Why are your lungs filled with breath right now? Why is your heart beating? Humanity has sought the answer to this question for ages through philosophy, science, and religion. The Bible’s answer to this question is simple – you exist for God alone.
The polluted, narcissistic air of religion that we breathe in the West has often reduced the glorious Son of God to a mascot for our ease and comfort. Christianity subsequently becomes a “twelve step” self-help program that makes us better people, gives us a better society, and gives us more hope and happiness. But this modern “gospel” is not the gospel of the Bible. Jesus did not take on flesh to merely affirm us and make us feel valued so that we could be prosperous and successful, even in “Christian” things. Into the darkness of preoccupation with ourselves shines the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). The good news has never had its foundation in the glory of man. It has always been about the glory of God. We have been freed from sin and empowered by the Spirit to take up our cross daily and put the glory of Christ on display. Jesus created us with one foundational purpose - that we would be empowered through a life of self-denial to enjoy making much of Him forever.
Jesus’ words in John 17 have been the most piercing to me lately as the Lord has been deepening this understanding in my heart:
““Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
(John 17:24 NKJV)
The desire of Jesus is that we would be with Him. This truth is glorious and thrilling in and of itself. The Creator and Ruler of all things wants to spend eternity with me? Wow. Indeed, every one of our needs, wants, longings, and desires will be met when we are with Him. But the end-goal of a restored relationship and dwelling with God goes far beyond Jesus meeting our needs and us being with Him in happiness. We were created to behold His glory and enjoy making much of Him forever. He draws us to Himself not for ourselves, but so that we may treasure Him above all things, see His supreme value, laud Him, love Him, and show Him to others.
Several months ago I came across this question in one of John Piper’s books that exposed my narcissism and selfishness related to Christianity:
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
- John Piper, God is the Gospel, p. 15
Be honest with yourself. Is Christ, His worth, and His glory your premiere motivation for embracing self-sacrifice, living to die, and ultimately dwelling with Him forever? Though we would often superficially answer “yes, of course”, the way we spend our time, money, energy, affections, and thoughts unveils our true answer for all to see.
I have been realizing that we can be confident in God’s love towards us and feeling His affections, yet still believe that God has invested Himself in us to assert our value and our greatness instead of His own. There are many ways the Bible talks about God affirming us, valuing us, and cherishing us. However when God makes much of us, His supreme goal in doing so is that we would see His worth in doing so and make much of Him.
The problem we face in the West is so systemic. We are at risk of adopting a message where truly Jesus is presented as existing for our sake and our self-affirmation rather than us existing for His sake through our self-denial. Jesus’ words in Luke 9:22-26 should be the sword that pierces our soul daily, but instead have been dulled to mean something much less than He intended:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”
(Luke 9:22-26 NKJV)
Lest we think that self-denial is simply the end of the story and we are constrained to a emotionally boring or physically painful existence in this age, we must remember that the Lord’s call to take up our cross daily is an invitation to suffering, not joylessness. We were made to be satisfied the most when we give ourselves wholly for Another. “Self” is replaced by “God”, and self-denial even unto martyrdom becomes the way to bring the most glory to Another.
And lest we think that God making much of us is the end-goal and foundation of Christianity, we must remember that God’s love is more passionately demonstrated when He makes Himself our supreme treasure rather than Him making ourselves our supreme treasure. Why? Because “self”, no matter how glorious, can never satisfy a heart made for God.
Instead of staring at our sicknesses and sins as the means to try to be healthy or holy for our own glory, we must stare at God’s glory as revealed in the face of Christ. We are never transformed by focusing on our lack and simply repeating variations of “I am God’s precious child”, attempting to bolster our own self-esteem. “There is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self”, again says John Piper. The apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians with this same truth:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV)
I am convinced that I don’t really know the Man called Jesus and what really makes Him glorious. Superficial head knowledge will not suffice to protect us from the delusion coming, because the deepest deception will be surrounding Christ, His identity, and His matchless glory. I’m personally taking these next several years of my life to dig deeply into the four gospels – the one place where the glory of God has been openly revealed for all to see. Read this blog, this article, this article, and this article for more on what I’m practically doing to engage my heart in dialogue with Jesus about His glory.
When in prosperity or lack, in sickness or health, or in blessing or adversity, the foundation of all of our joy must be Christ and His matchless glory. May our lives be wholly other-oriented, and may the foundation of our joy in all things be His worth and glory alone.