“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things” — we’ve seen this — “according to the counsel of his will.” I don’t put any limits on all things there. He “works all things according to the counsel of his will [of decree].” Remember that distinction? Will of command and will of decree. God’s sovereign will accomplishes everything “so that we who were the first to hope in Christ” — that probably means Jews (Ephesians 1:11–12).
To the Jew First, and Also to the Gentiles
Paul being a Jew. He’s going to distinguish “we” from the “you” here.
“So that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also,” meaning Gentiles, I think. So “we, Jews,” I mean Jesus came in restricted. “I [came] only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Remember that? “I came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. I’m not leaving Palestine and going to Greece or Rome or Italy or Spain. I’m doing it right here. I came to my own and my own received me not. So I got crucified. And then I said, ‘Go to the nations.’”
So there’s a Jewishness that gets blazingly focused on for three years and then everything explodes to 2.9 billion Christians today. I mean nominal Christians, which is not a small thing.
In him you also [all you nations, all you Gentiles], when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13–14)
So those who first hoped are to be to the praise of his glory and those who are later being drawn in are to be to the praise of his glory. So down Ephesians 1:6, 1:12 and 1:14, the same ultimate goal for everybody: Jew and Gentile, is to live for the praise of his glory when all things are united in Christ.
Security for the Fragile
And notice something here. He has shifted gears from election, predestination, redemption by the blood. All of that has been mentioned so far. In other words, all these eternal and historical acts to save us, this, he gets really close to us, doesn’t he? Because he says, “You heard,” so this is all of that saving work coming to bear on an individual. “You heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [and in believing] were sealed” (Ephesians 1:13).
This is now a new work of God. He hasn’t mentioned this before and all those works, remember, election, predestination, redemption are intended to give massive security for fragile people that were going to make it to the inheritance.
Here’s another way he gives security and assurance. You believed and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our [own down payment].” It’s a guarantee of a final sum by getting an advanced token payment of it — “a guarantee of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14).
So there are two ways here to talk about our security. One sealing and one down payment. It’s two different images of how the Holy Spirit provides for us security that we will make it until we acquire possession of our inheritance.
Fragility and Assurance in Faith
So God is helping you feel assurance from day to day by coming at all your different kinds of doubts. You may doubt that you were chosen. You may doubt that you were predestined. You may doubt that you were redeemed, and you may doubt that you could make it to the end because you’re so fragile and why should you wake up and be a believer tomorrow morning?
I love to ask people that. Why do you think that you will wake up a believer tomorrow morning? The answer to that question shows where your theology is and what you believe. What would be a nice wrong answer to that question? “Well, because I’ve woken up as a believer for thirty years. Why should it be any different tomorrow?” Because of the devil, and because of your sin, how fragile you are, how easily you are prone to wander.
Lord, I feel it because if you say, “Well, because I have free will and I intend to wake up a believer tomorrow morning.” Well, that’s fragile. What if you change your mind? Have a bad dream? “Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Well, that’s not real encouraging. Wake up a believer tomorrow morning. There is an answer, and the reason you will wake up a believer tomorrow morning is because you were sealed, and he’s your guarantee, and he’s alive in you right now.
He’s not like on the other end of the universe with his fingers crossed, wondering if his people are going to make it to the end. He sent the Holy Spirit into your life, and that Holy Spirit is designed to glorify Jesus so that tomorrow morning you will wake up, and Jesus will be attractive, compelling, and winsome enough to hold onto you. It will be. You may feel this close to bailing on Christianity. You may feel this close. It isn’t going to happen. Because you’re his, and you have a guarantee and you’ve been sealed for him and you will get to your possession. That’s my only hope.
Fragility of Emotions in Aging
I mean John Piper’s emotions increasingly as I get older are fragile and fickle. This is news to me. I’m almost 70. This is news to me because my theology of sanctification for about twenty years was it’s progressive, and you draw it like this. Of course, there are down days, right? But it’s just up, up, up, and every year you’re a little more solid. I don’t believe that anymore. Jesus is solid. He’s the common denominator, whether you’re 20 or 80. You’re not more solid at 80 than you were at 20.
Now, that may be an overstatement. Maybe some of you are. I’m not. I feel more vulnerable than I ever have, which means my spiritual warfare and my antenna have got to be up continually. Why I’m memorizing more scripture than I ever have in my life, whole books because I realize I’m wasting away. I’m wasting away. My brain is wasting away. My body is wasting away. I don’t know what this will do to my heart.
I have one hope: he will hold me. That’s my hope. That’s my only hope because emotionally I don’t know what’s going to happen to me in five or ten years. I don’t want to become a crabby old man who when he loses his mind becomes his worst self. I’ve seen guys go that way. I’ve seen guys curse out their wives that they’ve been faithful to for 45 years and use vile language and I’ve had MDs doctors tell me, “Don’t hold that on them. Don’t hold that on them. This is a thing that’s gone haywire in their brain and that 45-year trajectory is a good trajectory and this thing is a disease. This is not them.”
That’s tough. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. So if you were to say, “Bank your hope on the fact that you’ve always woken up a Christian,” not very hopeful, but this is hopeful: sealed with the promised Holy Spirit and a guarantee of our inheritance until we get possession of it. Okay.
Now, a new question before we move on to the next unit. Here it is. I have argued and shown a whole bunch of times now that these three verses say that God has done everything he does with a view to bringing about the praise of his glory — to bringing about the praise of his glory — or Ephesians 1:6. To bring about “the praise of the glory of his grace.”
Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Michael Prowse, and Erik Reece, all left evangelical Christianity because of that truth: God’s “arrogant” self-exaltation. I stuck in the word arrogant because that would be their stumbling block and you guys haven’t walked out yet. I presume you’re not quite stumbling in the same way when you hear, “I, God, do everything so people will praise me. I do everything from election to predestination, to redemption, to sealing, so that I get the praise forever.”
God’s Self-Exaltation as a Stumbling Block
Here are the quotes. Oprah walked away from orthodox Christianity when she was 27 years old because of the biblical teaching that God is jealous. That is, he demands that he, and no one else, get our highest allegiance and affection. “It didn’t sound loving,” she said. “I am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). What does that mean? “I want your heart. Nobody can share your heart. I get it all.”
When she heard somebody expounding the jealousy of God, she was done. She’s got a kind of religion, but it isn’t evangelical Christianity. She walked away because of God’s God-centeredness. She walked away because of God’s self-exultation — his jealousy to have your praise for himself alone. God alone will be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:11).
Brad Pitt turned away from his boyhood faith with Southern Baptist. He says, “Because God says, ‘You have to say that I’m the best.’ It seemed to be about ego.” That’s a quote from him. God said, “You have to say I’m the best.” That is exactly what God says. He walked away because he said it seemed to be about ego.
Erik Reece is a professor and writer of American, a book called An American Gospel. He’s a professor in Kentucky (or was). He rejected the Jesus of the Gospels because, “Only an egomaniac,” that’s his word, “would demand that we love him more than we love our parents.” I mean, Jesus looks right at you. I quoted this to somebody recently and I said, “Unless you love Jesus more than you love your mother or father, you cannot be his disciple.” And Jesus said that. It sounds fine when I say it, but what Jesus said was, “If you don’t love me more than you love your parents and your children, you cannot be my disciple.” And when Erik Reece read that, he said, “I’m done because Jesus is an egomaniac. I love me, me more.”
And Michael Prowse is a columnist for the London Financial Times (or was). And he turned away because only “tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation.”
You know who else I could have added? C.S. Lewis. Because Lewis, when he was 29 years old, said a year before he became a Christian, he said, “When I read the Psalms and I see God saying, ‘Praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me.’” He said, “It sounded to me like an old woman craving compliments.” He wanted nothing to do with the God of the Psalms. Then he wrote a whole book on the Psalms, Reflections on the Psalms. Read it. It’s page 93 in the Harper Collins edition, one of the most fateful pages in my experience, to read him, explain why he, unlike these other four, was able to break through and believe.
So what is your answer? I wrote to Erik, I wrote to Michael, I have not written to Oprah or Brad Pitt, but I just felt constrained to write these men long letters to answer their question. I didn’t hear back from anybody.
What’s your answer? If they were here and they were saying, “I don’t want anything to do with this Ephesians 1 God who does everything to the praise of his glory. Thank you very much. I don’t admire people like that.” That’s a pretty clever argument. “I don’t admire people like that.” If John Piper showed up here, he said, “Here’s my main aim here, is that you would all praise me.” You’d walk out and you should.
Consummation of Kindness
So why is it okay for God to do that and not okay for me? He’s God! Let me see. Let me see that. Here’s a good help. So we’re in Ephesians 2:6–7:
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The reason you have been saved, have been raised with him from the dead, have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places where all those blessings are, in Ephesians 1:3, is so that God might enjoy showing you immeasurable riches. He’s going to show off how wealthy he is and it just so happens that that will be grace and kindness to you.
That is what Oprah, Brad Pitt, Erik, Michael, could not see or feel the wonder of. What we will be praising God for is kindness. And here’s what Lewis said, “What I never realized,” he said, “was that praise is not an extraneous add-on to the enjoyment of the kindness, but the kindness in consummation.” This is a quote from Lewis: “Lovers do not go on telling each other how beautiful they are out of a sense of duty. The pleasure that they are having in each other is not complete until it is expressed.” That’s C.S. Lewis. That’s why I circled that page 93. That’s it. That’s it.
God means to treat us with kindness, forever and ever, to treat us with grace forever and ever. And yes, he means to be praised for it because unless we praise him for it, our joy is not complete and he means for our joy to be complete, which means God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exultation is the most loving act there is. If I do it’s wicked and not loving. Why?
Made for Infinite Joy
Why if I come in here and say, “I mean to lavish all of you guys with kindness so that in the end you’ll totally praise me and I’ll go home with everybody standing and applauding and praising John Piper. That’s my goal.” The reason that is not right is because I am distracting you from what will make you happy. Praising John Piper is not a consummate experience. It will leave you empty. You weren’t made to do it. You were made to see Grand Canyons and Alps. I mean those are tiny. It’s called God. It’s called the glory of God. You were made to find infinite happiness in the admiration of God.
Ayn Rand — atheist, Atlas Shrugged, Fountainhead, Virtue of Selfishness — she said a true sentence. She said, “Admiration is the rarest of pleasures.” Now in her mouth, that was purely cynical because the world is full of jerks. In my mouth, it’s not cynical. It’s aching with longing.
“Admiration is the rarest of pleasures.” Now, I do, I admire many things. I admire this church. I admire the pastors. I admire technology. There are reasons to be amazed everywhere, but I wasn’t made for these. All those little admirations are pointing. You were made for these. You were made to go outside yourself and just totally admire and praise greatness.
And there’s one greatness that will satisfy. And guess what? It isn’t John Piper, and it isn’t the church. It isn’t even salvation. It’s God. It’s the glory of God, which is what I would say to Michael Prowse and Oprah. I would say, “The reason you’re stumbling is that you don’t see that in requiring that you praise him above all things, he’s requiring that you be supremely happy because there is no other way for a human being made for the glory of God to be happy than to see it, love it, admire it, praise it, stand in awe of it, and then reflect it forever.”
That’s why there’s no contradiction between all this self-exultation of God and the precious love of God. It is the apex of his love that he would give himself to us for our enjoyment and then require that that enjoyment be consummated in an act of admiration and praise.