The Word of God Is Worth the Work 

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, 

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Range is home to 58 peaks that reach 14,000 feet above sea level. “Fourteeners,” they’re called. Fifty-seven of those 58 peaks are accessible only by a long and sometimes grueling hike — Long’s Peak, for example, runs 14.5 miles round trip and rises 5,100 feet from trailhead to summit. One of these mountains, however, called Pikes Peak, has a parking lot at the top. 

Having topped both Long’s and Pike’s — the one through a desperate, why-did-I-agree-to-this trek, and the other through a comfy car ride (with doughnuts at the top, if memory serves) — I will confirm what you can probably guess: there is a difference between walking to 14,000 feet and driving there. 

The view may be the same, with those Rockies running like a river of mountains across the West. But the experience of the view is not. The 14.5 miles and 5,100 feet, it turns out, are not impediments to the beauty, but part of the beauty. You can’t separate the summit from the path, or the final footsteps from the 30,000 that precede them. The difficulty of the way increases the wonder. 

A similar principle applies to the spiritual life, including Bible reading. 

‘Restless Experientialists’ 

Many Bible readers can see ourselves in J.I. Packer’s description of “restless experientialists”: 

[They value] strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of extraordinary exciting experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. (A Quest for Godliness, 30) 

In Bible reading as well as mountaineering, many would like the experience of heart-skipping beauty without working their quadriceps to jelly. We often would prefer, say, to drive to the summit of Romans 8 without traversing the rocky fields of reasoning, and climbing the alpine slopes of argumentation, and patiently tracing the winding paths of logic in Romans 1–7. We want the thrill of spiritual feeling without the labor of spiritual thought. 

“God has carved only one path to the human heart, and it runs through the mind.” 

To be sure, a Christian is nothing without sincere spiritual affections. But God has carved only one path to the human heart, and it runs through the mind. 

Bright Minds, Burning Hearts 

Passage after passage in the Bible shows this relationship between thought and affections. In fact, the Bible’s very existence suggests it, because here we have a book that unashamedly addresses the brain en route to the heart. But consider just one passage for now. 

On the Emmaus Road, when Jesus finally reveals himself to Cleopas and the other disciple, the two men say, “Did not our hearts burn within us?” (Luke 24:32). Every Christian has felt something of the burning heart — the blaze of glory, the flame of joy. And every Christian, on some level, wants more. 

Notice, however, how the disciples finish the sentence: “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened to us the Scriptures?” And by opened, they mean this: “[Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus took the men on an Old Testament tour, interpreting its Christ-centered meaning. In other words, he led an in-depth Bible study with them. Then, and only then, did fire kindle within. Before their hearts burned with love, their minds brightened with truth. 

Packer draws the conclusion, 

Man was made to know God with his mind, to desire it, once he has come to know it, with his affections, and to cleave to it, once he has felt its attraction, with his will. . . . God accordingly moves us, not by direct action on the affections or will, but by addressing our mind with his word, and so bringing to bear on us the force of truth. (A Quest for Godliness, 195, emphasis added) 

“Our affections catch true fire only when our souls are full of truth’s kindling. And the Spirit lights the flame.” 

Deep Christian feeling is supernatural, to be sure, but it is not the product of spontaneous spiritual combustion. Rather, our affections catch true fire only when our souls are full of truth’s kindling. And the Spirit lights the flame. 

How to Summit Scripture 

How then shall we read the Bible? To return to our mountain image, we read the Bible well by hiking rather than driving — by prayerfully thinking our way to affections rather than bypassing the brain. Or, to get more specific, we don’t pass over the hard places, we slow down enough to see, and we resist the comforts of sentimental reading. 

Don’t pass over the hard places. 

On the Emmaus road, what Scriptures did Jesus open to Cleopas and his friend? Luke writes, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He took them to Genesis and Isaiah, Leviticus and Kings, Deuteronomy and Psalms, showing how his whole story reveals his whole glory. 

We may imagine a book like Leviticus can do little for our hearts; the sand around Sinai seems to offer little spiritual refreshment. And if we come to the Bible looking mainly for a quick emotional kick, we likely will drive right past Leviticus in search of better views. But what if good Bible reading looks less like finding familiar comfort and more like hiking, sometimes through rough terrain, toward a summit whose beauty will thrill us more because of where we’ve walked? 

Christian joy becomes more whole the more we read the Bible whole: whole chapters, whole books, whole testaments. Over time, even a book like Leviticus — filled with Christward types and gospel whispers — will lay so many logs on the hearth, ready to be lit by the Spirit. 

Slow down enough to see. 

As you travel through whole books and testaments, consider also reading slow, at least slow enough to notice details that can’t be enjoyed by car: daffodils along the path, birds’ nests in the branches, unexpected prospects through the trees. 

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an unexpected sight while walking through familiar territory. “Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:44–45). Suddenly, that simple word his freshly welcomed me into a God-filled world. The sun is God’s sun, and he raises it, lovingly, like a father turning on the lights in a child’s bedroom. A pronoun changed my day. 

God means for pronouns to change us — and conjunctions and prepositions and definite articles. Not that we need to know the names of these parts of speech: a rose without a name still smells just as sweet. We can’t enjoy them, however, without noticing them, and noticing calls for an unhurried pace. 

Resist the comforts of sentimental reading. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon on Hebrews 12:5–11, shares some strong words for those who read Scripture only in what he calls “a sentimental manner”: 

There are many people who read the Scriptures in a purely sentimental manner. They are in trouble and they do not know what to do. They say, “I will read a psalm. It is so soothing — ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.’” They make it a kind of incantation and take the Psalms as another person takes a drug. 

The problem with such sentimental Bible reading is that it goes against the grain of Scripture’s own approach to our problems. “The word of God does not merely give us general comfort; what it gives us always is an argument,” Lloyd-Jones writes. And therefore, “We must follow the logic of it, and bring intelligence to the Scriptures. . . . Let them reason it out with you” (Spiritual Depression, 253). 

Often, the logic of a passage — its fors and therefores, its ifs and buts — is the trail leading to the summit of glory. “There is therefore now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1); “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6); “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) — all of these are scriptural summits. We can enjoy some of their glory if we drive quickly to the top. But oh, how much better the view if we patiently walk the path. 

Patience is, indeed, the virtue many of us may need most in our Bible reading. For the deepest joy, the kind “inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8), comes only to those who prayerfully and thoughtfully plod the path. They read the Bible to know what God says and how he says it — in order that they might then feel that knowledge become worship by the power of the indwelling Spirit. 

Resist, then, the urge the drive through your devotions. Glory awaits those who walk. 

Scott Hubbard is an editor for Desiring God, a pastor at All Peoples Church, and a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their two sons in Minneapolis. 

How God Makes Much of You 

Article by John Piper, founder/teacher 

Why does the Bible relentlessly reveal the love of God for us in a way that constantly calls attention to the fact that it is done for his glory? Because so many people, when they hear that, feel it as not loving. The point of those texts throughout the Bible, where God performs his love for us for his glory, is to show that he loves us in the greatest possible way.

Dwelling on God’s Love 

Why? How does that show that it’s a greater love? How is it a greater love when he loves me for his glory than if he just loved me and it all terminated on me? Well, before I answer that question — and I will answer it — let me dwell with you on the truth that evidently some have assumed I denied in asking, “Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or do you feel more loved by God when he frees you at the cost of his Son to enjoy making much of him forever?” 

It’s been assumed by some, “Oh, you don’t think he makes much of us.” Well, that’s a non sequitur; it doesn’t follow from what I said. But I don’t want to defend myself. Some have gotten that idea, and I would like to now fix it and keep fixing it. If I get things imbalanced, I’d like to get them back into balance. 

Seven Ways God Makes Much of Us 

So here we are trying to help those who heard it that way. The answer is yes, God makes more of you than you could ever imagine. And I will blow you away for the next five minutes. Put your seatbelt on if you have trouble with being made much of by God, because you might leave otherwise. I think I have seven of these, and they will go by quickly. 

1. God is pleased with us. 

God makes much of us by being pleased with us and commending our lives. Alan Jacobs wrote a great biography of C.S. Lewis, and he says in C.S. Lewis’s biography that the greatest sermon that C.S. Lewis ever preached was called “The Weight of Glory.” That is, believers will one day have a weight of glory that will be so heavy they will imagine, “I don’t know if I can bear this. It’s so good.” 

What do you think the weight of glory was in that sermon? It was the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And here’s what Lewis said: 

To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in his son — it seems impossible, a weight or a burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (39) 

And he’s right. That’s number one. God makes much of us by being pleased with us, making us an ingredient in the divine happiness, like an artist with something he painted or like a father with a son. 

2. God makes us fellow heirs with Christ. 

God makes much of us by making us fellow heirs with his Son, who owns everything. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). I wonder if you believe that. I do. Mine! I don’t need it now, therefore. I don’t need it now. I don’t need to scrounge to get a piece of earth for about fifty years and then maybe lose everything. 

I am very happy to belong to King Jesus — to be a fellow heir of Jesus Christ, who owns the universe, and get my globe at death (or maybe at the resurrection). And I won’t mind sharing it with you. And if that’s a problem, he’ll make another globe. In fact, he won’t have to make another globe. They’re out there. So you get Quasar 10, which is probably greener. “The promise to Abraham and his offspring [is] that he would be heir of the world” (Romans 4:13). Are you an heir of Abraham? You indeed are an heir. In Christ, we are Abraham’s offspring, and Abraham was promised the world. 

One more, 1 Corinthians 3:21–22 (this is the best of all, probably): “So let no one boast in men.” He’s trying to help Bethlehem not boast — boast in pastors, boast in elders, boast in buildings, boast in anything. “Let no one boast in men. For [here’s the argument] all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” What an argument. These ragtag Corinthians are being told, “Would you stop saying, ‘I’m of Paul,’ ‘I’m of Cephas,’ and realize you own everything?” It’s just a matter of time. A very short time. 

3. God promises to serve us. 

God makes much of us by having us sit at table when he returns, and serving us as though he were the slave and we are the masters. This is the parable of the second coming that is the most unbelievable. It’s Luke 12. I’ll just read you Luke 12:37. He’s describing the second coming, and he says, “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have [us] recline at table, and he will come and serve [us].” What will it take to make you feel made much of? I used to think until I saw that parable that he did that on the earth: Last Supper, bound a towel, washed their feet — that’s an incarnation action. But now, name above every name, he’s coming on a white horse, sword out of his mouth, slaying his enemies, making everybody serve him at table. 

And that’s not what it says. He will never cease to be our servant. We will tremble. We will say what Peter said: “You can’t wash my feet! Get your towel off. Sit down.” And he will say — no, he won’t. I want to say that he’ll say, “Get behind me, Satan.” But I think probably at that point, we will be sanctified enough that we won’t be satanic like Peter was. So there we are, sitting at table shortly, with Jesus serving us. 

4. God appoints us to judge angels. 

God makes much of us by appointing us to carry out judgment of angels. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). You can take a deep breath and say, “Well, I don’t think I could do that.” You will. You will. 

5. God rejoices over us. 

God makes much of us by ascribing value to us and rejoicing over us as his treasured possession. Consider two verses. 

Matthew 10:29–30: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father? Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” “I attend to the minutest detail of a sparrow’s life. You don’t compare. You are, I would say, infinitely more valuable than a bird. So don’t worry. I’ve got your back. I won’t let anything happen that’s not for your good. I love you. I value you. You’re coming home. I decided this before the foundation of the world.” 

I said there were two verses there. I said, “values you and sings over you, rejoices over you.” This is Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God . . . will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” You ever heard God sing? I haven’t. I suppose Jesus sang a hymn when he went out into the garden. When everybody else sang, he didn’t sit there quiet. But when God sings, universes come into being. God’s going to sing, and it’s going to be a sound like you’ve never heard over you, over the blood-bought bride of his Son. He will lead the song at the wedding feast. 

6. God will make us shine like the sun. 

God makes much of us by giving us a glorious body like Jesus’s resurrection body. “[He] will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). But here’s the one that has captured me for all the years since I saw it — in the parable in Matthew 13:43: “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Remember seeing Jesus in Revelation 1? Hair white like snow, girded with a brass belt of truth, just pillars for legs. And his face, it says, “was like the sun shining” (Revelation 1:16). And John was on his face. So will you. 

We would not be able to look at each other in the resurrection unless God had given us new spiritual resurrection eyes. We will be so bright. No more wheelchairs, no more depression, no more fallen countenances, no more discouragement, no more disease, no more alienation — everything new, and your face shining like the sun. So, as C.S. Lewis said, we would be tempted to bow down and worship each other if God hadn’t given us eyes and a heart to know better. 

7. God will rule the world through us. 

Most amazingly, I think (maybe not), God makes much of us by granting us to sit with Christ on his throne. Revelation 3:21: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” I don’t know what to do with that. 

“Everywhere the Father extends his rule in the universe, he will do it through you.” 

So, I’ll try. Maybe Ephesians 1:23 helps: “[The church] is [Christ’s] body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” We’re going to sit on the throne of God with Jesus, because the thrones merge. We’re on Jesus’s throne; he sits on the Father’s throne; now we’re all on the same throne. God, the Son, and us sitting on the throne of the universe. If I put those two texts together, I think it means something like this: everywhere the Father extends his rule in the universe, he will do it through you. 

God created the world, you, for a reason, and it isn’t to throw you away at the end. It’s so that you would fulfill what he gave you to do in the beginning — namely, to be a governor of the universe: subdue it, multiply, fill it, enjoy it, make something of it. “Now I’ve made you new, I’ll make the world new. Now get about it, and any place I stick my hand to rule, I’m ruling through people.” He’s going through people. 

So, let it be known loud and clear: God makes much of us. God makes much of his Son’s bride. God loves his church with a kind of love that will make more of her because he makes much of her for his glory. 

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 What Is Saving Faith?

Does God Delight in Justification or Holiness? 

From an interview with John Piper, founder/teacher, 

This is really crucial. It’s a question that lies very close to my heart because, as I look out across the longer-term effects of the gospel-centered movement of the last forty years or so, one of my concerns is that the stress on justification by faith — which is a glorious doctrine, not to be diminished or compromised at all — has not been accompanied by a biblically proportionate focus on sanctification by faith. 

One form that this neglect has taken is the hesitancy for some pastors to say to their people, “You should seek to please the Lord by the way you live.” One of the reasons they’re hesitant to say this is that they think it undermines the doctrine of justification, which says that we already stand pleasing, or perfect, before God, clothed with the perfection and the righteousness and the obedience of Christ, which is counted as ours through faith alone. 

So this question is absolutely crucial in order to preach and live biblically, because there’s no doubt that throughout the Gospels and throughout the Epistles we are exhorted to walk — that is, live practically with our minds and our attitudes and the members of our body — in a way that pleases the Lord. You may not please the Lord if you don’t walk that way. Now, that’s not a peripheral teaching, and it’s not in conflict with justification by faith. 

Glory of Justification 

So let me give some biblical foundation for each of those realities — namely, justification as the imputation of Christ’s obedience to us, and sanctification as a way of life that pleases the Lord. I’ll try to put them together. 

“For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

“[That I may] be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9). 

“As by the one man’s [namely, Adam’s] disobedience the many were [appointed] sinners, so by the one man’s [namely, Christ’s] obedience the many will be [appointed] righteous” (Romans 5:19). 

We call this appointing imputation, or being counted righteous, and this imputation happens by union with Christ through faith, not works. Romans 4:5: “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” 

So the moment — and this is the glory — the moment we experience authentic faith in Christ and are thus united to him, at that moment his death counts as the punishment of all our sin so that all divine wrath is forever removed from us. In that same glorious moment, Christ’s entire obedience is counted as ours so that he fulfills for us every demand that the law made on us in order to be found in God’s everlasting favor. From that moment on for the rest of eternity, God is 100 percent for us — not 99 percent for us and a little bit against us, but 100 percent for us. That’s the glory of justification by faith. 

Committed to Our Holiness 

Now, the fact that God reckons us to be perfect in Christ, and thus acceptable to him in his holiness, does not mean that God is willing to leave us in a condition embattled by sin where we can’t fully enjoy him forever. 

The fact that God accepts us fully in Christ means he is fully committed to making us fully happy forever, which means that he is displeased with anything short of our joyful perfection in attitude and heart and mind and body, because any imperfection is a dishonor to his worth and a diminishment of our joy. God cannot, as a justifying God, be indifferent to our everlasting happiness, which means being indifferent to our everlasting holiness. He cannot. That’s what justification guarantees. 

“God intends not only to count us righteous because of Christ, but to make us righteous because of Christ.” 

So we have texts like the one Kelly points out in Colossians 1:9–10: “We pray for you,” Paul says, “that you may . . . walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” That’s what Paul’s praying for. God intends not only to count us righteous because of Christ, but to make us righteous because of Christ. 

To say that he sees us clothed with the righteousness of Christ for the sake of justification does not mean that he has become blind to the attitudes and thoughts and deeds of our life on earth. He has not become blind or indifferent to our lived-out holiness. On the contrary, it’s only because our sins are completely forgiven that we can get any victory over sinning at all. Practical holiness is only possible because of the prior imputed holiness. God means to get glory for Jesus, not only as the one who deals with the guilt of our sin by justification, but also as the one who deals with the power of our sin by sanctification. 

Pleasing God in Our Walk 

Over and over, Paul tells Christians to make it their aim to please the Lord by the way they walk — that is, the way they live. 

“We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). 

“Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). 

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). 

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. . . . This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:13). 

“Let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:4). 

The flip side of this repeated refrain that we can and should please the Lord by the way we live is the fact that we can displease the Lord by the way we live — even as justified, accepted, loved children of God. Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). In 1 Thessalonians 5:19, he says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” 

Made Delightful Through Discipline 

In Hebrews 12, God disciplines those he loves, his justified children. And then he explains what he’s doing. It says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). That’s not imputed righteousness. That’s practical righteousness that happens because God is disciplining us in our need. 

“The only sin you can get any victory over is a forgiven sin, not the other way around.” 

So there is imputed righteousness, and there is imparted righteousness. The imputed righteousness is the foundation of imparted righteousness. The only sin you can get any victory over is a forgiven sin, not the other way around. The imputed righteousness is the way we become the children of God so that he now exerts his omnipotent fatherly favor to impart his own righteousness to us by the Spirit. 

Kelly asks, “Does God’s pleasure in me depend upon Christ’s work or my works? Or is it somehow both?” Here’s the way I would answer. Proverbs 3:12 says, “The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” So, God is seeking to make us delightful to him in our lived-out holiness and happiness because we are delightful to him as his justified children. 

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 What Is Saving Faith?

The Supremacy of Christ in Everything  

Friends:  I am choosing to post less material.  The reason for this is that I am asking those of you who take the time to read Let There Be Light posts, to see these as a serving of delicious spiritual food.  The truth contained in the selected post is spiritual food that feeds your internal spiritual self.  So what I ask of you is to ‘chew’ on this teaching over a few-day period and then digest and absorb it into your understanding ‘so that’ it will become nourishment and healing in your heart and mind and in your relationship to God and our Glorious Savior, Jesus Christ.  And ‘so that’ you can share this truth and light with those that are stumbling and lost in darkness. dh  

Resource:  John Piper, 

Let’s begin by asking the “So what?” question. So what, if Colossians 1:15–20 is one of the greatest exaltations to Christ in all the Bible? Maybe the greatest. There are a few that come close. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–314

That’s close. 

In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:2–3

That’s close. But Colossians 1:15–20 may be the greatest. So, you are about to listen to me for the next thirty-five minutes or so wave my little expository finger, and point toward this Mount Everest of Christ-exalting Scriptures, and then you’ll go home. And the crucial question will be, So what

I’m going to give you two answers to that question here at the outset from Colossians so you can be testing while I teach, and then when you go home: Is this happening? Is this text having this God-appointed effect on me? 

Vaccine Against Error 

Here’s my first answer to the “So what?” question. False teaching has begun to infect the minds of some of the believers in Colossae, and Paul intends for the clarification and exaltation of the majesty of Jesus Christ to be the theological vaccine that protects the Colossian Christians from the disease of Christ-diminishing, Christ-distorting error. 

Turn with me to Colossians 2 to get three glimpses of the false teaching in Colossae. Notice that in every case the failure to embrace a clear enough and big enough Christ is what makes the church vulnerable. 

Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 

If you don’t embrace a Christ that is big enough and clear enough, you will be a sitting duck for Christ-diminishing, Christ-distorting philosophy, empty deceit, and human tradition. 

Colossians 2:16–17: Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 

If you don’t embrace a Christ that is big enough and clear enough, you easily mistake shadows for reality. 

Colossians 2:18–19: Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head. 

If you don’t embrace a Christ that is big enough and clear enough, you will stop holding fast to Christ as the great, all-supplying Head of the body, and take up sectarian strategies of self-improvement. 

So, the first answer to the “so what” question is this: if you embrace a Christ who is big enough and clear enough — the way Paul shows him to be in Colossians 1:15–20 — you will have a theological, spiritual, biblical vaccination against a hundred Christ-diminishing, Christ-distorting errors — and they will not be getting fewer in the last days. 

Endure and Give Thanks with Joy 

Now, the second answer to the “So what?” question. Back to chapter 1. Last week, Pastor Kenny walked us through Paul’s prayer for the Colossians — and for us — which starts in Colossians 1:9. It’s the connection between this prayer and today’s text about the supremacy of Christ which clarifies the second answer to the “So what?” question. 

Paul prays in Colossians 1:11 that we would be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience. And then that little phrase “with joy” could go either way, forward or backward. Endurance and patience with joy, or, with joy giving thanks to the Father. 

Experientially, I can’t see any difference. We are enduring with patience the pandemic, the political acrimony, the war in Ukraine, churches in conflict, the sexual debauchery of the culture, the heartbreak of lost loved ones. Does it make any difference whether you say: “We are enduring with joy” or to say, “We are enduring, giving joyful thanks to God the Father”? In both cases joy marks our patient endurance in these days, and, God willing, to the very end. Serious joy, thankful to our heavenly Father to the very end. 

“Joy marks our patient endurance in these days and, God willing, to the very end.” 

But how can we have thankful joyful hearts as we patiently endure these days? Paul answers in Colossians 1:12, because God the Father “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” We are not going to be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:1222:1325:30). Our inheritance is a new world where night will be no more. And there will be no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 22:521:23). 

And then Colossians 1:13 adds that we have already entered into this kingdom of light: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” And Colossians 1:14 adds that the reason that we guilty sinners can enter that kingdom of everlasting light and joy — it’s because “in [Christ] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” He paid the ransom with his blood for our forgiveness. By faith we are united to him. And his sacrifice covers all our sins. 

Greatest Tribute 

Now, follow the flow of thought to see the connection with today’s text. Paul’s prayer in verses 11–12 is that we would endure with joyful thankfulness everything this fallen world throws at us until Jesus comes. The reason we can do that, he says, is because he has qualified us for an eternity of light and love not darkness. And the way he has done that is by paying the redemption price for the forgiveness of all our sins and bringing us already into the kingdom of his greatly loved Son. 

“The supremacy of Christ is meant to sustain our joy through patient endurance.” 

And at this point Paul is so full of awareness that our thankful, joyful, patient endurance depends on the greatness of the redemption of Christ and the greatness of the reign of Christ that he launches into the greatest tribute to the supremacy of Christ in the Bible (Colossians 1:15–20). In other words, the second answer to the “So what?” question is that, if your mind and heart are captured with the greatness and the beauty and the worth of Jesus Christ in verses 15–20, you will endure the hardships of this life with patience and joyful thankfulness. The supremacy of Christ is meant to sustain our joy through patient endurance. 

Supremacy of Christ 

So let’s look at the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1:15–20

I see at least five ways Christ is supreme in relation to creation — and then three ways he is supreme in relation to the church. Or if you prefer, you can use the word “preeminent,” since that is the purpose of God stated at the end of verse 19: “that in everything he might be preeminent.” That’s the immediate goal of this passage: to show that in everything Christ is preeminent, or supreme — that he is the greatest, most excellent reality that exists. 

Supreme over Creation 

First, then, in relation to creation — five aspects of his supremacy. 


Colossians 1:19: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Even more clearly in Colossians 2:9: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Remember, in verse 13 Christ is called God’s beloved Son. Now we see that the Son is said to possess the fullness of God-ness. He is fully God. 

And this divine Son came to earth and clothed himself with humanity. He has a body and a human nature. So Colossians 2:9 says, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” We call this the incarnation of the divine Son of God. There is now, and forever, a God-man. God the Son never lays down his body. He rises from the dead with it. He ascends with it. He possesses it in heaven today glorified according to Philippians 3:21. And he will return visibly in his body. 

They could see him and touch him while he was on the earth. And we will see him when he comes again. I think this is what Paul means in Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God.” God is invisible. He is spirit. But Jesus is not invisible. He is the visible God. In John 14:9, Jesus said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” 

So I would ask you very frankly, Do you worship Jesus Christ? Matthew 28:17 says, “When the eleven saw him they worshiped him.” Do you? Is your Christ big enough and clear enough and supreme enough that you treasure him more highly than any other reality, as very God of very God? 


Colossians 1:17: “And he is before all things.” Why would Paul say that? It is so obviously implicit in virtually everything else he says about Christ in this paragraph. Well, sometimes it is very good to make implicit, glorious things explicit! Things that we just pass over and don’t ponder. I invite you to ponder the fact that before there was anything else, Christ was. 

For example, this draws our attention to the fact that Christ’s relationship to things that are not Christ is very different from our relationship to things that are not us. We think that we are creators. We’re not. Not the way Christ is. When we make things, we just rearrange what’s already there. We rearrange chemicals and make a medicine. We rearrange molecules and make an atom bomb. We arrange materials and make house. 

When Christ brought creation into existence, he didn’t rearrange anything, because he was before all things. There wasn’t anything to arrange. Christ is absolute reality. Everything else is secondary. 


Colossians 1:15–16: “[He is] he firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” 

“Firstborn of all creation” does not mean he is part of creation. Four reasons: 

He is God — not part of what God made. We have seen that already. 

The ground of 15b in verse 16 contradicts that he is part of creation: “He is firstborn of all creation. Because by him all things were created.” It would make no sense to say, “He is part of creation because he created all things.” 

The word “of” in “firstborn of all creation” does not have to mean he is part of creation any more than my saying, “David is the coach of his son’s little league team,” means he is a little leaguer on the team. “Coach of” means “coach over” and that’s what Paul means here — he is the firstborn over all creation. 

The word “firstborn” came to mean, alongside its biological meaning, “having the highest rank,” as in Psalm 89:27 where God says to David, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” That is, not having his origin from the kings of the earth but highest over them. 

So I say again, Christ created everything that is not God. And I suspect Paul listed the particular creations that he listed to make sure that the Colossians did not try to make exceptions by saying, “No, no, the thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities do not include evil powers.” Yes, they do! And that’s the point! Verse 13 just said we were delivered from the “domain (Greek exousias) of darkness” and that word “domain” is the same as the “authorities (exousiai)” in verse 16. He made them. And he delivered us from them. They have no independent existence or power. 

No exceptions, Colossians. No exceptions, Bethlehem. Christ is the creator of all that is not God. Including all the demons and their political echoes in this world. Is it any wonder that Jesus simply commands fevers, and wind, and water, and demons, and they obey? As then. So now. 


Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ doesn’t just bring everything that is into being. He holds everything that is in being. This may strike home to help us feel the way we ought, even more than knowing that he is our Creator. 

Hour by hour the reason you do not fly apart into a billion fragments and then vanish is because Christ holds you together. And this is true of everything in the universe. Everything that man has ever made, and every body of every man and woman and child. And every mountain and ocean and cloud and supernova — all would cease to be if Christ did not hold them in being. 

He holds together the metal on the tanks rolling into Ukraine. He holds together the cellphones in Ukraine that connect the resistance. He holds together the pew you sit on, the clothing you wear, the food you eat, the skin that covers your bones. As your Creator you might think he is distant, having done that work some time ago. But to confess that in him you’re very body and soul, millisecond by millisecond, are held in being is another matter. He is not distant. You are personally and radically dependent on Christ, even if you don’t believe on him. 


Colossians 1:16 (at the end): “All things were created through him and for him.” What does for him mean? It can’t mean, in order to meet his needs. To be God means to have no needs. Acts 17:25 says, “God cannot be served as though he needed anything.” 

“Christ created everything and sustains everything for the glory of Christ.” 

One clue is found in Colossians 1:18 at the end: “that in everything he might be preeminent.” Creation exists “for him” in the sense of putting his preeminence on display. He does everything he does in order put his supremacy, his glory, on display. Christ created everything and sustains everything for the glory of Christ! This is why the universe came into being — to put the preeminence of Christ’s glory on display. 

Supreme over the Church 

Lest you think that makes an egomaniac out of Christ, we turn now, all too briefly, to three acts of Christ’s supremacy in relation not to creation but to the church in verses 18–20. 

I’ll name them quickly: 

He is supreme as the head of the body. Verse 18a: “And he is the head of the body, the church.” 

He is supreme as the beginning of the new creation as he rises first from the dead, the first of millions. Verse 18b: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” 

We’ve already looked at verse 19, so I skip to verse 20: He is supreme as the one whose blood secures a new heaven and a new earth where everything is reconciled and at peace with God. Verse 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven making peace by the blood of his cross.” 

Apex of Glory: Grace 

Here’s what changes the whole idea of egomaniac. When we say that Christ has created everything for the glory of Christ, the apex of that glory is the glory of grace toward his people. 

It’s the glory of being the head (v. 18a) that supplies every need that the church ever has for everlasting holiness and joy. 

It’s the glory not of being the only one to rise from the dead, but the first one to rise from the dead (v. 18b), bringing with him millions upon millions of people who will be delivered from the bondage of death and brought into a new world of everlasting joy with Christ. 

It’s the glory of shedding his blood (v. 20) so as to make peace — to make a new world of only reconciled people in two ways: one is to supply the forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes, and the other is to strip from the hands of God’s demonic and human enemies all grounds for condemning God’s people and dismiss those enemies into outer darkness where they will not in any way infect the new heaven and the new earth. 


Jesus Christ is our God. 

Jesus Christ is before all things. 

Jesus Christ created all that is not God. 

Jesus Christ holds everything together. 

Jesus Christ created everything to display the supremacy and the glory of Jesus Christ. 

This is not egomania. It is love. Because the apex of that glory is the glory of grace. It’s the glory of Christ’s supplying everything his church needs to be holy and happy forever. It’s the glory of triumphing over death in bringing millions of believing sinners to everlasting life. And it’s the glory of establishing a new heaven and new earth of peace and reconciliation by the blood of his cross. 

What he wants from us is the answer to Paul’s prayer — that we would find strength for all endurance and patience with thankful joy because we have embraced this Christ. 

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 We Celebrate Easter?

It’s Good Friday today, but we are making our way quickly to Easter — my favorite holiday of the entire year. So why do we celebrate Easter?  

It’s a great question, and there are great answers in the Bible. This is not a hard question to deal with, because the resurrection is the greatest event — along with the death of Jesus — in the universe. 

Article by John Piper, Founder/Teacher 

Jesus Is Lord ‘Now’ and Forever. 

So, before I give three reasons from the New Testament that the resurrection is essential to God’s purposes in creation and salvation, let me just say clearly that affirming the bodily resurrection of Jesus is essential to being a Christian. Paul says in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

Now, I know that Acts 16:31 says this: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” But when he said that, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” he did not mean, “Believe on a dead man.” When he said, “Believe in the Lord,” he meant, “He’s Lord — he’s Lord.” You can’t read Paul’s letters and think that Jesus was Lord, and now he’s in the grave. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit.” He is Lord. You can’t be a Christian if you only believe in a dead human being who was Lord. You can’t. He is Lord. And Jesus is Lord is the fundamental early-church confession. 

So, here are three reasons why the resurrection — and, consequently, Easter — is so important. 

It’s important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and his death. 

It’s important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. 

It’s important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and his present and future ministry. 

1. Christ’s resurrection vindicates his death and frees us from sin. 

Christ’s resurrection closely connects with his death. Consider two key passages. 

“[Christ] was delivered up [to death] for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). That means that the resurrection was God’s sovereign act to emblazon the triumph of Christ’s death across the universe. The death of Christ successfully completed the foundational work of our justification. Nobody would be saved without God’s declaring us just and righteous before his throne of justice. And Romans 4:25 says that the death of Christ so completely and successfully secures this justification that God put his omnipotent stamp of approval on it by raising Jesus from the dead. The bodily resurrection of Jesus vindicated the saving success of the bloody death of Jesus. 

Now, here’s the other text: 1 Corinthians 15:14–18. Paul is talking about bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:1417). 

Jesus died to remove the guilt of our sins. And Paul is saying that if he’s not raised, you’re still in your sins. He goes on to say that “those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18). In other words, Paul’s preaching of the cross is pointless if Christ was not raised from the dead. “Futile,” he says. And we know it means bodily resurrection because the rest of 1 Corinthians 15 makes it clear that’s the kind of resurrection he’s talking about. You are still in your sins; they are not forgiven; the blood of Jesus is powerless, useless, a failure; it aborted — if Christ was not raised from the dead. First Corinthians 15:20: “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” So the resurrection is important because of its connection to the death of Christ. 

2. Christ’s resurrection guarantees ours. 

The resurrection is also important because of its connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. First Corinthians 15:20: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That means the resurrection is viewed as one great harvest, and Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, the first stage of the resurrection that guarantees our resurrection. 

Or Romans 6:5: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Our resurrection will be owing to our union with Christ, who was raised. If he wasn’t, we won’t be. 

Or 2 Corinthians 4:14: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” So, Christ’s resurrection is important because ours depends on his. If he wasn’t raised, we won’t be either. 

3. Christ’s resurrection empowers his present ministry. 

The resurrection of Christ is important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and his present and future ministry. The death of Christ was the purchase of our salvation, not the application or consummation of it. 

The Bible describes much more to be done for our everlasting enjoyment of the glory of God and the fellowship of Jesus. Christ’s saving work goes on in his resurrection body as he intercedes for us, and when he comes again in glory to establish his kingdom. The goal of our eternal life is to enjoy and magnify the living Christ as he rules over his church and gives himself in service and fellowship to his bride. It is a salvation of living fellowship. If he weren’t alive, we wouldn’t have any salvation. There would be nothing to enjoy forever and ever that is supremely satisfying. So, with no resurrection, we get no fellowship, no salvation, no joy. Consider these texts: 

Romans 6:9: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” 

Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn [us]? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that [that’s really important!], who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” 

Ephesians 1:20–23: “[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named. . . . And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” That’s his present ministry today, as all-supplying guide and head for the church. 

Acts 17:31: “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” Judgment is coming. Jesus is going to be the man who does the judgment. “And of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

Colossians 1:18: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” 

So, the resurrection of Jesus is all-important because his death would be ineffective without it; and because we would have no hope of resurrection without it; and because the ministry of Jesus that he is performing right now, and will perform forever for our everlasting joy, would not exist without the resurrection. Together with the death of Jesus, his resurrection is the all-important event in the history of the world. 

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

Our God-Sized Ordinary

Friends:  God made us to have a personal awareness and knowledge of Him and to live our lives  in relationship to Him and with Him through His Spirit connected to our spirit.  It is God, who is Spirit, that provides us with God the Holy Spirit ‘so that’ we have a real, known, aware, connection to Him.  We are spiritual creatures created by a supernatural God who is Spirit.   

God’s intention for us is this: 

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’ Acts 17:28.   “…we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” 1 John 4:13

Here is a wonderful article by Marshall Segal, staff writer, that speaks to living our lives beyond ordinary through a relationship with God the Holy Spirit. 

Our God-Sized Ordinary 

Life in the Spirit can feel ordinary at times. It really is one of Satan’s greatest feats. 

If he cannot keep God from breaking in and reviving a once-dead soul, he will do what he can to downplay what has happened. He’ll seed thorns that disrupt our sense of safety and rest (2 Corinthians 12:7). He’ll try to veil the glory of God in us and around us (2 Corinthians 4:4). He’ll flood us with cares and riches and pleasures to distract us from spiritual reality (Luke 8:14). He’ll seize on any glimpse of sin: “See, you’re exactly who you were before” (Revelation 12:10). 

Satan can convince us that a life invaded by the presence, help, and joy of God — by the Holy Spirit — isn’t really all that different from any other life. He convinces us to perceive and define our lives by what’s left of the curse, rather than by the inbreaking of the new creation. 

Yes, life in the Spirit — for now — often feels ordinary. We eat and drink, work and sleep, toil and spin, and then do it all again tomorrow. But none of now is the same as it was, not even our morning coffee or our afternoon snack. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This glory doesn’t skip meals; it invades them. And who empowers us to eat and drink and do everything for the glory of God? The Spirit. 

Now, we eat with the Spirit. Now, we drink with the Spirit. Now, we work and play and sleep in the Spirit. Now, we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). A normal day may feel ordinary, but below the surface of our perceptions, God is knitting together a new, miraculous, unfinished life in us — by his Spirit. 

You Have the Spirit 

Do you remember that, if you belong to Christ, the Spirit of God lives in you? He doesn’t hover above you waiting to help. He’s not waiting at a desk in heaven for you to call. He’s not patrolling neighborhoods looking for souls in need. No, when God delivered you from the prison of sin and death, he not only invited you into his presence and family, but he came to live in you. He made a home for himself in your weak, broken, and forgiven soul. 

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple,” the apostle Paul asks, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Do you know? Has the ordinariness of life made you forget? God is living in the ordinary, in your ordinary. 

Paul writes in Romans 8:8–9, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Even if many aspects of your life stayed the same after you came to Christ — your family, your job, your neighborhood, your car, your wardrobe, even what you have for breakfast — something fundamental changed. Someone fundamental. God flooded every familiar and unremarkable corner of your life with God — with himself, with his Spirit. 

Feel the force of Paul’s wonder as he repeats himself three times in just a few verses: 

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. . . . If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9–11

He’s captivated by a reality we often miss. God does not just love you, protect you, provide for you, and draw near to you; he dwells in you. He dwells in you. He dwells in you. 

Making His Presence Felt 

If we could see all that the Holy Spirit is working in us and through us, we would not yawn or groan over “ordinary” like we’re prone to. One day, we’ll have eyes and ears tuned to these miracles, but for now, we have to search for them — for him. But what do we look for? 

We look for child-like dependence. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15–16). Whenever we reach out in faith to God as our Father — as someone who sovereignly loves and cares for us as his children — we do so by the Spirit. Do you have an impulse to pray when you feel tempted or weak or confused or discouraged? That impulse is not ordinary or natural; it’s a work of God. 

We look for an awareness of spiritual reality. Anything you truly understand about God, his word, and his will are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Anyone can read God’s words and perhaps even make sense of the vocabulary and grammar and logic, but no one grasps the realities unless the Spirit moves. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). We will never fully comprehend all God has done for us in Christ, but what we do understand now, we understand because of what God has done for us in the Holy Spirit. 

“Humans die in a thousand different ways, but sin dies in just one: by the Spirit.” 

We look for rejected temptations and conquered sins. “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Humans die in a thousand different ways, but sin dies in just one: by the Spirit. We may miss the power of these deaths because we assume, somewhere deep down, that we could overcome sin on our own — but we can’t and we don’t. If sin dies by our hand, it is only because our hand has become a mighty weapon in the hands of God himself. 

We look for God-like love. The Holy Spirit doesn’t only weed out the remaining wickedness in us; he also plants and nurtures a garden of righteousness. The clearest evidence that he dwells in us is not the ugliness he removes, but the beauty he creates. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). In other words, he makes us more like Christ. We look for love like his, joy like his, faithfulness like his. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” — his image — “from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

We look for specific giftings or insights that meet needs in the church. Everyone in whom the Spirit lives has been given abilities for the good of other believers. Paul says of the church, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7). To each — not just some or many. If the Spirit lives in you, then to you too. So how has God recently met a specific need through you? When he does, he’s reminding you that he lives in you, by his Spirit. 

Most of all, though, we look for love for Jesus. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’” Paul says, “except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Of course, they can say it, but not with their heart — not with their faith, their joy, their hope, their love. Sustained love for Jesus only happens where the Spirit lives. Paul describes the same miracle in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “[God] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If we still love what we see when we look at Jesus, we see something only the Spirit could do in us. 

“The clearest evidence that the Spirit dwells in us is not the ugliness he removes, but the beauty he creates.” 

Do you see continued dependence on God in your life? Do you see any gifting from him, any victory over sin, any Christlike love or peace or joy? Do you still love what you see of Jesus? Then your ordinary isn’t as ordinary as you might think, because the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in you. 

Prophecies of Paradise 

As Christians, we have — yes, have — the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We have the Holy Spirit now, but what we experience now is only a taste of what’s to come. The Spirit, Paul says, “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14). Guarantee, meaning there’s more. 

Whatever good the Spirit does in each of us now is merely an appetizer of what he will do in all of us forever. The Spirit living in us in this world is a taste of what it will be like for us to live in his coming world. And, at the center of it all, we’ll find him. The Christ whose Spirit lives in us will be the Christ who lives with us. 

Life in the Spirit feels mundane when we grow dull to miracles. Yes, we live and work and love among thorns and thistles for now, but we do so by the strength and wisdom of God — until the day when he makes glory our ordinary. 

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis. 

How Do I Know If I am Truly Saved? 

Message Excerpt, John Piper, Founder/Teacher, 

Scripture: 1 John 2:1 and 1 John 3:9   

How do people who have experienced the miracle of new birth deal with their own sinfulness as they try to enjoy the full assurance of their salvation? My answer is you deal with it by the way you use John’s teaching. John warns against hypocrisy over here, claiming to be born again when you’re not born again, because there’s no fruit, no evidence, no validation in your life. That’s hypocrisy, and he warns against that probably fifteen times in this letter. 

And over here he celebrates that we have an advocatewe have a propitiation. We have one who is righteous, and who removed all the wrath of God, and, by bearing our judgment and our sin and providing our righteousness, made a way for us sinners into everlasting hope. So, those are the two things he does for us: warns us against hypocrisy over here, and celebrates the advocate and the propitiation over here. 

So, the question is, How do you use those two truths? And this is really where you should deal with the Lord right now. How do you use those two truths? What do you do with them? Because what I’m going to argue is that the born-again person spiritually discerns what to do with those two truths and makes proper biblical use of them. 

How do they function in the born-again heart? How do those two biblical teachings function in the born-again heart? I’m going to paint two scenarios for you, and I believe all Christians oscillate between these. And hopefully we find ourselves more or less free from both of them, but in this room here, there would be people way off on this side and there would be people way off on the other side. And I hope that we can help each other. 

So, here’s the first scenario: You are slipping into a lukewarm, careless, presumptuous frame of mind in regard to your own sinfulness. You’re slipping and you’re just drifting. You didn’t even know it was happening. You realize you haven’t thought about sin and you haven’t been concerned about sin for long time. 

You’re kind of waking up and saying, “Whoa, how’d that happen?” You’re starting to coast or be indifferent to whether you are holy or worldly. You’re losing your vigilance against bad attitudes and behaviors. You just kind of slide into them now. Once there was a vigilance. You watched over your soul, you had some standards, you put up some barriers, you fought the fight. But now your hands are limp and your knees are loose, and you’re just blowing in the wind and going with the flow. 

When the born-again person experiences that — which they do — then the truth of 1 John 3:9 becomes very crucial for them: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” The Holy Spirit, in the born-again person, takes that verse and awakens him — scares him about the danger of his condition so that he flies to the advocate. 

  • He flies to his propitiation for mercy and forgiveness. 
  • He confesses his sin (1 John 1:9). 
  • He receives cleansing. 
  • He’s renewed in the sweetness of his relationship with Christ. 
  • He recovers his hatred for sin. 
  • He’s restored. 

And the joy of the Lord again becomes his strength to fight the fight another day. That’s the function of 1 John 3:9 in the Spirit-indwelt, regenerate heart. The newborn person doesn’t read 1 John 3:9 and blow it off. 

Second scenario: You are sinking down. You are sinking down in fear and discouragement and even despair that your righteousness and your love for people and your fight against sin could ever be good enough — good enough even to demonstrate your new birth. 

We all know theologically it can never be good enough to save us, but 1 John says you’re not born again unless there’s evidence in your life. Then you take that and you are absolutely undone by it. Your conscience is condemning you. “Your own deeds seem so imperfect that they could never prove that I was born again.” That’s what your conscience is telling you. 

Now, when the born-again person experiences this — and we do. This is not presumption. This is despair. When the born-again person experiences the truth of this reality, then he turns to 1 John 2:1, and he listens to God and he hears God. God says, “My little children.” 

I had to pause there as I got to this point in my message just to feel why John began with those words. He really wants to deal with you tenderly at this point. There are times when we should be dealt with severely, and there are other times when we desperately need to be dealt with tenderly. And when he begins with “my little children,” he doesn’t mean just the young ones in the church. He means all of them. He was probably an old man as he wrote this. And I’m getting to the point now where I can look out on almost all of you and say, “my little children.” 

So, I do feel tender toward you. I have walked through this veil so often. I don’t want to beat you up in moments when you have examined your life and you can’t tell if the fruit is enough. I know the feeling. It’s an impossible feeling. It’s an impossible situation. There’s no way out, except that in the regenerate person — and this is why I believe I’m born again. God has rescued me again and again and again, by taking my eyes off of my mediocre performances and fixing them on my advocate. 

“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate.” In other words, the word that John wants the despairing to hear is the word: we have an advocate. What’s the point of an advocate? It’s to plead the cause of sinners. 

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1

And perhaps he mentions Father there so that that too will feel less daunting than judge. And note that Jesus Christ is the righteous one. We’re not; he is. 

So, let me try to sum it up. John’s warning of hypocrisy calls us back from presumption, and John’s promise of the advocate calls you back from the precipice of despair. The new birth enables you to hear Scripture and use Scripture helpfully and redemptively. New birth doesn’t use the promise that we have an advocate to justify a cavalier attitude toward sin. 

The way the new birth uses the Bible, uses 1 John, is not to say, “I have an advocate. Let us sin so that grace may abound.” That voice is not the voice of the new creature. So, you know whether you’re born of God based on whether you respond to this first that way. 

If you hear God hold out his advocacy to you, and you say, “Thank you — I will go sin some more,” you’re not responding as a born-again person. But if you take it in your trembling hand and say, “Again? Again, you will hold this out to me?” that’s a good sign. 

The new birth doesn’t respond to the warning, “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning,” by using it to pour gasoline on the fires of despair. If you’re despairing, and you’re trembling that you don’t know if you have the fruit or the evidence in your life that you’re born again, and then you read 1 John 3:9, and you use it to create deeper despair, that’s not the Holy Spirit. That’s not the new birth. That’s not the new creature in Christ responding. 

So, my answer to how we deal with our sin as we try to enjoy assurance is that the new person within discerns spiritually how to use warnings of hypocrisy and assurances of advocacy. It discerns how to use them and knows how to move between them. It doesn’t become presumptuous, and it doesn’t become despairing. 

I close by simply praying: Lord, grant that our new birth would be confirmed by our responses to the word of God. May he grant us to embrace the warning and may he grant us to embrace the comfort so that we can indeed grow in our capacity to enjoy the full assurance of our salvation. 

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

A Prayer to End All Prayers 

Article by Marshall Segal, staff writer, 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20

The last prayer in the Bible is also one of its shortest — and yet it’s layered with heartache and anticipation, with distress and hope, with agony and joy. Can you imagine the apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23), savoring those three words — “Come, Lord Jesus!” — while he was abandoned among criminals on the island of Patmos? Does the promise that Christ will come again ever feel sweeter than when life on earth feels harsh and unyielding? 

It’s almost as if John tries to draw the risen Jesus out of heaven, praying with all his might. The barren, rocky ground beneath his knees was more than a prison; it was a model of the curse, twenty square miles overrun with the consequences of sin. Suffering does this. It opens our eyes wider to all that sin has ruined, just how much pain and havoc it has wrought in the world. And, in a strange way, suffering often awakens us to the promise of his coming. 

Weakness and illness make us long all the more for new bodies. Prolonged relational conflict makes us long all the more for peace. Wars and hurricanes and earthquakes make us long all the more for safety. Our remaining sin makes us long all the more for sinlessness. “Come, Lord Jesus!” is the cry of someone who really expects a better world to come — and soon. Suffering only intensifies that longing and anticipation. 

Many Prayers in One 

The prayer “Come, Lord Jesus!” is really many prayers in one. What will happen when Christ finally returns? The opening verses of Revelation 21 tell us just how many of our prayers will be answered on that day. 

Come, Lord Jesus, and dry our tears. Followers of Jesus are not spared sorrow in this life. In fact, following him often means more tears. Jesus himself warned us it would be so: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). But one day, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). In that world, we will not have tribulation, or sorrow, or distress, or persecution, or danger. When he returns, we’ll never have another reason to cry. 

Come, Lord Jesus, and put an end to our pain. Some long for the end of heartache; others feel the consequences of sin in their bodies. Pain has followed them like a shadow. Revelation 21:4 continues, “. . . neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” Can you imagine someone who has battled chronic pain for decades waking up one morning and feeling no more pain? It will be like a man who has never seen anything clearly finally putting on his first pair of glasses — except the sufferer will feel that sensation in every muscle and nerve. The absence of pain will free his senses to enjoy the world like never before. 

Come, Lord Jesus, and put death to death. Jesus came to dethrone death. Hebrews 2:14–15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Every one reading this article was once enslaved to the fear of death. But death lost its sting when the Son of God died. And one day, death itself will die. When the Author of life comes, “death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:4). 

Come, Lord Jesus, and rid us of sin. This burden may be more subtle in these verses, but it would not have been subtle in John’s imagination. He writes in verse 3, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” And he knew that God cannot dwell with sin. For God to come and dwell with us, he will have to first eradicate the sin that remains in us — and that’s exactly what he promises to do. The sin that hides in every shadow and behind every corner will be suddenly extinct. He will throw every cause of sin into his fiery furnace (Matthew 13:41). “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). 

“In the world to come, we will have nothing to fear, nothing to mourn, nothing to endure, nothing to confess.” 

Come, Lord Jesus, and make it all new. In other words, anything not included in the prayers above will be made right too. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). Nothing here will go untouched. Whatever aspect of life on earth afflicts you most, it will be different. Whatever fears have plagued you, whatever trials have surprised you, whatever clouds have followed you, they all will be transformed — in the twinkling of an eye — and stripped of their threats. In the world to come, we will have nothing to fear, nothing to mourn, nothing to endure, nothing to confess. Can you imagine? 

More than a prayer for relief, or safety, or healing, or even sinlessness, though, “Come, Lord Jesus!” is a prayer for him. 

His Presence Is Paradise 

The burning heart of John’s three-word plea is not for what Jesus does, but for who he is. This is clear throughout the book of Revelation. The world to come is a world to want because Jesus lives there. John’s prayer, after all — “Come, Lord Jesus!” — is a response to Jesus promising three times in the previous verses, “Behold, I am coming soon. . . . Behold, I am coming soon. . . . Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:71220). 

“The world to come is a world to want because Jesus lives there.” 

While the apostle wasted away in prison, he could see the Bridegroom on the horizon (Revelation 1:12–16). His hair white, like snow. His eyes filled with fire. His feet, like burnished bronze. His face, like the sun shining in full strength. The man he had walked with, talked with, laughed with, and surely cried with, now fully glorified and ready to receive and rescue his bride, the church. The Treasure was no longer hidden in a field, but riding on the clouds. 

Even the vision of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21 makes God himself the greatest prize of the world to come: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). Yes, we want a world without grief, without pain, without fear, without death. But better to have a world like ours with God, than to have any other world without him. His presence defines paradise. 

Randy Alcorn writes, 

Nothing is more often misdiagnosed than our homesickness for Heaven. We think that what we want is sex, drugs, alcohol, a new job, a raise, a doctorate, a spouse, a large-screen television, a new car, a cabin in the woods, a condo in Hawaii. What we really want is the person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for, Heaven. Nothing less can satisfy us. . . . We may imagine we want a thousand different things, but God is the one we really long for. His presence brings satisfaction; his absence brings thirst and longing. Our longing for Heaven is a longing for God. (Heaven, 166, 171) 

A Second Coming 

While the apostle’s brief prayer may be the most memorable invitation in Revelation 22, it is not the only one. The Bible doesn’t end only with a desperate plea for Christ to return, but also with a warm invitation to the weary, the suffering, the spiritually thirsty. 

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17

As John anticipates Christ’s returning, gathering his people and wiping out all his enemies, his last thoughts are not of judgment, but of mercy. He ends not with smoke rising out of torment, but with a free and overflowing fountain held out to all who would come. His words ring with an old and glorious invitation, Isaiah 55:1–2

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

When Jesus comes, we will eat and drink and enjoy without end. Hunger and thirst will become distant memories. If sorrows have robbed you of sleep, if pain has made even normal days hard, if death has taken ones you love, if life has sometimes seemed stacked against you, if you can’t shake a restless ache for more, then come and eat with him. This world may be the only world you’ve known, but a better world is coming — and there’s still room at the table. 

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis. 

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.