Terminating the Gospel on God
by Tony Reinke
Lord willing, if the 16-inches of snow expected in the Twin Cities holds off until tonight, I’ll be headed to the North Woods with some dear Christian brothers. It will be a weekend of fires, food, hiking, snowmobiles and (hopefully) millions of stars and the Northern lights. So a short post before I pack my hatchet, matches and camera.
Even coming into 2007, I eagerly anticipated that God would teach me many new things about communion with Himself. I cannot wait to finally get a copy of Kelly Kapic’s soon-to-be released, Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen (Baker). And later this Winter Justin Taylor and Kapic will release Owen’s Communion with God in the same format as Overcoming Sin and Temptation last year (Crossway). Folks like myself are being stretched to capture the Puritan idea that our union with God drives our communion with Him. Discovering many contours of communion with God is my anticipation for 2007.
In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer explained the danger of terminating on justification and thinking that union with God is the end of all things. Tozer writes, “We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him” (16). And earlier, “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the Soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart” (14).
Recently another very helpful contour in this discovery came a quote from John Piper last Sunday at the Resolved conference in California. Here is the excerpt that grabbed my attention:
“I want God. Forgiveness just gets stuff out of the way between me and God. Forgiveness has value for one reason – it brings me to God reconciled. That’s what I want pastors to get to. I don’t want you to stop at justification. I don’t want you to stop at forgiveness. I don’t want you to stop at eternal life. I want you to push though all of those because the Bible does … ‘We rejoice in God through Jesus Christ, through whom we have received reconciliation’ (Rom. 5:11). But the point is we finally have gotten to the end and ‘we rejoice in God.’ Reconciliation is a means to the end of making God the Gospel! … We get out of the way everything that is an obstacle to enjoying God when we are forgiven. Take justification: ‘Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Rom. 5:1-2). That’s the point of justification. Who cares if we’re righteous? Do you want to be God? Is that why you want to be righteous? You want to boast in your righteousness? Why do you want to be righteous? … Because when you get righteousness you get God! You don’t get put in hell — you get God! … All the things we usually terminate on when we preach the Gospel we terminate one step early. We need in America a great awakening of radical God-centeredness … We need millions and millions of believers that are so oriented on ‘God as the Gospel’ they break through forgiveness to God, and through justification to God, and through reconciliation to God, and through eternal life to God.”
– John Piper, “God is the Gospel”, sermon (2007.02.18) 39:53-43:25
The warning that Piper and Tozer sound is a warning not to be a “too easily satisfied religionist.” We need to see that God, not justification, is the heart of the Gospel. I love books, and I love doctrine, and I love Calvinism, and I love the message of a God who covers sinners with His Own righteousness. I love these things! But all doctrines are intended to push us deeper into a relationship with Himself. Tozer was right when he wrote, “God waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain” (17).
But reading books, biographies and diaries of men who followed hard after God is not communion. Spurgeon’s words challenge me here:
“My soul – never be satisfied with a shadowy Christ. … I cannot know Christ through another person’s brains. I cannot love him with another man’s heart, and I cannot see him with another man’s eyes. … I am so afraid of living in a second-hand religion. God forbid that I should get a biographical experience. Lord save us from having borrowed communion. No, I must know him myself. O God, let me not be deceived in this. I must know him without fancy or proxy; I must know him on my own account.”
To personally rejoice in God is the goal of the Gospel. Owen, Tozer, Piper and Spurgeon remind us that our spiritual vision is too small. We seek 15-minutes of prayer time when we should be asking to see more of God’s glory (Ex. 33:18), panting for more of Him (Ps. 42:1-2) and clinging tightly to Him (Ps. 63:8). That is communion.
So let the Gospel and Calvinism and all bible study and theology terminate in personal communion with Him. If we do, we’ll begin to understand what the Gospel is really all about.