Wednesday, August 5, 2009

God is the Gospel: God Himself is His Greatest Gift

As I mentioned previously, I recently finished reading John Piper's God Is the Gospel. After strongly recommending that you read the book (buy a physical copy, or read it online), I mentioned that I might reproduce some passages of the book along with my comments in a future post. I decided to do that in a couple of posts.

There are certain themes throughout the book that Piper addresses in various places and in various ways.

The Giver is His Greatest Gift

The first of these themes that I'd like to consider is central to the thesis of the book. It presents that the greatest gift of the Gospel is God Himself. Consider this section:

Whether one thinks of the work of Christ as accomplishing reconciliation or propitiation or penal satisfaction or redemption or justification or forgiveness of sins or liberation, the aim of them all is summed up in the ultimate gift of God Himself. First Peter 3:18 is the clearest statement: "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God." Ephesians 2:13-18 is the next most explicit statement of this truth. "In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ ... that He might ... reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross ... For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." The ultimate aim of the blood of Christ is that we be "brought near" to God and "have access in one Spirit to the Father." (pp. 120-21)
From these passages as well as others it is unmistakable that God wants us to view Him as the greatest benefit and ultimate good of redemption. And yet the Gospel of Christ has also purchased for us many other gifts that we enjoy. Piper names some of them in the above quote: reconciliation, propitiation, penal satisfaction, redemption, justification, forgiveness, and liberation. It's interesting to think of these things as gifts of the Gospel and not the Gospel itself. But I think that's precisely Piper's point: God is the Gospel.
When I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. (p. 13)

The point of this chapter and the one to follow is that the gospel has unleashed a million mercies on the people of Christ, but that none of these is good news in and of itself. They are all good to the degree that they make possible the one great good -- namely, knowing and enjoying God Himself.
(p. 130)
Those are striking statements. No gifts of God would be good. None of the million mercies unleashed upon the people of God by the Gospel of Christ is good news by itself. Feel the weight of these statements! Justification is not good news by itself. Forgiveness is not good news by itself. The propitiation of the Father's wrath is not good news by itself. None of these staggeringly wonderful Gospel gifts is good news if we leave them there. They are only good news to the degree that they serve God's one great and ultimate purpose in all He does (His chief end, if you will): glorifying His own great Name by satisfying His people with Himself.

That's got to affect how we preach the Gospel! It's got to affect sermons. It's got to affect Sunday School lessons. It's got to affect small group Bible studies. It's got to affect personal evangelism. Don't stop at forgiveness. Don't stop at propitiation. Don't stop at justification. Present to people what those things exist to do: get everything out of the way (namely, our rebellion and God's wrath) of our knowing and enjoying our God, by whom and for whom we were created (Col 1:16)!

What Do We Do With the Million Mercies?

But that leaves me with a question. How do we relate to these gifts? And not only the gifts of justification and forgiveness, etc., but the million mercies, the every good and perfect gift sent down to us from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17), who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1Tim 6:17)? Our spouses and friends, our food and drink, our favorite entertainments and recreation. Surely we're to be thankful for them and rejoice over them, but how do we honor the greatest Gift in and through those gifts? Because there is a way to receive these gifts and enjoy them as good things in themselves, and not magnify the Giver above the gifts:
If gratitude for the gospel is not rooted in the glory of God beneath the gift of God, it is disguised idolatry. (p. 138)
So without trying to sound over-dramatic, I simply state: this is serious! I need to know how to be grateful for the Gospel in such a way that my gratitude is rooted in the glory of God. I don't want to be an idolater! I want to worship God in the way He's appointed. How do you and I do that?
All the gifts of God are given for the sake of revealing more of God's glory, so that the proper use of them is to rest our affections not on them but through them on God alone. (p. 116)
I think I read that sentence about 10 times as I was reading through the book. The way we glorify God in His gracious gifts and at the same time not idolize them is, in the moment we receive them, to recognize why God is giving them to us. He is giving us gifts and mercies to reveal His glory, so that we might see Him in them and enjoy and worship and magnify His sweetness. Our affections must not terminate on the gifts. We have to push through the gifts and rest our affections on God alone. Here's another quote:
"Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1Tim 4:4). Yes, if the thanksgiving is rooted in the sight of the glory of the Giver who is more to be admired than all His gifts, and supremely to be enjoyed in all His gifts. (p. 138)
That was another ~10-timer. We must root our thanksgiving in the sight of the glory of the Giver. We are to admire Him more than His gifts, but also we are to enjoy Him in all His gifts.

Don't Worship the Finger

A great point that has wonderfully relevant applications for the Church is found on page 143:
All the enticements to God that are not God are precious and precarious. They can lead us to God or lure us to themselves. They may be food or marriage or church or miracles. All of these blessings bring love letters from God. But unless we stress continually that God Himself is the gospel, people will fall in love with the mailman -- whether his name is forgiveness of sins or eternal life or heaven or ministry or miracles or family or food.
Or if his name is John Piper. Or John MacArthur. Or Mike Riccardi.

This paragraph sheds light on how good we are at making idols out of good things, things that are given to us by God and for our enjoyment. I'm really good at enjoying a preacher or teacher for his own sake, or even for his teaching's sake, and not God's sake. My two favorites, John Piper and John MacArthur, exist only as fingers pointing to the most glorious thing in the universe. But too often I, and probably many of you, get distracted by the finger and miss what the finger is pointing to. This paragraph says, "Don't do that!" Love these men, guys. Love your pastors. Love your elders. Love your parents. Love your Bible study leaders. But love them as gifts from God that were designed for you to receive them and see the glory of God in the face of Christ that they're pointing to. Don't worship the finger.

And when you are graced by God to be in a position to proclaim His excellencies (1Pet 2:9), don't preach in such a way that calls people to marvel at you, the finger. That's why I put my name in that list. Because too often I preach, teach, or just speak in such a way that, whether I intended to or not, draws attention to me. But, teachers of the Word, we call people to worship the finger -- no matter how many times we quote John 3:30 -- unless we take care that every word we speak be to point people to their greatest benefit, to the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Seamless Joy in God and His Gifts

So I want to worship God as He's appointed in the good gifts that He gives. Here's more of Piper explaining how that happens:

When the gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to see and savor the glory of God above all things, the way is opened for us to experience seamless joy in God and His gifts. We are able to see every gift as a beam from the sun of God's glory. Every joy in the beam runs up to the fountain of light and ends there. No created thing becomes a rival but only a revelation of God. Therefore we can say that, for the gospel-liberated mind, all joy in created things is seamless with joy in God. (p. 141)
Man I want that! I want a gospel-liberated mind! I want to be so freed from my idolatry and my sin that I can enjoy everything as a gift from my Father, and have none of it be a competition for my worship, but a catalyst for my worship of the Giver.

He goes on, paraphrasing Psalm 73:24-26:
There is nothing in heaven or on earth that I desire besides you, O God. That must mean ... that in and through all the other good things on earth and in heaven, Asaph sees God and loves Him. Everything is desired for what it shows of God. Augustine put it like this: "He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake." (p. 144)
Everything is desired for what it shows of God. I want everything that God gives me because it shows me more of Him.
  • I want to enjoy my wife as a gift from God because in her and in our marriage I see the glory of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-10).
  • I want to enjoy my dinner as a gift from God because in that gracious, daily provision I see the provision of a perfect sacrifice for my sin in the Person of Jesus Christ (Heb 7:23-28, 10:10-14), the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35).
  • I want to enjoy my job (which will soon be being a student again) as a gift from God because in it I see the glory of the work of my God (Gen 1:31-2:3; Ps 19:1; Jn 5:17).
  • I want to enjoy the fact that the air conditioning in my car works as a gift from God because in the refreshment it gives from the oppressive heat I taste the times of refreshing brought by the forgiveness of my sins, refreshment from the presence of God (Ac 3:19) and in the presence of God (Ps 16:11, 21:6).
Even in gifts that are not God, I want to cherish the Giver as His Greatest Gift.

is the Good News.

God is the Gospel.

1 comment:

olan strickland said...

Amen Mike! The Gospel has as its goal the glory of God in the salvation of self-centered, self-ruled, and self-loving sinners which transforms them into God-centered, God-ruled, and God-loving saints – for His name’s sake.