The best news of the Christian gospel is that the supremely glorious Creator of the universe has acted in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection to remove every obstacle between us and himself so that we may find everlasting joy in seeing and savoring his infinite beauty. The saving love of God is his doing whatever must be done, at great cost to himself, and for the least deserving, so that he might enthrall them with what will make them supremely happy forever, namely, himself. Therefore, the gospel of God and the love of God are expressed finally and fully in God's gift of himself for our everlasting pleasure. "In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11).
GOD IS THE GOSPEL:
Christ Is a Soul Satisfying Portion
Those who have seen God most clearly in the face of Christ and have savored him most fully tell us something of what this is like. Jonathan Edwards opens the window on his own soul and on the meaning of the gospel with these exultant words:
They that have Christ, they have a soul satisfying portion. They have the truest pleasures and comforts. Here is to be found the proper happiness of the soul. Least liable to accidents and change Here is the best employment for the understanding Such as have Christ, they have better and greater riches than others Better honor Far better pleasures than sensual men. The joys are more exquisitely delighting than ever was enjoyed by the greatest epicure. [There are] no pleasures like those that are by the enlightenings of the Spirit of Christ, the discoveries of the beauty of Christ and the manifestations of his love.
This is why Jesus said that the pure are blessed because "they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). It's why David said, "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" (Ps. 27:4). Beholding the beauty of God has always been the supreme desire of those who know him best.
Praise Is to the Ego What Sex Is to the Body
The upshot of saying this is that the love of God and the gospel of God are radically God centered. God loves us by giving us himself to enjoy. The gospel is good news because it announces to us that God has acted in Christ not just that we may have heaven, but so that we may have God. "Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God" (2 John 9). The greatest good of the gospel is "having God" as our treasure forever.
The God centered love of God is foreign to fallen human beings, especially to those who like most of us have been saturated for decades with doctrines of self esteem. We have absorbed a definition of love that makes us the center. That is, we feel loved when someone makes much of us. Thus the natural, human definition of love is making much of someone. The main reason this feels like love is that it feels so good to be made much of. The problem is that this feels good on wholly natural grounds. There is nothing spiritual about it. No change in us is needed at all to experience this kind of "love." This love is wholly natural. It operates on the principles that are already present in our fallen, sinful, and spiritually dead souls We love the praise of man. It feels good. Praise is to the ego what sex is to the body. It just doesn't get any better as long as we are spiritually dead.
The ground of natural love is finally me, not God. If you make much of me, I feel loved, because I am the final ground of my happiness. God is not in that place. He should be, but he is not. That is what it means to be unconverted and natural. The deepest foundation of my happiness is me.
A Personal Test for What Is Ultimate in Our Hearts
We should test ourselves with some questions. It is right to pursue likeness to Christ. But the question is, why? What is the root of our motivation? Consider some attributes of Christ that we might pursue, and ask these questions:
- Do I want to be strong like Christ, so I will be admired as strong, or so that I can defeat every adversary that would entice me to settle for any pleasure less than admiring the strongest person in the universe, Christ?
- Do I want to be wise like Christ, so I will be admired as wise and intelligent, or so that I can discern and admire the One who is most truly wise?
- Do I want to be holy like Christ, so that I can be admired as holy, or so that I can be free from all unholy inhibitions that keep me from seeing and savoring the holiness of Christ?
- Do I want to be loving like Christ, so that I will be admired as a loving person, or so that I will enjoy extending to others, even in sufferings, the all satisfying love of Christ?
The question is not whether we will have all this glorious likeness to Christ. We will. The question is: To what end? Everything in Romans 8:29 30, all of God's work, his choosing us, predestining us, calling us, justifying us, bringing us to final glory is designed by God not ultimately to make much of us, but to free us and fit us to enjoy seeing and making much of Christ forever.
Not Finally Being and Seeing, but Delighting and Displaying
Perhaps we have not posed the question in the best way. In asking whether seeing God or being like God is the greatest good of the gospel, we may have stopped short of what being and seeing are for. Perhaps neither is ultimate. Would it not be better to say that the ultimate benefit of the gospel, which makes all its other parts good news, is neither being nor seeing, but delighting and displaying, that is, delighting in and displaying "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). In other words, is it not the case that we behold and thus become (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2), and that we become and thus behold (Matt. 5:8; 2 Cor. 4:6) in order that ultimately we might delight in and display God? Becoming and beholding are a means to the end of delighting and displaying.
Jesus points in this direction by the way he finishes his prayer in John 17. In verse 24 he prays that we may be with him where he is, to see his glory. The emphasis falls on the great gospel gift of seeing the divine glory. But the final statement of Jesus' prayer in verse 26 is a promise that calls attention to the delight we will take in seeing this glory: "I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."
This is an awesome promise. He is not merely saying that we will see his glory, but that when we see him, we will love him with the very love that the Father has for the Son " that the love with which you have loved me may be in them." This is a love that consists of supreme delight. The Father has infinite joy in the glory of his Son. We are promised a share in that joy. This means that seeing and being, by themselves, are not the ultimate benefit of the gospel. Seeing leads to savoring or it is not good news at all.
Excerpted from God is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself by John Piper, copyright 2005, pages 147-149, 159-161. Used with permission of Crossway Books.
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