“The Christian’s Happiness”, from Dr. Timothy Keller (Sonship, True Joy, Compassion and Courage)

The Christian’s Happiness – Romans 8:28-30 by Dr. Timothy Keller

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30)

Cheer Up Christian: Your bad things turn out for good, your good things can never be lost, and the best things are yet to come.

Introduction

If you’re a Christian, you know that Christianity is supposed to be about joy. You probably also know that you’re supposed to experience joy in spite of circumstances. The Bible clearly teaches that joy is available that should make us happy no matter the circumstances.

There’s a joy that the deepest trouble can’t put out and, if properly nourished and nurtured, can even overwhelm the greatest grief.

When Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:13, he prays for us—his followers. He says, I pray that “they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” One chapter before, he says to his disciples, “You will rejoice. and no one will take away your joy” (16:22). That’s pretty amazing! He’s talking to the twelve disciples, men who are going to be persecuted. They’re going to be robbed of everything they own, tortured, and put to death. Yet Jesus promises to give them a joy that will withstand all that. Nothing—not disease or persecution or alienation or loneliness or torture or even death—will be able to take it away.

I often wrestle with that concept. I have to ask myself, “Why do things affect me so much? Why is my joy not relentless?” Sometimes I wonder, “Do we have that kind of impervious joy?” I’m afraid not. I don’t think we understand the nature of this joy.

Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness. Paul talks about trouble and persecution and nakedness and poverty and how Christians are supposed to live in a world like that. In 8:28–30 he offers three principles for finding joy in suffering. Paul tells us that if we follow Christ, our bad things turn out for good, our good things cannot be lost, and our best things are yet to come. Those are the reasons for our joy.

Our bad things turn out for good

Verse 28 says: “For those loving him, God works together all things for good.”

There are three implications of this first principle.

  • First, this verse says that all things happen to Christians. That is, the Christian’s circumstances are no better than anybody else’s. It is extremely important for us to understand this if we’re going to experience relentless and impervious joy. Terrible things happen to people who love God. Many Christians explicitly teach—and most Christians implicitly believe—that if we love and serve God, then we will not have as many bad things happen to us. That’s not true! Horrible things can happen to us, and believing in and loving and serving God will not keep them from happening. All the same things that happen to everybody else will happen to people who love God.

“All things” means all things, in this text. In verse 35 Paul says, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, poverty, danger, or sword?” Those are terrible things. Paul is saying all the same things that happen to everybody else will happen to us, even if we love God. It’s very important to realize that.

  • The second implication of this point is that when things work together in your life, it’s because of God. Notice Paul does not say, “Things work together for good.” Things never work together for good on their own. Rather, if anything good happens, it is because God is working it together. Earlier in Romans 8, Paul discusses how things fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay. Everyone will eventually experience the decay of their bodies; that’s the nature of things. The little grains of sand on the beach used to be a mountain. Everything falls apart; things do not come together. This verse tells Christians to get rid of the saccharine, sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that things do go right, and that it’s normal for things to go right.

Modern, Western people believe that if things go wrong, we should sue, because things ought to go right. But Christians have to discard that idea completely. Christians have to recognize that if our health remains intact, it is simply because God is holding it up. If people love us, if someone is there to hug us or squeeze our hand, if someone loves us in spite of all our flaws—if someone loves us at all—it’s because God is bringing all things together. God is holding it up. Everything that goes well is a miracle of grace.

  • The third implication of this principle is the most basic: Although bad things happen, God works them for good. This verse does not promise that those who love God will have better circumstances. Nor does this verse say that bad things are actually good things. Rather, it acknowledges that these are bad things, but it promises that they’re working for good. That means God will work them to good effect in your life. The story of Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus is an endless source of insight for me. As he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was not smiling. He was angry. He was weeping. Why? Because death is a bad thing! Jesus wasn’t thinking, “They think that this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I’m about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really a good thing! It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting! I can’t wait!” He wasn’t thinking that. Jesus was weeping at the tomb, because the bad thing he’s about to work for good is bad. The story of Lazarus does not give you a saccharine view of suffering, saying bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. The Bible never says anything like that!

God will give bad things good effects in your life, but they’re still bad. Jesus Christ’s anger at the tomb of Lazarus proves that he hates death. He also hates loneliness, alienation, pain, and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it without destroying us.

God will work all for good in the totality.

There’s no saccharine view in the Christian faith. The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad; they’re really good things. The promise is that God will take the bad things, and he’ll work them for good in the totality.

Keep in mind that verse 28 says all things work together for good. That doesn’t mean that when something bad happens, we can decide to give God a week to show us how the situation is going to turn out for good. In fact, don’t wait a month. Don’t wait a year. Don’t wait a decade. The promise isn’t for a month or a year or a decade.

The promise is not that we will see how every bad patch in our lives works out for our good. The promise is that God will make sure that all the bad circumstances will work together for your life in its totality.

The best summary of this lesson that anybody has ever come up with is John Newton’s. He said: “Everything is necessary that he [God] sends; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.” What John Newton and Paul are saying is that if God has withheld good things—things that you think are good—they would only be good in the short run. In the long run, they would be terrible. They would be good in the partial but not in the whole. On the other hand, God will only bring bad things into your life—things God knows are bad—in order to cure you of things that can destroy you in the long run. The premise is, the things that really hurt—foolishness, pride, selfishness, hardness of heart, and the belief that you don’t need God—are the only things that can hurt you in the long run. In the short run selfishness and self-deception feel great, but in the long run they will destroy you.

Your joy will be impervious if you hold onto these three principles. Bad things will happen to you. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised when bad things happen. One of the main reasons a lot of Christians are continually overthrown is not simply because bad things happen to them. At least half of their discouragement and despondency is due to their surprise at the bad things that happen to them. Do you see the distinction?

Fifty percent of the reason we get so despondent is that we’re shocked. We say, “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” We may say life should be better, but that’s not what the promise is. Or we say we love God, therefore, surely we will have more good circumstances. That’s not the promise either. Until you understand what the promise is, you’re going to be continually shocked and even overthrown.

Our good things can never be lost

The second principle in this passage is that the good things we have cannot be lost. If you’ve been a Christian for any period of time, you know that Romans 8:28 is a very famous verse. People use it all the time.

It’s what I call a “blessing box” verse. A blessing box is a collection of verses you rip out of context and recite without concern for what came before and after the verse. It feels good, so you use it. For example, people use Romans 8:28 to assure themselves that when bad things happen, then surely good things will happen.

You might think, “I didn’t get into the grad school I wanted to get into, but that’s because there’s a better grad school for me somewhere.” Or, “I didn’t marry the girl or guy I wanted to marry, but that means there’s a better one for me somewhere.” That’s not the promise.

There’s a little word between verses 28 and 29 that indicates the verses go together. The little word is for. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, for those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed into the likeness of his Son.”

God does not promise you better life circumstances if you love him. He promises you a better life. Grad school and marriage are circumstances. We’re talking about a joy that goes beyond circumstances. How dare we interpret verse 28 as a joy that is dependent on those things! Here is an important principle: Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer, you’ll become like him. The gospel does not promise you better life circumstances; it promises you a better life.

Romans 8:29 tells us the goal toward which all our circumstances are moving us. Paul uses the word predestined. He’s not introducing the word to confuse you—he doesn’t intend to explain the doctrine of predestination or address the issues that arise when that word is mentioned. He uses this word to comfort us. Something that is predestined is fixed. What Paul means is that if you love God, you can count on a promise that is absolutely fixed, no matter what. That’s all he’s trying to get across.

Comforted by Christ, by absolute promise.

What is it that is predestined? That we will be conformed to the image of Christ. The Greek word here is morpha, from which we get the word metamorphosis. Paul is saying that God promises to “metamorphosize” us. He promises to change our very inner essence into the very inner essence of Jesus Christ.

To be a Christian is to become passionately in love with the character of Jesus. You read about him in the Bible and are amazed by the truth and love you find in his life. You see wisdom and utter conviction. You see incredible courage, brightness, and radiance.

The good that God is moving you toward through everything that happens in your life—whether externally good or bad—is your transformation into Christ’s nature. If you love God, everything that happens in your life will mold you, sculpt you, polish you, and shape you into the image of his Son. He is making you like him. He’ll give you Christ’s incredible compassion and courage. God is working everything that happens in your life toward that magnificent goal. It’s predestined. It’s guaranteed.

One of the most astounding things in Romans 8:30 is this: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” 

Glorified is in the past tense. Shouldn’t Paul say, “The ones he foreknew he predestined, and justified, and will glorify”? Because the apostle is so absolutely certain that you are bound—that God is going to make you as beautiful as Jesus and give you all these incredible things—he writes of the glorification as an accomplished fact. He talks about it in the past tense because it’s as good as done. God is not going to let anything in life get between you and that goal.

You are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.

In Romans 8:29 Paul calls Christ “the firstborn among many brothers.” That means we are all sons of God. We are all adopted into the family. When Paul alludes to adoption, he’s talking about a practice that was common in the Roman world, but one that’s quite different from the way we think of adoption. In the Roman world, most people who were adopted were adults. When a wealthy man had no heir and didn’t want his estate to be broken up when he died, he would adopt an adult male, usually someone who worked for him whom he trusted. By adopting that adult male, he made him his son. The minute the legal procedure took place, their relationship was changed from formal to intimate, from temporary and conditional to permanent and unconditional. All the debts the man owed before his adoption were wiped out, and he suddenly became rich.

Being completely conformed to the likeness of God’s Son is something that we look forward to in the future, although the transformation is happening now gradually. Being adopted among many brothers is something that we have now. The minute you become a Christian, you have intimacy of relationship. You have an unconditional relationship. You become wealthy, because everything that Jesus Christ has accomplished is transferred to you. You become beautiful and spiritually rich in him.

Some people are put off by Paul’s language of adoption because it’s gender insensitive. They argue, “Wouldn’t it be better to say that we become sons and daughters of God?” It would, but that misses the whole point. Some time ago, a woman helped me understand this. She was raised in a non-Western family from a very traditional culture. There was only one son in the family, and it was understood in her culture that he would receive most of the family’s provisions and honor. In essence, they said, “He’s the son; you’re just a girl.” That’s just the way it was.

One day she was studying a passage on adoption in Paul’s writings. She suddenly realized that the apostle was making a revolutionary claim. Paul lived in a traditional culture just like she did. He was living in a place where daughters were second-class citizens. When Paul said—out of his own traditional culture—that we are all sons in Christ, he was saying that there are no second-class citizens in God’s family. When you give your life to Christ and become a Christian, you receive all the benefits a son enjoys in a traditional culture. As a white male, I’ve never been excluded like that. As a result, I didn’t see the sweetness of this welcome. I didn’t recognize all the beauty of God’s subversive and revolutionary promise that raises us to the highest honor by adopting us as his sons.

Our adoption means we are loved like Christ is loved. We are honored like he is honored—every one of us—no matter what. Your circumstances cannot hinder or threaten that promise. In fact, your bad circumstances will only help you understand and even claim the beauty of that promise. The more you live out who you are in Christ, the more you become like him in actuality. Paul is not promising you better life circumstances; he is promising you a far better life. He’s promising you a life of greatness. He is promising you a life of joy. He’s promising you a life of humility. He’s promising you a life of nobility. He’s promising you a life that goes on forever.

 The best things are yet to come

That brings us to the third point. Why can you be joyful no matter what? Your bad things turn out for good, your good things can never be lost, and the best is yet to come. If you understand what is to come, you can handle anything here. What amazes me is that even Ivan Karamazov, the atheist character in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, understood how knowing what is to come helps a person endure present circumstances. He said:

I believe that suffering will be healed and made up for, that in the world’s finality, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that’s been shed, that it will make it not just possible to forgive, but to justify all that’s happened.

I don’t want you to think that this talk about glory and about heaven trivializes suffering. In fact, Ivan Karamazov said that this hope is the only worldview that takes our brokenness seriously.

Our souls are so great and our suffering is so deep that nothing but this promise can overwhelm it. Glory does not trivialize human brokenness. It’s the only thing that takes it seriously. What else could possibly deal with the hurts of our hearts? Your soul is too great for anything but this. Don’t you know a compliment when you hear it?

Romans 8:28-30 – A Christian’s Happiness  by Tim Keller

Source: Mongerism.com

“All of Life as Worship” by John Piper (Renewal, God’s Glory, Transformation)

All of Life as Worship by John Piper

“All of life is the outshining of what you truly value and cherish and treasure. Therefore, all of life is worship. Either of God, or something else.” John Piper

In the message on worship, the main point was, first, that in the New Testament there is a stunning indifference to place and external form: “Neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship God, but in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21–23). Not in Samaria but in spirit; and not in Jerusalem but in truth. And, second, there is a radical intensification of worship as an inner experience, “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Worship is real, authentic experience in the heart with God, or it is nothing.

The Key to Praising Christ Is Prizing Him

Then, I tried to show what the vital essence of that inner experience of worship is. And I argued from Philippians 1:20–21 that it is a cherishing of Christ as gain, or a being satisfied with God in all that he is for us in Jesus. Paul said that his expectation was that he would magnify Christ by life or by death, because for him to live was Christ and to die was gain. So we magnify Christ in death and in life by counting him to be more gain than anything the world can offer. The key to praising Christ is prizing Christ. Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Worship Service — Being Served by God

It is not insignificant that what we do on Sunday mornings are called worship “services.” What do we mean, “services”? What is a “worship service”? And my point last week from Acts 17:25 and Mark 10:45 was that “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, but he himself gives to everyone life and breath and everything.” And, “Christ came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Whatever else a worship “service” is, it must first and foremost be served by God.

“Whatever else a worship ‘service’ is, it must first and foremost be served by God.”

God is magnified when we cherish him as gain above all things, and come to him tell him that and to find more of him.

God serves us by giving life and breath and everything about himself that goes to the deepest recesses of our hearts.

We worship first and foremost by thirsting and hungering after God above all things.

And that means that we worship first and foremost by being served by God. It is a worship service, because the service starts with God’s serving us what we so desperately need, namely, himself.

Connecting All of Life with Worship

If the vital essence of that inner experience we call worship is a being satisfied in God or a cherishing Christ as gain above all things, this accounts for why Romans 12:1–2 portrays all of life as worship. You remember that I asked last week, “Well, what is the Christian life if God cannot be served by human hands but loves to serve us? What does life look like?” And the answer would seem to be that we get up in the morning and we get our hearts fixed on Christ. We go to him and renew our satisfaction in him through his word. And then we enter the day seeking to express and increase that satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus.

Let’s look at Romans 12:1–2, which connects all of life with worship.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

A Sacrifice That Lives and Moves and Does Things

So verse one says that presenting your bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice is worship. Now, what is this referring to? A sacrifice was usually a dead body, not a living one, so he says “living” to make sure we know he doesn’t mean literal human sacrifice. A sacrifice was usually laid on the altar and parts of it were eaten by the priests and that was the end of the animal. It had no more existence. But that’s not what Paul means, because at least three times in Romans 6 (verses 13, 16, 19) he speaks of presenting our bodies or our members to God like this, and in every case it is so that our members — our arms and legs and tongues, eyes and ears and sexual organs would become instruments of righteousness. So the sacrifice is not only living, it is moving about and doing things in the world.

So how is it a sacrifice? And practically how do you present your bodies to God as sacrifices? I think the best answer is to see the connection between verses 1 and 2. My suggestion is that verse 2 is the realistic explanation of the more symbolic verse 1. Verse 1 talks about sacrifices and worship. Verse 2 talks about your mind being renewed and doing the will of God.

The explicit link to show you that Paul is thinking this way is the repetition of the word “acceptable” in verses 1 and 2. Verse 1: “Present your bodies . . . holy and acceptable to God.” Verse 2: Use your renewed mind to prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect. So there is probably a close link between offering your body to God as an acceptable sacrifice to God, and doing the acceptable will of God.

Not Conformed, but Transformed

So if verse 2 is likely a realistic explanation of the symbolic picture of verse 1, let’s look at it for a moment. There is a negative command and a positive one: negatively, don’t be conformed to this world; positively, be transformed. Not conformed, transformed.

Devote your life as a Christian to being changed. Don’t settle in at the level of transformation you now have. Oh, how many Christians throw away their birthright by coasting. Be transformed! It’s present tense, ongoing, continual growth in un-conforming yourself to the world.

But how does this happen? What is involved? Does it mean we should just study what the world wears and watches and listens to and buys and plays, and then do the opposite? Well there will be a difference at most of those levels probably, but that’s not what the text focuses on, is it? It says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The focus is not first on getting the outside of the cup cleaned up, but on getting the inside cleaned up. In other words, transformation and non-conformity on the outside must flow from a new mind. Be transformed in the renewing of your mind.

So you might say, “Okay that means we must learn to think differently than the world thinks, and that will transform us from the inside out.” Well, that is true. But there is a word in verse 2 to show us that it is not the whole truth, and may not even be the main truth — depending on what you mean by “thinking.”

What is the function of the mind according to verse 2? What is the goal of a renewed mind? Right thinking is surely essential. If you think illogically, you will probably live badly. For example, you might think something like this: “Premise 1: Most TV ads entice me to want things that I don’t need. Premise 2: Watching more TV causes me to see more such TV ads. Conclusion: Therefore the more TV I watch the less I will be enticed to want things I don’t need.” That is simply illogical thinking and it will cause you to live badly if you don’t think better than that.

Prove and Approve

But that is not what verse 2 stresses. There is a very crucial word that we have to get right. The NASB says that our renewed mind is so that we may “prove what the will of God is.” The key word is “prove.” It is a tremendously important word. It has two implications: one is the idea of testing and proving something’s value. And the other idea is the capacity to assess it and approve of a value when you see it.

It is very hard in English to bring out both these ideas with one word. The NIV does it in fact by using two words. It refers to the renewing of your mind, then says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” That is the full idea. Test and approve.

“The root issue is more than right thinking. It is right valuing.”

So what is the root issue in verse 2? The root issue is more than right thinking. It is right valuing. Not just right proving, but right approving. Not just right testing, but treasuring.

Let me see if I can help you see the difference like this. It would be possible, perhaps to teach an uneducated person to recognize some of the traits of gold without his knowing how valuable gold is. So you might give him a job panning gold with you in a stream and pay him a dollar an hour while he accurately tests the yellow stones and tosses thousands of dollars worth of gold nuggets into your bag.

That is not the kind of renewal Paul is talking about. He is not saying: read enough books or listen to enough tapes or sermons so that you can spot a good deed when you see it and then work up the discipline to do it. He is saying, be renewed so deeply in your mind that you not only can test and spot gold when you see it, but also love gold — approve gold, treasure gold. That’s what the word means. (See Romans 1:2814:221 Corinthians 16:3.)

Now you can see that the renewal involved is more than a logic lesson.

If you want to find out if a certain material is sweet, you might reason logically: it is brown, gooey, comes from a beehive, crystallizes if you drop water in it, and makes the eyes of a two-year-old light up if you put it on toast. Therefore, you infer, it must be honey, and honey is sweet. That is not the main way Romans 12:2 means for you to find the will of God. The way to know if this material is sweet, is by the power of taste, not logic.

Renewed in the Spirit of Your Mind

Ephesians 4:23 has the closest parallel to this verse and there Paul says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” That is a very strange phrase, “the spirit of your mind.” I think it means something like the capacity of your mind to taste the spirit of a thing. One of the reasons some simple, uneducated people live much more holy and upright lives than some Christians who are very educated is that their minds are far more deeply renewed.

That is, they are so renewed that they can taste, or you might say smell, the rottenness of a temptation way before others and turn away before the least contamination happens. And they can taste and smell a beautiful opportunity for love before others see it coming.

In other words, mind-renewal is a deep spiritual change in how the mind assesses things and values things. In Ephesians 4:18 Paul says that ignorance (of mind) is rooted in hardness of heart.

So if the mind is going to be wise and discerning about the will of God, the heart must be soft and susceptible to spiritual reality. In other words, the renewal Paul is calling for is profound, and deeper than any mere mental effort can achieve. This is why prayer is utterly essential. The constant prayer of the Christian is, “Open my eyes that I may see” (Psalm 119:18); and, “Let the eyes of my heart be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18); and, “Cause me, O Lord, to taste and see that you are good” (Psalm 34:8). In other words, God must do the renewing through his word and Spirit.

A Profoundly Renewed Mind

Now let’s step back and see what Romans 12:1–2 looks like with this insight.

The root of Christian living in verse 2 is a profoundly renewed mind. It doesn’t just think clearly, but assesses truly and values accurately and approves strongly and treasures passionately what is good, acceptable and perfect.

This is utterly relevant to our daily lives because 95 percent of the things we do during the day, we do without any extended logical reflection. We just act spontaneously out of the spirit of the mind that is in us (Ephesians 4:23) — or as Jesus said, out of the abundance of our heart (Matthew 12:34). So to live the Christian life with any authenticity we must be in the process of a deep renewal deep beneath right thinking.

Then verse 2 says that this deep renewal of the way we approve and assess and value reality leads us to a transformed life that is not conformed to the world. Now the non-conformity is not just external and forced, but internal and natural and free. It flows from our new values and assessments and where our treasure is. But it does change us externally and put us out of conformity with the world. We find ourselves doing things that Paul calls the “will of God.” God has a pattern of life that he calls us to live that accords with new powers of approving what is good and beautiful and true, and new values and new treasures. There are good things, acceptable things, perfect things — different ways of talking about what God calls us to do in different contexts.

Now how does this relate to verse 1? How does this relate to the living sacrifice of our bodies offered to God, which is our spiritual worship? I think it is simply a way of describing what that offering of worship is. What verse 2 describes is a living sacrifice because in the renewal of our minds a whole way of tasting and assessing and approving and valuing and treasuring the world dies. We are, as Paul says, “crucified to the world and the world is crucified to us” (Galatians 6:14).

So the renewal is a dying of old values and the coming to life of new ones. It is the dying of old ways of treasuring television and food and money, and the awakening of new spiritual taste buds.

God Is My All-Satisfying Treasure

So our spiritual worship is to come to God each day and say: “O God, there is nothing that I want more than to approve what is most worthy, and value what is most valuable, and treasure what is most precious and admire what is most beautiful and hate what is most evil and abhor what is most ugly. I reckon myself dead to all that is unspiritual and worldly and deadening to my soul. Renew me, O my God. Awaken spiritual capacities of right assessment.”

And then we say, “And take me, body and soul, and make me the instrument of your glory in the world. Let the renewal you are working from within show on the outside. This is my spiritual worship. To show the world that you are my all-satisfying treasure.”

“The essence of worship is a being satisfied in God and cherishing of Christ as gain.”

There it is. Now we are back at the beginning. The essence of worship is a being satisfied in God and cherishing of Christ as gain. Romans 12:1–2 are not saying anything different. This is what it means to have a renewed mind. The renewed mind perceives and approves and treasures and cherishes the will of God (and thus transforms all of life), because it first and foremost perceives, and approves and treasures and cherishes God.

And doing the will of God is the outshining of God in his glory. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

All of life is the outshining of what you truly value and cherish and treasure. Therefore, all of life is worship. Either of God, or something else.

Therefore, be transformed in the renewal of your mind. Cherish God in all his works and all his ways. Reckon the old mind dead and offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice that he may put you on display by the outshining of his worth and his value in your life. Worship him with your life.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org 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 Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

“Come and See” by Tim Keller, be amazed at God’s Grace (Follow Jesus, Courage, confident Humility)

Come and See by Timothy Keller

‘We need to remember that all those who wrote the New Testament or provided the material for it were trained by Jesus.” In his book After Heaven, Robert Wuthnow says the watchword of Americans today is spiritual. People say, ‘I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious. I am searching for spiritual reality, but I don’t expect to find it in religious institutions or sets of dogmas.’ What Wuthnow articulates so well here is Americans’ combined rejection of the idea that secular science and reason alone can give us meaning in life or a life worth living’ that their real interest is in the supernatural and in the eternal. They don’t want to go back to the perceived creativity-stifling, smug moralism of ‘traditional religion,’ so they say, ‘Ah, the new spirituality, not the old traditional religion.’

In John 1:35-51, we see the account of how Jesus Christ met his first disciples. We see something offered to us that is neither the new spirituality nor the old traditional religion. It’s not a vague or general sense of spiritual well-being or a new set of rules. It’s an encounter with a living Person.

I have chosen this biblical passage because there are patterns here. If you want to find this spiritual reality through Jesus—this man who bridges the gap between spirituality and religion, and who offers us something different from either the new spirituality or the old traditional religion—then you need to see what the key is. The key is this repeated phrase: ‘Come and see.’ What does that mean? Let’s look at it together.

‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Think: Examine the Evidence’

The first time ‘Come and see’ happens, the disciples are kind of nervous. They were just told Jesus is this incredible person, so they follow. He says, ‘What do you want?’ What they want is to know if what they have heard is really true.

Jesus doesn’t demand belief at the moment. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, let me tell you who I am and how I demand obedience.’ He says, ‘Come and get to know me. Come and see how I live. Come and see how I speak. Come and see what I do.’ The second time we see ‘Come and see’ in the Gospel passage is when Philip says to his friend, Nathanael, ‘I found the Messiah.’

Nathanael responds with a valid question. Everybody at that time knew the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, out of the line of David. So Nathanael looks at Philip and says, ‘He is from Galilee. He is from Nazareth. How could he be the Messiah?’ Philip’s answer is to say, ‘Let’s go find out. Come and see.’

The question we ask today is: ‘How could there be a loving and merciful God when the world is the way it is with all the injustice?’ This is another valid question, so let’s see how Jesus would answer it.

He doesn’t define the ‘new spirituality’ by saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe. Figure out what works for you.’ Although that would be convenient—no critical thinking, no assessment—instead he says, ‘Come and think.’ He does not say to you what traditional religion has often said: ‘Don’t question. Just believe what we’re telling you because we’ve told you.’ No, Jesus says, ‘Come and think.’ How different this is from either the neo-spirituality or old religion.

Although the Gospel writer was addressing people who lived two thousand years ago, those people were in the same boat as we are today. How can they go and look at Jesus? How can they listen to him? How can they look at the evidence of what he said and how he lived? Here is the answer: ‘The next day John [the Baptist] was there.’ When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look”’

There are two important points here. All through the first chapter of John, we’re told that John the Baptist saw and said. The Greek word used here means essentially, ‘I was actually there. I really saw this, and now my testimony is admissible evidence in court.’ John the Baptist is not talking about an inward experience. He’s not talking about an impression. John is saying, ‘I’m seeing this.’

As we read this passage, we see it has the marks of an eyewitness account. It says they saw where he was staying and they spent the day with him until the tenth hour, which is 4:00 pm.

In Reynolds Price’s introduction to his book Three Gospels, he makes the interesting point that in the ancient world, fictional narratives such as epics, legends, and myths never used details.

You don’t see, ‘Oedipus went to see the Oracle at Delphi, and she came out around 4:00.’ Our Gospel passage, however, states, ‘The next day,’ not ‘Once upon a time.’ Price says that when you see such detail, it means that the author is signaling the reader that this is a legal testimony, not an urban legend. This is John’s way of saying, ‘This is an eyewitness account. I’m showing you exactly what he said and did. If you read my account, you will be able to come and see and examine the evidence the way we did.’

How can you come and see? Read the account of the Gospels. Then you will have to decide whether you believe these were deliberate, intricate lies by people who died for those lies, or that a human being was the Creator God who came to earth to save us. But there is nothing in the middle that is warranted.

The only way you know you’ve come and seen is if you have a position that, frankly, is extremely hard. It’s very hard to believe that a human being would be God, and it’s very hard to believe that this incredible movement and these incredible people, who died for this, consciously and deliberately told us lies about it. You have to decide which one is easier for you to believe, but don’t you dare stand in the middle. If you have, it means you haven’t come and seen.

‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Follow: Change Your Life’

The word come means that I move from where I am to here. I make a change. The reason Jesus says ‘Come’ is because he wants them to follow. He doesn’t just want them to believe.

The text gets that across in a couple of ways, but here is the best one. In John 1:29, the Baptist says to his disciples, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ It’s not until verse 35 that they actually follow. This is a way for us to see the difference. When John the Baptist told his disciples ‘This is the Messiah,’ surely they believed, but they weren’t ‘followers’ until they actually began to follow Jesus.

That’s the difference between being just a person who ascribes to beliefs, who says, ‘Oh, I like Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I’m trying to follow Jesus,’ and knowing Jesus personally and becoming a follower, a disciple. Now how does that happen in your life? In verse 51, Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth.’ What the Gospel writer tells us he really says is, ‘Amen, amen.’ The word amen is an Aramaic word that means, ‘This is true.’ Every commentator and historian, anybody who knows ancient cultures, knows this is a unique usage of it. As one commentator puts it, ‘Jesus Christ’s use of amen to introduce his own words is without analogy in all of Judaism and among any other New Testament writers.’ Amen was only used to affirm and approve and accredit the words of another.’

For example, when someone was preaching in the synagogue, the elders would stand up. When they were all done, they would say, ‘Amen.’ Why? That was their way of saying, ‘We’ve checked out what this person says with our understanding of the Scripture, and it’s true.’ Maybe all the people would say, ‘Amen.’

Of course, Jesus Christ made it even harder for us because he affirms the Bible. It’s not that just his words printed in red in your Bible are the ones we have to obey. Jesus himself says, ‘The Scriptures shall not be broken. Not a jot or a tittle will pass away until all is fulfilled.’ We need to remember that all those who wrote the New Testament or provided the material for it were trained by Jesus. If you want to come and see and believe—that is, investigate the evidence—all you have to do is believe that the Bible is reliable reporting. But if you want to be a disciple and if you want to know Jesus personally, you have to be willing to listen to what the Word of God says, whether you like it or not.

Personal following without an infallible Bible is impossible. If you read the words of Jesus and say ‘That’s great’ about some things and ‘I can’t believe that; that’s primitive’ about others, what kind of Jesus do you have at the end of your reading? You have a Jesus of your own heart’s making. You think you’re following Jesus, but you’re following your own heart under the guise of following Jesus.

Unless Jesus compels you to say, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to listen to this. I’m going to wrestle with this. I’m going to submit to this even where I hate it’, if you don’t have that, then you don’t have a personal Jesus.

Come and See’ Means ‘Process This with Friends’

What’s really interesting about this encounter in the Gospel account is that John the Baptist leads Andrew and the other person, whoever it is, to Jesus. Andrew leads his brother Peter to Jesus. Philip leads Nathanael to Jesus. When Philip says, ‘Come and see,’ what he means is, ‘Let’s go together. Let’s figure this out.’ This is a very important point. While there are exceptions, the general rule is that the way to find Jesus is almost always through someone you know. In this case, it was a friend who had already found Jesus.

Christianity is not a philosophy through some great teacher by which you can save yourself. No, Christianity is an encounter with a Person, and we see in the Bible that people find Jesus through their friends. After being introduced to Jesus, then we need friends who are a couple of steps ahead of us spiritually to help us in our walk.

There are some of you who have already experienced the blessing of having found Jesus through friends. Some of you have a lot to offer, but you’re not finding anybody for Jesus. If you want to know how you can finally be effective and really be helpful to people, then look at the Gospel text. There are three things we see here.

1. First, patience. John the Baptist says repeatedly, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ Finally, they follow Jesus. You have to be patient. Who knows how many times you have to say ‘Look’ before they follow.

2. Second, courage. Philip says, ‘We found the Messiah, and here he is.’ Nathanael asks him a tough question that he has no idea how to answer. Isn’t this the reason why we’re all such chickens? Aren’t we afraid of being asked a question we don’t know the answer to? But the way to get good at answering those questions is practice by floundering and blowing it for years. Unless you’re willing, unless you have the courage to do that, you’re never going to be effective.

3. Third, confident humility. What does Philip do when he gets the total stump question of ‘Isn’t the Messiah supposed to be from Bethlehem?’ He says, ‘I don’t know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s study. Let’s go talk to him. Let’s go look.’ There is a humility here because he takes Nathanael seriously enough to say, ‘We do need to think about this, and I don’t know the answer.’ But he also has the confidence to say, ‘If you come, you will see.’

‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Wonder’

When Nathanael meets Jesus, Jesus says, ‘You believe because.’ You will see greater things than you can imagine. ‘Come and see’ means come and wonder. I am calling you into an adventure so wonderful that it is beyond your imagination.’ How does he do this?

First of all, he calls us to the wondrous adventure of personal transformation. I’ll put it to you this way. Do you remember ever meeting somebody you suddenly realized really understood you? It could have been a counselor, a new friend, or an older, wiser person. It could have been somebody you were falling in love with. Why was it so heady and addicting? I’ll tell you why. To begin with, you’re excited about the possibility of finally being able to figure yourself out.

We’re all riddles to ourselves. ‘Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel what I feel?’ You’re also excited that this wise person, this person you love and respect, thinks about you, considers you significant enough to think of you, to ponder you, to consider you. The two together, the prospect of new information and that incredible affirmation, just blow you through the roof. But even this kind of revelation and fulfillment has its boundaries—ultimately, you always find there is a limit to how much that person really knows you and loves you.

When Nathanael walks up to Jesus, he is blown away by something no rabbi ever has done or ever will do. Jesus says to him, ‘Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile’ (KJV). What Jesus is talking about is his character. He uses a word that means unpretentious and transparent. Nathanael looks at him and says, ‘You nailed me. Yeah, I am that kind of person. I’m plain spoken. I’m kind of blunt. How do you know me?’ Then Jesus says, ‘Know you? I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael’s eyes get as big as saucers. He says, ‘How could you’? How could any’? You are the Messiah!’

What does that mean? I don’t know. We don’t know. That’s one of the marks of an eyewitness account. But I’ll tell you, it was something so private, so significant, so absolutely impossible that any human being could know that Nathanael is astounded. ‘This is not just somebody who knows me somewhat; he knows me completely.’

That’s not the only reason he is blown away. Jesus Christ is not just saying, ‘I know you.’ He is praising him, even though Nathanael doesn’t know him. Isn’t that astounding?

Jesus Christ knows you to the bottom and praises you to the skies. There has never been a Counselor like this. There has never been a friend like this. There has never been a lover like this. This is the Wonderful Counselor. This is the friend you’ve always been looking for. When God comes and calls you in love, by his call he makes you what he calls you.

First, Jesus says, ‘Nathanael, I will give you greater things than that. You have no idea what you’re going to become, transformed by my love.’ Second, Jesus talks about an upward journey, an outward journey. He says, ‘Verily, verily I say to you, you will see heaven open and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ What he is saying here is astounding.

In the Old Testament story of Jacob, Jacob was running through the desert, fleeing for his life, despairing that he had lost God, that he had lost everything. Going to sleep for the night, he dreams of a ladder on which angels were ascending and descending.

Jesus Christ says to Nathanael, ‘Let me tell you something beyond your imagination. I am the gate of heaven Jacob saw. That was not just a dream; that was a promise. I am the way through that wall into that cosmic reality that is behind this world.’ What does it mean? It means that story is about him. It means all the stories in the Old Testament are about him.

When John the Baptist says, ‘Look, the Lamb of God,’ what is he saying? He is referring to that night long ago in Egypt when the angel of death passed over those who had blood on their doorframes. For those who didn’t have the blood of the lamb on their doors, the firstborn of that house died. John the Baptist says, ‘Jesus is that slain Lamb. That story was about him, about his life, about his death.’

But it goes beyond that. When Jesus Christ says, ‘I am the door and the gateway into the cosmic reality behind everything,’ he is not just saying, ‘All the biblical stories are about me.’ He is saying, ‘All the stories are about me.’ Jesus says, ‘My story is the story to which all the other stories are pointing. Therefore, the stories are true. You can know me, and this same cosmic power from that cosmic, glorious center will come into your life. You will be in the story. Evil spells will be broken. I am the reality to which all the legends point.’

‘Come and see’ means you can get in. ‘Come and see’ means I can’t even begin to describe what is going to happen in your life if you come and follow him.

You say, ‘Okay, I have to change my life, right? Obey the Bible, right?’ You’re excited. You’re ready. ‘I have to tell my friends about Jesus. I have to study the Bible.’

No. The key to getting in is not to do anything. Jesus does not say, ‘I’m at the top of the ladder.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Angels are ascending and descending to the Son of Man.’ He doesn’t say, ‘If you try really hard, you can ascend.’ No, you can’t. Psalm 24 says, ‘Who shall ascend into the presence of God? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.’

How are we ever going to get up there? Jesus says, ‘I am the ladder. I came down to bring you to God. I lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died. Trust in me. If you do, you get in.’

Come and see. Think. Come and see. Follow. Come and see with friends. ‘Come and see’ means be amazed at his grace. He can’t wait to show you what he is going to do for you. Come and see.

Timothy Keller

Source: Modern Reformation Magazine; Who Is Jesus? VOL 24; ISSUE 6, 10/31/2015