Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Gospel Is Meant to Be Enjoyed

There are many diverse people in here this evening. Some are men, some are women. Some have brown hair, some have blonde, some have no clue what their natural hair color is anymore. The complexion of your skin is different. Your talents are different. Your likes are different. Your dislikes are different. Some of you are passionate about God; some of you perhaps are not. You all have many different desires. Yet at the core of each heart you hold at least one thing in common—you seek happiness.

In the 1600’s a man by the name of Blaise Pascal wrote: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

By taking a close look at our hearts we can see that this is the motivation for every action that we take. It can easily be shown that Pascal’s statement is true of human nature. But is it right? Is it morally acceptable? Is God pleased with our search for happiness? Is this author correct, when he says: “…for the Christian happiness is never a goal to be pursued? It is always an unexpected surprise of a life of service.” Or, is C.S. Lewis correct? “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” One man says it is your duty to pursue joy the other man says you should never pursue it. Which one is closer to God’s Word?

Is Joy a Duty?

Is joy something that comes as a by-product of righteous living and should never be pursued or is joy something that must be actively pursued as a means of Christian duty?

Before we consult the Scriptures let me briefly clarify. The key issue is whether or not joy should be pursued. There is one sense in which the first statement is most definitely biblical and that is not being challenged by either side—joy is a by-product of holiness and is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We see this clearly from Galatians 5. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. But should we pursue things like joy or do they just “grow” as a result of our righteous living. We could even ask this question with higher stakes: is joy actually a duty that we must have in our lives?

I am going to submit to you tonight that pursuing our joy is not only an acceptable Christian discipline but it is foundational to our living out the gospel. It is commanded. What I am offering to you tonight is this; if the gospel be any gospel at all then it MUST be enjoyed. The gospel by its very nature makes joy mandatory. In other words the gospel by its very nature makes joy not optional.

John Piper helps us summarize this theme in Scripture beautifully:

It goes back to Moses, who wrote the first books of the Bible and threatened terrible things if we would not be happy: "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies" (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
. . . and to the Israelite king David, who called God his "exceeding joy" (Psalm 43:4); and said, "Serve the Lord with gladness" (Psalm 100:2) and "Delight yourself in the Lord" (Psalm 37:4); and who prayed, "Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may . . . be glad all our days" (Psalm 90:14); and who promised that complete and lasting pleasure is found in God alone: "In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever" (Psalm 16:11).
. . . and to Jesus, who said, "Blessed are you when people insult you . . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great" (Matthew 5:11-12); and who said, "I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:11); and who endured the cross "for the joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2); and who promised that, in the end, faithful servants would hear the words, "Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21).
. . . and to James the brother of Jesus, who said, "Consider it all joy . . . when you encounter various trials" (James 1:2).
. . . and to the apostle Paul, who was "sorrowful yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10); and who described the ministry of his team as being "workers with you for your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24); and who commanded Christians to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4); and even to "exult in . . . tribulations" (Romans 5:3).
. . . and to the apostle Peter, who said, "To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation" (1 Peter 4:13).

A text that does not prove our point but rather models it is 1 Peter 1:8-9. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

The experience of the believers in 1 Peter 1:8-9 is not an exception. They are not “super-Christians”. This is not some higher level of Christian-living that they have attained to. They have not discovered the “Secret to the Christian Life”. They did not hear a sermon on the 5 Key’s to Abundant Living. It has far deeper roots. Their experience of “inexpressible joy” should be ours.

The believers that Peter is writing to are facing intense persecution. Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes. Certainly his tangible experiences with Jesus were very sustaining in Peter’s battle with all that is hostile to the gospel. Yet these believers, as Peter notes, had not seen Jesus. He was not tangible. Their experience with Jesus was just like ours. We too have never physically seen him. You have to imagine the astonishment with which Peter is saying these words. You have not even seen him…and you love him. I saw him and I rejected him. You are not even seeing him now…and you believe in him. Furthermore as you do these things you are rejoicing with a joy that is inexpressible. And this joy is holy. It is filled with glory. And you, O scattered exiles, are receiving the outcome of your vibrant faith—the salvation of your very souls. You, dear believers, are experiencing first hand Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures evermore.” You, beloved, are tasting of the beauties of this great God. You are experiencing these pleasures evermore.

Now, dear brothers and sisters, are we in the 21st century experiencing the gospel in this way? Can we say that 1 Peter is true of us? Are we enjoying the gospel? This text is not asking us whether or not we are happy. It is not begging of us even to be joyful for the sake of joy. Inexpressible joy is not the goal in this text. Enjoyment is not even the goal. This text is holding a mirror up to each of our faces and asking us, “are you enjoying Jesus Christ inexpressibly”? Is your relationship with Jesus so vibrant, so life altering, and so consuming that 1 Peter 1:8-9 looks like you? Could Peter sit back and place you in this text? Could he say: “Mike, I know that you have not seen Jesus, and I am amazed at the depth of your love for him. I know that cannot even see him now but you believe in him. And, oh, your belief is so profound that it shows itself in this inexpressible joy. I can see the glory of the Lord flowing through your life. Oh, how you enjoy the gospel.” Are we so Christ-centered and gospel-centered that it shows itself in inexpressible joy?

What is at stake?

That which we are suggesting here tonight is both a devastating and liberating doctrine. As John Piper notes, “It teaches that the value of God shines more brightly in the soul that finds deepest satisfaction in him. Therefore it is liberating because it endorses our inborn desire for joy. And it is devastating because it reveals that no one desires God with the passion he demands.”[1] If it is true that our joy is a duty then it takes on a certain type of seriousness.

I will let Piper continue:

When I saw the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied
in him, I was freed from the unbiblical bondage of fear that it was wrong to
pursue joy. What once had seemed like an inevitable but defective quest for the
satisfaction of my soul now became not just permitted but required. The glory of
God was at stake. This was almost too good to be true—that my quest for joy and
my duty to glorify God were not in conflict. Indeed they were one. Pursuing joy
in God was a nonnegotiable way of honoring God. It was essential. This was a
liberating discovery. It released the energies of my mind and heart to go hard
after all the soul-happiness that God is for me in Jesus.

But simultaneous with the liberation came the devastation. I was freed to pursue my fullest joy in God without guilt. Indeed, I was commanded to pursue it. Indifference to the pursuit of joy in God would be indifference to the glory of God, and that is sin.

Therefore, my quest took on a seriousness, an earnestness, a gravity that I never dreamed would be part of pursuing joy. And then, almost immediately, came the realization that my indwelling sin stands in the way of my full satisfaction in God. It opposes and perverts my pursuit of God. It opposes by making other things look more desirable than God. And it perverts by making me think I am pursuing joy in God when, in fact, I am in love with his gifts.[2]

The stakes, brothers and sisters, are very high. What is at stake in our pursuit of joy in God? Our very soul and the gospel itself is at stake. If the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, how can we possibly be said to “believe in Jesus” if we are not like the man who in his joy goes and sells all that he has to buy that field? If the greatest problem with our wicked heart is that we constantly run to sin and treasure what we should hate and hate what we should treasure, then can we accurately say that if this does not change we are legitimately regenerate? Faith is trusting in Jesus Christ and you will not do that if He is not a treasure.

Furthermore if we are not enjoying the Gospel then what are we communicating about its preciousness? We are communicating that it is not powerful enough to sustain our joy. We are communicating that Christ is not all that precious of a treasure.
But this all begs a question, and one that I would like to ask the apostle Peter. If gospel-centered joy is inexpressible how do I know if I have it? What does inexpressible joy look like? How do I know if I am enjoying the gospel or not?

What does enjoying the gospel look like?

The answer to this question is diverse and cannot be pinned down in a short period of time. I cannot give you a broad enough and complete enough definition. As we have seen exhorting us to enjoy the gospel is really an exhortation to enjoy God. Our enjoyment of God is inexhaustible so there is no way that I can exhaust for you in one sermon what will take a lifetime to enjoy. Nevertheless, I will attempt to put a few brush strokes on this beautiful portrait. I think 3 things will be true of us when we are enjoying the gospel. There are more than these and they could be put in much different (probably more accurate) ways. These 3 are the best and most “to the point” that I can come up with. They are thus:

Rather than living by lists you are held by love. (Colossians 2:16-23)
Rather than finding your identity in your performance you grow in finding your identity in Christ. (Galatians 2:20)
Rather than self-centeredness you increasingly become more Christ-centered. (Philippians 3:8-11)

We will probably deal with most of these individually in the next sermons so I hope to only briefly touch on them here.

Rather than living by lists you are held by love.

For this point we turn to Colossians 2:16-23. Colossians was written to confront a heresy. We do not know the specifics of the Colossian heresy. It is kind of like listening to one side of a phone conversation—you only get half the story. One thing that we can ascertain from Paul’s letter is that the false teachers were teaching asceticism. READ Colossians 2:16-23. They were apparently setting out a bunch of man-made rules and regulations that one must follow in order to be “more spiritual”. They were living by lists.
You cannot live by lists and be living in light of the gospel. If you are not enjoying the gospel then your life is going to be filled with a grand bunch of lists. On one lists you will have the things you must do to be a good friend. Another list will be how to be attractive to the opposite sex. Another list will include the things you need to do in your relationship with God. One list might include church duties. One list will be things you want to accomplish. Another list things you want to study. Lists, lists, lists.

Our adherence to these rules and lists carries a message. With each failure we feel rejected by the Lord. With each success we feel accepted. Some Christian young men have on their list--be sexually pure. Each time they look at a bad magazine, internet site, girl, television show, or have a lustful thought they are condemned by their list. We become defined by our list. The picture of our relationship with God is determined by how well we are at keeping our lists. If you are conquering these things then you feel as if you are progressing. If you are messing up on these lists then you feel as if the stern eye of God is beaming down on you, ready to zap you into hell at any second.

Not only do we define ourselves by lists but we also define others by their adherence to our lists as well. Perhaps on one of your lists is “do not cuss”. You’ve got this one mastered. And you notice that someone else has a little problem with the tongue. You figure that their relationship with God cannot be as vibrant as yours. It can go the other way too. You notice that someone seems to be achieving everything on your lists. You tried to hide your covetousness (because that’s on a list of course). You feel miserable because they seem to “get it” but you do not. Why can’t I get it? Your list defines you, and it defines other people.

If you are enjoying the gospel then your lists are much different. Rather than being a Colossian heretic you are a bold-believer in the Cross. Not all lists are bad by the way. There are lists in the New Testament. There are things that God desires out of His children. Holiness is demanded. The problem with lists is that they can never produce holiness. If you are enjoying grace you understand this. You do not try to establish your righteousness by lists. You know that your righteousness is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

You can see a great example of this in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee is a great list keeper. Listen to him rattle off his list: I am not an extortioner, I am not unjust, I certainly do not commit adultery, I am so much better at keeping my list than this dirty tax collector. Look at my adherence to this list. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of everything I get. Look at my list God! Look how holy I am.” I do not smoke. I do not cuss. I do not watch bad movies. I do not do any of these things God. And what’s more God, look at my church record. I have not missed a Sunday for years. I read my Bible every day. I pray at least 4 times a day. I witness as much as I can. Look at my list God. Look at how justified I am before you.

Now contrast this with the filthy, rotten, dirty, sin-laden tax collector. He cannot bear the thought of a holy God looking at him. He feels so unworthy of the gospel. He knows his sin. He has a list too. But his is ripped up. He’s stopped even trying to keep a list. He is confined to believing that he will never get it. He comes to understand that his only hope is not in list keeping. His only hope is that God might have mercy. So, broken-hearted and sinful he totters along to the temple; knowing that his only hope of justification is the mercy of God. And there he finds himself. Alone with God. Nothing to bring but his sin. He beats his breast, and cries out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Which one went home justified; the one that is living by lists or the one that is held by the power of God’s undeserving love? The one that is enjoying grace looks more like the tax collector than the Pharisee.

Rather than finding your identity in your performance you grow in finding your identity in Christ.

Apart from the gospel we are doomed to finding our identities in our personal performance. This point is really an extension of the first. Indeed is the Pharisee not finding his identity in his performance? Yet this point is worded a little differently so as to expose a few varying flaws in those that do not enjoy grace.

We will be dealing with this point in full next time. For now I want to remind you of a few points we made in our recent sermon on Jonah. Jonathan McIntosh an elder at The Journey in St. Louis gives us 8 signs that help us see if the gospel has gone deeply. How can you tell if your identity is based on your performance or based upon Jesus—the gospel? You can tell that the gospel is not deep and you are living in the flesh whenever you:

1. are worried, anxious, or fearful
2. are insecure or paranoid (protect your identity)
3. cannot take criticism (your performance is attacked)
4. constantly explain or defend yourself (protect your reputation)
5. are consumed by thoughts of yourself and how others perceive you in conversations
6. fish for compliments
7. need to advance yourself—make your name great
8. are struggling with pleasure-related sins (escape when attacked)

Do these define you? If so then you can be assured that you are not enjoying the gospel. If we make these positive then you can see what a life that enjoys the gospel looks like. When you are enjoying the gospel you will not be constantly in knots worried about what people of think of you. You will not be plagued with anxious feelings or fear of being exposed. Instead you will rejoice in the freedom of the gospel. You will feel secure in the gospel. You will be able to relax. You will be bold with the gospel. When you are enjoying the gospel you will not feel the need to protect your identity. Therefore, you will not be constantly worried about what others think of you. You will be able to take criticism; in fact you will enjoy criticism. You will begin to see criticism as a way to grow in Christ. Instead of trying to protect your reputation you will be humble, gentle, and honest about your sin. The reputation you will be passionate about protecting is that of Jesus. Because you are no longer consumed by thoughts of yourself you will be available for others. You will actually listen to people. Also, because you are so enthralled with Jesus you will not be as tempted with pleasure related sins. You will be satisfied in Christ and money, power, sex, drugs, etc will no longer be appealing to you.

You will become less self-centered and more Christ-centered.

You can tell whether or not you are enjoying the gospel by the way that you are living your life. Is your time, money, thoughts, dreams swallowed up in self-centeredness? Are you living to make your name great? Again we will see this more fully in the coming weeks—for not it will be enough to say that when a man is living in light of the Cross then he treasures himself less and Jesus more. The more I grow the more I realize that I am just what Scripture says of me—a man of dust. I realize that I cannot please God. I realize that I am so unworthy of the gospel. I realize that my sin is numerous, devastating, and extremely offensive to a holy God. But I also realize something more about the Cross. It took it all. I have read this quote to you before but it fits here as well.

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world]  we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”[3]

Martin Luther is only saying what John Newton said in a more simplistic way some 200 years later. At the end of his life John Newton, who we will learn more about in the coming weeks, said this: “I have learned to great things in life. One, I am a great sinner. Two, Christ is a great Savior.

Do you see the Cross/Christ-centered focus in the life of these men? Do you see how these men are no longer so focused on themselves as if they are something great? No, they are swallowed up by the greatness of the gospel. The Cross, the gospel, is the center of their life. When we look more fully at this in the coming weeks we will also take a look at the life of Paul. He too was so consumed by the gospel that he no longer lived for himself but for Christ.

We have tried to briefly paint a picture of what it looks like to enjoy the gospel. We have shown that our enjoyment of God and His gospel is indeed a duty. We have also seen that the stakes are very high.

What Must I Do?

Now, perhaps you are realizing that your enjoyment of the gospel is not where it needs to be. Perhaps this is because you are not a child of God. I would venture to say that if you cannot look at your life and at least see some level of enjoyment of Jesus Christ. If you cannot at least see some element of trusting in the Cross over your righteous keeping of lists; if you cannot at least see some element of finding your identity in Christ instead of your performance; if you cannot at least say that there are part of your life that are Christ centered—then I really would have to question whether or not you have been born again. When the Holy Spirit makes a heart new he changes it. He changes our heart and our affections.

But sometimes as Christians we struggle with treasuring Jesus as we ought. In fact this will be our struggle until eternity. What then do we do to increase our enjoyment of the gospel? That is what we will be studying for the next few weeks in specifics. Christian, your general call is the same as that of the unbeliever. You must repent of not treasuring Christ and His gospel and you must run to the Cross. Trust in the Cross to cleanse you; Jesus will cleanse you of even this. If your soul is stricken by this I advice you to seek me out and we will continue to discuss this matter.

[1] Piper, John. When I Don’t Desire God. Pages 9-10.
[2] Ibid

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