Daily Light – Feb 26, 2020

Live for Your Greatest Desire


2 Part Article by John Piper

Part 2:

Pursue Real Pleasure

God offers himself to us as the infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful, all-satisfying treasure of the universe for our full and everlasting enjoyment. That’s what it says in Psalm 16:11.

In your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Full and forever. That cannot be improved on. There is nothing fuller than full, or longer than forever. And if we turn away from that offer — away from the everlasting pleasures in the presence of God as the fulfilment of our lifelong desire, by saying: I must deny myself that full and everlasting enjoyment of God — we are blasphemers and idolaters, and have rejected the word of Jesus. Listen to Jesus again:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

So, make no mistake about it. There is real self-denial. There is a real cross. Real suffering to endure for Jesus. A real death to die. The old John Piper must be crucified. I must daily count myself dead with Christ. There is real self-denial. Christianity is costly. It will cost many of you your lives — literally.

But! How does Jesus argue in the very next verse to motivate us to live this way — this sacrificial way? Here’s what he says:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35)

Do you see how he is arguing for self-denial? Why should we not try to save our lives in the service of Jesus? Because if we do, we will lose our lives — forever. Why should we be willing to lose our lives in the service of Jesus in this world? Because if we do, we save them — forever.

Joy at Any Cost

So, what does the argument assume? It assumes that no true disciple will throw away eternal joy in God for a mere eighty years of comfortable, worldly self-indulgence. Disciples of Jesus are not idiots. Jesus is assuming that a true disciple desires joy in God forever more than we want all that this world can give. That’s the assumption. That’s the basic premise. That’s how the argument works.

If pursuing our desire — eternal joy in God — costs us everything here, then we will deny ourselves everything here. That’s how the argument works! This is how bold Christians are born. This is where risk-taking missionaries come from. This is where your world turns upside down.

No. No. No. We are not making a god out of our desires. Our desires make clear what our god is: this world, or God; our name, or his name; our fame, or his fame. Our desires are not what we worship. They are our worship. And what we desire most is our God. If you belong to Jesus, you say from the heart,

Your name and your renown are the desire of our souls. (Isaiah 26:8)

What Sustains Real Love

But someone else objects: “I can see where this is going. You are leading us from saying that we should desire the name and fame of Jesus above all things to saying that this desire should be the motive, the sustaining force, of all we do. Correct?” Yes. “Which means that every act of love becomes a pathway to the satisfaction of your desire for God. Is that right?” Yes. “And the satisfaction that you are hoping for in God enables you to bear the painful costs of love now. Right?” Right.

“How does that not contaminate love for others by turning it into self-seeking? You are going to get your desires satisfied supposedly in doing good for me. So, you ruin the moral beauty of love, by turning it into self-seeking. It’s all about you and your desires.” 

No Greater Sacrifice

So, again, let’s measure the force of this objection by looking at Jesus. Let’s look at Hebrews 12:1–2.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The writer pictures your life as a marathon. You see that in the first seven words: “Let us run with endurance the race.” You don’t need endurance for a 100-meter dash. You need strength. But for a marathon you need endurance. And the Christian life is a lifelong marathon of costly love. Paul said, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Life is one long race of love.

Jesus’s marathon lasted 33 years. And he ran the final hours of the race with a crown of thorns on his head and nails in his hands and his feet. And he finished. And, O God, I could wish that even in a group this large (believers and unbelievers) that we would all agree that there was not, nor ever will be, a greater act of love than the Son of God’s willing sacrifice of himself to save his enemies.

All for Joy

So, the question is: What was the sustaining force that enabled Jesus to keep running in love to the end, even with nails in his feet? The answer of the text is clear. You see it in the middle of the text.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

“For the joy that was set before him” on the other side of suffering and death and resurrection. Which he could taste (see Hebrews 11:1). So, he considered the shame. (Criminals were crucified naked and reviled.) And he despised the shame. What does that mean?

He pictured shame as a kind of tempter. And he said, “Shame, I know what you are trying to do. I know the power you have to turn people away from the path of obedience and love. I know how you create in the human soul an almost irresistible desire not to be embarrassed or shamed. But listen to me, shame. I taste, right now, a joy ten thousand times greater than I would have by fearing you. Shame, I despise what you are trying to do — to create a desire in me stronger than my desire for the joy awaiting me on the path of this obedience. Be gone, shame. This joy, set before me, is too great. And my desire for it is absolutely invincible.”

And with that he endured the cross, and threw shame to the wind, and died for sin, and rose from the dead, and reached the joy that was set before him in the presence of his Father (John 17:524). So, mark this! The greatest act of love that was ever performed was sustained by the desire for joy in the presence of God.

Look to Jesus

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

And when the text says “looking to Jesus,” it does not mean: “Don’t act like Jesus. Don’t be motivated the way Jesus was. Don’t let your love be sustained by the desire for joy in God’s presence.” No. “Looking to Jesus” does not mean: “Watch out! If you’re motivated the way Jesus was, you’re going to turn love into self-seeking. You’re going to ruin the moral beauty of sacrifice by making it the path to satisfaction of your own desire. Don’t be like that. Jesus is not a good model here.” That’s not what “looking to Jesus” means.

It means: Don’t try to be motivated in a more noble, more virtuous way than Jesus was. For the joy set before him he loved at the cost of his life. Trying to be better than Jesus is blasphemy.

True Christian Love

So, if every act of truly Christian love is, in fact, sustained by our desire for the joy of God set before us — the experience of hearing Jesus say, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21); join me in my enjoyment of God, forever — if every act of truly Christian love is sustained by our desire and hope for that joy, then, why doesn’t that ruin every act of love, by turning it into self-seeking?

Or to put it crassly, since Jesus loved this way, why isn’t the cross of Christ mere selfishness? He died to have his own joy!

The answer is this: Selfishness is using or ignoring others to get your own happiness at their expense. But that’s not what is happening at the cross. Nor in any Christian act of love. Jesus is not using or ignoring others to get his own happiness. Jesus is suffering and dying precisely to include others in the very happiness he desires and hopes for — the joy set before him. It’s not called selfishness when you aim to increase your happiness in God by including others in it, especially when it costs you your life. This is not selfishness. It is love.

Desire of Our Souls

So, we circle back to the beginning. The flag waving over Passion 2020 is summoning you to experience a miracle in your life. The miracle of desire. A miracle because you can’t make it happen. It’s a gift. The flag of Isaiah 26:8 is waving. And the very Spirit that makes it wave is the Spirit that wakens your desire. God is calling you to embrace the miracle of saying from your heart,

Your name and renown [O Lord] are the desire of our souls. (Isaiah 26:8)

Nothing is more important in your life than the triumph of this desire over all other desires. If the name and fame of Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God, the King of kings, does not become your greatest desire, you will not only waste your life; you will lose it. But if Jesus becomes your greatest desire — though it may cost you your life — you will finish the race, take many with you, and together you will enter the joy of your master, forever.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

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