Solid Joys – Daily Devotionals by John Piper
Resources from the ministry of John Piper.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
One of the things we are thankful for when we let our requests be known to God is his promises. These are the ammunition in the cannon that cuts down the unbelief that produces worry. So here’s how I fight.
When I am anxious about my ministry being useless and empty, I fight unbelief with the promise of Isaiah 55:11. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
When I am anxious about being too weak to do my work, I battle unbelief with the promise of Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When I am anxious about decisions I have to make about the future, I battle unbelief with the promise, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).
When I am anxious about facing opponents, I battle unbelief with the promise, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
When I am anxious about the welfare of those I love, I battle unbelief with the promise that if I, being evil, know how to give good things to my children, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
And I fight to maintain my spiritual equilibrium with the reminder that everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for Christ’s sake, shall “receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30).
When I am anxious about being sick, I battle unbelief with the promise, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19).
And I take the promise with trembling: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20)
The message that needs to be shouted from the houses of high finance is this: Secular man, you are not nearly hedonistic enough!
Quit being satisfied with the little 2% yields of pleasure that get eaten up by the moths of inflation and the rust of death. Invest in the blue-chip, high-yield, divinely insured securities of heaven.
Devoting a life to material comforts and security and thrills is like throwing money down a rat hole. But investing a life in the labor of love yields dividends of joy unsurpassed and unending:
“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. [And thus] provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:33).
This message is very good news: Come to Christ, in whose presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Join us in the labor of Christian Hedonism. For the Lord has spoken: It is more blessed to love than to live in luxury! More blessed now, and forever.
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)
One implication of the magnificent name, I AM WHO I AM, is that this infinite, absolute, self-determining God has drawn near to us in Jesus Christ.
In John 8:56–58 Jesus is answering the criticism of the Jewish leaders. He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Could Jesus have taken any more exalted words upon his lips? When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he took up all the majestic truth of the name of God, wrapped it in the humility of servanthood, offered himself to atone for all our rebellion, and made a way for us to see the glory of this infinite, absolute, all-sufficient God — without fear.
In Jesus Christ we who are born of God have the unspeakable privilege of knowing Yahweh as our Father — I AM WHO I AM — the God
- who exists
- whose personality and power is owing solely to himself
- who never changes
- from whom all power and energy in the universe flows
- and to whom all creation should conform its life.
May those who know the name of God put their trust in him (Psalm 9:10).
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
What is true freedom? Are you free?
Here are four things that need to be true if we are going to be fully free.
- If you don’t have the desire to do a thing, you are not fully free to do it. Oh, you may muster the willpower to do what you don’t want to do, but nobody calls that full freedom. It’s not the way we want to live. There is a constraint and pressure on us that we don’t want.
- And if you have the desire to do something, but no ability to do it, you are not free to do it.
- And if you have the desire and the ability to do something, but no opportunity to do it, you are not free to do it.
- And if you have the desire to do something, and the ability to do it, and the opportunity to do it, but it destroys you in the end, you are not fully free — not free indeed — when you do it.
To be fully free, we must have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will make us happy forever. No regrets. And only Jesus, the Son of God who died and rose for us, can make that possible.
If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).
“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” (Luke 17:24)
I was flying at night from Chicago to Minneapolis, almost alone on the plane. The pilot announced that there was a thunderstorm over Lake Michigan and into Wisconsin. He would skirt it to the west to avoid turbulence.
As I sat there staring out into the total blackness on the east side of the plane, suddenly the whole sky was brilliant with light, and a cavern of white clouds fell away four miles beneath the plane and then vanished.
A second later, a mammoth white tunnel of light exploded from north to south across the horizon, and again vanished into blackness. Soon the lightning was almost constant, and volcanoes of light burst up out of cloud ravines and from behind distant white mountains of clouds.
I sat there shaking my head almost in unbelief. O Lord, if these are but the sparks from the sharpening of your sword, what will be the day of your appearing! And I remembered the words of Christ: “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (Luke 17:24).
Even now as I recollect that sight, the word glory is full of feeling for me. I thank God that again and again he has awakened my heart to desire him, to see him, and to sit down to the feast of Christian Hedonism and worship the King of Glory. The banquet hall is very large. Come.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
God is not unresponsive to the contrite longing of the soul. He comes and lifts the load of sin and fills our heart with gladness and gratitude. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11–12).
But our joy does not just rise from the backward glance in gratitude. It also rises from the forward glance in hope: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5–6).
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psalm 130:5).
In the end, the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts, but for God himself. To see him and know him and be in his presence is the soul’s final feast. Beyond this there is no quest. Words fail. We call it pleasure, joy, delight. But these are weak pointers to the unspeakable experience:
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4).
“You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)
“No one will take your joy from you” because your joy comes from being with Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus means that you will never die; you will never be cut off from him.
So two things have to be true if your joy is never to be taken from you. One is that the source of your joy lasts forever and the other is that you last forever. If either you or the source of your joy is mortal, your joy will be taken from you.
And oh, how many people have settled for just that! Eat, drink, and be merry they say, for tomorrow we die, and that’s that (Luke 12:19). Food doesn’t last forever, and I don’t last forever. So let’s make the most of it while we can. What a tragedy!
If you are tempted to think that way, please consider as seriously as you possibly can that if your joy comes from being with Jesus, “No one will take your joy from you” — not in this life, nor in the life to come.
Not life or death, or angels or principalities, or things present or things to come, or powers or height or depth, or anything else in all creation will be able to take our joy from us in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38–39).
Joy in being with Jesus is an unbroken line from now to eternity. It will not be cut off — not by his death or ours.
My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
In Philippians 4:6, Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And then in Philippians 4:19 (just 13 verses later), he gives the liberating promise of future grace: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
If we live by faith in this promise of future grace, it will be very hard for anxiety to survive. God’s “riches in glory” are inexhaustible. He really means for us not to worry about our future.
We should follow this pattern that Paul lays out for us. We should battle the unbelief of anxiety with the promises of future grace.
When I am anxious about some risky new venture or meeting, I regularly battle unbelief with one of my most often-used promises, Isaiah 41:10.
The day I left America for three years in Germany my father called me long distance and gave me this promise on the telephone. For three years I must have quoted it to myself five hundred times to get me through periods of tremendous stress. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I have fought anxiety with this promise so many times that when the motor of my mind is in neutral, the hum of the gears is the sound of Isaiah 41:10.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:31–34)
We have seen in the last two days that Matthew 6:25–34 contains at least seven promises designed by Jesus to help us fight the good fight against unbelief and be free from anxiety. Today we look at the final three promises.
Promise #5: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:31–32)
Do not think that God is ignorant of your needs. He knows all of them. And he is “your heavenly Father.” He does not look on, indifferently, from a distance. He cares. He will act to supply your need when the time is best.
Promise #6: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
If you will give yourself to his cause in the world, rather than fretting about your private material needs, he will make sure that you have all you need to do his will and give him glory. This is how I understand “All these things will be added to you.” All the food and drink and clothing — and everything else — that you need to do his will and glorify him. Which might mean his purpose is for you to die for him, but he will supply everything you need to do it for his glory.
This is similar to the promise of Romans 8:32, “Will [God] not also with [Christ] graciously give us all things?” Which is followed by, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:35–37). Famine and nakedness may come. But we will have everything we need to be more than a conqueror.
Promise #7: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
God will see to it that you are not tested in any given day more than you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). He will work for you, so that “as [your] days, so shall [your] strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25, KJV).
Every day has its appointed trouble. But never more than you can bear by his grace. Every day will have mercies that are new every morning — mercies sufficient for that day’s trouble (Lamentations 3:22–23). He will not expect any good deed from you for which he does not supply all the grace you need (2 Corinthians 9:8).
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:27–30)
Matthew 6:25–34 contains at least seven promises designed by Jesus to help us fight the fight for faith and be free from anxiety. Yesterday we saw Promises 1 and 2; today we look at 3 and 4.
Promise #3: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)
This is a promise of sorts — the simple promise of reality that you can discover from experience: Being anxious will simply not do you any good. That’s a promise. This is not the main argument, but sometimes we just have to get tough with ourselves and say, “Soul, this fretting is absolutely useless. It promises nothing. You are not only messing up your own day, but a lot of other people’s as well. Renounce it. Leave it with God. And get on with your work.”
Anxiety accomplishes nothing worthwhile. That’s a promise. Believe it. Act on it.
Promise #4: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30)
Compared to the flowers of the field you are a much higher priority for God, because you will live forever, and can thus bring him eternal praise as his loved children.
Nevertheless, God has such an overflow of creative energy and care, he lavishes it on flowers that last only a matter of days. So he will certainly take that same energy and creative skill and use it to care for his children who will live forever. The question is: Will we believe this promise, and put away anxiety?
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25–26)
We are going to spend three days on this part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:25–34, Jesus is dealing specifically with anxiety about food and clothing. But, in fact, it relates to all anxiety.
Even in America, with its extensive welfare system, anxiety over finances and housing and food and clothing can be intense. Not to mention Christians who live in situations where much greater poverty threatens life. But Jesus says in verse 30 that our anxiety comes from little faith in our Father’s promise of future grace: “O you of little faith.”
These verses (25–34) contain at least seven promises designed by Jesus to help us fight the good fight against unbelief and be free from anxiety. (Today we look at Promises 1 and 2 — then over the next two days at the rest.)
Promise #1: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
Since your body and your life are vastly more complex and difficult to provide than food and clothing are, and yet God has, in fact, created and provided you with both, then surely he will be able and willing to provide you with food and clothing.
Moreover, no matter what happens, God will raise your body someday and preserve your life and body for his eternal fellowship.
Promise #2: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
If God is willing and able to feed such insignificant creatures as birds who cannot do anything to bring their food into being — as you can by farming — then he will certainly provide what you need, because you are worth a lot more than birds. You, unlike the birds, have the amazing capacity to glorify God by trusting, obeying, and thanking God.
[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”
Notice: it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” Fear strikes, and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead, the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike.
For example, 1 Peter 5:7 says, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” It does not say, you will never feel any anxieties. It says, when you have them, cast them on God. When the mud splatters your windshield and you temporarily lose sight of the road and start to swerve in anxiety, turn on your wipers and squirt your windshield washer.
So my response to the person who has to deal with feelings of anxiety every day is to say: that’s more or less normal. At least it is for me, ever since my teenage years. The issue is: How do we fight them?
The answer to that question is: we fight anxieties by fighting against unbelief and fighting for faith in future grace. And the way you fight this “good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7) is by meditating on God’s assurances of future grace and by asking for the help of his Spirit.
The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief, and the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit. The battle to be freed from sin — including the sin of anxiety — is fought “by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The work of the Spirit and the word of truth. These are the great faith-builders. Without the softening work of the Holy Spirit, the wipers of the word just scrape over the blinding clumps of unbelief on the windshield.
Both are necessary: the Spirit and the word. We read the promises of God and we pray for the help of his Spirit. And as the windshield clears so that we can see the welfare that God plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), our faith grows stronger and the swerving of anxiety straightens out.
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Picture salvation as a house that you live in.
It provides you with protection. It is stocked with food and drink that will last forever. It never decays or crumbles. Its windows open onto vistas of all-satisfying glory.
God built it at great cost to himself and to his Son, and he gave it to you free and clear.
The “purchase” agreement is called a “new covenant.” The terms read: “This house shall become and remain yours if you will receive it as a gift and take delight in the Father and the Son as they inhabit the house with you. You shall not profane the house of God by sheltering other gods nor turn your heart away after other treasures, but find your contentment in the fellowship of God in this house.”
Would it not be foolish to say yes to this agreement, and then hire a lawyer to draw up an amortization schedule with monthly payments in the hopes of somehow balancing accounts and paying for the house?
You would be treating the house no longer as a gift, but a purchase. God would no longer be the free benefactor. And you would be enslaved to a new set of demands that he never dreamed of putting on you.
If grace is to be free — which is the very meaning of grace — we cannot view it as something to be repaid.
What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord. (Psalm 116:12–14)
The very use of the language “rendering to God for all his benefits to me” makes me nervous. Payback can so easily imply that grace is like a mortgage. It’s really generous, but you have to pay it back.
Paul said in Acts 17:25, God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” In other words, you can’t give anything to God or do anything for God that he hasn’t first given to you and done for you.
You see this again in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” So none of our work can ever be a payment to God, because the very work is another gift from God. With every deed we do for God we go deeper into debt to grace.
So in Psalm 116 what keeps the paying of vows free from the dangers of being treated like a debt payment is that the “payment” is, in reality, not an ordinary payment, but another act of receiving which magnifies the ongoing grace of God. It does not magnify our resourcefulness.
The psalmist’s answer to his own question, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?” is, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” In other words, I call on the Lord to fill the cup. To pay back the Lord means to go on receiving from the Lord so that the Lord’s inexhaustible goodness will be magnified.
Lifting up the cup of salvation signifies taking the Lord’s satisfying salvation in hand and drinking it and expecting more. We know this because of the next phrase: “I will . . . call on the name of the Lord.” I will call for more help. What shall I render to God for graciously answering my call? Answer: I shall call again. I will render to God the praise and the tribute that he is never in need of me, but is always overflowing with benefits when I need him (which I always do).
Then the psalmist says, in the third place, “I will pay my vows to the Lord.” But how will they be paid? They will be paid by holding up the cup of salvation and by calling on the Lord. That is, they will be paid by faith in the promise that more grace — all-sufficient grace — is always on the way.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . not frightened in anything by your opponents. . . . For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. (Philippians 1:27–29)
Paul told the Philippians that living worthy of the gospel of Christ meant fearlessness before enemies. Then he gave the logic of fearlessness.
The logic is this: God has given you two gifts, not just one — faith and suffering. That’s what verse 29 says. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Granted to you to believe, and granted to you to suffer.
In this context that means: Both your faith in the face of suffering, and your suffering are gifts of God. When Paul says, don’t be frightened by your opponents, he had two reasons in his mind why they don’t need to be frightened:
One reason is that the opponents are in the hand of God. Their opposition is a gift from God. He governs it. That’s the first point of verse 29.
And the other reason not to be afraid is that your fearlessness, that is, your faith, is also in the hand of God. It too is a gift. That is the other point of verse 29.
So the logic of fearlessness in the face of adversity is this double truth: Both your adversity and your faith in the face of adversity are gifts of God.
Why is this called living “worthy of the gospel of Christ”? Because the gospel is the good news that Christ’s blood of the covenant infallibly obtained for all his people the sovereign working of God to give us faith and to govern our enemies — always for our eternal good. That’s what the gospel secured. Therefore, to live that way shows the power and goodness of the gospel.
Therefore, fear not. Your adversaries can do no more than God grants. And he will grant all the faith you need. These promises are blood-bought and sealed. They are gospel promises.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
Notice three things in Romans 8:35.
1. Christ is loving us now.
A wife might say of her deceased husband: Nothing will separate me from his love. She might mean that the memory of his love will be sweet and powerful all her life. But that is not what Paul means here.
In Romans 8:34 it says plainly, “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” The reason Paul can say that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is because Christ is alive and is still loving us right now.
He is at the right hand of God and is therefore ruling for us. And he is interceding for us, which means he is seeing to it that his finished work of redemption does in fact save us hour by hour, and bring us safely to eternal joy. His love is not just a memory. It is a moment-by-moment action by the omnipotent, living Son of God, to bring us to everlasting joy.
2. This love of Christ is effective in protecting us from separation, and therefore is not a universal love for all, but a particular love for his people — that is, those who, according to Romans 8:28, love God and are called according to his purpose.
This is the love of Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” It is Christ’s love for the church, his bride. Christ has a love for all, and he has a special, saving, preserving love for his bride. You know you are part of that bride if you trust Christ. Anyone — no exceptions — anyone who trusts Christ can say, I am part of his bride, his church, his called and chosen ones, the ones who, according to Romans 8:35, are kept and protected forever no matter what.
3. This omnipotent, effective, protecting love does not spare us from calamities in this life, but brings us safely through them to everlasting joy with God.
Death will happen to us, but it will not separate us. So when Paul says in verse 35 that the “sword” will not separate us from the love of Christ, he means: even if we are killed, we are not separated from the love of Christ.
So the sum of the matter in verse 35 is this: Jesus Christ is right now mightily loving his people with omnipotent, moment-by-moment love that does not always rescue us from calamity but preserves us for everlasting joy in his presence even through suffering and death.
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” (John 17:24)
Believers in Jesus are precious to God (we’re his bride!). And he loves us so much that he will not allow our preciousness to become our god.
God does indeed make much of us (he adopts us into his family!), but he does so in a way that draws us out of ourselves to enjoy his greatness.
Test yourself. If Jesus came to spend the day with you, sat down beside you on the couch, and said, “I really love you,” what would you focus on the rest of the day that you spend together with him?
It seems to me that too many songs and sermons leave us with the wrong answer. They leave the impression that the heights of our joy would be in the recurrent feeling of being loved. “He loves me!” “He loves me!” To be sure, this is joy indeed. But not the heights, and not the focus.
What are we saying with the words “I am loved”? What do we mean? What is this “being loved”?
Would not the greatest, most Christ-exalting joy be found in watching Jesus all day and bursting with, “You’re amazing!” “You are amazing!”
- He answers the hardest question, and his wisdom is amazing.
- He touches a filthy, oozing sore, and his compassion is amazing.
- He raises a dead lady at the medical examiner’s office, and his power is amazing.
- He predicts the afternoon’s events, and his foreknowledge is amazing.
- He sleeps during an earthquake, and his fearlessness is amazing.
- He says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), and his words are amazing.
We walk around with him all afternoon, utterly amazed at what we are seeing.
Is not his love for us his eagerness to do for us all he must do (including die for us) so that we can marvel at him and not be incinerated by him? Redemption, propitiation, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation — all these have to happen. They are the act of love.
But the goal of love that makes those acts loving is that we be with him, and see his jaw-dropping glory, and be astounded. In those moments we forget ourselves as we see and savor all that God is for us in him.
So I am urging pastors and teachers: Push people through the acts of Christ’s love to the goal of his love. If redemption and propitiation and forgiveness and justification and reconciliation are not taking us to the enjoyment of Jesus himself, they are not love.
Press on this. It’s what Jesus prayed for in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.”
“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
Jesus shatters any absolute dissociation of commandments and love.
He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father” (John 14:15, 21). “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).
Thinking in terms of commandments and obedience did not stop Jesus from enjoying the love of his Father. And he expects that our thinking of him as one who commands will not jeopardize our love relationship with him either.
This is crucial to realize because the new covenant relationship that we have with God through Jesus Christ is not a covenant without commandments. The basic difference between the old covenant offered by God through the Mosaic law and the new covenant offered by God through Christ is not that one had commandments and the other doesn’t.
The key differences are that (1) the Messiah, Jesus, has come and shed the blood of the new covenant (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 10:29) so that henceforth he is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that all saving, covenant-keeping faith is conscious faith in him; (2) the old covenant has therefore become “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13) and does not govern the new-covenant people of God (2 Corinthians 3:7–18; Romans 7:4, 6; Galatians 3:19); and (3) the promised new heart and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit have been given through faith.
In the old covenant, the gracious enabling power to obey God was not poured out as fully as it is since Jesus. “To this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:4). What’s new about the new covenant is not that there are no commandments, but that God’s promise has come true! “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).
“Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.” (Zechariah 2:4–5)
There are mornings when I wake up feeling fragile. Vulnerable. It’s often vague. No single threat. No one weakness. Just an amorphous sense that something is going to go wrong and I will be responsible.
It’s usually after a lot of criticism. Or maybe after a lot of expectations that have deadlines, and that seem too big and too many.
As I look back over about 50 years of such periodic mornings, I am amazed how the Lord Jesus has preserved my life. And my ministry. The temptation to run away from the stress has never won out — not yet anyway. This is amazing. I worship my great God for this.
Instead of letting me sink into a paralysis of fear, or run to a mirage of greener grass, he has awakened a cry for help and then answered with concrete promises.
Here’s an example. This is recent. I woke up feeling emotionally fragile. Weak. Vulnerable. I prayed: “Lord help me. I’m not even sure how to pray.”
An hour later I was reading in Zechariah, seeking the help I had cried out for. It came.
“Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.” (Zechariah 2:4–5)
There will be such prosperity and growth for the people of God that Jerusalem will not be able to be walled in any more. “The multitude of people and livestock” will be so many that Jerusalem will be like many villages spreading out across the land without walls.
Prosperity is nice, but what about protection?
To which God says in verse 5, “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord.” Yes. That’s it. That is the promise. The “I will” of God. That is what I need.
And if it is true for the vulnerable villages of Jerusalem, it is true for me a child of God. That is how I apply the Old Testament promises to God’s people. All the promises are yes to me in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). There is a “how much more” after every promise for those who are in Christ. God will be a “wall of fire all around” me. Yes. He will. He has been. And he will be.
And it gets better. Inside that fiery wall of protection he says, “And I will be the glory in her midst.” God is never content to give us the protection of his fire; he aims to give us the pleasure of his presence. I love the “I wills” of God!
“The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)
What would the doctrines of grace — the old Puritan term for the Calvinistic teaching of God’s sovereign grace in our salvation (TULIP) — what would those doctrines of grace sound like if every limb in that tree were coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight (that is, “Christian Hedonism”)?
Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to God’s beauty, and deadness to the deepest joy.
Unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed, as the overflow of God’s joy in the fellowship of the Trinity.
Limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for God’s people by the blood of the new covenant.
Irresistible grace is the commitment and the power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights.
Perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God not to let us fall into the final bondage of inferior pleasures, but to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of fullness of joy in his presence, and pleasures at his right hand forevermore.
Of those five, unconditional election delivers the harshest and the sweetest judgments to my soul. That it is unconditional destroys all self-exaltation (that’s the harsh part); and that it is election makes me his treasured possession (that’s the sweet part).
This is one of the beauties of the biblical doctrines of grace: their worst devastations prepare us for their greatest delights.
What prigs we would become at the words, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6), if this election were in any way dependent on us. But to protect us from pride, the Lord teaches us that we are unconditionally chosen (Deuteronomy 7:7–9). “He made a wretch his treasure,” as we so gladly sing.
Only the devastating freeness and unconditionality of electing grace — followed by all the other works of saving grace — let us take and taste such gifts for our very own without the exaltation of self.
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3)
This verse teaches that whenever God acts, he acts in a way that pleases him.
God is never constrained to do a thing that he despises. He is never backed into a corner where his only recourse is to do something he hates to do.
He does whatever he pleases. And therefore, in some sense, he has pleasure in all that he does.
This should lead us to bow before God and praise his sovereign freedom — that, in some sense, he always acts in freedom, according to his own “good pleasure,” following the dictates of his own delights.
God never becomes the victim of circumstance. He is never forced into a situation where he must do something in which he cannot rejoice. He is not mocked. He is not trapped or cornered or coerced.
Even at the one point in history where he did what in one sense was the hardest thing for God to do, “not spare his own Son” (Romans 8:32), God was free and doing what pleased him. Paul says that the self-sacrifice of Jesus in death was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). The greatest sin, and the greatest death, and the hardest act of God was, in some profound way, pleasing to the Father.
And on his way to Calvary, Jesus himself had legions of angels at his disposal. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18) — of his own good pleasure — “for the joy that is set before him,” as it says in Hebrews 12:2. At the one point in the history of the universe where Jesus looked trapped, he was totally in charge doing precisely what he pleased — dying to glorify his Father in justifying the ungodly, like you and me.
So, let us stand in awe and wonder. And let us tremble that not only our praises of God’s sovereignty, but also our salvation through the death of Christ for us, hang on this: “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases.”
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18–21, quoting Isaiah 42)
The Father’s very soul exults with joy over the servant-like meekness and compassion of his Son.
When a reed is bent and about to break, the Servant will tenderly hold it upright until it heals. When a wick is smoldering and has scarcely any heat left, the Servant will not pinch it off, but cup his hand and blow gently until it burns again.
Thus the Father cries, “Behold, my Servant in whom my soul delights!” The worth and beauty of the Son come not just from his majesty, nor just from his meekness, but from the way these mingle in perfect proportion.
When the angel cries out in Revelation 5:2, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” the answer comes back, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).
God loves the strength of the Lion of Judah. This is why he is worthy in God’s eyes to open the scrolls of history and unfold the last days.
But the picture is not complete. How did the Lion conquer? The next verse describes his appearance: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Jesus is worthy of the Father’s delight not only as the Lion of Judah, but also as the slain Lamb.
This is the peculiar glory of Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son — the stunning mingling of majesty and meekness.
It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:8)
Picture the Old Testament Abraham as a pastor. The Lord says, “I will bless you and prosper your ministry.” But the church is barren and bears no children.
What does Abraham do? He begins to despair of supernatural intervention. He is getting old. His wife remains barren. So he decides to bring about God’s promised son without supernatural intervention. He has sex with Hagar his wife’s handmaid (Genesis 16:4). However, the result is not a “child of the promise,” but a “child of the flesh,” Ishmael.
God stuns Abraham by saying, “I will give you a son by her [your wife Sarah]” (Genesis 17:16). So Abraham cries out to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18). He wants the work of his own natural, human effort to be the fulfillment of God’s promise. But God says, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son” (Genesis 17:19).
But Sarah is 90 years old. She has been barren all her life, and she has already passed through menopause (Genesis 18:11). Abraham is 100. The only hope for a child of promise is stunning, supernatural intervention.
That is what it means to be a “child of the promise” — to be born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). The only children that count for children of God in this world are supernaturally begotten children of promise. In Galatians 4:28 Paul says, “You [Christians], like Isaac, are children of promise.” You are “born according to the Spirit,” not according to the flesh (Galatians 4:29).
Think of Abraham as a pastor again. His church is not growing the way he believes God promised. He is weary of waiting for supernatural intervention. He turns to the “Hagar” of mere human devices, and decides he can “attract people” without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
However, it will not be a church of Isaacs, but Ishmaelites — children of the flesh, not children of God. God save us from this kind of fatal success. By all means work. But always look to the Lord for the decisive, supernatural work. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).
[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Timothy 1:9)
Being “in Christ Jesus” is a stupendous reality. It is breathtaking to be united to Christ. Bound to Christ.
If you are “in Christ” listen to what it means for you:
In Christ Jesus you were given grace before the world was created. Second Timothy 1:9, “He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
In Christ Jesus you were chosen by God before creation. Ephesians 1:4, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”
In Christ Jesus you are loved by God with an inseparable love. Romans 8:38–39, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In Christ Jesus you were redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. Ephesians 1:7, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
In Christ Jesus you are justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to you. Second Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In Christ Jesus you have become a new creation and a son of God. Second Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
I pray that you will never grow weary of exploring and exulting in the inexhaustible privilege of being “in Christ Jesus.”
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)
In knowing what is right, God does not consult any authority higher than himself. His own worth is the ultimate value in the universe. Therefore, for God to do what is right means acting in a way that accords with this ultimate value.
The righteousness of God is the infinite zeal and joy and pleasure that he has in what is supremely valuable, namely, his own perfection and worth. And if he were ever to act contrary to this eternal passion for his own perfections, he would be unrighteous — he would be an idolater.
How shall such a righteous God ever set his affection on sinners like us who have scorned his perfections? But the wonder of the gospel is that in his divine righteousness lies also the very foundation of our salvation.
The infinite regard that the Father has for the Son makes it possible for me, a wicked sinner, to be loved and accepted in the Son, because in his death he vindicated the worth and glory of his Father.
Because of Christ, we can pray with new understanding the prayer of the psalmist, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). The new understanding is that, because of Christ, instead of only praying, “For your name’s sake, pardon my guilt,” we now pray, “For Jesus’s name’s sake, O God, pardon my guilt.”
First John 2:12 says, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake,” referring to Jesus. Jesus has now atoned for sin and vindicated the Father’s honor so that our “sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”
God is righteous. He does not sweep sin under the rug. If a sinner goes free, someone dies to vindicate the infinite worth of God’s glory that the sinner defamed. That is what Christ did. Therefore, “For your name’s sake, O Lord” and “For Jesus’s name’s sake” are the same. And that is why we pray with confidence for forgiveness.
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24)
How far does the reign of Christ extend?
The next verse, 1 Corinthians 15:25 says, “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The word all tells us the extent.
So does the word every in verse 24: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”
There is no disease, no addiction, no demon, no bad habit, no fault, no vice, no weakness, no temper, no moodiness, no pride, no self-pity, no strife, no jealousy, no perversion, no greed, no laziness that Christ will not overcome as the enemy of his honor.
And the encouragement in that promise is that when you set yourself to do battle with the enemies of your faith and your holiness, you will not fight alone.
Jesus Christ is now, in this age, putting all his enemies under his feet. Every rule and every authority and every power will be conquered.
So, remember that the extent of Christ’s reign reaches to the smallest and biggest enemy of his glory in your life, and in this universe. It will be defeated.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. (Psalm 104:31–34)
God rejoices in the works of creation because they point us beyond themselves to God himself.
God means for us to be stunned and awed by his work of creation. But not for its own sake. He means for us to look at his creation and say: If the mere work of his fingers (just his fingers! Psalm 8:3) is so full of wisdom and power and grandeur and majesty and beauty, what must this God be like in himself!
These are but the backside of his glory, as it were, darkly seen through a glass. What will it be to see the glory of the Creator himself! Not just his works! A billion galaxies will not satisfy the human soul. God and God alone is the soul’s end.
Jonathan Edwards expressed it like this:
The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. . . . [These] are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the ocean.
This is why Psalm 104 comes to a close in verses 31–34 with a focus on God himself. “I will sing praise to my God while I have being. . . . For I rejoice in the Lord.” In the end it will not be the seas or the mountains or the canyons or the water spiders or the clouds or the great galaxies that fill our hearts to breaking with wonder and fill our mouths with eternal praise. It will be God himself.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. (Ephesians 5:25–26)
If you only hope for unconditional love from God, your hope is great, but too small.
Unconditional love from God is not the sweetest experience of his love. The sweetest experience is when his love says, “I have made you so much like my Son that I delight to see you and be with you. You are a pleasure to me, because you are so radiant with my glory.”
This sweetest experience is conditional on our transformation into the kind of people whose emotions and choices and actions please God.
Unconditional love is the source and foundation of the human transformation that makes the sweetness of conditional love possible. If God did not love us unconditionally, he would not penetrate our unattractive lives, bring us to faith, unite us to Christ, give us his Spirit, and make us progressively like Jesus.
But when he unconditionally chooses us, and sends Christ to die for us, and regenerates us, he puts in motion an unstoppable process of transformation that makes us glorious. He gives us a splendor to match his favorite kind: his own.
We see this in Ephesians 5:25–27. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [unconditional love], that he might sanctify her . . . and present the church to himself in splendor” — the condition in which he delights.
It is unspeakably wonderful that God would unconditionally set his favor on us while we are still unbelieving sinners. The ultimate reason this is wonderful is that this unconditional love brings us into the everlasting enjoyment of his glorious presence.
But the apex of that enjoyment is that we not only see his glory, but also reflect it. “The name of our Lord Jesus [will] be glorified in you, and you in him” (2 Thessalonians 1:12).
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22–23)
It would be a great folly and a great tragedy if a man loved his wedding ring more than he loved his bride. But that is what this passage says has happened.
Human beings have fallen in love with the echo of God’s excellence in creation, and lost the ability to hear the incomparable, original shout of love and power and glory.
The message of creation is this:
There is a great God of glory and power and generosity behind all this awesome universe; you belong to him because he made you. He is patient with you in sustaining your rebellious life. Turn and bank your hope on him and delight yourself in him, not merely his handiwork.
According to Psalm 19:1–2, day pours forth the “speech” of that message to all who will listen in the day, speaking with blindingly bright sun and blue sky and clouds and untold shapes and colors and beautiful designs of all things visible. Night pours forth the “knowledge” of the same message to all who will listen at night, speaking with great dark voids and summer moons and countless stars and strange sounds and cool breezes and northern lights.
Day and night are saying one thing: God is glorious! God is glorious! God is glorious! Turn away from the creation as your supreme satisfaction, and delight yourself in the Lord of glory.
When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)
Paul says that Christ is coming precisely to be glorified and to be marveled at. That is why he is coming.
People stumble over the teaching that God exalts his own glory and seeks to be praised by his people because the Bible teaches us not to be like that. For example, the Bible says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NASB).
How can God be loving and yet be utterly devoted to “seeking his own” glory and praise and joy? How can God be for us if he is so utterly for himself?
The answer I propose is this: Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, he must be for himself if he is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator.
If God should turn away from himself as the Source of infinite joy, he would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of his own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside himself. He would commit idolatry.
This would be no gain for us. For where can we go when our God has become unrighteous? Where will we find a Rock of integrity in the universe when the heart of God has ceased to value supremely the supremely valuable? Where shall we turn with our adoration when God himself has forsaken the claims of infinite worth and beauty?
No, we do not turn God’s self-exaltation into love by demanding that God cease to be God.
Instead, we must come to see that God is love precisely because he relentlessly pursues the praises of his name in the hearts of his people. Our praise for his greatness is the capstone of our joy and his greatness.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:3, 5)
Why does God demand we must praise God?
Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?”
The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.
There is the answer — the solution to the apparent egomania of God in demanding us to praise him! It is a demand for our greatest happiness. We praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of what we value and celebrate what we love and praise what we admire, our joy would not be full.
So, if God loves us enough to make our joy full, he must not only give us himself; he must also win from us the praise of our hearts — not because he needs to shore up some weakness in himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because he loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising him, the most magnificent of all beings.
If he is truly for us, he must be for himself! God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking his own praise is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12, 14), he preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings.
God is for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be for himself.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
God is absolutely sovereign.
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
Therefore, he is not frustrated. He rejoices in all his works when he contemplates them as colors of the magnificent mosaic of redemptive history. He is an unshakably happy God.
His happiness is foundationally the delight he has in himself. Before creation, he rejoiced in the image of his glory in the person of his Son — his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased (Matthew 3:17). Then the joy of God “went public” in the works of creation and redemption.
These works delight the heart of God because they reflect his glory. The heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works” (Psalm 104:31) He does everything he does to preserve and display that glory, for in this his soul rejoices.
All the works of God culminate in the praises of his redeemed people. “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:2). The climax of his happiness is the delight he takes in the echoes of his excellence in the praises of the saints. “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:10–11).
But our praise is not only God’s delight, as an echo of his excellence; it is also the apex of our joy. Praise is the consummation of the joy we have in seeing and savoring the greatness of God.
Therefore, God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are the same pursuit. This is the great outcome of the gospel of the glory of the grace of God in Christ!
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
The last chapter of Matthew is a window that opens onto the sunrise glory of the risen Christ. Through it you can see at least three massive peaks in the mountain range of Christ’s character: the peak of his power; the peak of his kindness; and the peak of his purposefulness.
All authority is his — the right and the power to do his will. And he uses this power to pursue his unwavering purpose to make disciples from all the nations. And in the process he is personally kind to us, promising to be with us to the end.
We all know in our hearts that if the risen Christ is going to satisfy our desire to admire greatness, that is the way he has to be. Great in power. Great in kindness. Great in purposefulness.
People who are too weak to accomplish their purposes can’t satisfy our desire to admire greatness. We admire people even less who have no purpose in life. And still less those whose purposes are merely selfish and unkind.
What we long to see and know is a Person whose power is unlimited, whose kindness is tender, and whose purpose is single and unflinching.
Novelists and poets and movie-makers and TV writers now and then create a shadow of this Person. But they can no more fill our longing to worship than this month’s National Geographic can satisfy my longing for the Grand Canyon.
We must have the real thing. We must see the Original of all power and kindness and purposefulness. We must see and worship the risen Christ.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
What does it mean to “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead”? Satan believes that God raised Jesus from the dead. He saw it happen. To answer this question, we need to ponder what the resurrection means for God’s people.
The meaning of the resurrection is that God is for us. He aims to close ranks with us. He aims to overcome all our sense of abandonment and alienation.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s declaration to Israel and to the world that we cannot work our way to glory, but that he intends to do the impossible to get us there.
The resurrection is the promise of God that all who trust Jesus will be the beneficiaries of God’s power to lead us in paths of righteousness and through the valley of death.
Therefore, believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is much more than accepting a fact. It means being confident that God is for you, that he has closed ranks with you, that he is transforming your life, and that he will save you for eternal joy.
Believing in the resurrection means trusting in all the promises of life and hope and righteousness for which it stands.
It means being so confident of God’s power and love that no fear of worldly loss or greed for worldly gain will lure us to disobey his will.
That’s the difference between Satan and the saints. Oh, might God circumcise our hearts to love him (Deuteronomy 30:6) and to rest in the resurrection of his Son.
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days . . . let him turn away from evil and do good.” (1 Peter 3:10–11)
There is only one basic reason why we disobey the commands of Jesus: it’s because we don’t have heartfelt confidence that obeying will bring more blessing than disobeying. We do not hope fully in God’s promise.
What did he promise? Peter passes on the teachings of Jesus like this:
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days . . . let him turn away from evil and do good.” (1 Peter 3:9–11)
Peter, following Jesus, is not ashamed to motivate obedience to hard commands — like not returning evil for evil — with the promise of greater joy. “Bless those who revile you . . . that you may obtain a blessing!” Do you want to enjoy everlasting life? Turn away from evil! Joy for all eternity awaits you! Is that not reward enough to avoid the pleasures of vengeance now?
You will always be better off to obey than to disobey Jesus, even if that obedience costs you your life. Jesus said,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time . . . with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29–30)
The only way to have the power to follow Christ in the costly way of love is to be filled with hope, with strong confidence that, if we lose our life doing his will, we will find it again and be richly rewarded forever.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1)
The psalm begins and ends with the psalmist preaching to his soul to bless the Lord — “Bless the Lord, O my soul” — and preaching to the angels and the hosts of heaven and the works of God’s hands that they should do the same.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
The psalm is overwhelmingly focused on blessing the Lord. What does it mean to bless the Lord?
It means to speak well of his greatness and goodness — and really mean it from the depths of your soul.
What David is doing in the first and last verses of this psalm, when he says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” is saying that authentic speaking about God’s goodness and greatness must come from the soul.
Blessing God with the mouth without the soul would be hypocrisy. Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). David knows that danger, and he is preaching to himself. He is telling his soul not to let this happen.
“Come, soul, look at the greatness and goodness of God. Join my mouth, and let us bless the Lord with our whole being. Soul, we are not going to be a hypocrite!”
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:8, 12)
Why isn’t David crying out for sexual restraint? Why isn’t he praying for men to hold him accountable? Why isn’t he praying for protected eyes and sex-free thoughts? In this psalm of confession and repentance after essentially raping Bathsheba, you would expect David to ask for something like that.
The reason is that he knows that sexual sin is a symptom, not the disease.
People give way to sexual sin because they don’t have fullness of joy and gladness in Christ. Their spirits are not steadfast and firm and established. They waver. They are enticed, and they give way because God does not have the supreme place in their feelings and thoughts that he should.
David knew this about himself. It’s true about us too. David is showing us, by the way he prays, what the real need is for those who sin sexually: God! Joy in God.
This is profound wisdom for us.
Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
The greatest good of the good news — the gospel — is the enjoyment of fellowship with God himself. This is made explicit here in 1 Peter 3:18 in the phrase “that he might bring us to God.” That’s why Jesus died.
All the other gifts of the gospel exist to make this one possible.
- We are forgiven so that our guilt does not keep us away from God.
- We are justified so that our condemnation does not keep us away from God.
- God is propitiated so that his wrath doesn’t stand between us and God as our Father.
- We are given eternal life now, with new bodies in the resurrection, so that we have the capacities for being with God forever and enjoying God to the fullest.
Test your heart. Why do you want forgiveness? Why do you want to be justified? Why do you want the wrath of God to be propitiated? Why do you want eternal life? Is the decisive answer, “Because I want to enjoy God now and forever”?
The gospel-love that God gives is ultimately the gift of himself. This is what we were made for. This is what we lost because of our sin. This is what Christ came to restore.
“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Nathan the prophet comes to David after his adultery and murder and says, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 12:13–14)
This is outrageous. Uriah is dead. Bathsheba is raped. The baby will die. And Nathan says, “The Lord has put away your sin.”
Just like that? David committed adultery. He ordered murder. He lied. He “despised the word of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:9). He scorned God. And the Lord simply “put away [his] sin”?!
What kind of a righteous Judge is God? You don’t just pass over rape and murder and lying. Righteous judges don’t do that.
This was one of Paul’s greatest theological problems — very different from the ones people struggle with today: how can God forgive sin and still be righteous? Here is what Paul said in Romans 3:25–26:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In other words, the outrage that we feel when God seems to simply pass over David’s sin would be good outrage if God were simply sweeping David’s sin under the rug. He is not.
God sees, from the time of David, down the centuries to the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, who would die in David’s place, so that David’s faith in God’s mercy and God’s future redeeming work unites David with Christ. And in God’s all-knowing mind, David’s sins are counted as Christ’s sins and Christ’s righteousness is counted as his righteousness, and God justly passes over David’s sin for Christ’s sake.
The death of the Son of God is outrageous enough, and the glory of God that it upholds is great enough, that God is vindicated in passing over David’s adultery and murder and lying. And ours.
And so God maintains his perfect righteousness and justice while at the same time showing mercy to those who have faith in Jesus, no matter how many or how monstrous their sins. This is unspeakably good news.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
When Paul says that God fulfills our good resolves by his power through faith (he calls our acts “works of faith”), he means that we defeat sin and we do righteousness by faith, that is, by being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ in the next five minutes, five months, five decades, and into eternity.
Here are three examples of how this might look in your life:
If you set your heart to give sacrificially and generously, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in the promise, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And the promise, “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). And the promise, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
If you set your heart to renounce pornography, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in the promise, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Much better. Wonderfully better. All-satisfyingly better.
And if you set your heart to speak out for Christ when the opportunity comes, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in the promise, “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).
May God increase our daily faith in the precious promises of God — promises of his inexhaustible, blood-bought, Christ-exalting future grace.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1–2)
What makes this so beautiful and so crucial for us is that he is not thirsting mainly for relief from his threatening circumstances. He is not thirsting mainly for escape from his enemies or for their destruction.
It’s not wrong to want relief, and to pray for it. It is sometimes right to pray for the defeat of enemies. But more important than any of that is God himself.
When we think and feel with God in the Psalms, this is the main result: We come to love God, and we want to see God and be with God and be satisfied in admiring and exulting in God.
A likely translation of the end of verse 2 is, “When will I come and see the face of God?” The final answer to that question was given in John 14:9 and 2 Corinthians 4:4. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And Paul said that when we are converted to Christ we see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
When we see the face of Christ, we see the face of God. And we see the glory of the face of Christ, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6, when we hear the story of the gospel of his death and resurrection. He calls it “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Or (verse 6): “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
May the Lord increase your hunger and your thirst to see the face of God. And may he grant your desire, even today, through the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)
Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it — we call this “undeserved favor”; God’s grace is also a power from God that acts in our lives and makes good things happen in us and for us — which we also don’t deserve.
Paul said that we fulfill our resolves for good “by his power” (verse 11). And then he adds at the end of verse 12, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The power that actually works in our lives to make Christ-exalting obedience possible is an exertion of the grace of God.
You can see this also in 1 Corinthians 15:10:
By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
So, grace is an active, present, transformative, obedience-enabling power.
Therefore, this grace, which moves in power from God to you at a point in time, is both past and future. It has already done something for you or in you and therefore is past. And it is about to do something in you and for you, and so it is future — both five seconds from now and five million years from now.
God’s grace is ever cascading over the waterfall of the present from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future — in this you trust; and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past — for this you give thanks.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)
Three times: “Have mercy,” “according to your steadfast love,” and “according to your abundant mercy.”
This is what God had promised in Exodus 34:6–7:
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
David knew that there were guilty who would not be forgiven. And there were guilty who by some mysterious work of redemption would not be counted as guilty, but would be forgiven. Psalm 51 is his way of laying hold on that mystery of mercy.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” We know more of the mystery of this redemption than David did. We know Christ. But we lay hold of the mercy in the same way he did.
The decisive thing he does is turn, helpless, to the mercy and love of God. Today that means turning, helpless, to Christ, whose blood secures all the mercy we need.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9–11)
What do we need to be saved from? Verse 9 states it clearly: the wrath of God. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” But is that the highest, best, fullest, most satisfying prize of the gospel?
No. Verse 10 says “much more . . . shall we be saved by his life.” Then verse 11 takes it all the way up to the ultimate end and goal of the gospel: “more than that, we also rejoice in God.”
That is the final and highest good of the good news. There is not another “more than that” after that. There is only Paul’s saying how we got there, “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
The end of the gospel is “we rejoice in God.” The highest, fullest, deepest, sweetest good of the gospel is God himself, enjoyed by his redeemed people.
God in Christ became the price (Romans 5:6–8), and God in Christ became the prize (Romans 5:11).
The gospel is the good news that God bought for us the everlasting enjoyment of God.
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)
In modern language we would say, “The dice are rolled on the table, and every play is decided by God.”
In other words, there are no events so small that he does not rule them for his purposes. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus said. “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29–30).
Every role of the dice in Las Vegas, every tiny bird that falls dead in a thousand forests — all of this is God’s command.
In the book of Jonah, God commands a fish to swallow a man (1:17), he commands a plant to grow for shade (4:6), and he commands a worm to kill it (4:7).
And far above the life of fish and worms, the stars take their place and hold their place at God’s command.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)
How much more, then, the natural events of this world — from weather to disasters to disease to disability to death.
His law he enforces;
the stars in their courses
and sun in its orbit obediently shine;
the hills and the mountains,
the rivers and fountains,
the deeps of the ocean
proclaim him divine.
(“Let All Things Now Living,” Katherine Davis)
Let us therefore stand in awe and be at peace, knowing that no natural event is outside of God’s wise and good purposes, and perfect control.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation.
Nobody (unless they are stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God — knowing, loving, showing God. The angels cry in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” It is full of billions of human image-bearers. Glorious ruins.
But not only humans. Also nature! Why such a breathtaking world for us to live in? Why such a vast universe?
I once read that there are more stars in the universe than there are words and sounds that all humans of all time have ever spoken. Why are there so many? So large? So bright? At such unimaginable distances? The Bible is crystal clear about this: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).
If someone asks, “If earth is the only inhabited planet and man the only rational inhabitant among the stars, why such a large and empty universe?” The answer is: It’s not about us. It’s about God. And it’s an understatement. He is more glorious. Greater in power. Greater in scope. Greater brightness. Than all the galaxies combined. One wise man said, the universe is like a peanut that God carries around in his pocket.
God created us to know him and love him and show him. And then he gave us a hint of what he is like: the universe.
“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)
What that means is that the new covenant, promised most explicitly in Jeremiah 31 and 32, was secured and sealed by the blood of Jesus. The new covenant comes true for God’s people who trust the Messiah, Jesus, because Jesus died to establish it.
And what does the new covenant secure for all who belong to Christ? Perseverance in faith to the end.
Listen to Jeremiah 32:40,
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”
The everlasting covenant — the new covenant — includes the unbreakable promise, “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” They may not. They will not. Christ sealed this covenant with his blood. He purchased your perseverance if you are in Jesus Christ through faith.
If you are persevering in faith today, you owe it to the blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, who is working in you to preserve your faith, is honoring the purchase of Jesus. God the Spirit works in us what God the Son obtained for us. The Father planned it. Jesus bought it. The Spirit applies it — all of them infallibly.
God is totally committed to the perseverance and eternal security of his blood-bought children.
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus 3:15)
God’s name is almost always translated LORD (all caps) in the English Bible. But the Hebrew would be pronounced something like “Yahweh,” and is built on the word for “I am.”
So every time we hear the word Yahweh, or every time you see LORD in the English Bible, you should think: this is a proper name (like Peter or John) built out of the word for “I am” and reminding us each time that God absolutely is.
There are at least 10 things the name Yahweh, “I AM,” says about God:
1. He never had a beginning. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is. And always was. No beginning.”
2. God will never end. If he did not come into being he cannot go out of being, because he is being.
3. God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is all that was eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God.
4. God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is.
5. Everything that is not God depends totally on God. The entire universe is utterly secondary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
6. All the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance. As an echo to a thunderclap. All that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies is, compared to God, as nothing.
7. God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is.
8. God is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no law-book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
9. God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs as the absolute reality. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of his own will.
10. God is the most important and most valuable reality and person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.
Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)
Between eternity past in God’s predestination, and eternity future in God’s glorification, none is lost.
No one who is predestined for sonship fails to be called. And no one who is called fails to be justified. And no one who is justified fails to be glorified. This is an unbreakable steel chain of divine covenant faithfulness.
And so Paul says,
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
[He] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:8–9)
These are the promises of our God who cannot lie. Those who are born again are as secure as God is faithful.
For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
God did not create the physical-material universe willy-nilly. He had a purpose, namely, to add to the ways his glory is externalized and made manifest. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
Our bodies fit into that same category of physical things that God created for this reason. He is not going to back out on his plan to glorify himself through human beings and human bodies.
Why does God go to all the trouble to dirty his hands, as it were, with our decaying, sin-stained flesh, in order to reestablish it as a resurrection body and clothe it with glory and immortality? Answer: Because his Son paid the price of death so that the Father’s purpose for the material universe would be fulfilled, namely, that he would be glorified in it, including in our bodies, forever and ever.
That’s what the text says: “You were bought with a price [namely, the death of his Son]. So glorify God in your body.” God will not disregard or dishonor the work of his Son. God will honor the work of his Son by raising our bodies from the dead, and we will use our bodies to glorify him forever and ever.
That is why you have a body now. And that is why it will be raised to be like Christ’s glorious body.