Monday, March 11, 2019

Book Review: God is the Gospel

God is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself. John Piper. 2005. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Today--as it is in every generation--it is stunning to watch the shift away from God as the all-satisfying gift of God's love. It is stunning how seldom God himself is proclaimed as the greatest gift of the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the best and final gift of God's love is the enjoyment of God's beauty. 

The premise of this one is self-evident: God IS the gospel. Since that statement is more likely than not going to cause confusion, I'll rephrase it. What makes the good news good? Ultimately, what makes the good news GOOD. There are dozens of reasons why it's "good news". But really only one ultimate reason why it's GOOD NEWS.

To answer this question, it might be handy to ask another question: what is the chief end of man? The answer to that is TO GLORIFY GOD AND TO ENJOY HIM FOREVER.

Piper answers this one question [what ultimately makes the good news GOOD?] dozens of times throughout his book. In the introduction, his answer is concise: "The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ...this is the all-encompassing gift of God's love through the gospel--to see and savor the glory of Christ forever."

The saving love of God is God's commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely himself. 
The supreme demonstration of God's love was the sending of his Son to die for our sins and to rise again so that sinners might have the right to approach God and might have the pleasure of his presence forever. 
The good news is not that there is no pain or death or sin or hell. There is. The good news is that the King himself has come, and these enemies have been defeated, and if we trust in what he has done and what he promises, we will escape the death sentence and see the glory of our Liberator and live with him forever. 
Everything else in the gospel is meant to display God's glory and remove every obstacle in him (such as his wrath) and in us (such as our rebellion) so that we can enjoy him forever. God is the gospel. That is, he is what makes the good news good. Nothing less can make the gospel good news. God is the final and highest gift that makes the good news good. Until people use the gospel to get to God, they use it wrongly.
If God is not treasured as the ultimate gift of the gospel, none of his gifts will be gospel, good news. And if God is treasured as the supremely valuable gift of the gospel, then all the other lesser gifts will be enjoyed as well. 
The gospel would not be good news if it did not reveal the glory of Christ for us to see and savor. It is the glory of Christ that finally satisfies our souls. We are made for Christ, and Christ died so that every obstacle would be removed that keeps us from seeing and savoring the most satisfying treasure in the universe--namely Christ, who is the image of God.
We must make plain to people that if their hope stops short of seeing and savoring the glory of God in Christ, they are not fixing their hearts on the main thing and the best thing Christ died to accomplish--seeing and savoring the glory of God in the face of Christ with everlasting and ever-increasing joy. 
The affections of our joy should not rest on the gifts but ride the gift up to God himself. 
The aim of the gospel is not an easy life. It is deeper knowledge of God and deeper trust in God.
The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and if necessary, at the greatest cost, to the least deserving. This is what God did. 
God loves us by giving us himself to enjoy.  

God is The Gospel explores the gospel message and clarifying what the gospel is. Piper does this by turning to Scripture and expositing various passages. Piper also makes use of other theologians like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Owens. (Though never to the exclusion of Scripture itself.) The book not only examines the CONTENT of the gospel--though Piper never loses sight of the fact that the gospel has specific content--but also the PURPOSE of the gospel. Not all gospel-centered books focus on the PURPOSE of the gospel. And the WHY is equally important to the WHEN, WHERE, and WHO.

Many of the "lesser things" discussed in God is the Gospel are worthy subjects. In fact there are dozens--if not hundreds or thousands--of books about these biblical topics. Subjects like justification, sanctification, forgiveness, prayer, worship, etc.

Piper can be bold.
Propitiation, redemption, forgiveness, imputation, sanctification, liberation, healing, heaven--none of these is good news except for one reason: they bring us to God for our everlasting enjoyment of him. If we believe all these things have happened to us, but do not embrace them for the sake of getting to God, they have not happened to us. Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It's a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel. 
The holiness of Christian people and the conversion of perishing people hang on seeing and savoring the glory of God in the gospel.
Only an artificial joy does not pass through sorrow for sin on its way to the thrill of being forgiven. 
All other gods must go. All other delights that are not delights in God must go--not because anything good must be taken away, but to make room for what is infinitely best, God himself. 
Death is a gift because it takes us more quickly to the great good of the gospel--seeing and savoring the glory of God in the face of Christ. 
The gospel is strange. Its goal is not my immediate ease. Its goal is my being so in love with Christ and so passionate about his glory that when my suffering can highlight his worth I will bear it gladly.  
How does faith in Christ relate to delight in Christ? How do trusting God and savoring the glory of God relate to each other? To answer this we should ask: What should faith trust Christ for? It would be defective to trust him to supply pornography. I only use this gross example to make the principle clear. Faith is not saving faith if it tries to trust Christ for the wrong things. So this makes clear that trust per se, without reference to what we trust him for, is not the seance of a saving relationship to Christ. Something else must be present in faith if it is to be saving faith that honors Christ rather than just using him. Saving faith must have a quality to it that tastes what is Christ-exalting and embraces it. 
If we are not captured by his personality and character, displayed in his saving work, then all our declarations of thanksgiving are like the gratitude of a wife to a husband for the money she gets from him to use in her affair with another man. 
It is a shocking thing to learn that one of today's most common descriptions of the cross--namely how much of our value it celebrates--may well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value. 
Whole systems of imitation Christianity can be built on distorted images of the love of God and the gospel of God. 
Being loved by God is the wonderful replacement of self as the foundation of our joy. God's best gift is not the gift of self-esteem. God's best gift is God--for our everlasting and ever-increasing enjoyment.
Woe to us if we speak of our existence, or our being, for its own sake. God has given us existence. 

Piper challenges readers to ponder, meditate, reflect, reconsider....he does this by asking unexpected questions and pushing beyond the quick and easy.
Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? 
Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God's worth forever? 
If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflicts or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?
Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No? Have we presented the gospel in such a way that the gift of the glory of God in the face of Christ is marginal rather than central and ultimate? Can we really say that our people are prepared for heaven where Christ himself, not his gifts, will be the supreme pleasure? And if our people are unfit for that, will they even go there?
Why is it good news to you that your sins are forgiven? 
Why is it good news to you that you stand righteous in the courtroom of the Judge of the universe? 
How do all the gifts that flow to us from the gospel relate to God as the ultimate and all important gift of the gospel?

Piper also defines and clarifies.
Doctrine means teaching, explaining, clarifying. Doctrine is part of the gospel because news can't be just declared by the mouth of a herald--it has to be understood in the mind of a hearer. When the gospel is proclaimed, it must be explained. Gospel doctrine matters because the good news is so full and rich and wonderful that it must be opened like a treasure chest, and all its treasures brought out for the enjoyment of the world. Doctrine is the description of these treasures. Doctrine describes their true value and why and they are so valuable. 
Grace is the free blessing of God that flows from his heart to guilty, undeserving sinners. 
Justification has these two sides: the removal of sin because Christ bears our curse, and the imputation of righteousness because we are in Christ and his righteousness is counted as ours. 
Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever and ever. Love keeps God central. Giving ourselves without giving God looks loving to the world. But it is not. We are a poor substitute for God. 
This is my second time to read the book. I loved, loved, loved it.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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