(The following sermon was preached during Wednesday night prayer meeting at FBC Benbrook on January 6, 2010)
When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan river to enter the Promised Land, Joshua called together one man from each tribe, and told them that as they crossed the river, they were to take a stone from the middle of the river and pile them up on the banks as a memorial to the people forever about what God had done for them. These stones were to be a spiritual marker for themselves and their children, a memorial to bring to mind the hand of the Lord in their past.
We all have spiritual markers, events from our past where the Lord worked to teach us or mature us. Markers that have shaped us forever. I think back to Falls Creek Baptist Encampment where I sat next to a stranger with a “counselor” name badge. With snot running down my face, I gave my life to Christ. I look back at a Disciple Now my senior year in high school where someone took the time to teach me how to mature in the faith. To this day, I still read the Bible daily and take notes during sermons, disciplines I learned during that weekend. I look at the spiritual marker of Choice, the Bible study I went to in college led by Louie Giglio. For the first time in my life, on those Monday nights, I learned how to worship.
There are other spiritual markers in my life where the Lord has used books to radically change my relationship with Christ. I remember the book Waiting that I read my senior year at Baylor. The thesis of that book was, “What you become while you are waiting is more important than what you are waiting for.” While waiting to meet my future wife, to figure out what I would be doing in ministry, and to discern where I would go to seminary, that basic truth still guides me today.
I remember leading my church in San Angelo through the Experiencing God study. If you haven’t been through it, Experiencing God is a twelve week discipleship course developed in the early 90’s. The life changing point for me is that I don’t have to work for God. God is already at work, and really does not need what little I could do for Him. It is not what I can do for God, but what God can do through me. That has forever changed how I approach ministry and life.
And then, about thirteen years ago, I read a book, Desiring God by John Piper, a pastor in Minnesota. A friend of mine suggested it to me, and when I first read it, I didn’t have a clue what it was talking about. Way too deep for me. I picked it up again about ten years ago when I was looking for something to read, and it was still a challenge but the basic message began to break through my dimwitted mind. And still, the message presented in this book, or I should say the message presented in the Scriptures that is brought out by John Piper in this book and in his ministry, continues to be beyond me. I am still trying to lay hold of them.
The book begins with a look at the first few words of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where Paul writes,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1.3-14 NIV)
“God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” What a statement. The next few verses go on to describe in detail what those blessings are. First, He has chosen us (1.4). Deep waters at the edge of the pool. Chapter one presents the idea of the foreknowledge of God, how we have been elected or predestined in Christ. Though we definitely don’t want to spend the next hour debating predestination, it is obvious that the Scriptures teach that before we come to Christ, God is at work in us enabling us to come to Him. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.44). Before we choose Christ, He has already chosen us. Or consider Lydia in Acts 16. Before she was saved, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16.14-15).
Somehow, the foreknowledge of God and the freewill of mankind meet in the moment of salvation. I heard it explained like this once. When we walk into heaven, we will read above the gates, “Whosoever will may come.” As we enter heaven and look back at the same gate, the message above the gate will read, “You did not choose Me, I chose you.”
We usually get all consumed with the question of the people whom God has not chosen, but for tonight just consider this: The Lord has chosen you. What a blessing to be chosen by the Creator of the world before the creation of the world. He has chosen you.
“God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” He has chosen us, and second, He has adopted us. He chose us, but not to be slaves. He could have brought us into the kingdom of God to be busboys or sewer workers. No, He brought us into the Kingdom of God to be sons and daughters, heirs to the throne. Jesus told His disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15.15). He has grafted us in; He has adopted us.
“God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” He chose us; He adopted us, and He has redeemed us. What love would take a homeless beggar off the streets and invite him into their home to live as one of their own. Of course, everyone in the family would always know where they came from and all about their scarred past. Not this family. We have been redeemed by the forgiveness of sins. These adopted sons have been cleansed of all wrong doing in their past. We sit at the table as sinless as the Lord who sits at the head, think about that. Blessing upon blessing.
“God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Chosen, adopted, and redeemed. But beyond that, we have insider information. He has made known to us the mystery of His will. He has shared with us all about His plan to bring the entire world under Christ. He has revealed Himself and His will to us.
Why has He done all these things? What is God’s motive? What is the end game? Why? Verses 11-14 tell us why God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We were chosen in order that we might be for the praise of His glory (1.12). Paul repeats it again in the last verse. You were included in Christ…to the praise of His glory (1.14). God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing so that we might be to the praise of His glory. Peter gives the same message: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2.9).
To the Praise of His Glory
There are some churchy phrases that just sound too spiritual to question. If we really admitted that we have no idea what Beulah land is or where Mount Pisgah’s heights are or why we raise our Ebenezer? This is one of those phrases for me: to the praise of His glory. What exactly does that mean?
In his book, John Piper describes the glory of God as the “beauty of His manifold perfections.” That’s still a little too much for me. What if we say, the glory of God is the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does. So, the glory of God is both His character and His actions. There is always a close relationship between who we are and what we do. To praise the glory of God is to celebrate the hand of God as an expression of the character of God.
“To the praise of His glory.” To praise something is to speak well of something. But, praise goes beyond speaking well of something. It must include thinking highly of that same thing. For instance, suppose we are at a Sunday School class party and I am in the kitchen fixing my plate. I am in the room alone, but Jenetta is looking at me through a small window above the sink. She sees me cut off a piece of the chocolate cake she brought. She smiles because she worked very hard on that cake, and wants me to enjoy it. However, I take one bite and spew it out of my mouth into the garbage can. So offensive is it to my taste buds that I take a napkin and rub off any cake residue on my tongue, and then gargle with Dr. Pepper to get rid of the taste.
Then, I take that same cake and parade it through the living room, saying things like, “Have you tasted this cake? This is the best chocolate cake in the world.” Now, does Jenetta feel praised? Of course not. Though I have spoken well of her cake, she knows I have found no delight in her cake. We have a word for those who praise something they don’t take delight in. The word is hypocrite.
So, “to the praise of His glory” is to express delight in the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does. So, the reason God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ is that we might express delight in the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does.
Duty vs. Delight
Expressing delight. Let’s illustrate this idea through a more common example. Take Charles. Tonight is his 50th wedding anniversary, and he comes home to Betty with fifty long stem roses to give to his wife. Now, there are two possible speeches that Betty could hear as her husband presents these roses to her. Let’s examine speech number one.
“My dear, I present to you these fifty long stem roses on our fiftieth anniversary. Fifty years ago, I stood before God and our family and committed my life to you. Now, my duty as a husband demands that I present you with a token of affection on the anniversary of our vows. I don’t really want to, but I know it is what I ought to do. And so, I want you to know that I will carry out my duty to you in the next fifty years as I have done in the last fifty.”
What is her reaction? “I don’t really want to but I know I ought?” What kind of presentation is that? Compare that to speech number two.
“My dear, these last fifty years have been the best years of my life. You are a special gift to me that continues to pour blessings after blessings into my life. Living with you brings me so much joy. Loving you and serving you is so much fun that I can’t wait to spend another fifty years together. There is no one on the face of the earth that I would rather be with than you. I know they aren’t much, but these fifty roses are just a token of how much I love you and how much I love being your husband.”
Why is it that we expect a more favorable response from the wife to the second speech instead of the first? The first is motivated by duty, obligation, commitment. The second is an overflow of emotion, of affection, of delight.
Duty and obligation are not bad things. In fact, our culture values duty and commitment. We look back to the 1940s with admiration as the young men of this country went off to war to fulfill their duty to their country. Duty is good. We want our spouses to be committed to us, to choose us above all others even then the feelings aren’t there.
Over 200 years ago, Immanuel Kant wrote a book called the Metaphysics of Ethics where he put forth his ethical philosophy. He wrote that any action to be regarded as moral must be undertaken from a sense of duty. In fact, according to Immanuel Kant, an action is moral only if one has no desire to perform it but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort. So, in this system, the highest ethical decision comes from a sense of duty.
And yet, in our example, Betty is still not impressed. Could it be, that while we value duty, we don’t want it to be the primary motivation in a relationship. Duty is good, but delight should be the primary motivation.
When I come home from work at the end of the day, I want my wife to smile because she takes delight in me. I don’t want her to take up her duty and serve me as she ought. I am glad that she fulfills her duty to me and the kids, but I want her passion and heartbeat to be all about delight. Duty and responsibility is only valuable only when it is driven by delight.
The problem is that for most of us, our relationship with Christ is all about duty. We are involved in outreach events because we ought to. We attend worship every Sunday because it is part of our commitment. We tithe out of obligation. We feel guilty when we are not witnessing to the lost because we know we ought to. Duty, duty, duty. Any delight, if we ever come across it, is merely an unintended by-product of a faithful person carrying out their duty.
However, in our own marriages, we know that is bad relational chemistry. We want our spouses to find delight in us, to be driven by delight. Then, why do we accept duty as the primary motivator in our relationship with Christ?
Ephesians 1 tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ so that we might express delight in the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does. God has chosen us, adopted us, redeemed us, and revealed Himself to us so that we might delight in Him and express that delight. Delight ought to mark our relationship with Christ, not duty.
Re-Exchange The Glory
I think the root problem is that many of us have misunderstood the basic gospel message.
You are familiar with the Roman’s Road. The Roman’s Road is a gospel presentation using only verses from the book of Romans. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3.23). The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life (6.23). And so on. I have always summarized the gospel with the four pillars of God’s love for us, our decision to sin and its consequences, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, and the requirement to make a faith response to the grace of God displayed on the cross.
But, John Piper’s book showed me something that I had missed before. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We have probably all memorized that verse, but what does it mean to fall short of the glory of God? Romans 1 gives us the answer.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1.21-25)
What does it mean to be lost? It means that we have exchanged the glory of the immortal God, the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does, for the glory of His creation. It means that God has presented us with His glory, and we have decided that we would rather have the glory of created things. But more than that. We exchanged glories because we preferred the glory of creation. In our depravity, we actually believe the glory of creation is more beautiful and great than who God is and what He does.
In our sin, we actually find more delight in the created things than in the glory of God. For salvation to take place, there must be a re-exchange of glory. We must decide to once again prefer the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does over the glory of the created things. Salvation is a God given new taste.
Obstacles To Re-Exchanging
But here’s the kicker: we have a hard time re-exchanging the glory. One reason is that we have such a strong belief in the high value of duty. Our assumptions are that if we are motivated by duty, we have a higher level of commitment than if we are just motivated by delight. So, we have divorced duty and delight. We are committed to Christ in duty, but we take delight in the created things. But our duty overrides our delight when need be. Even so, we are still exchanging the glory of God for the glory of created things. Why do we do this? Because we have exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1.25), the lie being that the glory of the created things is greater than the glory of God.
If we are gut level honest, we simply do not believe that the glory of God is greater than the glory of this world. To put it another way, we do not believe that God is more delightful than the things of this world.
That is why John Piper, in his book Desiring God, is advocating, what he calls, Christian Hedonism. According to the dictionary, hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. Of course, we have been preaching against this in the church for years. The meaning of life cannot be found in the pleasures of this world. Seeking pleasure is dead end street, so we have been told.
Piper looks at this pleasure thing honestly. He is willing to admit that the desire to live a pleasurable life is universal. In fact, the desire to take delight in life is not a part of our fallen nature but part of our created nature. God created us to want to enjoy life, to want to live a pleasant life, to want to take delight in life. The problem is not in the fact that we want to live a pleasurable life. The problem is that we locate the object of this desire in things that are lesser delights. It is not that our desire to live a pleasurable life is too strong. Instead, the problem is that it is too weak. We have been shopping at the garage sale instead of Dillard’s. The most delightful thing is who God is and what He does, and nothing in this created world can give us more delight that God.
So, Piper resurrects a statement from Jonathon Edwards that says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” God is most glorified when we are most delighted in Him.
Not an Ought, but an “I Am”
The problem is that we have been running around telling ourselves to forsake the pleasures of this world to follow God. While this is true, we have left out the motivation. We have bred a culture of people who sacrificially lay down the great things of this world to follow Christ because they “ought.” But, the picture of Scripture is wholly different.
Take the image of Isaiah 55. The Lord stands before a banquet table full of the best food and calls out,
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55.1-2).
The prophet echoes the words of Psalm 34, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (34.8) The Lord is not saying, “I know the world is satisfying and delightful, but I still call you to me.” No, the Lord is standing before His bounty and says, “Why do you go after the lesser delights in life? Why do you go after things that can’t satisfy? Come to me, and I will delight your soul.”
The difference is between a scoop of Blue Bell’s Chocolate Chip ice cream and a bowl full of worm dirt. I don’t say to you that you “ought” to delight more in the ice cream. Its not a matter of what you should do; its simple: the ice cream is more delightful than worm dirt. The Lord doesn’t stand before us to command us to delight in Him because we ought, but because He is more delightful.
Could it be that the hunger in our lives is because we are convinced that the lesser delights are the best delights when the truth is that they are just lesser delights? Could it be that the ache in our hearts is because the things we have been hoping would satisfy have left us disappointed because they are not the most delightful thing in the universe? Could it be that God has chosen us, adopted us, redeemed us, and revealed Himself to us so that we might find delight in who He is and what He does, but we are still enamored with the lesser delights of this world?
And so I want you to join me in the pursuit of delighting in the glory of God. By that I mean, I want our Wednesday nights to focus on discovering and delighting in the beauty and greatness of who God is and what He does. I want to meditate on His holiness, sovereignty, wisdom, power, faithfulness, jealously, wrath, justice, love, mercy, tender kindness, patience, and every other descriptive word and phrase the Bible uses to describe the glory of God. I want to know the beauty and greatness of this King of Kings, and I want to come to know why He is so much more delightful than the treasures that have captivated my attention. And as I grab a hold of that, then I want to express that delight through my praise.
At our prayer meetings this Spring, I am going to bring to your attention a small slice of the glory of God. We might meditate on His power or His mercy, or on His holiness or His kindness, or focus on His wrath or forbearance, with then goal in mind that you and I can become more and more enamored with His glory and less and less enamored with the glory of created things. And I hope that all of this will help us become “to the praise of His glory.”