How do you know if Christ is at the root of your life?
At the Passion conference this past month, Pastor John Piper asked 22,000 college students this question:
Do you feel more loved by God because He makes much of you or because He enables you to make much of Him? ~John Piper, Passion 2011
The purpose of asking such a deep question was to get at why we love God. If we respond that we love God because He makes much of us, Piper calls that idolatry. It means that we put ourselves as the foundation of our joy.
Every joy has a foundation, a deeper reason why it brings joy, except one, Piper explained. And of course, the bottom that requires no deeper reason why it brings joy is Jesus. This exception is the bottom, where there is no more underlying reason.
Piper was asked later on, “Why is getting to the bottom of our joys such a big deal to you?” Piper answered and I quote, “I believe that there are millions of people, many of them professing Christians, who are not born-again, believe God loves them, and are hell-bound.”
What you mean by being loved by God is that, at the bottom, God is committed to making much of you; He’s not at the bottom; you’re at the bottom; you are the ultimate source of joy. Let’s unpack that a bit more.
Many people love God because God loves them and guess what, we love ourselves, too. Isn’t it great that there is a supreme being who loves us in the same way that we love ourselves? According to this definition of salvation, God saved me because I am a diamond in the rough. He bought me with the blood of Jesus; God is a good investor. I am awesomely worthwhile. And the cross is evidence of how valuable I am. Self is still at the bottom.
Or put another way, some people love God and attend church because it boosts their low self-esteem and gives them a sense of worth and value, or it gives them friends or a community of people who accept them, or they need purpose and direction and the Bible offer that. Or for Christian leaders, serving in the church strokes their ego or gives them a sense of importance and they feel good about themselves that they are making an impact in this world for God’s kingdom.
These reasons can be legitimate causes to be joyful but they cannot be the ultimate reason. They cannot be at the bottom or core of who we are and why do we things. It has to be Jesus at the bottom of all things.
To be born-again is to exchange the bottom from self to God. This exchange is fundamental to the new birth.
Matthew 7:22-23 warns us of the very real possibility of having the appearance of faith and a relationship with God and totally missing everything.
Matt 7:22-23 – “Did we not do many mighty works in your name? Did we not cast out demons in your name? Did we not prophesize in your name? Did we not heal in your name? He will say to them, ‘I never knew you.’”
This is a really important question. What is at the bottom, at the root of all that we do? It has to be Jesus. He is the root of our salvation and we should not be arrogant or smug. Instead, we ought to tremble and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Meaning, we should keep checking what is at our root because it is so easy for the self to occupy that bottom level.
If you recall the Christmas tree analogy, the important thing about it is not what ornaments are hanging from it but the fact that it has been cut off from the roots. So even with the appearance of life, in a couple of short weeks, the pine needles fall out and you see death overtaking the tree. The same thing happens if we are not connected to Jesus. Death overtakes us because we are cut off from Jesus, the author of life.
I want to end with a story. It’s about Dan Woolley, a Compassion International staff worker who went to make a film about poverty in Haiti. And when the earthquake hit, he was at his hotel and he was buried under six stories of rubble. That was a year ago and he wrote a book about his experiences and there was an interview that I got to hear on the Focus on the Family radio station.
Imagine — Dan had a broken leg, he was bleeding obviously, under 6 stories of rubble, total darkness. But he believes God gave him the presence of mind to pull out his iphone and I guess there is this First Aid app and with that he treated himself and put a tourniquet on his leg. And with the phone’s camera, he used the flash to see where he was and move to a position of greater safety. Those were the hopeful, first few hours. But rescue did not come right away — in fact, he was trapped for 65 hours, nearly 3 days.
And while he was trapped in total darkness under that rubble, he despaired many times. He thought this was the end. And he pulled out a journal and started to write his goodbyes to his wife and his two boys, ages 6 and 3. So he is probably my age or a little bit younger.
This is what he wrote:
“I was in a big accident. Don’t be upset at God. He always provides for his children, even in hard times. I’m still praying that God will get me out, but He may not. But He will always take care of you.” ~Dan Woolley
Throughout his interview, Dan was very honest. He said although he was a Christian and he was even working full-time for a Christian organization, his heart had grown cold. He was distant from God. And he thought, I might see my Creator today and what am I going to say to him? Where has my heart been and where is it today? And this became a turning point for him.
His wife Christina was in a dark pit of her own as she was suffering from depression for over six years. But both of them found Jesus when they had reached the bottom of their lives, when they reached the end of themselves, when they felt hopeless and had nowhere else to turn, Jesus was there waiting for them.
And back to Dan, under that rubble, he claimed the verse from Romans 8, that God works all things for the good of those who love him. And Dan prayed a repentance prayer and he confessed that for a long time, Jesus was not at the bottom and he got right with God and committed that he would be much more intentional about placing Jesus as the foundation for his life. This led to Dan beginning to pray for others trapped around him. And after one of those prayers, out of the darkness, Dan heard a man say, “That was good, really good.” And this man was a Haitian named Lukeson and Dan led him to Christ. And when the rescue workers finally got to Dan and Dan was being lifted up, he looked up and could see the light shining down on him.
And I have been thinking about this story and I thought, what a great picture of salvation. We are cut off from God. We are in utter darkness. We reach the end of ourselves. We lose all hope in ourselves. But there, when we hit bottom, Jesus is there. He is waiting to be the bottom, the foundation of our joy, our hope when we have exhausted everywhere and everyone else. He is the root of our salvation. He is the light of the world and for those who receive the light of Jesus Christ into our hearts, we can shine the light of Jesus to others.
It’s all about Jesus. He is the root of our salvation. He is the bottom. Salvation is to exchange the bottom from self to God. All glory goes to God. And it is fitting that this chapter ends with v36 —
Romans 11:36 – 36 For FROM him and THROUGH him and FOR him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.