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John Piper contrasts God’s love from contemporary, biblical views

ST. LOUIS (BP)–The gospel of Jesus Christ needs to point sinners to the intrinsic majesty and glory of God and away from the self-esteem of man, John Piper said at a meeting of the International Church Planters June 10 in St. Louis.

Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and a noted author, drew on the title of one of his best-known books, “Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions,” unpacking the title’s two premises with an exposition of Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17.

Piper addressed a luncheon sponsored by the Arkansas-based group in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.

“The gospel in America is the gospel of self-esteem,” Piper said, describing a gospel “that defines love as ‘making much of me. If you want to love me, make much of me.’ That’s the definition of love in America. You feel loved because you are contaminated by this gospel in which you feel loved to the degree that you feel made much of.

“We raise our children that way, we educate them that way, we motivate people in business that way — get people to feel made much of and they will feel loved.”

Defining the gospel merely as forgiveness of sins and avoidance of God’s eternal wrath is part of the good news, Piper said, but it fails to account for the genuine ground of a sinner’s joy in salvation through Christ — the glory of God.

A critical error that typifies this faulty gospel is seen most clearly in its unbiblical definition of love, Piper said. In his high priestly prayer, Christ defined love by placing himself as the supreme object of all affections, even those of God the Father.

Instead of seeking satisfaction in loving Christ as the greatest and highest of all beings, much of what passes for the gospel in contemporary Christianity defines loving another person as exalting them so that they feel good, not about God, but themselves, Piper said. It is a man-centeredness that reaps deadly eternal repercussions, he said.

When Christians view love of God as seeking his glory, Piper said individuals, churches and global missions will be radically transformed.

“Do you feel more loved when God makes much of you,” Piper asked, “or do you feel more loved when God enables you by the power of his Spirit to enjoy making much of him forever? That’s a very damning question in America. Because we have virtually defined love as to make much of our children, to make much of our students, to make much of our spouse, to make much of people so they feel made much of and thus feel loved.

“I believe Jesus is praying [in the high priestly prayer] that there is a totally different essence of what love is from God to us and that is: God loves us to the degree not that he makes much of us, but that he gives us the capacity by regeneration and sanctification to enjoy making much of him forever.”

Piper illustrated man’s fulfilling his chief end in glorifying God through the illustration of a trip to the Grand Canyon. People do not visit this great wonder of nature to increase their self-esteem, he said, but rather to marvel at something that is infinitely massive and outside themselves.

Similarly, the full-orbed expression of the gospel satisfies people’s deepest longings in a way that a man-centered pseudo-gospel cannot.

“Most people don’t go the Grand Canyon to enhance their self-esteem because there is an echo of the image of God on our souls that we were made to enjoy making much of God forever, not made to be made much of forever,” Piper said.

“We were made to enjoy mirroring the glory of God, and when people go to the Grand Canyon there is something that happens in the human soul standing on the edge of that expanse that draws them out of themselves and in a moment, there is a precious gift of self-forgetfulness in which they swell with wonder.

“That’s why they’re made and they all need positive echoes of it and they go to big crazy movies and they buy big books to put on their coffee tables with pictures of mountains and rivers because they know that their joy really comes from outside themselves and not by standing in front of a mirror. You were not created to find joy in a mirror no matter what you see there.”

Piper called for missionaries, evangelists, church planters and all ministers alike to proclaim this full-orbed biblical gospel, which places love within the context of God’s glory. Human beings who are made in the image of God both need and desire this message, he said.

“We must bring together the gladness in the glory of God so that his glory gets its due and we get our love,” he said. “The world wants this, but nobody wants to tell them. We just help them to feel made much of and that is deadly.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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