He hated this guy’s pride. He got really mad at him and killed him with worms. Now, that looks like a helicopter, just, “Whoa. That’s a response,” but if you’re flying over the book of Acts like this, it’s this God is totally serene, totally in charge, unflappable. That’s my best shot, kind of an on-the-ground, you’ve probably studied it more than I have, and I can’t do any better than that with God’s passionless. I don’t think we should use the phrase passionless, but we should protect him from being a victim of passions. You want to?

I was just going to comment on that as well. Whenever I thought of God’s aseity, the whole point for me is not so much God is passionless as he’s self-sufficient. And the real issue is that God doesn’t need us, and we need to get that through our heads that God operates without us. We don’t add anything to it.

Yes, that’s good. Right. That’s right. Even when he is responding, he saw the action coming and planned the response, so that responding is not responding to an independent source of volition over which he has no control. That’s helpful. Somebody want to go in a different direction or keep going there?

I just want to thank you for what I feel were the most helpful articles for me to share with the congregation of people. One, when you gave, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” when you had cancer, I think that was marvelous, God inspired. Those points were really good about that. And also what you wrote after your dad died. My dad went through a serious crisis here, but I’ve sent it to several people, and it’s helped them to get a perspective on the process of their father’s crisis.

Thank you. There’s a lesson there for the tape. The comment was that the article, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” out of my cancer experience, and the little one o’clock at two o’clock in the morning narrative that I wrote of being with my dad as he died, both of those are online, were helpful. Now, the lesson there is the lesson of 2 Corinthians 1, where our sufferings are designed by God to bless other people. Every pastor is called to suffer. Little sufferings, big sufferings. Every pastor will suffer, and he’s being called to suffer, not just to test his own faith, that’s one thing, but to bless his people, because they’re watching, and their faith is going to go up or down with his, kind of, and so you’re absolutely right. I mean, those two things, I have never, I think in 27 years of ministry, as that little cancer thing was written in February of ‘06.

I went to England, Wales, Ireland, and across the States; everywhere I went, people said what you just said, “Thank you for sharing the struggles out of your own cancer.” I mean, you don’t need much more testimony to say God has a purpose, right? God has a plan. Not easy while you’re in it, especially if it’s somebody else. Well, it’s easier to bury your own than to bury your loved ones, but he has his sovereign purposes, and the loss of my dad was a very sweet gift to me, that I was there, I mean. Just to write it down was, I had to overflow somewhere, and I had gotten home all by myself in a motel room, and my dad had died two hours before, and what do you do? You just go to bed and say, “Well, he’s gone”? No way. You just got to do something. You’ve got to make something significant out of this, and you tell the story. That’s the way I handled my sadness. We got seven minutes.

Dr. Piper, thank you for being here. Can you help me understand God’s passion for his glory and about how God’s most satisfied in us or God’s most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him, in conjunction with God’s election, and the fact that someone will be eternally damned to hell?

Thank you for asking that. The question is how does my statement, “God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him,” relate to the fact that there are people who will perish, and they will not be satisfied in him forever? They keep rebelling forever. That’s important to know. People don’t go to hell and then suddenly repent, feel bad, and then have to stay there. They stay rebellious all their eternity. So how does my statement work? My answer is, God intends to be glorified in more than one way. He intends for his wrath to be glorified, Romans 9:20, and he intends for his grace to be glorified. Grace is preeminent. The glorification of wrath is a means to that. As the church beholds wrath, they cherish this the more. It’s exactly the logic of Romans 9:20–22. And so I simply admit that God is not being glorified in them the way he would be if they were being satisfied in him.

And so my statement, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” has to be qualified. It is a kind of an overstatement absolute that doesn’t take these distinctions into account. They are glorifying God in being the objects of his wrath. Against their own will, the wrath of man will praise him. As they rail against God, they do not defeat God, and therefore even their opposition to God causes his triumph over them to shine more brightly, which causes us, who deserve to be right where they are, to stand more in awe of grace and be more satisfied in grace, so that his grace shines off of our satisfaction, his wrath shines off of their lack of satisfaction, and the totality of God, wrath and mercy, is made the more glorious by both of these. So it’s a well-taken check on the absoluteness of my statement. It’s not an absolute statement. For those who are his, he’s most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him. Thank you. Good clarification. What else?

When you were here in 2002, you talked about the United States as being like Disneyland, and you mentioned don’t waste your life. As you look out over your congregation, as pastors look out over their congregations in light of Matthew 7’s “many and few,” what kind of message do you give to people who are comfortable? He talks about not wasting their life, but where is the salvation question?

Okay. The question is, when I call America the Disneyland of the world and summon people to not waste their lives, but to embrace whatever sacrifices are necessary in following Jesus, where does summoning people out of their comfort into radical devotion become a salvation issue or something like that? How you preach the gospel in relationship to lifestyles is a huge challenge, because I believe in justification by faith alone. Alone, meaning I don’t have the righteousness I need. He does. I must receive him, so that in union with him, I’m acceptable to God as perfectly righteous.

And secondly, he died the death that I should die. He is my death, my substitute dire, and I must receive him as my punishment, so my righteousness and my punishment, outside of me, I now, by faith alone, without one piece of virtue at all, God counts me as dead and righteous and totally acceptable. Now, that’s the gospel at its heart, so how come people are being cast into hell because of behaviors? That is the way is narrow that leads to life and few to be defined, because they’re so fascinated with their toys, sex, drugs, success, and all these things. The answer is, that kind of faith, which receives Christ, receives him as a treasure, such that he becomes satisfying, and when he becomes satisfying drugs, illicit sex, lots of money, the American dream lose their compelling power.

In other words, the old Westminster confession says, “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone,” and the question is why? I wrote the book Future Grace to answer that question. Why is saving faith, which saves alone the kind of faith which always produces the narrow way? The answer, I believe, is because that faith receives him as precious, valuable. It doesn’t just say, “Okay. I want to go to heaven. I don’t want in hell,” and so here’s the ticket, put it in my back pocket. That’s not saving faith. Saving faith is, “I don’t want to go to hell. I want to go to heaven. I see a Christ who makes a way. He’s precious. I will receive him as righteousness, as death, as treasure,” and when Christ is your treasure, other treasures lose their idolatrous power in our lives, so that we start getting better physical things, getting better in relationships, and getting better.

Enough better to be described as on the narrow road that leads to life. We’re never perfect ever in this life. In fact, the key verse on that, and I’ll end with this, because I see it’s 25 after, this is a great place to end, just a precious, precious promise to encourage your heart, because you may feel like I’m closing on this note, and this is bad news, because I feel like I’m on the Broadway because I’m playing around with pornography or I’m starting to love the fact that the stock market broke 13,000 last week, and that’s starting to feel really good. And God, devotions, and pastoring is starting to feel really boring, and so I want to just say that Philippians 3:12, where Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained, nor am I already perfect, but I lay hold on the one who has laid hold on me,” and if that weren’t true, if he didn’t have me like this, I couldn’t take him. If my security were in his grip, not my grip, there’d be no security at all.

I mean, isn’t it comforting that the apostle Paul who said, what I do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do, I do, said, “I’m not perfect, but I have laid hold on the one who has laid hold on me.” So believe the gospel, and you’ll know, he’s got me, and your grasp may be very tenuous, but if it’s just touching him, then he’s got you.