Dedicated to My Friend – Jerry Paddock 

Jerry Paddock August 1945 – March 2022

Where Do Christians Go When They Die?

Article by Ben C. Dunson, Minister / Professor, Dallas, TX 

Recently, my sons told me about a conversation they had with several of their friends in the neighborhood. At some point, the discussion turned to heaven, and their friends began to speculate about what it will be like. We’ll have as much money as we like, toys will abound, and adventures will never end, they insisted. 

As adults, we probably don’t imagine heaven filled with children’s favorite things, although our own speculations can be remarkably similar. Instead of toys, we imagine climbing mountains, interstellar travel, the infinite delights of unimpeded library access (or is that just me?), and on and on. 

There is a danger, then, that our ideas about heaven might have more to do with sanctifying what we currently love the most about this world than they do with what the Scriptures say about where we go when we die. We must, therefore, turn to God’s word if we would learn what our heavenly home will truly be like. 

What Is Heaven Like? 

First, heaven. Most English translations use the word heaven (or heavens) to describe both the sky (Genesis 1:18; etc.) and the realm where God and his angels dwell (Job 22:12Psalm 115:2–3Isaiah 66:1Matthew 5:34Romans 1:18). These two are related, but certainly not identical. The spiritual realm of heaven, like the sky, is described as being above the earth to indicate the infinite, qualitative difference between God and everything that he has made (Matthew 14:19Mark 16:192 Corinthians 12:2Revelation 4:111:12). 

“Heaven, as wonderful as it is, is not the final resting place for God’s people. He never meant it to be.” 

The depiction of heaven as a spiritual “place,” however, does not mean that God literally dwells somewhere high in the sky, or in outer space. God is a Spirit (John 4:24Acts 7:48–50Romans 1:20–23); he is not composed of matter, nor does he live in a physical location composed of matter. God dwells in heaven, yet he is not contained or constrained by it in any way (1 Kings 8:27). In fact, heaven is God’s own creation (Colossians 1:16). To say that God is “in” heaven is another way of saying that he transcends his own creation, even as he upholds it at every moment by his word (Hebrews 1:3). 

Matters become more mysterious when we think about the resurrected body of Jesus Christ, which is also now in heaven (Acts 3:20–217:55–56Hebrews 9:241 Peter 3:21–22). We know that Jesus has a physical body, gloriously raised from the dead, resident somewhere, even though we know very little (physically speaking) of what kind of place that somewhere is. We certainly can’t point to it on a map. 

Although it is tempting to speculate about all of this, wisdom would keep us tethered to what is clearly revealed in the Bible. Ultimately, the Scriptures are not concerned with identifying for us the physical location of heaven. Based on what we see in Scripture, it seems best that we explain it not as some concrete place in normal space and time, but as an entirely different kind of place. It is a realm that transcends our universe, even as it often breaks into it (when angels appear to human sight, for example, or when God shows himself to his people). 

What is central to biblical teaching is not where heaven is, but what it is. Heaven is where God dwells in the unapproachable light of his awesome majesty (1 Timothy 6:16). Death is “gain” for believers because we enter heaven, the place where we come into the fullness of Christ’s loving presence in a wholly new way, which is better than life itself (Philippians 1:21–23). It is also the place where sin (Revelation 21:8), sickness (1 Corinthians 15:4252–57), and sadness (Revelation 21:4) are no more, and where we live in perfect fellowship with Christ forever. 

Contrary to the teaching that believers enter into a state of “soul sleep,” or unconscious resting, until the day of Christ’s return, the Bible teaches that we will enter into conscious communion with Christ upon death. As Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul says that faithful service to Christ in this life brings with it abundant blessings, and yet it also means being “away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). He knows he still has gospel work to do, but his chief desire is to arrive finally at that day when he will be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). 

Resurrection of the Body 

Heaven, however, as wonderful as it is, is not the final resting place for God’s people. He never meant it to be. The full effects of sin in this world have not been overcome as long as our bodies lie in the grave. God made the whole world, including our bodies, “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The death of the body is part of the curse of original sin (Genesis 2:17). It is not natural; it is not the way things are meant to be. The last enemy to be defeated by God will be death itself, when the bodies of believers are raised up on the last day (1 Corinthians 15:2654–57). Unbelievers also will be raised, though in bodies fitted for eternal punishment (John 5:29). 

“God’s people, in the fullness of the new creation, eat from the tree of life and live forever.” 

The resurrection is a physical reality. After his resurrection, Jesus ate food (Luke 24:42–43) and could be touched (John 20:1727). In his resurrection, he is the “firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20) of the future resurrection of all believers. This is another way of saying that Jesus (in his physical, bodily resurrection) has already entered into the state that all believers will enter into when he returns to usher in the fullness of the new creation. Because of our unbreakable union with Jesus in life and death (Romans 6:51 Thessalonians 4:14), what is true of him will certainly be true of us as well: we will be raised up bodily (1 Corinthians 15:12–19Philippians 3:20–21Romans 8:11). Our bodies will be spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:44), not in the sense of being non-physical, but in the sense of being wholly controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

New Heavens, New Earth 

The resurrection of the body, then, shows us that a disembodied heaven was never meant by God to last forever. There must be a physical realm for the physically raised body to dwell in. This is the new creation, which, like the resurrection body, is a physical reality. The new creation is the earth transformed by the power of God into everything he originally intended for it when he made it in the beginning. It is heaven come down to earth (Revelation 21:1–8). 

The glories of the new creation far transcend the glories of the present creation, a creation that itself is staggering in its testimony to the goodness, beauty, and glory of God (Psalm 19:1–6). The world as God originally made it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31) but incomplete. It had not yet been brought into the state God intended for it, a state that Adam, Eve, and their descendants would have entered into had Adam been faithful in the work God originally gave him. This truth is seen most clearly in Revelation 22:1–5, where God’s people, in the fullness of the new creation, eat from the tree of life and live forever, without the possibility that this blessed state could ever be lost. 

What will the new creation be like? As with heaven, many of our questions about the new creation simply aren’t answered in the Bible. We have every reason to believe it will be physical, but even here circumspection is required. There will be an organic connection between our present body and our resurrection body. Even so, there also will be a radical transformation of our bodies at the resurrection. Paul shows both the continuity and the discontinuity in our resurrection bodies using the image of a seed’s transformation into a full-grown plant (1 Corinthians 15:35–49). It is the same body that is raised, and yet it is so much more than merely the body as it was in this age of sin and death. It is an imperishable, glorious, powerful body (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). 

“Heaven, like God himself, is a world we understand truly, and yet fall far short of understanding fully.” 

Similarly, the good world God made in the beginning will not be thrown away and replaced with an immaterial, spiritual substitute. Instead, its corruption will be cleansed as it is purified of all sinful defilement (see 2 Peter 3:10–13, which speaks not of an annihilating but of a purifying fire). Romans 8:18–25 shows us that the present world, subject as it is to futility and decay because of the fall, will on the last day “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). 

The new creation will be physical, a new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:1766:222 Peter 3:13), but the biblical focus is not on the physical makeup of the new creation, or the presence or absence of the mundane earthly activities we so enjoy in this age. Rather, the focus is on the spiritual realities of the new creation: the healing of the ravages of sin among the nations, the absence of sinfully accursed things, and most importantly, seeing and worshiping Christ face-to-face, and rejoicing that his tender, loving face shines upon us (Revelation 22:1–5). We are told only what we need to know about the nature of the new creation so as to motivate our faithful service to God in the present. With this knowledge we must rest content, disciplining our imaginations according to what has actually been revealed to us in God’s word (Deuteronomy 29:291 Corinthians 4:6). 

Glory Awaits 

In 1 Corinthians 2:9, the apostle Paul writes of heaven that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” In this text, we see just how much the biblical depictions of heaven, the resurrection of the body, and the new creation, as glorious as they are, cannot fully capture the glory that awaits believers after death. In the end, we can do little more than join Paul in marveling at the eternal delights that await us when we see our Savior face-to-face for the first time. 

Heaven, like God himself, is a world we understand truly, and yet fall far short of understanding fully. As the apostle John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We shall indeed be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51). And in that glorious moment, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). 

Ben C. Dunson is the Editor-in-Chief of American Reformer, an online journal of Christian social commentary. He is also a Visiting Professor of New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, SC, and a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in the northern suburbs of Dallas, TX, with his wife and four boys. 

How We Experience Joy While Enduring Pain, Trials, and Hardships 

Article by Mark Ballenger, Masters in Pastoral Counseling, Writer/Author 

Philippians 4:4 changed my life: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Through those five words, God has shown me that my internal joy cannot be tied to my external circumstances. When I was unemployed, when I experienced family tragedies, when flaws in me were exposed, and when my most meaningful relationships were broken or dysfunctional, God reminded me that joy in the Lord was still possible. 

God does not cruelly tell us to put a smile on our face no matter the pain in our hearts. Rather, Philippians 4:4 reminds us that no matter what is happening around us, we can still have immense joy because God, not our circumstances, is the source of all joy. 

“Rejoice no matter what” and “Rejoice in the Lord always” are two very different imperatives. God never tells us simply to rejoice no matter what. He tells us to rejoice in him no matter what. 

As I’ve matured with this verse over the years, it’s caused me to look deeper into its practical implications. If my life is hard, is it okay to be sad? If a dream of mine is not coming true, is it sin to be discontent? Does “rejoice in the Lord always” mean I must be happy no matter what? 

What Do We Not Mean? 

“Does ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ mean I must be happy no matter what?” 

Sometimes to really understand what is being said in the Bible, it helps to define what is not being said. While God wants us to be content in every situation, this does not mean we must become blind to real pain in the world and in our own lives. 

To seek inner tranquility by avoiding our actual life circumstances is closer to Buddhism than Christianity. In Buddhism the goal is to reach nirvana, which is a state of being that blocks out and ignores the world as you “clear your mind” and focus on nothing, trying to “become one with the universe.” This is not Christianity.  

For example, Philippians is a book written by Paul, and it is all about finding joy in Christ despite the external struggles the world throws at us. Throughout the book, you will find verses like these: 

“The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:17–18

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Philippians 2:17

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13

While Paul sought to look through his pain to see the pleasures of Christ on the other side, there was also genuine recognition of his present earthly difficulties. Paul worried for the well-being of his coworker who became ill (Philippians 2:25–30). His contentment didn’t stop him from asking that provisions be made for him by the Philippians (Philippians 4:16–18). 

‘In’ Not ‘With’ 

God really cares about the details of our human lives (1 Peter 5:7), so to reflect him as image-bearers, we must care about the details, too. Jesus, the most fully human person ever to live, cried bitterly in response to the pain of his friends, even while knowing better than any of them the miracle that was about to take place (John 11:35). To be human is to care deeply about things on earth. 

Like Jesus, and like Paul, we care about the pain, trials, and hardships of life now, even though we are confident of the joy that will come later. God is sovereign, “declaring the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10), but he still cares about everything that happens in between. As his followers, so should we. 

The command to rejoice always is not a command to be a coldhearted robot that pretends pain isn’t real. You are not called to be content “with” failing health, your low paying job, your rebellious children, or your divided country. To claim contentment “with” a sinful, unjust, and broken world is not holiness, and it’s certainly not what God commands. 

Paul said, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). He never said he was happy “with” these circumstances. Nowhere in the Bible are we told we must enjoy unwanted circumstances. We are told, rather, to enjoy Christ even in unwanted circumstances.  

A Mark of Maturity 

One day, perfect circumstances and perfect contentment in Christ will collide (Revelation 21:1–5). Should we work to fix this broken planet now? Absolutely. But we must also come to grips with the fact that until Jesus comes and makes all things new, at best we will often be sorrowful because of the pain on this planet, while also always rejoicing because of the perfections of our Savior (2 Corinthians 6:10). To be able to grieve deeply and rejoice relentlessly at the same time is a mark of Christian maturity. 

So, to “rejoice in the Lord always,” you don’t need to feel guilty for wanting certain parts of your life to change and get better. It is only an issue when your desires for better circumstances are crowding out your desire for the Lord. 

God wants to walk with you through the pain, trials, and unwanted circumstances. He never asks us to deny the issues in the world or in our own hearts. Rather, he calls us to always drink deeply of the joy found in him alone no matter what. 

Mark Ballenger (@Apply_GodsWord) earned a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and writes at Apply God’s Word. He is also the author of the new book Intertwined: Our Happiness Is Tied to God’s Glory. He and his wife have two children and live in Cleveland. 

All My Sins Were Cancelled – So Why Continue to Confess?

Article by John Piper, Founder / Teacher

If God has “forgiven us all our trespasses,” and if all our sins were “canceled” at the cross, why do we need to continue to repent? 

Maybe the most important thing that I could do to help with this question is to point us to the all-important distinction between redemption as something that is already accomplished and finished, once for all — never to be repeated or added to — and redemption that is applied to us when we’re saved, when we’re converted, and then in an ongoing way, now and forever. 

And in making that distinction, we will see that forgiveness of sins can be viewed in these two way: accomplished and applied.  So let me unpack this understanding of redemption for just a moment and then look at the question specifically. 

4 Once-for-All Victories 

Here’s what I mean by the once-for-all, finished, complete, never-to-be-repeated, never-to-be-added-to redemption. When Christ died on the cross for his bride, the church, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:25–27, he accomplished at least four decisive, once-for-all things. 

First, Christ offered a perfect sin-covering sacrifice to God — so perfect that, unlike the Old Testament sacrifices, it never needs to be repeated; it cannot be repeated. “[Christ] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27). In other words, a perfect, once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated sacrifice for sin — that happened decisively on the cross. 

Second, this sacrifice accomplished what the New Testament calls propitiation. “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood [in other words, when he died], to be received [when you come into existence two thousand years later] by faith” (Romans 3:25). This means that the sacrifice of Christ provided a holy and righteous satisfaction for the demands of God’s justice in the punishment of sin, and so his condemning wrath is removed forever from his people. 

Third, positively the New Testament calls this reconciliation. From God’s side, the hostility of wrath is removed toward his Son’s bride. 

And fourth, by this sacrifice, God decisively purchased — paid the finished price for — the liberty of his people from sin and wrath and death and Satan. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). That’s finished; that’s done; the price has been paid. 

So these four realities are what I mean by a once-for-all, finished, complete, never-to-be-repeated redemption. It happened in history, before we ever existed. It was outside ourselves. I can remember 45 years ago, sitting in a seminary class where for the first time I heard the Latin phrase extra nos (“outside ourselves”), because of Luther, and it had just never hit me before that all the decisive things had been done already for me. 

So God did this for everyone who would be united to Christ: a perfect final sacrifice, an all-satisfying propitiation, a glorious reconciliation from God’s side with the removal of all divine condemnation, a full purchase of our liberty from wrath and sin and death and Satan forever, a finished price paid. 

Forgiveness Accomplished and Applied 

Then the question becomes, how does this once-for-all redemption get applied to actual people — us, individuals in real life? Of course, we could write books — I mean, books and books — on the answer to that question. 

He calls us out of darkness into light. He regenerates us by the Holy Spirit. He unites us to Christ so that everything Christ accomplished is made ours in him. He gives us the gift of faith. He justifies us. He adopts us. He sanctifies us over a lifetime. He causes us to persevere to the end. He intercedes for us continually in heaven. He glorifies us with life and joy forever in his presence. All of that is the application to us, individually, of what was decisively secured two thousand years ago, once for all, when Christ died and rose again. 

And our opening question relates now to the forgiveness of sins and the ongoing act of what we call repentance. So let’s put forgiveness of sins into this understanding of redemption accomplished and redemption applied — which, by the way, is the title of a very important book by John Murray that I recommend to everybody to read if you want to go deep and get a lot of help about these things: Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Ephesians 1:7 says — so I’m focusing now on forgiveness of sins and trying to see whether the Bible puts it into this framework — “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” In other words, in the shedding of Christ’s blood, once for all in history, all who are in Christ have forgiveness for all their sins. We have it — he says we have it. We have it absolutely secure. We have it purchased for us. That’s what the blood accomplished and secured. 

Colossians 2:14 says that the record of our debts was nailed to the cross. That’s what I would call forgiveness accomplished: price paid, redemption offered, nails driven, forgiveness secured. It is accomplished. 

Then Acts 10:43 says, “Everyone who believes in [Christ] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” When we believe, we receive the forgiveness Christ purchased. That’s forgiveness applied. So when we become Christians, we are united to Christ so that the forgiveness he purchased becomes the forgiveness we experience. And since the purchase was complete, and he nailed the whole record of our debt to the cross, therefore the whole purchase will be experienced — it will be. God doesn’t lose any of his own. 

How to Handle Daily Sins 

Here’s the final question, then. Since we are conformed to Christ progressively and not all at once, therefore Christians are going to sin. There are no sinless Christians in action. “If you say you have no sin, you’re a liar,” John said (see 1 John 1:8–10). What should our attitude be, then, toward our ongoing acts and attitudes and words of sin? 

No genuine Christian who loves Christ can be cavalier about the very thing Christ died to abolish — namely, our sin. That would be one mistake we could make: we could be cavalier in our attitude. “Well, he died to forgive them all, so they don’t really matter, because they’re all covered by blood.” No true Christian talks like that about his own sin. 

“Confessing is not a payment. It is simply an agreement with God that this was an ugly and unworthy thing for me to do.” 

But the other mistake would be to panic and feel that with every sin, there needs to be a new redemption, a new sacrifice, a new penance. And I mention penance because that might be what some people feel or believe must occur.…“I have to pay something, right?  I have to pay something. I have to make this right.” That would be a great mistake. The payment was perfect. You can’t add to it at all. You can’t add to your sin-covering at all. 

Instead, what the New Testament says, in 1 John 1:9, is this: “If we confess” — and I’m underlining that word confess. Repentance or penance might not be the most helpful word here. Just stick with John’s word. Confess means “agree with,” “see it the way God sees it,” “feel about it the way God feels about it.” So John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

So confessing is not a payment. It is simply an agreement with God that this was an ugly and unworthy thing for me to do, and I’m ashamed of it. I’m sorry for it. I turn from it. I embrace the finished, complete, perfect, once-for-all work of Christ afresh. I rest in it. I enjoy the fellowship that he secured. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of 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 Providence

Why Do Christians Still Battle With Sin?

An article from John Piper, Founder / Teacher,

Why do I still battle with temptation if such a decisive work has been done in me, in Christ?”

“We can’t pursue the kind of life God calls us to live if we don’t know what happened to us when became a Christian.”

These questions are so important because we can’t pursue the kind of life God calls us to live if we don’t know what happened to us when became a Christian. There’s a great deal of emphasis today, it seems to me, on what has happened for us in the cross, namely that our sins are forgiven, and that we are accepted, and that we are loved, and that we have eternal life. But there doesn’t seem to me to be as much emphasis on what has happened to us in becoming Christians, what happened to us because of the cross.

And it’s precisely this — what happened to us, what changed in us — that Paul emphasizes in Colossians 2 as the key to how we are to pursue holiness and love and righteousness and all the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So, it’s a very important question.

Buried and Raised with Christ

Sometimes we can get all tangled up in our terminology, and so, in answering the question, I’m going to stay very close to the apostle Paul’s terminology.

Paul teaches that when we become Christians through faith in Christ, we are united to Christ so that his death counts as our death. And that’s true in two senses, not just one. First, it’s true in that the punishment we deserve for our sin was taken by Christ so that his death on the cross was our condemnation and so there’s now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

But the other sense in which his death counts as our death is that we really did die with him. In a profound sense, we really did come alive with him in his resurrection. And so the question that we’re asking is, in what sense did we die? What’s dead, and in what sense do we have newness of life?

When You Became a Christian

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12)

So let’s start with the text in Colossians 2:11–12: “In him” — so there’s the union piece, in union with Jesus Christ — “In him, you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh . . . ” — now that’s the phrase we pick up on: “put off the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ” — “having been buried with him in baptism in which you were raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God who raised him from the dead.”

So Paul is describing what happens to a person when he becomes a Christian, and he symbolizes that miracle in baptism, been buried under the water and raised up out of the water to walk in newness of life like a resurrection. So first, there’s a union with Christ. He says, “In him, you were buried and raised.” Second, this union is experienced through faith. “You were raised with him through faith, in the powerful working of God.” Baptism is an expression of faith. Third, in union with Christ, we died, and in union with Christ, we were raised. Some aspect of our being died. Something new came into being by this resurrection with Christ. Fourth, Paul compares this death in baptism through faith to a circumcision made without hands. So the analogy is that just as the foreskin of the male sexual organ is cut off and thrown away, so the body of flesh is cut off and thrown away. And we’ll come back to that in just a second (what is the body of flesh?).

This raises more questions: Who died, and who came to life, when we became Christians? And Paul describes who died in at least four ways. First, he says, “I died.” Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lived.” So I died. Number two, he says our old self died. Roman 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” Third, he says that our flesh died. Galatians 2:24: “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh.” Fourth, he says the body of flesh. Now that’s a reference back to what we just saw in Colossians 2:11, the body of flesh. He says that in being buried with Christ, we have put off the body of flesh.

Now putting those four ways of saying it together, here’s what I conclude. In so far as I am identified with my flesh and in so far as my body is the instrument of my flesh, I died and my body died because my flesh died. Now, what does that mean?

What Is My Flesh?

What is my flesh? And here’s Paul’s answer to that question in Romans 8:7: “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh” — that is in the control and sway of this thing called flesh — “cannot please God.” So the flesh is not synonymous with the body. The flesh is my old self in its hostility to God. It’s insubordination to God. It’s inability to submit to God and please God — that’s my flesh. That’s what died when I became a Christian. God killed my hostility to God. God killed my insubordination to God.

God killed my inability to submit to God and my inability to please God. He killed me in that sense. And in the place of that old self of hostility and insubordination and inability, God created a new self. He calls it a new creation in 2 Corinthians 5 and in Ephesians 2:10. And what are the traits of this new creation, this new self that came into being when I was united to Christ and died and rose with him? Galatians 2:19–20 give a beautiful answer that says I died to the law so that I might live to God:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and here comes the key phrase I think, the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

So three ways Paul describes his new self as a Christian. First, he’s alive to God. God is real to him, precious, beautiful, desirable. He isn’t hostile to God anymore, he admires God, he loves God, he trusts God, he’s alive to God. Second, his new self lives by faith in the Son of God. So he’s no longer insubordinate and self-sufficient and self-exalting, he trusts the son of God like a little child. He submits and depends upon the mercy of God in Christ. He’s a believer, that’s what came alive. A believer came alive. And third, another way to say it is that Christ himself lives in us. I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.

The new self of the Christian is the God-loving, son-of-God-trusting, Christ-inhabited self. That’s the new creation that came into being when I rose with Christ.

Be What You Are

Now, we are asking how this reality, not possibility, reality, these things really happen to us, we don’t make them happen, they really happen to us, how that relates to our battle with sin. And the answer is that this way of understanding ourselves is the way we do battle with sin. Paul didn’t say, “Oh, since this glorious death and resurrection has happened to you, there’s no more battle of a sin.”

He said this new reality of life from the dead and this old reality which has died with Christ is precisely the way we fight sin in our lives. For example, Colossians 2:20, he says, “If with Christ, you died to the legalistic elemental principles of dos and don’ts — do not taste, do not touch, do not handle. . . .” And he’s explaining the false religion there. If you died to those, why are you submitting to such regulations? You’re dead to those. Don’t submit to them, be who you are.

Then later in chapter 3, he said, “You have died. So put to death what is earthly in you, immorality, impurity, passion.” So Paul did not say because you have died, there’s no battle. He said, “Because you have died, reckon yourselves dead,” Romans 6:11. Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. In the other words, be what you are.

Cleanse Out the Old Leaven

It may sound paradoxical, but it is a profound and glorious truth. God has made us what we are. In Christ, we are new creatures. We don’t make ourselves new creatures; we are new creatures. We act the miracle that he performed. He performed the miracle, we act it out.

Listen to first Corinthians 5:7: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump of dough as you really are unleavened.” That just captures everything right in one verse. You are unleavened, so get the leaven out. I just love it.

So, I say to all of us, don’t let your death with Christ in your new life in Christ cause you to shrink back from making war on your sin as though that conflict should not be happening. Rather, let your death with Christ and your newness in Christ be the happy, confident ground where you take your stand and put to death the sin that remains.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of 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 Providence.

How Did Evil Begin? – Part 2

Pondering the Mystery of Satan’s Fall 

2 Part Article by John Piper – Founder / Teacher

Part 2

Two Unassailable Truths 

(Continuing from yesterday)    But notice what question I am not answering here. I am not answering the question, How did the first sin happen in the heart of a holy angel? The why question I have answered by saying the first sin happened as part of God’s wisdom and purposes and planning. But that assumes God was able to see to it that the first sin happened without himself being a sinner, and without making the first sinning angel into a machine. I do not know the answer to the question of how God did this. 

This, to me, is one of the great mysteries of biblical teaching that I cannot explain — how God governs the will of sinful beings, yet, in doing so, does not sin, and does not take away their responsibility. I see that it is true, because the Bible teaches it, but how God does this remains a mystery. 

Recall that above I said that “free will” — ultimate self-determination — is the name some people put on this mystery. Then I added that this is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate self-determination, except in God. The Bible doesn’t give the mystery a name. Rather it teaches two truths again and again: God governs the hearts and minds of all sinful beings without himself sinning, and they are truly and justly accountable for all their sins. 

Sovereign over Satan 

Since we are not told explicitly how things transpired in the fall of Satan, it is illuminating to study how God relates to Satan’s will now. Is God helpless when a satanic will chooses to do evil? Can God restrain that will? Or would that only turn the will into a machine? The biblical answer is that God has the right and power to restrain Satan anytime he pleases. Consider these examples. 

1. Though Satan is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Satan’s world rule is subordinate to God’s. 

2. Though unclean spirits are everywhere doing deceptive and murderous things, Jesus Christ has all authority over them. “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27). 

3. Satan is a roaring lion, prowling and seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Peter explains that the jaws of this lion are, in fact, the sufferings of persecution: “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). But this suffering, Peter says, does not happen apart from God’s sovereign will: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will” (1 Peter 3:17). 

4. Satan is a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). But God decides, finally, who lives and who dies and when: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). 

5. When Satan aims to destroy Job and prove that God is not his treasure, he must get permission from God before he attacks his possessions (Job 1:12) or his body (Job 2:6). 

6. Satan is the great tempter. He wants us to sin. Luke tells us that Satan was behind Peter’s three denials. “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). But Jesus is sovereign over this tempter’s work, and its outcome. He says to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Not “if you turn,” but “when you turn.” Christ rules over all of Satan’s designs. Satan aims to fail Peter. Jesus aims to fit him for leadership. 

7. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” But two verses later, God removes that blindness. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

So now back to the question about the origin of Satan’s sinfulness. Is God helpless before the will of his own angels? Is there a power outside himself that limits his rule over their choices and plans? My conclusion is that, from cover to cover, the Bible presents God as governing Satan and his demons. He has the right and power to restrain them any time he pleases. 

Guarding the Mystery 

The sum of the matter, then, about where a sinful Satan came from is this: He was a holy angel who mysteriously came to prefer self-exaltation over God-exaltation. He fell into the delusion that ultimate self-determination was possible for a finite creature, and that it was preferable to submitting to God. This fall was part of God’s all-wise plan. It did not take him off guard. How God saw to it that this part of his plan came to pass, without himself sinning and without turning Satan into a machine, I do not know. 

“From cover to cover, the Bible presents God as governing Satan and his demons.” 

Trying to explain this mystery with so-called “free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is unbiblical and vacuous. It is unbiblical because the idea that any of God’s creatures has ultimate self-determination is not taught anywhere in the Bible. And it is vacuous because it does not explain anything. Simply asserting that a holy angel had the “power of choice” offers no explanation of why a perfectly holy being in God’s infinitely beautiful presence would suddenly be inclined to hate God. 

We should probably take our cue from the reticence of the Bible to speak about Satan’s origin. He is there in the first pages of the Bible with no explanation. The mystery of his first sin remains just that. We surround it and guard it with biblical truth, lest unbiblical and vacuous explanations spread like a smog over the Scriptures and obscure the glory of God’s saving purposes. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of 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 Providence

How Did Evil Begin? 

Pondering the Mystery of Satan’s Fall 

2 Part Article by John Piper – Founder / Teacher

Part 1

Why is there a Satan? Why does a being exist whose name means accuser — a “devil,” which means slanderer, a “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), a “ruler of this world” (John 12:3114:3016:11), a “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NKJV), a “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), a “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24)? Where does he come from? How did it come about that he ever sinned? 

The letters of Jude and 2 Peter give us clues. Jude 6 says, “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” And 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.” 

It appears, then, that some of God’s holy angels (we may assume, in principle, that Satan is included, whether these verses refer to his original rebellion or a later one) “sinned,” or as Jude says, “did not stay within their own position of authority.” In other words, the sin was a kind of insurrection, a desire for more power and more authority than they were appointed by God to have. 

So Satan and the other fallen angels originate as created holy angels who rebel against God, reject him as their all-satisfying King, and set out on a course of self-exaltation and presumed self-determination. They do not want to be subordinate. They do not want to be sent by God to serve others (Hebrews 1:14). They want to have final authority over themselves. And they want to exalt themselves above God. 

Most Popular Answer 

But these thoughts about the origin of Satan do not answer the question we began with: Why is there a Satan? They simply push the question back to the very beginning. Why did any holy angel sin? Here is the most popular answer of our modern era: 

All of God’s creatures were created “free moral agents.” If God had made them otherwise they would have been mere machines with no will of their own. . . . To be a “free moral agent” implies that one has the power of “choice.” . . . As long as Satan chose the “Will of God” there was no “Evil” in the Universe, but the moment he chose to follow his own Will, then he fell, and by persuading others to follow him he introduced “Evil” into the Universe. (Clarence Larkin, The Spirit World, 12–14) 

There are at least two problems with this presumed answer: (1) it does not answer the question and (2) it assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God — to keep him from sinning. 

‘Free Will’ Philosophy 

First, it does not answer the question, Why did any holy angel sin? To say that a perfect angel sinned because he had the power to do so is no answer. Why would a perfectly holy angel in God’s infinitely beautiful presence suddenly be inclined to hate God? “Free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is not an answer. It explains nothing. 

“Free will” is a name put on a mystery. But it is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate human, or ultimate demonic, self-determination. That is a philosophical notion forced onto the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, that philosophical notion was one of Satan’s first designs for humanity — to persuade Adam and Eve that they could be ultimately self-determining, and that this would be good for them (Genesis 3:4–5). Both of those ideas were false. They could not become ultimately self-determining, and it was deadly for them to try. The human race has been ruined by these notions ever since. 

Slandering God’s Saving Power 

Second, Larkin’s appeal to angelic self-determination assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God forever. Larkin’s deadly mistake is to assume that if God exerted such influence, the angels “would have been mere machines with no will of their own.” 

This too is a philosophical assumption forced on the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, the Bible pervasively teaches the opposite — that God can and does exert sufficient influence on morally responsible beings (his children!) to keep them safe in the worship of God forever. 

When the Bible says, for example, that God will “cause [us] to walk in [his] statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27), and that he is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21), and that he “works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), and that the work he began in us he “will bring . . . to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), and that he “will sustain [us] to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8), and that “those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30) — when God says all this, he means for us to stop talking nonsense about such glorious influence turning us into machines. It doesn’t. It is life-giving grace. It is effective. It keeps us safe forever. And to call it machine-making is slanderous. 

If God did not exert sovereign influence over our wayward hearts, we would all fall away. 

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above. 

God’s “sealing” (Ephesians 1:13) — his decisive, keeping influence — does not turn us into machines. It keeps us safe in the worship of God forever. No one who is justified will fail to be glorified (Romans 8:30). Heaven will never see an insurrection among the saints. Not because we are better than the angels, but because the blood of Jesus secured the new covenant for God’s elect, where God says, “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). He bought this pledge for his children by his blood. They will not commit treason. Let us praise such sovereign, merciful, keeping influence. God save us from slandering his saving power. 

It is false when Larkin assumes that God could not have kept his holy angels from sinning — safe in the worship of God. It is false to assume that such sovereign influence would make angels, or humans, into robots. It doesn’t. 

Redemption’s Stage 

What then is the answer to the question, Why did any holy angel sin? 

The answer is that God had a wise and gracious purpose. That is why it happened. Some of God’s holy angels sinned because their fall would set in motion a history of redemption that would fulfill the infinitely wise purposes of God in creation. All the “unsearchable . . . judgments” and all the “inscrutable . . . ways” of God flow from the depths of his wisdom (Romans 11:33). “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24). He is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27). All that happens from eternity to eternity happens according to the wisdom of the one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). 

And we know it was a gracious purpose because God’s plan before the creation of the world was to show grace to unworthy sinners. Sin came into being as part of a plan to show grace to sinners. “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). The plan before creation was that Christ would be the Lamb slain for sinners — sinners whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). Christ slain for sinners was the plan before any human sinned.  (Part 2 tomorrow)

God’s Purposes in a World of Pain – Part 3 

A Message by John Piper given May 2017 to the Suwon Central Baptist Church | Suwon, Korea 

So we ask: “Why, Lord? Why is the world you made like this? If you are God why is this world so full of terror and trouble?” 

Right Reasons 

We turn now from wrong arguments for the existence of evil in the world to the reasons the Bible gives for why there is a world like ours. 

1. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God planned the history of redemption, and then permitted sin to enter the world through our first parents Adam and Eve. 

In 2 Timothy 1:9 the apostle Paul said, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” 

In other words, before there was any world, or any sin in the world that needed grace, God planned saving grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That means that God knew Adam would sin. He was already planning how he would save us. 

Therefore, Adam’s sin was no surprise to God. Permitting that sin was part of God’s plan so that God could reveal his mercy and grace and justice and wrath and patience and wisdom in ways that could have never been revealed, if there were no sin, and no Savior, and no history of salvation. 

God’s aim in this fallen world is that he be known more fully than he could have been known any other way, because knowing God most fully is what it means for us to be most fully loved. If you turn to Christ, you will discover in God more wonders of grace and justice in this fallen world than could be imagined in any other world. 

2. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God subjected the natural world to futility. 

“Physical pain is God’s trumpet blast to tell us that something is dreadfully wrong in the world.” 

That is, God put the physical world under a curse so that the physical horrors we see around us in diseases and calamities would become a vivid picture of how horrible sin is. In other words, physical evil is a signpost pointing to the horrors of moral evil. 

Listen to Romans 8:18–21

The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 

In other words, God subjected the creation to futility and bondage to decay and misery and death. He disordered the natural world because of the disorder of the moral and spiritual world — that is because of sin. In our present condition blinded by sin and dishonoring God every day, we cannot see or feel how repugnant sin is. Hardly anyone in the world feels the horror that our sin is against God is. 

But Oh, how we feel our physical pain! Physical pain is God’s trumpet blast to tell us that something is dreadfully wrong in the world. Diseases and deformities are God’s pictures in the physical realm of what sin is like in the spiritual realm. That is true even though some of the most godly people bear those deformities. Calamities are God’s previews of what sin deserves and will one day receive in judgment a thousand times worse. They are warnings. 

Oh, that we could all see and feel how repugnant, how offensive, how abominable it is to treat our Maker with contempt, to ignore him, and distrust him, and demean him, and give him less attention in our hearts than we do tires on our cars. 

We must see this, and feel this, or we will not turn to Christ for salvation from the ugliness of sin. We may want to escape the penalty of sin. But will we see and hate the ugliness of sin, if we do not see the ugliness of its image in physical pain? 

Therefore, God mercifully, shouts to us in our sicknesses and pain and calamities: Wake up! Sin is like this! Sin leads to things like this (see also Revelation 9:20Revelation 16:911). The natural world full of horrors that wake us up from dream world of thinking sin is no big deal. It is a horrifically big deal. And all the physical pain in the world points to that. 

3. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is so that followers of Christ can experience and display this truth: Jesus Christ is more precious and more satisfying than all the pleasures and comforts and treasures of this world. 

The apostle Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The superior worth of Christ is magnified because in all Paul’s losses, he experiences Christ as all-satisfying. 

The prophet Habakkuk said it with amazing and painful beauty: 

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18

Famines, pestilence, persecution — these happen so that the world might see in the followers of Jesus, and discover for themselves, that God made us for himself and that he is our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4), and “at his right hand are pleasures for every more” (Psalm 16:11). The losses of life are meant to wean us off the poisonous pleasures of the world and lure us to Christ as our everlasting joy. The sorrows of the world make it possible for us to rejoice in sorrow and show that Jesus is more valuable than all the world. 

4. Finally, the reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is to make a place for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to suffer and die for sinners. 

The reason there is terror is so that Christ could be terrorized. The reason there is trouble so that Christ could be troubled. The reason there is pain is so that Christ could feel pain. This is the world God prepared for the suffering and death of his Son. This is the world where God made the greatest display of his love in the suffering of his Son. 

Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” All his suffering was the plan of God to reveal redeeming love. The sovereignty of God, the evil of the world and the love of God meet at the cross of Christ. 

Listen to this amazing statement from Acts 4:27–28 about God’s plan for the suffering of his Son — for you! 

Truly in this city [Jerusalem] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 

All the scheming, all the flogging, all the spitting, all the beating with rods, all the mockery, all the abandonment by his friends, all the thorns in his head, all the nails in his hands and feet, the sword in his side, weight of the sins of the world — all of it according to God’s plan. For you. In other words, none of the evil took God by surprise. It was appointed for his Son. It was to show the depth of his love for us his people. 

Evil Exists to Display God’s Greatness 

In summary then, the pain and evil of this world do not exist because God is powerless or evil. He is, in fact sovereign and righteous. The reason such a painful and evil world as ours exists is this: 

This world of pain and suffering exists because God planned from eternity to permit this so that we could know the fullness of God’s justice and power and wrath and patience, and grace and love which we would not have known without such a world. 

This world of pain and suffering exists because the horrors of physical evil and suffering are a parable of moral and spiritual evil — a parable of sin. And we need the parable because we don’t know and feel how ugly and outrageous our sin is. 

This world of pain and suffering exists because the suffering and losses of this world show how precious Christ is when God’s people are willing to suffering anything to have Christ. 

This world of pain and suffering exists because without such a world Christ could not have died to show us the greatness of the love of God for sinners. 

God’s deepest answer to terrorism and calamity and death in this world is that God intended to have a theater for the suffering and death of his Son. He entered into our fallen world of sin and misery and death. He bore in himself the cause of it all — sin. And he bought by his death the cure for it all — forgiveness and everlasting joy in the age to come. 

And so on his behalf, I invite you — I urge you — to trust him in all his sovereign goodness, as your Savior and your Lord and the supreme Treasure of your life. 

This is not an absurd or meaningless world. It exists to make plain the horrors of the sinful heart and the wonders of the sovereign Christ. If you embrace him as the greatest Treasure, God will set you free from bitterness and make you an emissary of his love. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of 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 Providence

God’s Purposes in a World of Pain – Part 2 

A Message by John Piper given May 2017 to the Suwon Central Baptist Church | Suwon, Korea 

God’s Reasons For Our Suffering 

So we ask: “Why, Lord? Why is the world you made like this? If you are God why is this world so full of terror and trouble?” 

Wrong Reasons 

I will give two possible answers that are not the reason such a world exists, and then four answers that are the reasons such world exists. I deal with each very briefly and point you to the Scriptures where you can search God’s word for yourself. 

1. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is not because God is not in total control. 

The Bible is overwhelmingly clear that God governs everything in the universe from the smallest bird to the largest storm. 

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29

“Even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37

“Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6

“He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27

“I am God, and there is none like me . . . saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9–10

There is no person or being in the universe that can thwart the sovereign will of God. Satan is God’s most powerful enemy and does much evil in the world, but he must first get God’s permission, and none of his actions is outside God’s governance. He never breaks free from God’s leash (Luke 22:31Job 2:6–742:11) and what God permits he permits purposefully and wisely. 

2. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is not because God is evil or unjust. 

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5

“Good and upright is the Lord.” (Psalm 25:8

“The angels cry before God day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3

“And when evil things happen to us, the Bible teaches us to speak like this: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20

“God is not evil, even when he plans that evil will come pass. There are good and holy and just purposes in all he does. For those who love him “he works all things together for good.” (Romans 8:28)   (Part 3 con’t tomorrow)

God’s Purposes in a World of Pain  (Three Part Series) 

A Message by John Piper given May 2017 to the Suwon Central Baptist Church | Suwon, Korea 

Part 1 

(In relationship to what we are seeing on the ‘world’ stage today…I thought it would be helpful to hear the eternal truth that John Piper presents in this message from 2017)

One of the truths of the Bible that I embrace with trembling joy is the truth of God’s supremacy in all things. My life mission statement, and the mission statement of the church I served for 33 years is this: We exist to spread a passion of the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. 

When we say that, we do not mean that God is supreme in all things “except in calamities,” “except in war,” “except when ISIS blows up a building or a train,” “except when cancer takes the life of a young mother or when a child is born with profound disabilities.” 

There are no “except” clauses in our mission statement. We did not formulate this mission in a rosy world — and then later get surprised and embarrassed by reality. We formulated our mission in the real world of pain and suffering and evil and death. We have seen some very peaceful deaths of believers in Jesus. But we have also seen some very terrible deaths. 

Yes we still affirm: We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ — all the time. A passion for God’s supremacy — Christ’s supremacy — in all things, all the time. 

Sweetness and Suffering 

None of us who has lived a few decades — for me that means seven decades — has embraced this mission without trembling. And none of us has pursued this mission for long without tears. We know that the joy we pursue, and the joy we embrace in Jesus, is always interwoven with sorrow. There is no joy unmixed with sorrow in this world for people who care about others. The Bible describes Christ’s servants like this: “[We are] sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). 

“Christian emotions are not simple. There is no joy unmixed with sorrow in this world for people who care about others.” 

“Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” Life is not simple. There is pleasure and there is pain. There is sweetness and there is suffering. There is joy and there is misery. There is life and health, and there is disease and death. 

And therefore Christian emotions are not simple. We will “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And there is always someone we know who is weeping, and someone we know who is rejoicing. And therefore we will learn the secret of “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” — and joyful yet always sorrowing. 

Global Suffering 

We live in a world of unending calamities. 

Natural disasters are relentless in their devastation. Last year flooding in China made millions homeless. A typhoon in North Korea killed hundreds. Earthquakes in Italy killed 200, in Ecuador 300. A hurricane in the Haiti killed over 500. 

Then there are the wars around the world and the threat of terrorism. 18,000 civilians have died in ISIS related conflicts in Iraq in the last two years. 400,000 have died in the six-year long Syrian war, 50,000 of which are children. 

Then there are the miseries of 20 million adults and children bought and sold each year as slaves for sex and for forced labor. 

And lest we respond naively to these calamities, as though they were something unusual, let’s remind ourselves of the obvious and the almost overwhelming fact that over 50,000,000 people die every year in this world. Over 6,000 ever hour. Over 100 every minute. And most of them do not die in ripe old age by sleeping peacefully away into happy eternity. Most die young. Most die after long struggles with pain. And millions die because of the evil of man against man. And you will be among the dead sooner than you think 

If there is to be any Christian joy in this world, along with love, it will be sorrowful joy, brokenhearted joy. Do we not all know that the sweetest joys are marked with tears, not laugher? (Part 2 tomorrow)