Gospel-Driven Reflection and Affection, Part 2

As believers, we are called to glorify God not only by understanding Him with our minds but also by desiring Him with our affections (see Part 1). Yet, if we are honest, we often fail to desire God in the way they should.

We read passages like Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple,” and immediately realize that we have “many things” we desire other than this “one thing.” Or we read a passage like Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth,” and realize that there are strong competing desires in our hearts for all sorts of things other than God.

Such a dilemma often plagues believers and is the source of a considerable amount of emotional, mental and spiritual angst. To be sure, conviction is a good thing. But, the question remains, how are such affections created and sustained? How do believers best glorify God? How do believers come to honor, exalt and glorify God not only with their minds but also with their affections?

The answer is the Gospel.

Note carefully the following insight of Martin Luther concerning Galatians 3:6,

    “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness…Paul by these words, ‘Abraham believed,’ maketh of faith in God the chiefest duty, the chiefest obedience, the chiefest sacrifice. Let him that is a rhetorician amplify this place, and he shall see that faith is an almighty thing, and that the power thereof is infinite and inestimable; for it giveth glory unto God, which is the highest service that can be given unto Him. Now, to give glory to God, is to believe in Him, to count Him true, wise, righteous, merciful, almighty, briefly to be the author and giver of all goodness.

    This cometh not of reason, but of faith. This is it which maketh us divine people, and (as a man would say) it is the creator of a certain divinity, not in the substance of God, but in us. For without faith God loseth in us His glory, wisdom, righteousness, truth and mercy. To conclude, no majesty or divinity remaineth unto God, where faith is not.

    Let him that is a rhetorician amplify this place, and he shall see that faith is an almighty thing, and that the power thereof is infinite and inestimable; for it giveth glory unto God, which is the highest service that can be given unto Him. Now, to give glory to God, is to believe in Him, to count Him true, wise, righteous, merciful, almighty, briefly to be the author and giver of all goodness.

    And the chiefest thing that God requireth of man is, that he give unto Him his glory and His divinity: that is to day, that he take Him not for an idol, but for his God, who regardeth him, heareth him, showeth mercy unto him, and helpeth him. This being done, God hath His full and perfect divinity, that is He hath whatsoever a faithful heart can attribute unto Him.

    To be able therefore to give that glory unto God, is the wisdom of wisdoms, the righteousness of righteousness, the religion of religions, and the sacrifice of sacrifices. Herein we may perceive, what a hight and an excellent righteousness faith is, and so, by the contrary, what a horrible and grievous sin infidelity (i.e., unbelief-J.F.) is.

    Whosoever then believeth the Word of God as Abraham did, is righteous before God, because he hath faith, which giveth glory unto God: that is, he giveth to God that which is due to Him.

    For faith saith thus, I believe Thee, O God, when Thou speakest. And what saith God? Impossible things, foolish, weak, absurd, heretical things, if ye believe reason. For what to reason is more absurd, foolish, improbable, yea, impossible, than when God said unto Abraham, that he should have a son of the barren and dead body of his wife Sarah,” (Luther on the Epistle to the Galatians, pp. 125-126)?

The Gospel creates true affection and longing for God. Apart from the Gospel, God is not looked upon as desirable but rather as exceedingly undesirable (Gen. 3:8-10). Apart from the Gospel, God’s glory is not beautiful it is devastating! It is the life-changing treasures of the Gospel that make God desirable.

    “The Gospel, as John Piper has written, “is the Good News of the glory of Christ..When we are converted through faith in Christ, what we see with the eyes of our hearts is ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Gospel is the good news of all-conquering beauty. Or to say it the way Paul does, it is the good news of the ‘the glory of Christ.’ When we embrace Christ, we embrace God. We see and savor God’s glory. There is no savoring of God’s glory if we do not see it in Christ. This is the only window through which a sinner may see the face of God and not be incinerated,” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life [Pamphlet]).

Through faith in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit shines into the soul of man and gives to him “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ,” (2 Cor. 4:6). The law only teaches us perceptively that we are to know and desire God. But it is the gospel that teaches us effectively to know and desire God. The Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, comes to work in us both to will and to do, to know and to delight.

The Gospel creates true affection and longing for God.

Only the Gospel can take a grieving believer who is overwhelmed by his lack of desire for God and graciously bring him to love and long for God.

In those moments when we are overwhelmed by our flesh and failure, we must recall the kindness of God that saved us from our foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, malicious, envious, hateful hearts (Titus 3:3-7). We must recall that when we were enslaved to sinful desires, it was the kindness of God that led Him to pour out His Spirit upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:6). It is the kindness of God, not His severity, that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

It is the gentle and tender yet all-powerful voice of the “Friend of Sinners” (Matt. 11:28-30) not the thunderous and ominous voice of the Lawgiver (Exodus 19, 20:18-21; 34:29-35) that moves the believer’s heart to confess sin and long for God. We must hear the voice of God calling to us in the Gospel, otherwise we will be like Adam and Even who hid in fear (Gen. 3:10) or like the Children of Israel who stood at a distance in fear (Ex. 19:21).

Through the Gospel, we come to know that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love, (1 John 4:18). Because of the blood of Jesus, we have confidence to enter the holy place (Heb. 10:19). Because of our Great High Priest, we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16).

It is the recounting of the Lord’s steadfast love that ignites affection for God makes the believer sing (Ps. 59:16; 89:1). The Christian’s song is tuned by the Gospel. Thus Paul writes in Romans 15:8-9,

    8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore, I will give praise to you among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your Name.”

The Christian’s song is tuned by the Gospel.

The profound theological truths of the Gospel create spontaneous, not forced, doxological praise to God in believers (Rom. 11:33-36; Eph. 1:3-14).

In Ephesians 1:3-23, Paul’s spirit rises within him as he contemplates the spiritual blessings that are his by virtue of his union with Christ through the Gospel.

In reality, Ephesians 1 is Paul’s spontaneous, profound and affectionate outburst of praise to God for His blessings in salvation (vv. 3-14) and a prayer (vv. 15-23) that believers might know the Blesser and the blessings that they have been given in redemption (see also, 1 Tim. 1:17).

The fruit of the Gospel consists of faith as well as one’s entire conversion to God. The fruit of the Gospel consists of faith because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” (Rom. 10:17).

And, the fruit of the Gospel consists in our entire conversion to God, including not only justification but sanctification as well. Thus, in salvation, the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel and creates new desires and affections and longings for God in our hearts (Ezek. 36:27; Rom. 8:5-9; Gal. 5:17-24).

Thus, John Piper is correct when he objects to the common but false assumption that,

    “…intense emotion thrives only in the absence of a coherent, exposition of doctrine… True worship, like true preaching, insists and demands that the affections are to be ignited rather than extinguished by biblical truth…our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God…Not to care about truth is not to care about God. To love God passionately is to love truth passionately…”

What then is the purpose for increasing in the knowledge of the Word of God? To be continued…

3 Responses to Gospel-Driven Reflection and Affection, Part 2

  1. fireball says:

    hi – cool post – i love psalm 27:4 and love how you have expounded on it and on the how tos of real realtionshp iwth God. looking forward to nosing around the rest of your blog. blessings, fireball

  2. John I appreciate the quote from Luther. I think I’ve looked at belief as in “Abraham believed” as a one time event. But I’m seeing through this quote and your post that believing is a constant striving to know the beauty of Christ and the fullness of God. Believing in this sense seems to be more than “I believe Jesus died for my sins” (or other such one-time, but maybe fuller exposition of faith).
    Like you say often in your writings – the gospel is for Christians. I guess this hit home in this post to mean “believing is for Christians – it grows and never stops”. Thanks again – God has gifted you with some wonderful insights and I appreciate the efforts you take to share them with a larger audience.

  3. Fireball says:

    i love how your passion is to “spread a passion for the greatness of Christ as He is revealed to us in the Gospel all for His glory and the joy of all peoples!” how awesome. i always say mine is to “know God and make him known”. simple eh. blessings, fireball

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