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Q: In your book “Desiring God” you talk about how the believer in Christ acquires a new taste for God at conversion. What do you mean?
A: Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (ESV). Evidently there is a kind of seeing that is like tasting. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (ESV)–that is, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. I think what Paul is getting at is that while we see with the eyes of our head, it is the eyes of our heart that perceive God’s glory. This has a dimension that’s like tasting.
We’re not just seeing light, we’re seeing light as beautiful; we’re seeing Christ as beautiful. The devil looks at Christ and he sees something he hates. Before we met Christ we were all like that–we were dead, blind, deaf and insensitive to God’s glory; we couldn’t taste it as beautiful. Our hearts have to be awakened, raised from the dead. A heart of stone has to be taken out, and a heart of flesh has to be put in. We are not passive as God does this. We must choose this day whom we shall serve. But we can’t just decide factually to do this; even the devil knows the facts about Christ. But he does not see them–taste them–as beautiful. We must have a heart that awakens to the beauty, the reality of Christ.
Puritan Jonathan Edwards made the distinction with an analogy to honey. One can conclude that honey is honey because it’s golden, it’s got a certain viscosity, it’s got some comb in it, therefore it must be honey. But Edwards said there’s a superior way to know. Put a drop on your tongue, and it tastes like honey. What we once experienced from money or sex or drugs or power or marriage or sunrises or novels or hard work or computer toys–whatever moved us–has got to be replaced by being moved by, being delighted by, God. In conversion, what makes the heart different is that Christ puts in us a taste for divine things, a taste for the glory of God–and the heart delights in it. The battle to delight in God–to taste Him as all-satisfying–is the battle to see Him more clearly.
Q: So delighting in God is a matter of seeing Him with the eyes of faith and worshiping Him?
A: The fight to delight in God is a fight to see God in and through the Word, by the Spirit. Since revealing is a spiritual thing, and because the Lord is not visible, He reveals Himself to the eyes of our heart by the Word of God. This is the beauty of the Word, combined with the Spirit, so that when we read the Word a seeing happens. I’m not thinking of imagining pictures in the brain, I’m thinking of glory in and through the work of God depicted in the Bible. The glory streams forth out of God’s character into our heart and we perceive it, we taste it spiritually; we apprehend it with the eyes of our heart. That’s the way we fight for joy. In my own fight, I use the acronym IOUS, and I plead with the Lord:
Incline my heart to Your testimonies (Psalm 119:36), because there are days when I don’t even want to pick up the Bible. If that feeling survives, I’m dead. So I plead, “Lord, don’t let me not want to pick up the Bible. Incline my heart to Your Word.”
Open the eyes of my heart to see wondrous things in the Word (Psalm 119:18), not just black marks on a page. Make Your truth glorious and beautiful and attractive and satisfying and delighting.
Unite my heart to fear Your Name (Psalm 86:11). My heart is fragmented and going every which way–I’m worried about the kids, I’m worried about the church, I’m worried about the car I need to fix. So I ask God to get my heart together to have a reverential demeanor toward Him.
Satisfy me with Your lovingkindness (Psalm 90:14). Make my heart so content in You that pornography is not attractive, money is not attractive, fame is not attractive. I want an attraction to You to dominate my life.
I’ve actually added one more “S” and that’s Spread. Evangelism. The mission statement of our church is, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”
Q: So we use the Word of God in combination with prayer?
A: The Word and prayer to me are constantly interwoven. I don’t read the Bible longer than a minute without praying, and I don’t pray longer than a minute without some Scripture on my mind. If I start churning out prayers that aren’t informed pretty explicitly by the Bible, I’m probably going to wind up praying carnal prayers; and if I try to read the Bible extensively without constantly sending my heart up to God, it will become an academic exercise that doesn’t move my heart. I’m not just reading a document about a historical man, I’m reading an inspired Word from a living Christ, and my prayers are to a real, living person.
This is a conversation. God is telling me what to do and I’m saying, “Yes, yes!” I’m crying out to Him for help and I’m pleading for insight and I’m laying all my burdens before Him, and He’s able to bear them. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (ESV). I love to think of prayer as giving God an occasion to show off how broad His shoulders are.
I had a grandmother who opposed prayer because she felt it bothered God. I remember my father feared my visiting this woman because he was such a man of prayer and he knew that her views were so wrong. She thought that she was doing God an honor by saying, “I won’t bother You with my little problems.” But that attitude is highly dishonoring to God, as if somehow His circuits can be overloaded and our prayers are too much for Him to handle. God’s circuits are infinite. You cannot but honor God when you go to Him for help. Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (ESV). Prayer is the great means by which I get all the help I need and God gets all the glory He should have.
Q: How do we maintain the balance between fighting the good fight and resting in Christ’s sufficiency?
A: Before there’s any fighting for joy, there needs to be a coming to terms with how we get accepted by God–and that’s by pure sovereign grace alone, received by faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, which we find out authoritatively in the Bible alone. One of my favorite texts is in Micah where evidently the prophet has gotten himself into a real pickle because of his sin, and his conscience is condemning him. He writes in Micah 7:8, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (ESV). He admits that he is in the darkness, and God is upset with him.
I think Christians need to learn what I call gutsy guilt. We sin. We do wrong things. We can’t just blow them off and say, “Oh, I’m justified by faith, so it doesn’t matter if I sin.” No, we say, “I’ve sinned and I feel rotten.” And like Micah we say, “When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord …” (Micah 7:8-9, ESV). Yet rising in this discouraged, disciplined, sad, broken heart is a gutsy believer. This sad sinner continues, “… Until He pleads my cause and executes judgment for me” –not against me, but for me! (Micah 7:9, ESV). Amazing! The God who is angry with me is for me and will vindicate me. So, there’s a spirit about the way we fight that is different from fighting as though we weren’t yet saved. We must know we’re accepted and loved by God, and that comes because of Christ’s blood and righteousness, received by faith alone, like a little child. We take our stand in it and then armed through life, progressively being sanctified, we fight for joy. We ought to have joy all the time, but we don’t. There is a struggle, but it’s ultimately a triumphant one.
Q: So it was on the cross that God secured our justification so that we can live this boldly?
A: People come to me often with crises of assurance. The bottom line, the end of the conversation with people who are unsure of their salvation, is the Cross. You take them there and say, “All I know to do is tell you to stay here at the foot of this Cross. Recall every Scripture you can think of. Keep looking at it so that God will cause you to feel–not just know but to feel–that what Christ did there for you as a sinner is enough. He removed the wrath of God.”
God is angry at sinners. It’s not wrong to talk about sinners in the hands of an angry God. We just need to complete the picture by adding that He wants to get us out of His anger into His mercy. He couldn’t do that as a just and Holy God by sweeping sins under the rug. They had to be carried by a substitute, and only the Son of God could bear them. So He sends Christ His Son to live a perfect life. His death is the consummation of two things. It’s the consummation of His righteousness, so that I could have a righteousness imputed to me that’s not my own. And it’s the consummation of the sufferings that I should have borne because of my sin. I should have suffered in hell, but He suffered on the cross for me because He was the divine Son of God who came and took all my suffering. He provided all my righteousness so that Paul can say, “[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV).
There’s a great hymn that says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The blood means that the Lamb has been slain in my place, so I don’t have to be slain. The righteousness means that a perfection has been provided for me, so I have a standing before God in perfect righteousness.
Our fight is fundamentally to appropriate all that the Cross has already achieved for us: a total acceptance with God, a total righteousness, a total forgiveness, a total deliverance from wrath, a total escape from hell, a total removal of guilt, a total inheritance of everything good that we ever hoped for–especially fellowship with God. The Cross bought all of that. It’s so central, so precious. We should sing about it every day.
Q: Our joy is authentic then because it rests in the finished work of Christ?
A: When Christ died on the cross, He removed every obstacle to my inheriting everything my heart has ever longed for in Christ. Sin can now be opposed with total confidence that superior joys have been provided for me. Nobody sins out of duty. People only sin because they believe the lie that sin’s pleasures are superior to God’s. When Christ died, He bought for me pleasures at God’s right hand, forevermore, which are superior to all sinful pleasures. A superior satisfaction waits for me if I don’t click on the mouse to do pornography. There’s a superior satisfaction waiting for me if I give my money to missionaries instead of storing it up in bigger barns. There’s a bigger satisfaction waiting for me if I humble myself to serve people instead of using people to advance my career.
The primary way that we fight against the power of sin in our life is by cultivating an alternative taste. You don’t mainly do this by warning people about hell. I believe in hell. I believe we must warn people against hell, and I think that’s a useful way to send them to the Cross where the feast is spread. But mainly, you remove people’s taste for sin by bringing them to eat at the banqueting table of God’s goodness in Christ.
Q: So we grow in our fight for joy by realizing the pleasures of sin are deceitful and corrupt, while the pleasure of God is eternally satisfying?
A: What happened in the fall of man at Adam and Eve’s sin was that they believed the lie that they would be wiser and better off if they did what they felt like instead of what God said. Since then, our hearts and our minds have been not just prone to make bad decisions but are deeply depraved. Sin is a condition of our hearts that produces all kinds of preferences that are contrary to God. Sin is like Satan offering you a beautiful ebony broach that you put around your neck. Conversion is God making the light go on and you see it’s a roach. The devil had put a thread through an ugly, dirty, black, horrible roach and it’s hanging around your neck and now you grab it and say, “Aah! Get that out of here!” As God awakens our spiritual taste buds, then we find sin to be distasteful and righteousness to be our delight.
Q: How can we taste the goodness of God and savor His supremacy in the face of afflictions and trials?
A: I think Christians should take every hard thing that comes into their lives as from the hand of the holy, loving, fatherly, disciplining God who’s not punishing them, because His wrath has been absorbed by Jesus on the cross. God is giving us these hard things in order to draw us to Himself and make us rely utterly on Him. I have never talked to anybody who said that the deepest things they learned about God were learned on the sunniest, happiest, best days of their lives. They always say they’ve gone deepest with God, known Him more and loved Him best in the darkest and hardest times. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that all of his hardships happened so that he might “not rely on [himself] but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, ESV). Paul is talking about a purpose that’s not of the devil or out of his own heart but about God’s purpose to make him depend on the power of God. God wants our faith more than He wants our comfort. He wants to be trusted and known and loved and enjoyed. Regardless of what happens, the believer can confidently say, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalms 63:3, ESV).