This Sunday, 27 September 2009, I listened to a sermon by John Piper on The Love of Human Praise as the root of Unbelief from John 5: 30-47. Piper began with statements of how preaching is not enough in our sanctification and how small groups or Bible study with others helps Christians grow. He had seven reasons to back this statement up:
- “The impulse avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.
- The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.
- Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.
- Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.
- Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.
- Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.
- Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.”
I find this list very true of myself on many Sundays unfortunately. Piper meant this introduction to be poignant in the minds of his congregation but I believe we should consider this ourselves, whatever church we go to. Personal, corporate, and brotherly worship and devotion is necessary for the Christian to grow. Now the greater part of Piper’s sermon was very convicting for me as he unfolded John 5: 30-47. He went verse by verse and expounded how Jesus made seven indictments against the Jews ( and all of us) to show them why they don’t believe in Him. Jesus begins his indictment with verse 30 where he says that he seeks the Father’s will and not his own. Jesus takes delight in bringing glory to God and loving Him thus. He does not seek his own glory. Christ is complete in not bringing glory to himself that he credits his witness, not to himself, but to others, namely John the Baptist and/or God. In fact, Christ goes so far as to say that the entire Old Testament bears witness about him (verse 36). Piper explains six indictments that Christ puts on the Jews and us.
The first comes from verses 37-38; “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” Basically, this means that “You’ve never heard God, you’ve never seen God, his word is not in you, and you do not believe him. ” The second indictment comes from verses 39-40; “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me [literally, “you do not want to come to me,” Greek ou thelete elthein pros me] that you may have life.” This means that they read the Old Testament, which points to Christ, but they don’t see it and they don’t believe because they don’t want to. The third comes from verses 41-42; Christ doesn’t need the glory of man to complete him or to still his cravings, because he loves God and he is his satisfaction. But they do not have the love of God . They don’t love God. They don’t find their satisfaction in him. The fourth comes from verse 43; “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.” Basically, this means that they don’t receive Christ, they reject him, they want another kind of Messiah who is not lowly or humble. The fifth indictment comes from verse 44; “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” This is actually a statement that says they cannot believe him; they are quite inable to do so. The sixth and final indictment comes from verses 45-47; “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” They don’t believe Moses and therefore, they don’t believe Christ because if they don’t believe Christ, they don’t believe Moses because he wrote about Christ. It is amazing how that works! The Jews really idolized their father Moses and this statement, which is complete truth, is like a slap in the face; because they don’t believe Christ (whom they hate), they don’t believe Moses (whom they love). After explaining these indictments, Piper explains the how the purpose of the book of John coincides with this chapter. The purpose of the book of John is that the readers may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore have life (John 20:31). Therefore this chapter is meant to pierce our hearts with a conviction of our unbelief so as to drive us to Christ, to believe on Him for salvation.
In order for us to believe, we must be born again; this change from unbelief does not happen of our own accord. Then we must ask ourselves a question, “Why do we not want to come to Christ, what do we want so much that stands in the way of believing in Christ?” Our answer comes from verses 44; “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Christ is saying, “You can’tbelieve.” Why? It is because we love the glory that comes from man instead of the glory of God. We all want to be in control; we want praise for ourselves. That is the root of our unbelief. Piper explains from verse 43 how this works: “Verse 43: “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.” Why would they receive a Messiah who comes in his own name? Because if the Messiah were like that, he would be like them; he would be an endorsement of the way they are. He would make them feel okay with their love of their own name and their own self-exaltation.” They and we, apart from Grace, do not and cannot love Christ. He came to be obedient unto death, even death on a cross. In which case, we would have to do the same if we are to believe. That is what the Jews understood. They didn’t like it so they hated Christ so much they murdered him, thus working out God’s sovereign plan of redemption. Piper then asks why the worship of the praise of men is so contradictory to faith. There are two reasons why. One is that true faith gives glory to God and not man (Romans 4:20). When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we surrender the right to claim any glory. All glory is given to God. “He owes us none. He will glorify us in due season. O yes (Romans 8:30). But that will be God’s glory, not ours, even when he shares it with us. Faith comes to Christ destitute of any claim to be glorious or to be praised. So the love of human praise is a great obstacle to faith. It must die. ” The other reason is that “faith is a drinking of living water for the satisfaction of our souls. And the well of that water is the glory of Christ. And when we are satisfied with him, the enslaving power of the craving for human glory is broken. Broken by the power of a superior satisfaction.” Now we hope and pray that God will open our eyes to the glory of Christ and awaken in us a spiritual taste for his living water, and give us faith, and set us free. John Piper and I and everyone is in this same boat. O may God give us grace to be humble that we give all glory to Christ, the author and perfector of our faith!
As I finished listening this sermon, I was cut to the quick of how much I love the praise of men. I have always wondered why I have so many bouts with unbelief and I think I have found why. Oh how I long for Christ to sanctify me that I may escape from the miry bog of sin and pride. But as Christ continues to lift the veil of the sin in my heart, the more I am disgusted by it and the more I desire heaven. Marantha, Lord come quickly! If any would like to read or hear this sermon by John Piper, you can find it at this link: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2009/4223_The_Love_of_Human_Praise_as_the_Root_of_Unbelief/