Conversion, The Creation of a Christian Hedonist
Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, Part 5
By John Piper - Copyright 2003 by Desiring God Foundation,
A Study Guide prepared by Milt Reynolds
Part 5: Conversion, The Creation of a Christian Hedonist (page 53)
God's quest to be glorified and our quest to be satisfied both reach their goal in one experience: our delight in God, which overflows in praise.
This foundational truth implies that the very thing that can make us happiest is what God delights in with all His heart and soul:
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them...I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. Jeremiah 32:40-41 (ESV)
Omnipotent Joy pursues the good of all who cast themselves on God:
But this is not everyone.
No one is a Christian who does not embrace Jesus gladly as his most valued treasure, and then pursue the fullness of that joy in Christ that honors him.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Matthew 25:31-32 (ESV)
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Matthew 25:1-2 (ESV)
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1:18 (ESV)
There are sheep and there are goats. There are wise and foolish. There are those being saved and those who are perishing. The difference is that one group has been converted and the other hasn't.
Why Not Just Say, "Believe"? (page 54)
If conversion is necessary, why not use the straight-forward, biblical command, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31)? Why bring in the new terminology of "Christian Hedonism"?
1. The world abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they believe in Jesus. It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord. The phrase is empty. The key is: Do you treasure Him more than everything?
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8 (ESV)
2. The phrase, "Christian Hedonism" forces people to pay attention to all the straight-forward biblical commands besides "Believe in the Lord Jesus".
It could be that the most straight-forward biblical command for conversion is "Delight yourself in the Lord". Many slumbering hearts might be stabbed awake by the words, "Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God!"
Six Crucial Truths: Our Need and God's Provision (page 55)
How Have We Failed? (page 56)
1. God created us for His glory.
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Isaiah 43:6-7 (ESV)
God created us in His image so that we would image forth His glory in the world.
2. Therefore, it is the duty of every person to live for the glory of God.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)
Glorify means to value God's glory above all things and to make it known. It implies heartfelt gratitude and trust:
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me. Psalms 50:23 (ESV)
No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. Romans 4:20 (ESV)
Glorifying God is the duty of everyone, including those who have only the witness of nature and their own conscience:
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him Romans 1:20-21 (ESV)
Deep within us we all know that it is our duty to glorify our Maker by thanking Him for all we have, trusting Him for all we need, and obeying all His revealed will.
How Desperate is Our Condition? (page 57)
3. Yet all of us have failed to glorify God as we ought.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:22-23 (ESV)
"Fall short" means to exchange something of great value for someone of lesser value. All sin comes from not putting supreme value on the glory of God.
4. Therefore, all of us are subject to eternal condemnation by God. (page 58)
The wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23 (ESV)
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 2 Thess 1:9 (ESV)
Hell is a place of torment, not merely the absence of pleasure. It is not anihilation. Jesus repeatedly described it as an experience of fire.
Whoever says, "You fool!" will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22 (ESV)
It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:9 (ESV)
It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48 (ESV)
Hell is a place of torment and it is everlasting. "Punishment" for sin is eternal the same way "life" is eternal.
"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:41-46 (ESV)
Hell is not remedial. There is sin that will not be forgiven in the age to come:
whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 (ESV)
Those in hell will have endless torment:
The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night. Rev 14:11 (ESV)
Only three questions would be required for God to show us our guilt:
Was it not plain in nature that everything you had was a gift and that you were dependent on your Maker for life and breath and everything?
Did not your own heart always hold other people guilty when they lacked the gratitude they should have had in response to a kindness you performed?
Has your life been filled with gratitude and trust toward Me in proportion to My generosity and authority?
What Has God Done to Save Us from His Wrath? (page 61)
5. Nevertheless, in His great mercy, God sent forth His Son, Jesus Christ, to save sinners by dying in their place on the cross and rising bodily from the dead.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Tim 1:15 (ESV)
Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Romans 4:24-25 (ESV)
The Gospel: the Good News that God Himself has decreed a way to satisfy the demands of His justice without condemining the whole human race.
But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor 1:23-24 (ESV)
The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, all the while upholding and demonstrating the righteousness of God in Christ.
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:24-26 (ESV)
God is wholly just, and He justifies the ungodly. He acquits the guilty, but is not guilty in doing so. This is the greatest news in the world!
There is no other word besides "propitiation" to best describe what Christ did by dying on the cross. Many translations replace it with more common words: expiation, sacrifice or atonement.
Propitiation means to appease (to make peace), from a Latin word, propitius, meaning favorable. It is used to translate a Greek word meaning expiation (to make good), from a word meaning to take for oneself, to lift away.
For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. Romans 8:3 (ESV)
He [Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. 1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. 1 Peter 3:18 (ESV)
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:5 (ESV)
The most terrifying news in the world:
We have fallen under our Creator's condemnation and wrath.
The most wonderful news in the world:
He has given His Son to die for sinners and conquer their death by His own resurrection!
What Must We Do to Be Saved? (page 63)
6. The benefits purchased by Christ's death belong to those who repent and trust in Him.
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out. Acts 3:19 (ESV)
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. Acts 16:31 (ESV)
The condition that must be met for salvation is repentance and faith, which can be described as conversion, and conversion is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist.
What is Conversion? (page 63)
So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. Acts 15:3 (ESV)
"Conversion" is used in the Bible to translate a Greek word, "epistroph", meaning a reversion, a turning back. It comes from "trop" a word meaning to turn. We use a similar word in English to describe the turning of the sun from season to season: tropical.
When Peter brought the news that Gentiles had received (taken hold of) the Word of God and been baptized with the Holy Spirit, the apostles saw the change as being the result of repentence:
Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life. Acts 11:18 (ESV)
Later, when Paul and Barnabas report to the church, they connect the conversion of the Gentiles with their faith:
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27 (ESV)
Conversion is both repentance (turning from sin and unbelief) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).
Imagine the two sides of a coin. One side is tails: turn tail on the fruits of unbelief. The other side is heads: head straight for Jesus and trust His promises. You can't have the one without the other.
Saving faith in Christ always involves a profound change of heart...it is not merely agreement with a doctrine. Even Satan agrees with doctrine:
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe, and shudder! James 2:19 (ESV)
Conversion Is a Gift of God (page 64)
God has granted repentance that leads to life. Acts 11:18 (ESV)
God exalted him [Christ] at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:31 (ESV)
[God] had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27 (ESV)
The Lord opened her [Lydia's] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. Acts 16:14 (ESV)
Repentance and faith are our work, but we will not repent and believe unless God does His work to overcome our hard and rebellious hearts. This work of God is called regeneration. Our work is called conversion.
First comes regeneration:
The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV)
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7 (ESV)
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20 (ESV)
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. 1 John 5:1 (ESV)
The verb tenses make John's intention unmistakable:
"Everyone who goes on believing (present, continuous action) that Jesus is the Christ has been born (perfect, completed action with abiding effects) of God."
Faith is the evidence of regeneration, not the cause of it.
Since faith and repentance are possible only because of the regenerating work of God, both are called the gift of God:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8 (ESV)
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV)
Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility (page 65)
Jonathan Edwards distinguished between moral necessity and natural necessity.
Moral necessity means choices we make that are driven by the strongest motive. We do only what we want most to do, and we are morally unable to act contrary to what we want most to do.
Natural necessity means events that occur only because of natural causes, rather than moral causes. Being chained to a chair is a "natural necessity". My strongest motive may be to stand up (say, if the room is on fire) but I would be unable.
This distinction is crucial in understanding the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility. Moral ability is not a prerequisite to accountability. Natural ability is.
Moral inabilility to do a good thing does not excuse our failure to do it. Though we love darkness rather than light and therefore can't (because of moral inability) come to the light, nevertheless we are responsible for not coming, that is, we can be justly punished for not coming.
We see this distinction even in our secular governments. The stronger a man's desire to to evil, the more unable he is to do good, yet the more wicked he is judged to be by men. If men really believed that moral inability excused a man from guilt, then our judgement of his wickedness would decrease in proportion to the intensity of his love of evil. But this is almost universally contrary to all humans.
(Source: "A Response to J.I. Packer on the So-Called Antinomy Between the Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility", by John Piper, March 1, 1976, © Desiring God. Website: DesiringGod.org
Conversion is a Condition of Salvation and a Miracle of God (page 67)
To avoid confusion, salvation must be precisely defined.
If salvation refers to new birth, conversion is NOT a condition of it. New birth comes first and enables the repentance and faith of conversion. Before new birth we are dead, and dead men don't meet conditions. Regeneration depends completely upon the free grace of God.
It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16 (ESV)
But if salvation refers to justification, there is one clear condition that must be met: faith in Jesus Christ.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:28 (ESV)
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:4-5 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 (ESV)
If salvation refers to eternal life, we must believe and obey. There must be faith and the fruit of faith.
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17 (ESV)
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:26 (ESV)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Galatians 5:6 (ESV)
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)
The answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" depends upon what we are asking:
- how to be born again
- how to be justified
- how to be finally welcomed into heaven.
The answer "Become a Christian Hedonist" means God's work in new birth, our faith in Christ, and the the work of God in our lives to help us obey Christ. This is the fullest meaning of conversion.
Saving Faith (page 69)
Saving faith, powerful faith that produces changes in our lives, includes many different elements:
- Acts 16:31 - Believe in the Lord Jesus
- John 1:12 - Receive Christ
- Acts 3:19 - Repent
- Hebrews 5:9 - Obey Christ
- Matthew 18:3 - Become like children
- Mark 8:34-35 - Self-denial
- Matthew 10:37 - Love Christ
- Luke 14:33 - Renounce all possessions
These are just some of the conditions that must be met in order to be saved in the fullest and final sense. This is saving faith.
We are converted by saving faith when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matthew 13:44 (ESV)
Which comes first: faith or joy? (page 71)
The usual answer is that joy is the fruit of faith:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing. Romans 15:13 (ESV)
But there is a different way to look at faith and joy:
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. Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
Faith that pleases God is a confidence that God will reward us when we come to Him. But surely this reward is not material things. Surely it is the glory of God Himself and the companionship of Christ.
So, saving faith believes that in God is the all-satisfying Treasure, our heart's eternal delight. This implies that before faith a new taste has been created...a taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ.
Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure.
Then something miraculous happened. A recognition of the excellence and joy found in Christ. Then faith came, the decision to trust God through Christ.
Before confidence comes the craving. Before the decision comes the delight. Before trust comes the discovery of Treasure.
We Come to Christ When We Love the Light (page 72)
Whoever believes in him 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 works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. John 3:18-20 (ESV)
Love for the light must be present before someone leaves the darkness and comes to the light. Faith grows only in the heart that craves the supreme gift that Christ died to give: not health, not wealth, not prestige, but God!
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. 1 Peter 3:18 (ESV)
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:18 (ESV)
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2 (ESV)
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:11 (ESV)
Saving faith is the confidence that Christ will come through with His promises and that what He promises is more to be desired than all the world.
The "joy of faith" may be seen at three different levels:
First, the seed and root of joy is the new spiritual taste created by the Spirit of God for the glory of God.
Second, joy pushes upward in the form of faith, reaching out for all that God is for us in Christ.
Third, joy is the fruit of daily gladness, resulting from faith, flowing into the whole of life.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13 (ESV)
The root of conversion is a new passion for the pleasure of God's presence. This moves a person to repentance that turns away from sin, and drives the faith that embraces Christ. This is the creation of a Christian Hedonist.
At this point it would be good to read Appendix 5, “Why Call It Christian Hedonism” (pp. 365–369). Write down any remaining questions or concerns you have after reading this appendix and discuss them with the group.