The Search for Joy and the Supremacy of God in the Gospel

Watch the first John Piper message – In the throne Room given at the Gospel Coalition for Women 2012 Conference here:

The Search for Joy and the Supremacy of God in the Gospel

photo from http://christianpost.com

The Gospel is the great work of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, by which He removes every obstacle to your everlasting, all satisfying  joy in His glory and in which He displays most beautifully that glory, for your enjoyment. He removes and destroys everything that makes your happiness fail and He displays everything that makes your happiness full. So, I plead with you: Give your self to this. Make this your life long quest.

The Search for Joy and the Supremacy of God in the Gospel from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

  1. The ‘by which’ He removes every obstacle to your everlasting and all satisfying joy in His glory.
  2. And the second one will be: And, ‘in which’ He becomes the display and the object of that very glory and your joy in Him.

So, the Gospel is the work of God by which through Jesus Christ He removes every single obstacle to your everlasting and all satisfying pleasure. I’ve written down 7 of those obstacles so that you get a feel for how magnificent this removal is, and I hope as I walk through these, you will find your self leaping inside. That you are no longer locked up to joylessness because of these 7 things. They are obliterated by the blood of Jesus:

  1. The wrath of God– is the greatest obstacle to your joy in the universe, and it has been removed in the blood of Jesus. Romans 5:9: ‘Since we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.’ Galatians 3:13: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.’ That’s God’s curse; the law doesn’t do anything. It’s just there doing what God appoints for it to do and it curses us, and it curses us because nobody has fulfilled it. And so, Jesus steps in between, at God’s appointment and He absorbs the entire curse that God has put on us because of the law and His wrath is over. We call that propitiation. Romans 3:25: ‘God put Christ forward (God did this, don’t ever think of Jesus and God at odds here) as a propitiation by His blood.’ That means He propitiated His wrath. He satisfied His justice. So, once the greatest obstacle in our lives, namely, „we can’t be happy in God’s glory- He’s angry at us” is over. And all the omnipotence that once flowed into the punishment that we deserved, now flows only, only in mercy towards His children in Jesus Christ. That obstacle is over because of the Gospel.
  2. We were alienated and far away from Him. Ephesians 2:13: ‘In Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ Romans 5:10: ‘(We call this reconciliation) While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.’ So, not only is wrath removed, our distance, way, way, far away in our alienation, He’s brought us near. Wrath removed – distance overcome.
  3. In the Gospel He removes the obstacle of real guilt, real sin in our lives. Ephesians 1:7: ‘In Him we have redemption, through His blood the forgiveness of our sins. 1 Peter 2:24: ‘Christ bore our sins in His body.’ Isaiah 53:6: ‘God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ The guilt and the burden of sin cannot be an obstacle to our joy. It’s on Jesus. If we let it become an obstacle we dishonor the blood, we say it’s inadequate. It’s not inadequate, it is totally adequate and the sin is not a problem anymore, for our everlasting joy in Him. That obstacle has been removed.
  4. The absence of righteousness in my life. Not only do I have real guilt apart from Jesus and real sin, I don’t have any righteousness to commend me to a holy God. None is righteous, no not one. Romans 3:10. And so, what did God do?  2 Corinthians 5:21: ‘For our sake, God made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.’ In Him, you are righteous, perfect. Romans 5:19: ‘As by one man’s disobedience (that’s Adam) the many were made sinners.’ We were counted as sinners because we were in Adam. ‘So, by one man’s obedience, the many will be constituted righteous.’ As we were counted sinners in Adam, we are counted righteous in Christ. This is called justification. ‘Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God’. The obstacle of the absence of righteousness, the absence of inadequacy, the absence of perfection in my life is not an obstacle to my everlasting pleasures at His right hand forevermore.
  5. I am going to die and so are you. Hebrews 9:27: ‘It is appointed to man once to die and after that judgment.’ So, it’s gonna be over. Will it be over? It won’t be over! Not for those who are in Christ. My joy – so small, in the beginning stages now, won’t be over. What does the Gospel do to that? Romans 8:11: ‘If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through the spirit that dwells in you.’ You will not die. ‘I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live and he who lives and believes in me will never die.’ Your joy in Jesus, small as it is now never stops.
  6. Spiritual deadness in my soul is no longer an obstacle to my everlasting, all satisfying happiness in Jesus. My spiritual deadness, your spiritual deadness, deadness to glory, deadness to beauty, deadness to Christ, deadness to everything holy and good and right and satisfying from heaven began a long time before we died. We were born dead. So, how can a lifeless, dead, insensitive, hard heart that only loves what kills, have everlasting joy. Because Christ died in order for this to happen. Ephesians 2:4: ‘God, being rich in mercy, out of the great love (oh, I love that phrase, it is the only place it occurs in the Bible) with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive, in Christ Jesus.’ ‘By grace you have been saved’, which links it with the Gospel. You’re not dead anymore, which means you have tastebuds on your soul’s tongue and  they were made to lick the lollipop of the Gospel. (laughter  as John Piper says: A lousy illustration, just came to my mind just then. Stay to your manuscript) You get the idea. Before they were dead and you licked sin and it was so good. Right? You licked sin and it totally had your tongue. And then, something happened called ‘the new birth’, new creation and the taste buds changed. They came alive to glory. And so, your deadness is not an obstacle anymore.
  7. Satan hates your joy. The great accuser, what happened at the Gospel to Satan? What happened at the cross to Satan? Two passages- Colossians 2:15: ‘Christ disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame triumphing over them in Him.’ Or in it, the cross- two possible translations. When Christ died, he stripped Satan of his armor., meaning- the only lethal weapon Satan has in his hand against you is the weapon of the accusation of unforgiven sin. If he can get you there, you’re damned. If Satan can go before the bar of God and say, „Her sins aren’t forgiven, she’s mine”, you ARE his. But, if at the cross, every sin was covered, his mouth is shut. He has no weapon anymore. Oh he can…, I like to say to the kids in our church, „He can gum you, but his fangs are gone!”. And they remember that. And the other text is Hebrews 2:14: ‘Through death He destroyed him who has the power of death, that is the devil.

There are no obstacles anymore that can stop your everlasting joy in Jesus. Now here’s the question: If you have experienced

  • propitiation- wrath gone.
  • Reconciliation- you’re near.
  • Redemption- sin’s forgiven.
  • Justification- a righteousness in Christ, that’s His, counted for you.
  • Promise of resurrection after death.
  • New birth so that your taste buds are alive.
  • The defeat of Satan.

If you have experienced that, have you experienced the Gospel? Have you experienced the greatest good, that makes the Gospel good and makes all of those things good, which they are not in themselves. And the answer is- yes, you have, if you realize none of those things, those 7 triumphs over the obstacles to your joy, none of those 7 is good news, except as removing obstacles to something else.

  • Removing God’s wrath is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.
  • Drawing near to God is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.
  • The forgiveness of your sins is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.
  • Being counted righteous in Christ is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.
  • Rising from the dead is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.
  • Having new spiritual tastebuds is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.
  • The defeat of Satan is not the goal of the Gospel, it’s a means.

TO WHAT???

What makes the Gospel the Gospel? What makes the good news, ultimately, finally, supremely, all satisfyingly good? We haven’t even got there yet. We haven’t said it. If I have offended Noelle, my wife, and I need forgiveness, and I ask for it, why should I want it? Forgiveness is one of those 7 means by which the Lord overcomes the obstacles to our joy. So, this is one illustration, you could do it with all 7. So, here now we have a human paradigm or parable of that. So, I’ve offended her. I’ve said something ugly. I need forgiveness. Why? Why should I want it? Why should you want to be forgiven by God. The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world whether you are believing the Gospel. The answer is not: I don’t want to have a guilty conscience when I go to church. It’s embarrassing. It’s inconsistent. It’s contradictory. I don’t want to have a guilty conscience at work, it makes me uncomfortable. Bad answer.

Or, „Maybe if we get this thing cleared up, there’ll be a dinner when I get back”. Bad answer. That’s why a lot of people want the forgiveness of God. Hell is hot, heaven’s cool, that’s better. Better dinner. I’ll use any butler that can get me there. „I need to be a good example for the church, to be a good husband, telling the story how I confessed and got it right.” „Woo, pastor’s a good husband”. Wrong answer. There’s only one right answer, „I want my wife back! I want her back! There’s stuff in the way, I want her.” That’s the reason I want forgiveness. And, if I want it for any other reason, she is dishonored and so is God.

This is why it is so crucial to realize that after all those 7 removal of obstacles, realize we haven’t said the ultimate goal of the Gospel yet, which is- to enjoy  Him, savor Him, prize Him, be satisfied in Him, embrace Him, walk with Him. It’s about Him and all that He is for us in here (points to heart).

Back to the definition. Maybe the definition will start making more sense now. Here’s my definition of the Gospel: The Gospel is the work of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which He removes every obstacle between me and my, you and your – everlasting, all satisfying pleasure in the glory of God, in Jesus. And, I said, in which in that very removal, He displays the glory that gives us the greatest happiness. What makes the Gospel „the Gospel’ is not ultimately the removal  of obstacles, but rather, the joy that we have in Jesus in the beautiful display of His glory in the removal of the obstacles.

Christ did not just make our joy possible, by the Gospel. He became the supreme object of our joy, in the Gospel. Let me say that again: Christ, in dying for us, did not simply make our joy possible; He died to become the supreme object of our joy in the Gospel and here is my key text: 2 Corinthians 4:4-6: ‘in whose (the case of the unbelievers) case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “ Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’  Satan doesn’t want you to see, with the eyes of your heart, the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. I cannot, I don’t think, exaggerate the impact of that little phrase on my thinking about God, the Gospel, life, marriage, church, everything. The Gospel  of the glory of Christ- which I take it means: In His death and resurrection, He has secured my everlasting enjoyment of His glory and He has displayed in His most beautiful form His glory. It’s called the Gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. (Read verse 6) The Gospel is designed to be the point at which the eyes of our heart see the glory of Christ and not just see it. The devil sees it, but he doesn’t really see what it is. He doesn’t see how beautiful and attractive  and all satisfying it happens to be when you got tastebuds by new birth. You see it and you savor it, meaning embrace it, love it, delight in it, be satisfied by it, to the end that the world might be shown. See, savor, show. That’s our little trilogy at Bethlehem. It’s about seeing Him, savoring Him, and showing the world that He is supremely valuable, which means it’s probably gonna make you do some wild and crazy wonderful things which the world will be puzzled about.

A key text on that last point about savoring and showing- Ephesians 1:5-6: ‘God predestined us in love for adoption through Jesus Christ, (there’s the Gospel) according to the purpose of His will, unto the praise of the glory of His grace.’ The praise of the glory of His praise. He died for you so you’d praise His grace. Died so you’d praise. So He reveals it, He removes every obstacle to it and now, your life long vision is: I will pursue that praising. And, nobody praises what he doesn’t enjoy. That’s called hypocrisy. And therefore, the goal is that you be satisfied in Him. So the design of the Gospel, it’s ultimate goal is that we see and savor the glory of Christ in the Gospel, that we show His worth by how much we treasure Him, that we display His beauty by how much we delight in it and that the preciousness of our Savior be shown by how much He satisfies our soul- which leads to this practical, life altering conclusion.

The life that drinks deeply at the well of the Gospel; the life that drinks most deeply at the well of the Gospel  and the life that displays the worth of Christ most clearly, and the life that glorifies the work of God’s grace most fully is a life of unremitting pursuit of happiness in Jesus and not in the world. If that’s true, the christian life becomes a life long quest to make Jesus the lifeblood of all your pleasure. Don’t have any pleasures outside of Jesus. If there’ a good thing in marriage. If there’s a good thing in children, if there’s a good thing in a sunset, if there’s a good thing in art or music, I will enjoy it because of Jesus. It will be for Him, it will be from Him, it will be through Him and it will not compete with Him. Not on my life it won’t. I will cut off my hand, lest anything compete with my affections as an idol with Jesus.

I’d like to stress this- the pursuit of your joy is commanded by the Bible. „Rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice”. The nature of faith beckons you to pursue your joy. Jesus said in John 6:35: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger. Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ So, believing is a coming to Jesus for the thirsting satisfaction, the hungering satisfaction of your soul. That’s what faith is. Faith is the embracing of Jesus, as the bread satisfies your soul, the water that satisfies the thirst that is coming us again and again. No more quest, He’s the one.

The nature of evil pushes you to this quest. „My people committed 2 evils (Jeremiah 2) They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters and have hewn out (dug out) for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. What’s that? That’s insane. And the whole world is doing it. Don’t join them! Don’t forsake the fountain of living water, you glorify the water by getting down on your face and drinking to your heart’s contentment, lifting up your face saying, „Ahh,” that’s worship . Saying it’s a nice fountain while drinking from the river of the valley is not worship. So, evil is defined in the Bible as the forsaking of your joy in God and, trying to find it anywhere else. That’s a wonderful definition of evil.

The nature of conversion pushes you in this direction. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who found a treasure hidden in a field and in his joy he covered over and went and sold everything he had and bought that field. That’s the shortest parable in Jesus’ teaching. What’s the point? When the King arrives, He’s the treasure. And if you see, suddenly, „I could have this! I could have Him!” And I’ve got all this clamoring, clawing joys in my life that are trying to drag me away in another direction, I will sell them all and the world will think I am crazy. They might even call it „you’re hating”. You’re not. Conversion is – finding Jesus so valuable, you would have Him at the cost of  anything.

Two more comments: ‘You can’t love each other and your husbands and your children and your friends and your enemies, unless you are finding your joy in Jesus. Listen to this word to the Corinthians about the Macedonians: We want you to know about the  grace of God that’s been poured out on the churches of Macedonia, for, in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflow with a flow of liberality on their part.’ So, where did their love come from? It didn’t come from the removal of affliction, that’s intense. It didn’t come from the removal of poverty, that’s extreme. Where did it come from? The grace of God came down and their abundance of joy in affliction and in poverty overflowed. Do you want to be an overflowing person? Biblically, there’s only one way to overflow with Christ exalting love for others: Be filled with happiness in Jesus. Happiness that may cost you your life or meaning you stay in a marriage, or raise a disabled child, or go to the hardest place on the planet to serve others. The pathway of Christ is not an easy path. It’s just a happy one.

Lastly, I have a ‘rose’ story. Does it really glorify God to pursue your joy? I’d stake my life on that, it’s almost done and that’s what I’ve said for almost 40 years. So, it’s our anniversary. December 21st it will be 44 years. I ring the doorbell after work, which I never do, of course and she comes to the door and is surprised that I rang the doorbell, looks at me kind of funny and I pull the flowers and I say, „Happy anniversary Noelle”. „They’re beautiful”, she says, „Why did you?” And I say, „It’s my duty”. What’s wrong with that answer? Duty is a good thing. Ask a soldier, ask a marine.

It’s the wrong answer. Why is it the wrong answer? „I did my duty. I read the book, I know how you’re supposed to be. I know how you do marriage”. The right answer: Ring the doorbell, she comes to the door, looks funny, „Happy anniversary Noelle”, „Aww… they’re beautiful Johnny, why did you?” „It makes me happy. There’s nothing I’d rather do than spend this evening with you so I’ve made arrangements for Talitha to be where she needs to be and we’re going out. That’s the right answer. And, not in a thousand years would she ever say, „Nothing makes you happier, all you ever think about is you, you, you.” Now, why would she never say that? Because she knows that when I’m satisfied in her, she’s glorified. She knows that, she feels that. And so does God. The ultimate reason for why you pursue your everlasting, all satisfying joy in Jesus is because it makes much of Him, like nothing else.

So, I close with my definition again: The Gospel is the great work of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, by which He removes every obstacle to your everlasting, all satisfying  joy in His glory and in which He displays most beautifully that glory, for your enjoyment. He removes and destroys everything that makes your happiness fail and He displays everything that makes your happiness full. So, I plead with you: Give your self to this. Make this your life long quest. Cut off your hand if you have to. Do not rest until you find yourself sweetly, deeply resting in the all satisfying grace and glory of our Lord Jesus.

from John Piper at http://www.desiringGod.org

Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul Learning from the Mind and Heart of C. S. Lewis – Desiring God

Born November 29, 1898 was one Clive Staples Lewis. His friends called him Jack. We know him as C. S. Lewis. He died just shy of 65 years old on November 22, 1963, the same day as John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Davdi Mathis over at Desiring God writes a birthday note along with a link to this John Piper tribute to Lewis in his biographical address „Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul.”

1) It Seems I Shouldn’t Find Lewis So Helpful

My approach in this talk is personal. I am going to talk about what has meant the most to me in C. S. Lewis—how he has helped me the most. And as I raise this question, as I have many times over the years, the backdrop of the question becomes increasingly urgent: Why has he been so significant for me, even though he is not Reformed in his doctrine, and could barely be called an evangelical by typical American uses of that word?

He doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, 1 and defaults to logical arguments more naturally than to biblical exegesis. He doesn’t treat the Reformation with respect, but thinks it could have been avoided, and calls aspects of if farcical. 2 He steadfastly refused in public or in letters to explain why he was not a Roman Catholic but remained in the Church of England. 3 He makes room for at least some people to be saved through imperfect representations of Christ in other religions. 4 He made a strong logical, but I think unbiblical, case for free will to explain why there is suffering in the world. 5 He speaks of the atonement with reverence, but puts little significance on any of the explanations for how it actually saves sinners. 6

In other words, Lewis is not a writer to which we should turn for growth in a careful biblical understanding of Christian doctrine. There is almost no passage of Scripture on which I would turn to Lewis for exegetical illumination. A few, but not many. He doesn’t deal with many. If we follow him in the kinds of mistakes that he made (the ones listed above), it will hurt the church and dishonor Christ. His value is not in his biblical exegesis. Lewis is not the kind of writer who provides substance for a pastor’s sermons. If a pastor treats Lewis as a resource for doctrinal substance, he will find his messages growing thin, interesting perhaps, but not with much rich biblical content.

The Ironic Effect of Reading Lewis

So you see the kind of backdrop there is for this message. How and why has C. S. Lewis been so helpful to me when I think he is so wrong on some very important matters? Why don’t I put Lewis in the same category as the so-called “emergent” writers? At one level, the mistakes seem similar. But when I pose the question that way, it starts to become pretty clear to me why Lewis keeps being useful, while I think the emergent voices will fade away fairly quickly.

In fact, I think posing the question this way not only explains why he has been so helpful to me, but also goes right to the heart of what the life and work of C. S. Lewis were about. There was something at the core of his work—of his mind—that had the ironic effect on me of awakening lively affections and firm convictions that he himself would not have held.

Something About Lewis

There was something about the way he read Scripture that made my own embrace of inerrancy tighter, not looser. There was something about the way he spoke of grace and God’s power that made me value the particularities of the Reformation more, not less. There was something about the way he portrayed the wonders of the incarnation that made me more suspicious of his own inclusivism, not less. There was something about the way he spoke of doctrine as the necessary roadmap that leads to Reality, 7 and the way he esteemed truth and reason and precision of thought, that made me cherish more, not less, the historic articulations of the biblical explanations of how the work of Christ saves sinners—the so-called theories of the atonement.

It may be that others have been drawn away by Lewis from these kinds of convictions and experiences. I doubt very seriously that more people on the whole have been weakened in true biblical commitments than have been strengthened by reading Lewis. I am sure it happens. I am sure that for many, for example, who have taken the road to Roman Catholicism away from evangelicalism, Lewis has played a part in that pilgrimage. He devoted his whole Christian life to defending and adorning what he called “mere Christianity”—“the Christian religion as understood ubique et ab omnibus [everywhere by everyone].” 8 “I have believed myself to be restating ancient and orthodox doctrines. . . . I have tried to assume nothing that is not professed by all baptized and communicating Christians.” 9 This means that he rarely tried to distance himself from Roman Catholicism or any other part of Christendom. He rarely spoke about any debates within Christianity itself. 10

A Pastoral Price to Pay

There is a price to pay when you set yourself this kind of agenda. You will almost certainly omit things essential to the gospel. Not that you yourself do not believe those things, but since virtually all important doctrines have been disputed from within the church (not just from outside), the effort to omit what’s disputed runs the risk of omitting what’s essential. We all should be warned about this, because the disputes in the New Testament letters themselves are virtually all disputes within the church, not with those outside. In the marketplace and the synagogue, Paul argued for the gospel with unbelievers. But in his letters, he defends and defines the heart of the gospel not by disputing with those outside the church, but with those inside the church. He did not consider these disputes—for example in Galatians—as peripheral skirmishes but rather as part of what “mere Christianity” actually is.  This dispute is what the Reformation was about.

Therefore, Lewis set himself a lifelong task that no pastor should follow—namely, to adorn and defend only those truths that he thought all Christians always and everywhere have believed. 11 Lewis was not a pastor. He was a professor of English Literature from 1924 to 1963, first at Oxford and then at Cambridge. He did not have to open the Scriptures week after week for a group of people over the course of 30 or 40 years. He didn’t have to explain to his flock the fullness of God’s written revelation. He was a scholar, a writer of science fiction, children’s books, poetry, essays, and apologetics. In these spheres, he chose his focus. He called it “mere Christianity.” Within that limited focus (which he would say is infinitely large), he fell short of saying many important things regarding the gospel of Christ. But if I focus not on what he failed to say, but on what he said and did, I find that even for me—for one who considers some doctrines to be crucial that he neglected—even for me, the blessings of his work have been incalculable.

2) Why Lewis Is So Helpful to Me

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