When we were praying in Ray’s office a few minutes ago, Ray prayed that God would use these evenings together in this conference this week to raise up the next C.S. Lewis, the next Jim Elliott, the next Amy Carmichael, the next Billy Graham. That’s a dangerous kind of prayer, among other reasons, for this reason: one of them was a martyr — Jim Elliott.
I generally say now everywhere I go, because it is simply true, that I’m on a recruitment mission for martyrs. That’s why I’m here in Augusta: I am on a recruitment mission for martyrs, and I don’t know how many might be in the room. Some are here. I want you to cross the line from unwillingness to willingness. You don’t decide whether you’ll be one of those; God decides that. The reason I know he has decided that some must be for the mission to be finished is because Revelation 6:9–11 says so. When the saints under the alter cried out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” he said “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
There’s a number that must be complete. Some are in the number, and I’m here to draw you in to that high calling of absolute allegiance to Jesus Christ above all things, for his glory and for your everlasting joy. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). So don’t shirk back from the Calvary Road. It is a painful road, but it is not a joyless road.
The Ultimate Goal of the Church
One of the things I have learned as I have thought for twenty years as a pastor how to mobilize my people for world evangelization is that if you’re going to engage people in a heart for world missions, you must talk about something else besides world missions. This is a great mistake that many missionary speakers make. If you want to engage people’s hearts, minds, whole lives to lay down for a cause, you must talk about what’s under the cause, what’s over the cause, what’s beyond the cause — not just the task.
The task gets its meaning from big things, really, really big things that are not the cause. The first line in my book Let the Nations be Glad is: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” Missions isn’t the main thing. One day it will be over, and all that will exist is everlasting, infinitely satisfying, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting worship forever and ever. Missions will never happen again. It’s a short-term, stop-gap, necessary task toward the real thing, which is worship. If we spend all of our time talking about the task, we won’t have the power that drives the task. Worship is the fuel and the goal of missions.
Tonight I want to talk about that: the God-centeredness of it all. Tomorrow night, we’ll talk about prayer and the pursuit of peoples when God is sovereign and life is war. And then the next night, we’ll talk about suffering, the price that it will cost us to finish the Great Commission to the glory of our great king, Jesus Christ.
Test Your God-Centeredness
I’m going to start with a quiz to test your God-centeredness, because my whole aim tonight, in a sense, is to turn your world upside down just in case it’s wrong-headed. If you don’t have a God-centered view of God, you’ll never get the real heart and essence of what God is about in global evangelization. Let me give you a little quiz, and you test yourself here now. I’ll ask the question, and I’ll give the answer that I think is right, and then I will turn to some reflections from the Scriptures to see if I can warrant what I say.
Who is the most God-centered person in the universe? Answer: God is the most God-centered person in the universe.
Who is uppermost in God’s affections? Answer: God is uppermost in God’s affections.
Is God an idolater? Answer: No, he has no other gods before him.
What is God’s chief jealously? Answer: God’s chief jealously is to be known and admired, trusted and enjoyed and obeyed above all other beings in your heart and the hearts of all the peoples of the world.
What is the ultimate energy from which all creation springs and to which all creation aims? What’s the ultimate energy in the universe? Where does everything come from?
Scientists have no answer for this. Here’s what I think the Bible would answer: the ultimate energy of the universe, or the energy of ultimate reality, is the infinite energy of worship in the triune Godhead, as the Father and the Son take delight in each other’s infinite perfections through the person of the Holy Spirit. God the Father exulting in the Son, and God the Son exulting in the father from all eternity. Everlastingly begotten, the Son never comes into being. He has always been the Father’s perfect image of himself. And connecting the Father and the Son as a person, mediating the infinite energy of delight and worship is the person of the Holy Spirit standing fourth in a third person of the triune God, mediating this infinite energy of joy and delight and worship in each other, from which explodes all reality in order to externalize the joy that God has in God. And you are now destined, if you would, to be caught up into sharing in the very joy that God has in God.
What else did Jesus mean when he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). “My joy — I’m the Son of God. What makes me happy? I’ve been happy for ten billion, billion, billion ages of ages of years.” Do you want that? “My Father makes me happy. Beholding the perfections of my Father, in perfection, makes me happy.”
God Simply, Absolutely Is
There was a student in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota in a class on Islamics trying to make a case for the Trinity, and you know Islam has no place for a Trinity. They regard the Trinity as polytheism and think it’s nonsense. And he wasn’t getting very far in this class with the Muslim professor who was making fun of him, even as he quoted Scripture like Hebrews 1:3, that the Son is the express image and essence of the Father. And the student came to me to ask my advice the following Sunday and said he had tried to express to the professor that the Trinity was the most inconceivable reality that there is. And I stopped him, and I said, “You know, I don’t think you should say that. I think that the most remarkable mystery, the most inconceivable mystery, the most stunning mystery, the mystery that stops the mouth above all mysteries is not that God is one in three or three in one, but that God is.”
“Who shall I tell them sent me?” Moses said to God. “Who shall I tell them sent me?” And God said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13–14). What does that mean — “Tell them I Am Who I Am”? What that means at least is that God is absolute reality. He’s not dependent on or contingent on anybody or anything. He simply is; he always was. He never came into being. He never had a beginning. He will never have an ending. There never was a process of becoming. There never was a process of growth. He absolutely was, is — no beginning. Therefore, he is utterly independent of all outside reality for being what he is. His being is what defines all other being. Other being does not call his being into question, or put his being in the dock, or question his being as to how it can be one way and not another way.
When you let it sink in that once for all eternity, never before which was there anything but God — God was what he is, and he never became anything other than what he’s always been — then that he is one way, like three in one and not another way, is just as likely as that he should be ten in one or one in one or two in one or none in one. Who are you to tell God what he should be like? God simply, absolutely is.
And all we can do is shut our mouths and say, “If you are, tell me what you are. And I will listen. Because I have absolutely no right, nor do I have any brain that rises above an ant in this universe to claim any knowledge of how you can be one thing and not another thing. You absolutely are. You are who you are.” That’s the ultimate reality. If you can handle the mystery that God simply is and always has been and never came into being, if that will fit in your little brain, then how he is, what he’s like, will fit too.
The least mysterious thing in the universe is that I have no right to tell God what he’s like. That is not mysterious. That is as obvious as the nose on my face that I cannot dictate to God what God is like. So I sent him back to try to simply say those kinds of things to the students in the class, even if the professor might not listen, and draw out this implication that because God is three in one as the Bible reveals himself — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — therefore, he is infinitely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity for all eternity, and therefore, the energy that has yielded the universe is an energy that comes forth from a Vesuvius of a God, exploding with self-glorification: a Father glorifying the Son, and the Son glorifying the Father, in the energy of the joy of the Holy Spirit that flows between the two of them.
God’s Chief End
Which has prompted me to say the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever. Someone may ask, “Well, why do you push that? Why don’t you just start where the Westminster Catechism starts? ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ Why do you say that the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever? What’s that got to do with missions. Why don’t you just stay with what the simple catechism says?”
And here’s the reason: the Westminster divines didn’t live in the twentieth century, and didn’t deal with what I deal with. The twentieth century will go down, among other things, as the bloodiest century in history, the cruelest, most violent century that puts to naught all evolutionary thought that men are getting better. It will also go down as the century of the self — at least in the West it will.
The reason I go behind man’s duty to God, to God’s delight that underlies man’s duty to God and God’s duty to God, is that I am groping in the twenty-first century, as I’ve been groping for the last third of the twentieth century, for ways to waken self-saturated Americans out of their self- or man-centeredness into a radically different worldview: a radically different orientation on the Bible, a radically different orientation on family, a radically different orientation on church, and mission, and sex, and money, and success, and business, and entertainment that puts God square at the center, the top, the bottom, the front, the back. He is all in all. From him, through him, to him are all things. To him be glory. And you vanish into that with infinite joy, which is not an easy task in this world.
And I have found that talking about God’s ends before I talk about my ends is very life changing. What’s God’s end in world missions? What’s God’s ends in creation? God is very zealous for his name, very zealous. We need to take a bath in the Bible. We tend to read the Bible through such self-absorbed, self-exalting, self-esteeming glasses, which we have been taught in the twentieth century, that we can scarcely see how radically, earth-shakingly, mindbogglingly God-centered the Bible is.
God’s Goals in Six Steps of Redemption
One last quiz question, and this is the real clincher, and I’ll come back to it when I close in just a little bit: Do you feel more loved when God makes much of you, or when God liberates you from everything that keeps you from enjoying making much of him? There’s the test to see whether you’re a twentieth-century American or a biblical, God-centered Christian. I’ll ask it again: Do you feel more loved when God makes much of you, or when he, at the cost of his Son’s life, frees you from everything that keeps you from infinite joy in making much of him forever?
There’s a world of difference there. There is a world of difference. I’m on a recruitment mission for God-centered martyrs. I don’t think people will lay down their lives for Jesus in the cause of self-esteem. So here’s the way I want to proceed in the next few minutes. I want to simply ask biblically and take it to about six texts, Why did God perform all the essential parts of our salvation? Here are the parts I have in mind: predestination, creation, incarnation, salvation, sanctification, and consummation. Those six parts. Why has God done those things? What is God’s goal in each of those six steps of redemption?
Let’s take them one at a time and let the Bible answer. My goal is to show you that these six — and I could show you this with dozens and dozens and dozens of other texts, that the same motive as the ones I’m going to point out here, is driving God in all that he does. All that he does, from the smallest to the greatest thing, God is always moved by one ultimate aim — namely, the display and the upholding and the exultation of his own glory.
Let’s take Ephesians 1:4–6:
he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace
So our being chosen, our being destined in and through Jesus Christ unto salvation and holiness, is toward, or unto, the praise of the glory of his grace. Grace is penultimate; the glory of his grace is ultimate. Grace is displayed that glory might redound unto the praise of the glory of his grace. We get the grace, he gets the glory. The goal of redemption is to bring those two things together so that he is everlastingly glorified as we are graced by having everything stripped from us that would keep us from being satisfied in him. This is what Ephesians 1:6, Ephesians 1:12, and Ephesians 1:14 all say. I remember the first time I saw this in studying the book of Ephesians years ago, that redundant statement in that first long sentence of Ephesians 1: “unto the praise of his glory.”
Why did God create the universe, and particularly you and me, as rational moral creatures?
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. (Isaiah 43:6–7)
It’s so clear, so clear. You have been created for the glory of God — that is, to display the glory of God, to reflect the glory of God, to refract the glory of God. Every person in this room is like a unique prism. There’s not one alike in this room. There’s not one alike on the face of the globe, nor has there ever been two alike.
The reason for that incredible diversity among peoples, and among individuals, is so that the magnificent, many-colored glory of God, generation after generation, and people group after people group, in family and clan after family and clan, there would be individuals and peoples refracting more and more and more of the glory of God. That’s why you exist. Turn your prism into the light. Ask God to scrape the crud off the prism of your life that’s keeping the light from shining in and through. You were designed to bring beautiful colors onto the faces of other people so that they look in and through you and up to God and say, “Your God is very great.”
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Not you. Not you. There are so many people who have the false notion that Christianity is a place where you get a fire-insurance policy to keep you from hell, and then you do the rest of your life just the same as you’ve always done it — just comfortable now and more secure for eternity, as well as secure in nice a little safe place on earth. That’s not why you’ve been saved.
Titus 2:14 says that he died to “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And those good deeds are radical, lay-down-your-life kind of good deeds for widows, and orphans, and the unreached, and AIDS victims in Africa, and people who are hungry, and people who are without any education, and people who are without any medicine, and people who are without any clean water, and people who are mainly without any hope for eternity. That’s why you’re a Christian: so that your prism, as it turns in the sacrificial labors of love in the light of the glory of God, will shine into the world. And people will look upon your life and give glory to your Father in heaven. What a life! What a meaning! What a significance beyond anything you do with money, or sex, or success, business, ministry even in and of itself.
Why the incarnation? Why the incarnation? Why did Jesus become a man? Romans 15:8–9:
Christ became a servant to the circumcised [a Jew born under the law] to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and [here’s the ultimate purpose in the grammar and in reality] in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
Jesus Christ came into the world in order that the nations, the peoples, might honor God, glorify God, praise God, delight in God, herald God, cherish God, treasure God, for his mercy. We get the mercy, he gets the glory. The mercy is penultimate; the glory to God is ultimate. That’s what it’s all about. Until we get that oriented right, we will always be man-centered. And we will convince ourselves we are God-centered, precisely because we are God-centered to the degree that God is man-centered. Which is why I’m on a crusade to undo God’s man-centeredness in the minds of American Christians. God is not man-centered. God is God-centered.
Here I have the death of Christ in mind. Having come, why did he die? Why did Jesus die? There are many answers to that question. Let me give you the one in Romans 3:25–26:
God put forward as a propitiation [an appeasement of his own wrath] by his blood [it cost him his life], to be received by faith [that’s the way you can have him tonight and all that I’m talking about revolutionizing your life]. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
That text is unintelligible in an American self-exalting, self-esteeming mindset because what it says is: the problem the cross was designed to solve was the problem of forgiveness. And you ask, Well how’s forgiveness a problem? It’s the biggest problem in the universe. Sin is not the biggest problem in the universe. There’s an easy answer for sin: hell. But what’s the answer if a holy God passes over sin and welcomes the ungodly into his fellowship? What’s the solution to that problem? Of course, it’s not a problem in America. For Paul, it was the biggest problem.
The clearest illustration of it in the Old Testament I can think about that may be referred to here is David commits adultery with Bathsheba and gets her pregnant. He thinks, “Oh my. I’ve got to make them think this is her husband’s baby. So get Uriah home. Get him down there and have them have sex together. Now they’ll think it’s his baby. I’m off the hook.” But Uriah is a great man. He won’t do it. So he has him killed, and he takes her and marries her, and the baby dies.
Nathan shows up, the prophet. He tells a parable of a man who had lots of sheep, and says he went next door and took the only sheep that another man had and killed it so that he could have something to eat that night. And David gets so mad: “Show me that man and I’ll put him to justice.” Nathan says, “You are the man.” David is broken at that moment, and the next words out of Nathan’s mouth are: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13).
Well, how would you like to be Uriah’s dad at this moment? Or Bathsheba’s mom? “No, absolutely not. You can’t just do that.” If there were a judge sitting on the bench, before whom there was a rapist and a murderer, and the judge simply said, “You’re sorry? Good. That’s all we need. You can go,” every relative of the deceased and the abused would scream injustice. And the whole universe screams injustice when God forgives sin — except for one thing: the cross. Jesus Christ came into the world to die in order to vindicate the justice of God in passing over your sin. The justice of God is at stake in the cross. The cross is ultimately a God-centered act. Yes, we get the forgiveness, because he gets the glory of the mercy and the glory of the justice that he might be both just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.
Why is God working in you Christians out there? Why is he working in you right now to make you holy, to wean you off the breast of sin? To make you love him more? To make you more radical? In Philippians 1:11, Paul prays that we would be
filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
He wants you to be filled with the fruits of righteousness and justice and peace and faithfulness and goodness in your families, and in your businesses, and in your culture, and in all your dealings, and that you lay down your life for others. Why? To the glory and praise of God, through Jesus Christ. That’s why you’re being sanctified.
Finally, why is God coming again in Jesus Christ to bring this world to consummation? Second Thessalonians 1:9:
Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.
He’s coming to be honored. He’s coming to be glorified.
Our Good, God’s Glory
Now, here’s my closing question. I hope you have heard enough to answer it. Maybe you haven’t, so I’ll try to make the answer clear as I close: How can such a self-exalting motive that drives the universe be a loving thing towards us? If he’s coming to be exalted, that’s just so self-seeking, right? What if I told you I’m coming to Augusta to be marveled at? If I said, “My goal is to be marveled at. My goal is to be glorified.” What would you think of me? “What a prig.” So how come God can do it if it’s not a good example for me to follow? That’s tricky. It’s a real easy answer though: God is God; I’m not.
If I come to Augusta to attract attention to me, I am cruel to you; I deflect you from the one thing that can satisfy your soul and be the deepest meaning of your life. But if I join God in God’s self-glorification, I will love you because I will direct your attention to the one being in the universe who can bring you everlasting and infinite satisfaction. So, I may imitate God in God’s pursuit of his own glory if I simply join him in pursuing his glory. In fact, my closing definition of missions is: world missions is joining God in his global enterprise of self-glorification, joining God in his global, unstoppable triumphant enterprise of bringing all peoples into the sway of his own self-glorification, so that we get caught up into doing what God himself has always been doing — namely, enjoying God.
There’s a sentence that unlocks how this can be loving in God. The sentence goes like this: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Ray said at the beginning that you don’t have to choose between the glory of God and your joy. That’s the heartbeat of my life. God has the passion to be glorified in the world. I’m born with a God-given compassion to be satisfied in something. Now I know what — namely, him. And those two come together because we always magnify most what we take most satisfaction in.
People sometimes say, “John Piper, aren’t you making a god out of pleasure when you tell people to pursue their satisfaction?” I say, “No, you’ve already made a god out of what you take most pleasure in.” That’s the meaning of your god. You make a god out of what you find most pleasure in, and I’m on a crusade to help you find most pleasure in what God finds most pleasure in, because God is not an idolater, and God is not unrighteous. He has no other treasures. He has no other gods before him. He is God, and he will be God to himself, and he will call you into the everlasting enjoyment of that, and he will call you into a laying-down-your-life kind of love for the peoples of the world called world evangelization, world missions, that will make you a rugged, powerful, unstoppable force for missions in this world.
I pray earnestly that you’ll get it, that you’ll get it. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Let us be about the business now of going back to our families, going back to our churches and then going to the nations, and gathering people in, through Jesus Christ crucified and risen, to take infinite satisfaction in the living God because therein do we get the satisfaction, and he gets the glory.