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faith a very powerful thing that produces changes in our lives. Unless we see this, the array of conditions for present and final salvation in the New Testament will be utterly perplexing. Consider the following partial list.
What must I do to be saved?
The answer in Acts 16:31 is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” The answer in John 1:12 is that we must receive Christ: “To all who did receive him…he gave the right to become children of God.” The answer in Acts 3:19 is “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” The answer in Hebrews 5:9 is obedience to Christ. Christ “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” So also in John 3:36, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life.” Jesus Himself answered the question in a variety of ways. For example, in Matthew 18:3 He said that childlikeness is the condition for salvation: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In Mark 8:34–35 the condition is self-denial: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In Matthew 10:37, Jesus lays down the condition of loving Him more than anyone else: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” The same thing is expressed in 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” And in Luke 14:33 the condition for salvation is that we be free from the love of our possessions: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” These are just some of the conditions that the New Testament says we must meet in order to be saved in the fullest and final sense. We must believe in Jesus and receive Him and turn from our sin and obey Him and humble ourselves like little children and love Him more than we love our family, our possessions,
or our own life. This is what it means to be converted to Christ. This alone is the way of life everlasting.
But what is it that holds all these conditions together and gives them unity?17 And what keeps them from becoming a way of earning salvation by works? One answer is the awesome reality of saving faith—trusting in the pardon of God, the promises of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, not ourselves. This is the unifying key that not only unites us to Christ for justification, but also empowers us for sanctification.
Yes, but what is it about saving faith that unifies and changes so much of our lives?
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in [literally, from] his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” This parable describes how someone is converted and brought into the kingdom of heaven. A person discovers a treasure and is impelled by joy to sell all that he has in order to have this treasure. The kingdom of heaven is the abode of the King. The longing to be there is not the longing for heavenly real estate, but for camaraderie with the King. The treasure in the field is the fellowship of God in Christ.
I conclude from this parable that we must be deeply converted in order to enter the kingdom of heaven and that we are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy—a crucified and risen Savior who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His own fellowship our greatest pleasure.
17. For a more extended treatment of the conditions of salvation and how they all resolve into faith and love, see John Piper, The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1995), chapters 19 and 20, especially pp. 255–9.
THE CREATION NEW TASTEOF A How then does this arrival of joy relate to saving faith? The usual answer is that joy is the fruit of faith. And in one sense it is: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). It is “in believing” that we are filled with joy. Confidence in the promises of God overcomes anxiety and fills us with peace and joy. Paul even calls it the “joy of faith” (Philippians 1:25, literal translation).
But there is a different way of looking at the relationship of joy and faith. In Hebrews 11:6 the writer says, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” In other words, the faith that pleases God is a confidence that God will reward us when we come to Him. But surely this does not mean that we are to be motivated by material things. Surely the reward we long for is the glory of God Himself and the perfected companionship of Christ (Hebrews 2:10; 3:6; 10:34; 11:26; 12:22–24; 13:5). We will sell everything to have the treasure of Christ Himself.
So the faith that pleases God is the assurance that when we turn to Him, we will find the all-satisfying Treasure. We will find our heart’s eternal delight. But do you see what this implies? It implies that something has happened in our hearts before the act of faith. It implies that beneath and behind the act of faith that pleases God, a new taste has been created—a taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ. Behold, a joy has been born!
Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God. He was an idea—even a good one—and a topic for discussion; but He was not a treasure of delight.
Then something miraculous happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end.
The quest is over. We would give anything if we might be granted to live in the presence of this glory forever and ever.
And then, faith—the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, He will give me the desire of my heart to share His holiness and behold His glory.
But before the confidence comes the craving. Before the decision comes the delight. Before trust comes the discovery of Treasure.
WE COME CHRIST WHEN WE LOVE LIGHTTO THE Is not this the teaching of John 3:18–20?
“Whoever believes in [the Son of God] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” The reason people do not come to the light is because they do not love it.
Love for the light is not caused by coming to the light. We come because we love it. Otherwise, our coming is no honor to the light. Could there be any holy motivation to believe in Christ where there is no taste for the beauty of Christ?
To be sure, we could be motivated by the desire to escape hell or the desire to have material riches or the desire to rejoin a departed loved one. But how does it honor the light when the only reason we come to the light is to find those things that we loved in the dark?
Is this saving faith?
craved. Christ Himself has become a Treasure Chest of holy joy. The tree of faith grows only in the heart that craves the supreme gift that Christ died to give: not health, not wealth, not prestige—but God!18 Test yourself here. There are many professing Christians who delight in God’s gifts, but not God. Would you want to go to heaven if God were not there, only His gifts?
“Christ…suffered once for sins…that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “Through him we…have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). “Through him we have…obtained access by faith into this grace…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.… We…rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:2, 11).
A NEW PASSION FOR THE
PLEASURE OF GOD’S PRESENCEThe pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an “extra” that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. It is not simply a way to “enhance” your walk with the Lord. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your “faith” cannot please God. It is not saving faith.
Saving faith is the confidence that if you sell all you have and forsake all sinful pleasures, the hidden treasure of holy joy will satisfy your deepest desires.
Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction not only that Christ is reliable, but also that He is desirable. It is the confidence that He will come through with His promises and that what He promises is more to be desired than all the world.
We may speak of the “joy of faith” at three levels. First, there is the new spiritual taste created by the Spirit of God for the glory of God. This new taste is the seed and root of joy. Thus, it is the “joy of faith” in embryo, as it were. Second, there is the shoot, the stem, of faith itself reaching out actively for all that God is for us in Christ. The pith of this stem is joy in God. It is not possible for vital,
18. Recalling our discussion of the Trinity in chapter 1 (note 9), it is worth musing over the implications that the Holy Spirit is the divine Workman who gives us a new heart of faith and is Himself the personification of the joy that the Father and the Son have in each other. We might say the change that must occur in the human heart to make saving faith possible is permeation by the Holy Spirit, which is nothing less than a permeation by the very joy that God the Father and God the Son have in each other’s beauty. In other words, the taste for God that begets saving faith is God’s very taste for Himself, imparted to us in measure by the Holy Spirit.
genuine faith in the Fountain of Joy not to partake of that joy. Joyless embracing of the God of hope, for who He really is, is impossible. Third, there is the fruit of daily gladness that Paul speaks of in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” Here joy and peace flow out from faith into the whole of life.
In conversion we find the hidden Treasure of the kingdom of God. We venture all on it. And year after year in the struggles of life, we prove the value of the treasure again and again, and we discover depths of riches we had never known. And so the joy of faith grows. When Christ calls us to a new act of obedience that will cost us some temporal pleasure, we call to mind the surpassing value of following Him, and by faith in His proven worth, we forsake the worldly pleasure. The result? More joy! More faith! Deeper than before. And so we go on from joy to joy and faith to faith.
Behind the repentance that turns away from sin, and behind the faith that embraces Christ, is the birth of a new taste, a new longing, a new passion for the pleasure of God’s presence. This is the root of conversion. This is the creation of a Christian Hedonist.
S ometimes spiritual sleepers need to be shocked. If you want them to hear what you have to say, you might even need to scandalize them. Jesus is especially good at this. When He wants to teach us something about worship, He uses a whore!
“Go call your husband,” he says to the Samaritan woman.
“I don’t have a husband,” she answers.
“That’s right,” Jesus says. “But you’ve had five, and the man you sleep with now is not your husband.” She is shocked. We’re shocked! But Jesus simply sits there on the edge of the well with His hands folded, looking at the woman with razors in His eyes, ready to teach us about worship.
The first thing we learn is that worship has to do with real life. It is not a mythical interlude in a week of reality. Worship has to do with adultery and hunger and racial conflict.
Jesus is bone weary from the journey. He is hot and thirsty. He decides:
“Yes, even now, just now, I will seek someone to worship the Father—a Samaritan adulteress. I will show My disciples how My Father seeks worship in the midst of real life from the least likely. She is a Samaritan. She is a woman.
She is a harlot. Yes, I will even show them a thing or two about how to make true worshipers out of the white harvest of harlots in Samaria.”
LIFTING LEVEL AMAZEMENTTHE OF Let’s back up to the beginning of the story. Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” on His way to Galilee. “So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar.… Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour” (John 4:4–6).
The Samaritans were leftovers from the northern Jewish kingdom who had intermarried with foreigners after the chiefs and nobles were taken into exile in 722 B.C. They had once built a separate worship place on their own Mount Gerizim. They rejected all of the Old Testament except their own version of the first five books of Moses. Their animosity toward Jews (such as Jesus) was centuries old.
Jesus walks right into this hostility, sits down, and asks for a drink. The woman is stunned that Jesus would even speak to her: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (v. 9).