Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
It is impossible to risk your life to make others glad in God if you are an unforgiving person. If you are wired to see other people’s faults and failures and offenses, and treat them roughly, you will not take risks for their joy. This wiring—and it is universal in all human beings—must be dismantled. We will not gladly risk to make people glad in God if we hate them, or hold grudges against them, or are repelled by their faults and foibles. We must become forgiving people.
Don’t start raising objections about the hard cases. I am talking about a spirit, not a list of criteria for when we do this or that. Nor am I talking about wimpy grace that can’t rebuke or discipline or fight. The question is, do we lean toward mercy? Do we default to grace? Do we have a forgiving spirit? Without it we will walk away from need and waste our lives.
FORGIVENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE IT GIVES US GOD
The biblical motive for being a forgiving person may be deeper
than being forgiven. It is true to say: The motive for being a
forgiving person is that we have been forgiven by God when we did not deserve it. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). But the bottom of this motive is not God’s forgiveness, but what God’s forgiveness gives. It gives us God.
Why do we cherish being forgiven by God? There are answers to this question that would dishonor him, because there are benefits from forgiveness that a person may love without loving God. We might say, “I cherish being forgiven by God because I hate the misery of a guilty conscience.” Or “ . . . because I hate the prospect of pain in hell.” Or “ . . . because I want to go to heaven to see my loved ones and have a new body with no sickness.” Where is God in these reasons for cherishing forgiveness? In the best case he is there in all these reasons as the real treasure of life.
If so, then these delights are really ways of cherishing God himself. A free and clean conscience enables us to see more of God and frees us to enjoy him. Escape from hell at the cost of Christ’s blood shows us more of God’s commitment to merciful holiness and his desire for our happiness. The gift of seeing loved ones highlights God’s wonder in creating relationships of love. Getting a new body deepens our identification with the glorified Christ. But if God himself is not there in these gifts—and I fear he is not for many professing Christians—then we do not know what forgiveness is for.
Forgiveness is essentially God’s way of removing the great obstacle to our fellowship with him. By canceling our sin and paying for it with the death of his own Son, God opens the way for us to see him and know him and enjoy him forever. Seeing and savoring him is the goal of forgiveness. Soul-satisfying fellowship with our Father is the aim of the cross. If we love being forgiven for other reasons alone, we are not forgiven, and we will waste our lives.
What, then, is the root motivation for being a forgiving person? “Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We are to forgive “as God . . . forgave” us. God forgave us in such a way that infinite joy in his fellowship becomes ours. God is the goal of forgiveness. He is also the ground and the means of forgiveness. It comes from him; it was accomplished through his Son; and it leads people back to him with their sins cast into the deepest sea. Therefore the motive for being a forgiving person is the joy of being freely and joyfully at home with God. At great cost to himself God gave us what we needed above all things: himself for our enjoyment forever. God’s forgiveness is important for one reason: It gives us God!
WHAT FORGIVERS WANT TO GIVE
Our impulse for being forgiving people is the joy we have in a forgiving God. Not just in being forgiven, but in being given joy in God by being forgiven. If we do not see this and experience this, we will probably turn God-centered motives into a kind of benevolence that tries to do good for man without knowing what the greatest good really is—namely, all-satisfying pleasure in God. But if we experience forgiveness as the free and undeserved gift of joy in God, then we will be carried by this joy, with love, into a world of sin and suffering. Our aim there will be that others, through Jesus Christ, will find forgiveness and everlasting joy in God.
Joy in God overflows in glad-hearted mercy to people, because joy in the merciful God cannot spurn being merciful. You cannot despise becoming what you enjoy about God. Joy in the God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for undeserving sinners cannot return evil for evil. That joy will love being merciful (Micah 6:8). Joy in the God who is slow to anger cannot coexist with its own impatience. It will fight for the triumph of what it admires in God. Joy in the God who
spends eternity showing “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” (Ephesians 2:7) delights to be generous and looks for ways to give.
NOT CHRISTIANS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT TO GIVE
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor who died at the age of twenty-nine in 1843, spoke of the mercy and generosity of Christians as the evidence that they were indeed Christians. He loved the poor in his parish, and he feared for those who did not look for ways to show them mercy.
I am concerned for the poor but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you in the great day. . . . I fear there are many hearing me who may know well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends! Enjoy your money; make the most of it; give none away; enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout eternity.1
THE DILEMMA WHERE WE NO LONGER HANG
What is the nature and aim of glad-hearted, Christian giving? It is the effort—with as much creativity and sacrifice as necessary—to give others everlasting and ever-increasing joy2—joy in God. If God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, as we argued in Chapter 2, then living for the glory of God must mean that we live to gladly make others glad in God. Our gladness and our pursuit of their gladness glorifies God. And since gladness in God is the greatest and most lasting happiness, pursuing it is also love. Since the same joy in God both satisfies man and glorifies God, we never have to choose between the
motive to love people or to glorify God.3 By gladly pursuing the gladness of others in God—even at the cost of our lives—we love them and honor God. This is the opposite of a wasted life.
WE CANNOT MAKE ANYONE GLAD IN GOD
How then do we make others glad in God? That is what the next chapters are about. But first there are two clarifications I should make. The first clarification is that, of course, we can’t make anyone glad in God. Joy in God is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is called “the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). It is the work of God: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13). It is the effect of God’s grace: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance
of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). Joy in God is awakened in the heart when God graciously opens our eyes to see the glory of Christ in the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Nevertheless, even though joy in God is ultimately a gift of God, he uses means to bring people into the fullness of it. Paul described his whole ministry as laboring for the joy of others. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). He said to the Philippian church that the reason God would let him live was “for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). Jesus said that his own words were the means God would use to give joy to his disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). He also said that prayer was a means of joy: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). The list of means could go on. But the point here is simply to show that there are things we can do
to make people glad in God, provided God blesses our efforts with his decisive grace.
MAKING OTHERS GLAD IN GOD IS A MASSIVE THING
The second clarification is that gladness in God is not a peripheral religious experience. When I speak of making people glad in God, I have in mind all the saving work that God has done from beginning to end. I am not saying that gladness is the whole of salvation. I am saying that gladness in God is the goal of all saving work, and the experiential essence of what it means to be saved. Without this joy in God, there would be no salvation.
So when I speak of making someone glad in God, I include the plan and grace of God “which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). I include the all-sufficient redeeming work of Christ in death and resurrection (Romans 3:24-26). I include the divine work of new birth that gives us a new nature (John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). I include the God-given change of mind called repentance that turns away from sin and turns to God for help (2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 3:19; 26:20). I include faith in Jesus Christ that embraces him as the Savior and Lord and supreme Treasure of life (Philippians 3:7-9). I include the progressive change into Christlikeness called sanctification (Romans 6:22; 8:29). I include the entire life of love that counts it more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). And I include the total renewal of body, mind, heart, relationships, and society that happens partially in this age, by the inbreaking of God’s
kingdom, and then completely at the consummation of God’s purposes in the age to come (Acts 3:21; Romans 8:23).
When I speak of gladness in God, therefore, I mean a gladness that has roots in God’s eternal decree, was purchased by the blood of Christ, springs up in the newborn heart because of God’s Spirit, awakens in repentance and faith, constitutes the essence of sanctification and Christlikeness, and gives rise
to a life of love and a passion for redeeming the world after the image of God. Gladness in God is a massive reality planned and purchased and produced by God in the lives of his elect for the glory of his name.
WHAT THEN SHOULD WE DO?
With those two clarifications, I ask again, what should we do to make people glad in God? What paths of risk and sacrifice should we take in our passion for the supremacy of God in all things, and in our zeal to magnify Christ, and in our single-minded commitment to boast only in the cross? That is what the next chapters are about.
1 Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermons of M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: n. p., 1848), 482. Italics added. Quoted in Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997), 40.
2 I say “ever-increasing” not because we move from sadness to gladness over time in heaven, but because we go on from one fullness to another. I say this because a finite mind—and we will always be finite—cannot receive the whole of God. He is infinite. Therefore he communicates his infinite fullness to us in degrees forever. There will always be more for a finite mind to see of an infinite God. As we see this, we will be more and more happy. You can see more thoughts on this by Jonathan Edwards in John Piper, God’s Passion for his Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 37.
3 For a more extended treatment of the unity of these two motives in the Christian life, see the chapter, “A Passion for God’s Supremacy and Compassion for Man’s Soul: Jonathan Edwards on the Unity of Motives for World Missions,” in John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2003), 203-214.