Welcome back to the podcast on this Wednesday. Thanks for listening. Well, I love finding sermons where Pastor John proclaims the God-centeredness of God. There are a lot of those sermons — and rightly so. This is the cornerstone of what we call Christian Hedonism. God is thrilled with himself. Without this point, Christian Hedonism wouldn’t make sense. And without this point, the gospel wouldn’t make any sense either.
To make this gospel connection, I recently came across the following sermon clip. It’s from a conference message Pastor John delivered in Massachusetts back in the fall of 1992, over thirty years ago now. In this clip, Pastor John is setting the table for the doctrine of justification. And he’s setting the table with the doctrine of God. Here’s how he did it.
One of the reasons that it’s hard to get a whole range of biblical doctrines across to Americans today is because there is a secular mindset that is radically different from a biblical mindset. Let me try to unpack what I mean by a secular mindset.
The secular mindset is not necessarily a mindset that denies the existence of God, nor necessarily a mindset that denies even the truth of the Bible; rather, it’s a mindset that rules man into the center and rules God onto the periphery. It’s a way of thinking that starts with man at the center, and a cluster of needs and rights and expectations that man has, and then it begins all of its thinking and moves out from that center.
And it judges to be problems things in the world and in the universe that don’t fit with this beginning, with this mindset, with this starting point with man at the center — our rights, our needs, our expectations. And so, what are understood as problems are things that don’t fit with that, and what are understood as successes are things that endorse that, that fulfill those needs, enable and establish those rights, and jive with those expectations. And so, you interpret the whole universe with this beginning point of man at the center, with his needs and expectations.
We’re born with this mindset. It is not a modern mindset, though modernity puts certain twists on it and intensifies it through the media. Nevertheless, it’s not new. We were born with it. Paul calls it the “mind of the flesh” in Romans 8:6. He calls us, apart from grace, the “natural man.” That’s the way we think. We come into the world with this mindset. It gets reinforced every hour of the day in America through every form of journalism and television and radio and all kinds of media, books, and newspapers. But you didn’t get it from the newspapers. It was part of your nature, and you don’t even know you have it. The world does not know they have this mindset until it collides with another one — namely, the one in the Bible.
The biblical mindset, on the other hand, is not simply one that includes God somewhere in the universe or simply says that the Bible is true. That’s not the biblical mindset, pure and simple. The biblical mindset begins with a radically different starting point — namely, God and God’s rights. It’s an absolutely foreign concept in this nation that God has rights and God has goals. And when you start with that at the center and then move out, you define problems in the universe very differently than if you start with yourself at the center. Problems emerge as what doesn’t fit with God’s intentions and God’s goals and God’s rights and his will to manifest God.
You see the universe totally differently when you begin with God at the center — his rights and his goals as the assumption of the universe. Is the basic riddle of the universe to preserve man’s rights and solve man’s problems — say, the right of self-determination or the problem of suffering? Or is the basic riddle of the universe how an infinitely worthy God, in complete freedom, can display the whole range of his perfections adequately for all to see — and if they will, to worship and enjoy? Is his holiness and power and wisdom and justice and wrath and goodness and truth and grace the agenda of the universe?
Is the meaning and purpose of everything to manifest God, to display God, to exalt God? Or are we the center? Are we the measure? Are our rights the thing to be guarded? Do we create and define the problems in the world? How you answer that question will determine whether or not you can understand the biblical teaching on justification.
If you start with man at the center, with all of the natural tendencies of the human heart to assert our rights and our wants and our expectations, you will assess the doctrine of justification radically differently than if you begin with a biblical mindset that has God at the center, with his goals and his rights uppermost. Understanding the doctrine of justification, especially the ground of it, requires grasping the God-centeredness of God.
“God, with all of his heart and soul and mind and strength, loves God.”
Until you feel that God is uppermost in the heart of God, that the most passionate heart for God in the universe is God’s heart, until you feel that, you won’t have an adequately biblical grasp on the doctrine of justification. God does not disobey the first and great commandment. God, with all of his heart and soul and mind and strength, loves God (Matthew 22:37–38). He delights in his glory. He rejoices in his magnificence. God is not an idolater. And until you grasp that, until that takes hold of you — that God never commits idolatry, that God always has himself at the center of his infinitely worshiping heart — you will not be able to make sense out of the doctrine of justification the way the Bible makes sense out of it, and especially its ground in Romans 3.
Now, I’ve been trying to say these kinds of things for about twenty years or so, and if people are listening, and they haven’t thought about the God-centeredness of God, and that he is uppermost in his own affections, it sort of hits them like a truck. But I want to tell you, this truck is laden with fruit, and if you survive the impact, you will eat well for a long time to come.
If it’s strange to you, if what I’ve just said is strange to you, that God is uppermost in his own affections, that God never commits idolatry, that God loves God with infinite passion, that the Sunday school papers my boys bring home are defective because they never have the words “God loves himself more than he loves you” — if you can survive the impact of that, then I think parts of the Bible will open to you that have been a closed book, and you may never even have known him. I really want to encourage you to let God be God.
Chief End of God
What I’m claiming tonight, so far, is that the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism is the same for God as it is for man.
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Q: What is the chief end of God?
A: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
“The way you imitate a God who lives for his glory is to live for his glory.”
That’s all I’m saying. Don’t write a different catechism. Don’t make yourself the center of God’s affections if he has required him to be the center of yours. There’s a demonic way to imitate God. Satan used it on Eve. Don’t make that mistake. When God lives for his own glory, don’t you interpret that to mean, “Well, we should imitate God — we live for our glory.” The way you imitate a God who lives for his glory is to live for his glory.
Another way to say this is that God is righteous. What is righteousness to you? I’ll tell you what righteousness is, as I understand it biblically. The opposite of righteousness is to value and enjoy what is not valuable or rewarding, ultimately. The opposite of righteousness is when your valuing capacity, that heart in you that goes out and cherishes things and loves things and delights in things and craves things and wants things, goes after things that aren’t valuable — namely, anything but God.
Righteousness is doing what’s right — namely, craving, delighting in, wanting, cherishing what is valuable, and what is infinitely valuable: God. Therefore, when I say that God is righteous, I mean that God never sets his infinite affections on anything less than what is infinitely valuable — namely, himself.