Zach Howard: I am Professor Zach Howard, dean of the college programs here and professor of theology and humanities, and it’s my joy to welcome you into this conversation we’re going to have here about Dr. Piper’s recent book. We have some students here who have read the book and have some questions and we’re glad you’re here to listen in on that conversation. This is the book we all have in our hands, Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy. Pastor John, I’m curious what the book’s about and why you wrote it.
John Piper: Let me just illustrate how it works. That would be the best way to do it. We believe that there are six habits of mind and heart for lifelong learning. You get a start here and you do this the rest of your life: observation, understanding, evaluation, feeling, application, and expression.
For example, a few weeks ago I was working on Look at the Book in 1 Corinthians 15, and I noticed that in 1 Corinthians 15:1–2 it says that Paul has preached the gospel, “which you believe and which you stand, by which you are being saved, if you don’t believe in vain” (my translation).
Now, I had never noticed before that 1 Corinthians 15:10 says that God’s grace “was not in vain toward me, but I worked harder than any of them. Nevertheless, it was not I but the grace of God that was with me” (my translation).
So, I observed and thought, “Those are connected.” I had also never noticed in 1 Corinthians 15:58, the end of the chapter, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Now I had three observations, two of which I never had before. That’s level one.
Next is understanding. I’m asking, what’s that about? Why are those verses there? Do they shed light on each other? Are they interwoven in some way? And there’s a pattern there. You believe not in vain because grace comes to you; grace is not in vain because it enables you to work hard; and you work hard and that work is not in vain because there’s a resurrection from the dead. That’s the pattern. This chapter is about not living in vain.
Then you evaluate. Is that important? It’s life-and-death important, right? If I believe in vain, I’m dead. I’m going to hell if I believe in vain. So, the evaluation is off-the-charts important.
What about feeling? What should I feel? I should feel fear if I’m drawn away from the gospel and start to live my life in vain, believe in vain. I should feel fear, or I should feel motivated to fly to grace so that I do the work he’s called me to do.
Then comes application. Devote yourself to living in the promises of God, because they’re the ones that enable you to do the obedience that you’re called to do by grace.
And finally comes expression. I’m doing this right now. That’s a little, three-minute introduction to those six habits that are being expressed to you because I had that experience.
That’s what I mean by the six. I live this way. In fact, I think I say in the closing part of the book that I began the book doing six habits of lifelong learning, and I end by saying that these are six habits of lifelong living. This is the way I live.
Very briefly, it works outside the Bible too. I drove to the airport a week ago to go to TGC, and I drove by and I saw the tent out here. There are people living in a tent 50 feet from here. That’s my observation. I observed that and I said, “I’m going over there when I get home. I’m going to talk to those people and get some understanding and ask, ‘What’s your situation?’” I don’t like this. I don’t like this happening by my church. I want to help.
So, I walked over yesterday when I got home, got off the airplane, greeted my wife, and I changed my clothes because I didn’t want to look too weird to the tent people, and I went there. They were all gone. The one had a big sign up that said, “Move the stuff or we’ll move it out.” But oh, how I got some understanding.
There’s so much stuff out there that it would take a pickup to move it away. This did not happen overnight. Some understanding was happening. They didn’t just show up here and pitch their tent. This required days of gathering stuff that’s out there. There are kids’ toys out there. I took a picture. I’ve got it on my phone here, and I showed it to my wife and we analyzed it. There were sleeping bags and a radio and there were kids’ toys in there. So, that was a little bit of an understanding.
I talked to a guy on the way home and he said, “Yeah, I talked to him and they want the new drug. It’s called Go-Fast. It’s a combination of cocaine and fentanyl. This is what they told me. It’s really dangerous. That’s what they were asking for.” I had a little more understanding, maybe. I took his word for it. I got home and I had some understanding, then I evaluated it. This is sad; this is common. This is in every city in America right now. Nobody has an answer at all for homelessness.
So, now what? I have an evaluation, what should I feel? I feel anger at the situation. I feel frustrated because nobody knows what to do. I feel like I’ve got to do something. This is like the rich man and Lazarus, right? I can’t walk by this every day, feasting sumptuously at home, living in my nice house, and not caring or doing anything. I’ve got these feelings keeping me awake at night, and then I look for some application.
I went online and typed in “emergency care housing,” and dozens and dozens of resources came up, if connections could be made in this city for homeless people. All you have to do is go online to find them. And then there’s the expression, which is what I’m doing right now.
It works in the Bible, and it works outside the Bible. This is the way I think we should live, and we should get better and better at observing, understanding, evaluating, feeling, applying, and expressing.
Howard: You just heard that a lot of these students are upperclassmen and we’ve been doing this in the classroom, and they’ve read your book and they’re coming with questions about how you articulated it, and they’re wanting to do exactly what you just described with the book. So, I’m going to unleash them to ask those questions. Maybe we can start with Andrew over here. What’s your question, Andrew?
Andrew Hague: I know you love the Bible, and I know you know that it’s paramount for the Christian walk, and you say as much in your book. You write, “The Bible is the compass that keeps all our reading from unfruitful directions. Being saturated with the Bible enables us to test all things and hold fast the good in everything we read.” You also write, “Nothing is more important to observe in all our observing than Jesus himself, especially as he shines in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” So, my question is this: if this is true, why the liberal arts? Why shouldn’t students go to a school whose chancellor says, “This is not a liberal arts school”?
Piper: Here’s some truth in advertising — I have notes. I’ve seen these questions, thank goodness. I said to this gang, these were hard. Half of them were hard. I worked all yesterday afternoon and all this morning on these questions, so there you go. I’m not winging anything. I don’t wing anything that I don’t have to wing, and that one was one of the hardest for me.
Why should we even have a liberal arts college? He’s asking, “You say the Bible is of paramount importance, but we spend many hours in classes studying philosophy and history and anthropology and human nature and politics, and then here’s the Bible. Why don’t you have a Bible school, and say, ‘We’re not a liberal arts college; we’re a Bible school’?”
Observation number one: we make no claim to perfection with regard to proportion. How much time should you spend in class and in your personal life devoted to rigorous, face-to-face Bible study? You should ask yourself that question. Right now in your life, how much should you do that, and how much should you devote to your vocation and leisure and all the other things that go into your life? We don’t claim to have it perfect. Every school does this differently, whether you call them Bible school, Christian arts college, or whatever. We all work at a proportion that we think is going to bear good fruit in these students’ lives. That’s the first observation.
Observation number two: these four years are unusual years. They’re not normal. You get four golden years to do some things you’ll never be able to do again in this proportion. And there is a huge world of history and philosophy and politics and all kinds of access to human nature out there, outside the Bible, and there’s the Bible. We believe that in order to live in the world, you need to know the world. You need to know the roots of the world that you live in. You need to know the way the world thinks and the way the world puts itself together and leaves deposits in books, especially. We think it’s very difficult to talk with people, converse with people, and live with people who live most of their lives dealing with their vocational issues, their political issues, and their personal-problem issues if you don’t have any experience, directly or indirectly, with those kinds of issues in which they live.
Now, there are lots of other ways to come at it, but it’s a big, big world out there. I thought to myself, if all of life outside the Bible, all of history, and everything that’s been written down about human nature and about nature and society could be written in a 1,000-page book, that might change things. Because that’s what the Bible is. It’s 1,100 pages long. Suppose all that could be known could be written in 1,100 pages. That would change things, wouldn’t it? How much time you would devote to that 1,100-page book and this 1,100-page book would be dramatically different, but we don’t have one book that captures all that’s ever been thought, all that’s ever been created, and all that’s ever been practiced.
We have thousands of books and thousands of years of history, and so much of it is rich with wisdom and insight about how to do it and how not to do it, and to be exposed to that reality will enable a person to take the Bible and live more wisely and more effectively in the world than if one only studied the Bible.
So, whether we’ve got the proportion right or not, we’re working at it, and I think the way we do it is not the way everybody does it. It’s not the way everybody should do it. And one of the reasons some of you are here is to find out, Does this taste like the way I want to do it?
Melanie Amarante: Going deeper into that, in your introduction to the book and in the first habit — that is, observation — you quote the Bible many times. I will read a quote of yours. You say, “God created the world to communicate truth about himself.” And all these Bible verses talk about nature and the created world. However, this school is more focused on unregenerate authors. And the question is, How can one see God’s glory through something as corrupted as the history of religions?
Or another way to say it is, How can we see God’s beauty through the lenses of men who can’t? Shouldn’t we try to avoid these writers and just stick to those who are regenerate and who actually can see the glory of God that is in creation, and not through the ones that it may be even dangerous for us to see what they have been seeing?
Piper: When I read that sentence, I thought that was a really good way of asking this question. How can you see the glory of God through the lens of a person who can’t see the glory of God? That’s good. I like that. Well done. A couple of questions were like this. I’m going to get them all jumbled up.
There’s a principle, and the principle goes like this: God created everything that’s not God, and all of it reveals something of God. It all reveals something of God, but that revelation is a manifestation of God; it is not God. The demonstration of the glory of God is not the glory of God.
Unbelievers can see the manifestation and not see God. They can see the manifestation often way better than you can as a regenerate person. The easiest illustration would be scientists who build telescopes and send them into orbit, and they send back pictures, and those scientists are on their faces with awe. Albert Einstein said that one of the reasons he didn’t go to church was because he had seen so much more glory than the preachers. He thought it was like they were not talking about the real thing. I’ll tell you, when I read that years ago, I just said that’s not going to happen to me. If he comes to my church, I don’t want him to say that. But he might because he’s a good seer. He sees, and not just galaxies.
I’m watching the Discovery Institute guys and hearing them talk about the cellular machines in our bodies at the level of atoms and subatomic particles and the kind of things that happen in our cells. Unbelieving scientists are flabbergasted at the complexity of it all. A few of them actually make the jump out of secular evolution into God. So here we have unbelievers, at the microlevel and the macrolevel, seeing things the rest of us aren’t seeing. Now, when I read what they see, I see God. They didn’t, but I do.
I typed in the optical illusion of an old woman and a young woman. Do you know what I’m talking about? Okay, most of you know. You have an optical illusion, and you’re looking at this picture, and depending on who you are, you see an old woman or a beautiful young woman. The nose of this witch makes her look really ugly, but the nose is the cheek line of the beautiful girl. Now, that’s exactly the way it works. The world looks at nature and they see an ugly woman, or they see a beautiful woman, but we see God. We see the manifestation of God.
The short answer is that we don’t see God through his lens, spiritually speaking. We look through his lens, this unbeliever who has just seen something, and see God. And this is not just true of nature. Unbelievers can write amazing analyses of human culture and get it all wrong, but they see some amazing things, and we see them, and we can think, “Oh my, that implies this, this, and this.” And with the Bible, it all makes sense. But they don’t see how it makes sense.
So, we look through what they’re seeing — their telescope or their microscope or their analysis of culture — and we see the truth that they don’t see. I think that happens all the time, and that’s one of the reasons — back to Andrew’s question — that we should pay attention to really shrewd observers who are not yet believers.
Amarante: That helps me read the next hundred pages I have of history, so thank you.
Piper: You’re welcome.
Graham Litrenta: My question is also about this interaction between special and general revelation. You say at one point, “Honing our skills of understanding God’s word fits us for understanding God’s world, all of it.” I was wondering if there’s also a similar, reverse way to go about that. Can understanding God’s world and his creation help us understand the Book, the word, better? And are there particular risks or rewards associated with that?
Piper: Just to make sure, I’ll say what I’m hearing and see if that’s what you heard. We love to emphasize that in order to know the world rightly, you need to know the Bible so that when you go to the world with the Bible, you see the world more clearly. You understand the world better because God’s perspective on the world is the true perspective. This question is the reverse. Can you go to the world, study, learn, observe, and be a better Bible reader because of it? Does your reading of the Bible get enriched by observing God’s other book called the world? And the answer is that the Bible expects you to, and it demands you to. You cannot understand the Bible if you don’t live in the world with your eyes open. You can’t. You won’t even know the words, right?
There are words that the Bible assumes you learned before you came to the Bible, right? Here are some examples: vineyard, wine, wedding, lions, bears, horses, dogs, pigs, grasshoppers, constellations, businesses, wages, banks, fountains, springs, rivers, fig trees, olive trees, mulberry trees, thorns, wind, thunderstorms, bread, baking, armies, swords, shields, sheep, shepherds, cattle, camels, fire, green wood, dry wood, hay, stubble, jewels, gold, silver, law courts, judges, and advocates. The Bible defines none of those.
If you go to the Bible and you don’t know what green wood is, what are you going to do when Jesus says, “if they do this while the wood is green, what will they do when it’s dry?” (see Luke 23:31). What was that? You have to go camping. Dad sends a kid out to get some wood, and he gets all green wood, and he throws it on the fire. Nothing happens. Jesus is green wood. It’s hard to burn Jesus, and they’re doing it anyway. They’re killing him. But oh, those who are ripe for judgment are dry wood. And when the fire comes in 70 AD, this place is burning.
So, there are just dozens of ways the Bible expects us to have gone to school outside the Bible and come to the Bible with a whole store of knowledge that the Bible assumes that we already have. Let me just give another kind of illustration.
Consider some emotions, like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, and meekness, or consider the negatives like anger or clamor. “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20, my translation). I don’t think you can have anything but a dilettante, merely academic knowledge of the Bible if you’ve never been angry, or if you’ve never seen patience. The word “patience” in the Bible is a word. It’s not patience, it’s a word. Patience is a reality. Joy is a reality. Love is a reality. The only way to taste reality is to taste reality. Those are words.
So, I think understanding sentences like “the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” means for John Piper to get on his face and deal with his bent to anger, how I relate to my wife, and how I relate to situations in the world where my first trigger response is anger and not compassion.
I have to go inside of me and say, okay, the reason it says this does not work the righteousness of God is because this anger is killing everything in me that’s good. It’s eating up like a monster every other good emotion. I’m watching it do it. I’ve seen it in others. If you grow up in a home where there’s nothing but anger and your dad is angry all the time, where are you emotionally at age 19? You’re angry. You’ve got one or two other tiny little emotions that can rise above the fray. You have to know yourself.
So, those are two illustrations of living with our eyes open. Our understanding faculties and our evaluating enable us to come back to the Bible with greater insight. He said, I think, at the end, what are the “risks and rewards”? Benefits I just talked about, and the risk is huge. I say something to my preaching classes about this. It starts on Monday, and I’m so excited. I love teaching preaching here.
I’m going to say to those guys against all other counsel, bring your experience to the Bible. Most homiletics teachers say, “No, no, no. You don’t interpret the Bible in the light of your experience; you interpret your experience in light of the Bible.” And I get that. I say amen. However, it works the other way. It really does work the other way. If you don’t live with anger and live with joy, and you come and you get that word joy, that word anger, you’ll just be an academic dilettante.
When you try to talk in front of people with that kind of disposition, they’ll say, “That’s artificial, man. You’ve been to school too long. You have to live. You have to open your eyes and live.” So, I think the risk is real. And here’s the risk. The risk is that somebody hears Piper say, “Bring your experience to the Bible,” and they bring their experience to the Bible, and they mute what doesn’t fit their experience. For example, you have a friend who tells you, “I’m coming out as a same-sex attracted person.” You really like this person. You don’t want to hurt them. You don’t want to offend them. Biblically, you have a sense that it’s not right, and you need to approach this another way.
Your emotions and your relationship and your experience become so strong that your mouth shuts, and you don’t say, “If you walk into that and live there, that’s going to be sin. That’s going to ruin your life.” You don’t say it. And you come back, and you see the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (see Matthew 22:39). And you can think, “I’m loving him. I’m loving him.” And you just mute 1 Corinthians 6:9, which says that those who do such things will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You just wipe that out of the Bible because your experience is so strong in desiring not to offend that you just shut that down.
So, if you’re hearing me say, “Bring your experience to the Bible and let your experience shut the Bible down in its meaning,” you’re hearing me wrong.
Howard: About halfway through the book, when you get to the topic or the habit of feeling, you talk about it as a hinge habit. Evaluating and feeling are the hinges between observing and understanding along with applying and expressing. I think there were actually a number of questions here about that idea of feeling in particular. I just want to jump into several of those because that seems really important, what you just were doing in talking about observing your own anger, right?
Howard: Feelings are really important. It seems that can help us or hinder us in rightly observing and understanding, or applying and expressing. I think, Riley, you have a question about these feelings.
Riley Carpenter: I naturally see how observing or understanding or evaluating or applying are all a part of learning, but it takes me a little bit more mental energy to figure out how feeling is necessary for the project of learning. So, I’m curious because you have it as an essential habit of the heart and mind. What do we miss as learners if we don’t feel appropriately about the things we’re learning?
Piper: Number one, what you’ll miss if you do not feel appropriately about your experiences in life and the things you observe and understand is that you will miss the capacity or the ability or the opportunity to glorify God as you ought. Because we believe here — and I’ve written endlessly about it — that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Satisfaction is a feeling, and I’m arguing that if God is in something and we discern him, there’s an appropriate feeling, and that appropriate feeling will magnify something about God. It will correspond to what he’s just revealed of himself. If it’s judgment, fear; if it’s glory and beauty, then it’s joy. So, feelings that are stunted at that moment deny God a reflection of his glory. That’s answer number one.
Second, obedience will be forsaken because the Bible commands feelings on almost every page. I’ve made a list. It commands not to covet, it commands contentment, it commands fear, it commands hope, it commands joy, it commands zeal, it commands gratitude, it commands brotherly affection, it commands tenderheartedness, it commands lowliness, it commands contrition, it commands sorrowful empathy, it commands sympathy, and on and on. Feelings are not cabooses. My wife told me not everybody knows that word.
Howard: They haven’t been living in the world enough.
Piper: Is that an old-fashioned word? It’s the thing at the end of the train that looks useless. It’s where the staff lives, I think. Feelings are not cabooses; they’re the engine. I’m indicting big swaths of American evangelicals when I say that. Feelings are the engine. So, let me mention one more thing. When I say you’ll miss out on obedience, I mean that right feelings are the engine of love. One of my favorite verses for illustrating how Christian Hedonism produces love for people by love for God is in 2 Corinthians 8:2. It says that in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed with a wealth of liberality toward the poor saints in Jerusalem.
So, you have extreme poverty, and you have extreme affliction. You don’t have what you do need and you’re getting beat up because you just became a Christian, and this abundance of joy is like a volcano in the midst of those two. This is not prosperity preaching, right? This is joy. Second Corinthians 8:1 says that it’s coming from grace. It’s coming down. Your sins are forgiven. You’re adopted into God’s family. You’re thinking, “I can’t believe I’m a child of God. My sins are forgiven. I’m going to heaven. Hallelujah. Take another offering.” That’s exactly what they say. They give once and then they plead with him to take another offering. So, where did that generosity come from? It just says it so plainly. The overflow of abundant joy produced generosity.
So, if you were to make the case, which you’re not, that feelings don’t matter but what matters is obedience, what matters is discipline, what matters is self-control, and what matters is devotion and duty, I think you’re not reading your Bible, and you are denying what 2 Corinthians 8:2 says is the fountain of generosity for the poor in Jerusalem. So, that would be another answer of what is missing, what you lose if we here at this school do not prioritize appropriate emotional responses to the reality we’re looking at. Let me mention one more thing.
You also lose the fullness of your humanity and the richness of relationships. I look out at this group right here, and you are all over the map on your emotional capacities and maturities and balance. Some of you are very stunted; others of you are very lopsided. You’re all one emotion and you can’t even feel the other. The pastor talks about wrath, and you say, “No, please talk about the niceness of God,” and you don’t have any capacity for exulting in the fact that we have a great, glorious God of judgment. You just can’t do that. It’s not who you are. Maybe it’s because of the way your dad was or whatever, but you’re stunted.
So, the richness and fullness that God is calling you to be is limited, and we would like to help. Only God can do this, but we would like to help. I know personally what some of my stuntings are, and I know the people I need to be around to fix that, at least partly.
In other words, the people you are around, you tend to become like them. You do if you admire them. And I have a few people like that. I’ll mention one. I admire Mark Dever and Capitol Hill, and I hope you’re watching, Mark. Mark’s personality is so dramatically different from mine, and I like so many things about it. I just like hanging out with him because I go home and I’m a better person with my wife. I really am.
So, we hope that happens here. We don’t want sick professors. Sick professors make sick students, and sick pastors make sick churches. We want to be emotionally healthy. That means the whole range of emotions from the hardest and most difficult over to the sweetest and simplest childlike emotions. We want the whole range of emotions for you to be around and feel. This is about the richness of personhood and relationships.
Let’s just take wives, for example, who are so sad because their husbands are such emotional dolts. They want so badly for the husband to say something tender or take a little time, show some empathy, and this husband is just an idiot. And it’s a deep, sad idiocy that is emotionally in need of a lot of enrichment. In other words, this relates to our relationships, our marriages, and our children.
It’s so important to be able to get down on the floor with a 2-year-old or 1-year-old and be an absolutely good idiot dad, so that the child just loves to play with daddy. He just loves to play with daddy because daddy is so happy when they play. There are just millions of kids that never get that ever because dad doesn’t have any idea how to do that. Okay, I’m talking too much. There are other questions.
Howard: Let’s have some more questions about emotions.
Beck Stabley: I’m the next question, but I just want to say I feel that in my almost four years at Bethlehem from the professors here. There is such a diversity of personalities, and that’s been something that I can just testify to. I certainly have felt the shaping influence of the differences in our professors in my own life.
Piper: That’s encouraging.
Stabley: My question is that on page 46 of your book, in the chapter entitled “Observation,” you say, “Self-conscious gladness is self-defeating.” You say this in the context of being a genuine learner, noting the insincerity of self-awareness in spontaneous delight. So, how does this idea fit with Lewis’s idea that the expression of praise in a delighted thing completes the delight itself? Does not the expression of enjoyment entail some form of self-consciousness?
Take, for example, the expression of self-conscious, glad-hearted praise in an exclamation I often pronounce to my husband out of my sheer delight in spending time with him. I often will say, “I am so happy right now. I’m just so happy.” That is sometimes the only way I can find to express my delight in him. It would seem from this example that the completion of gladness — that is, the praise — is necessarily self-conscious. “I” is the subject of that expression of praise, right?
Stabley: So, is this expression of delight self-defeating? That would be very disappointing to know. Or to ask it differently, how would you define self-conscious gladness?
Piper: Oh my goodness, that’s one of my favorite questions. I can’t believe it. That just rocked me. I would write parts of my book differently because of that question. Okay, so here’s what she’s saying. She hears me say that self-conscious gladness is a problem. I use the word “useless.” It’s troubling if I look in on my gladness and I become self-conscious about the experience of gladness in here. And she says, “I say to my husband sometimes, ‘I’m really happy right now because I’m with you,’ which is conscious of happiness.” So, Piper, should she say that? That’s a really good question.
Okay, it’s very personal, right? We’re both coming from the same place, namely, Lewis saying that lovers keep on telling each other how beautiful they are because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. That’s the principle behind this, that the overflow through expression of the joy I’m feeling in you right now is completing the joy. That’s why we keep on saying to each other, “You’re beautiful.”
However, what happens if you turn away from the beloved and start, negatively, navel-gazing? You think, “I wonder if I’m as happy as I should be. I wonder what it’s like to be happy here.” And suddenly you lose touch with her, or him, or God. That’s the danger I’m trying to work with. I don’t want people to be so consumed with the experience of gladness that they forget about the source of the gladness. That’s what we want to avoid.
I remember Sam Crabtree when he was candidating. We hired him for this sentence. In Tom Steller’s living room, he said, “Well, there’s a problem in worship because some people love loving God more than they love God.” I said, “I want you on my staff, buddy.” That sentence is worth a million dollars to me. I mean, did you hear that?
Howard: Did you pay him that much?
Piper: I have a lot of million-dollar possessions I don’t pay for. I could name them. Okay, now I’m going to lose my train of thought.
Piper: No, no, no. I was losing it anyway. Okay, back to the question of her statement, when she says, “I’m so happy right now.” Here’s my answer: I think that sentence is probably not very dangerous because it’s code language for “you make me very happy right now.” She said, “I feel very happy right now in your presence.” And I’m saying that’s code language. It’s just another way in your vocabulary of saying, “You, husband, make me very happy,” which is a much more you-oriented statement, though maybe not by much.
Even though she’s using the language of self-consciousness, she intends not to be analyzing her emotions at the moment, not to be preoccupied with her emotions at the moment, but to make much of her husband. That’s her point and that’s her goal, as long as we’re agreed on that and she’s not going inside and ruining the relationship by being excessively preoccupied with her own experience of her husband.
So, you’re okay and you can decide for yourself what you want to develop in terms of some nuance to your statement. But let me give some warning here. The reason this matters relationally is because you can be a single person and have this craving inside of you for a relationship. You think, “I have to have a relationship with a gal or with a guy.” And what you start to mean is, “I have to have this thing scratched.” So, you go online, do some dating thing, or you go to a bar or whatever, and what you’re thinking is not, “Is there a beautiful, intelligent, articulate, wise, spiritual person whom I could admire?” but rather, “Can somebody scratch where I itch?” That’s going to destroy you because the experience that feels like love is probably narcissism.
Howard: A lot of what I think these people are wondering is, okay, there are these six habits of mind and heart. I’m starting to get a sense for them. Maybe they’re already pretty obvious to me. I’ve been doing them for a while. How do we get out of here and live for the rest of our lives in a way that cultivates and carries out these habits of mind and heart? So, I think there are a few questions about how we do that. In other words, how shall we then live? Jackie, did you have a question about what that looks like?
Jackie Thorne: Yeah, I love this theme of cultivating a life of learning throughout the span of your lifetime. As I seek to do that and get older, I was struck by a quote you used by C.S. Lewis in your book. In Mere Christianity, he wrote, “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why he uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not. He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
As I’m processing some of these questions and your responses of feeling, I’m also weighing some of the practicality of academic rigor and exhaustion. Exhaustion can sometimes lend itself to spiritual dryness even. So, how would you counsel students in an academic season, but also as lifelong learning students, who are just in a season of life where they’re trying to cultivate this? There are ways to look at how it relates to student life, but also we want to keep going after our academic time at school. So, how do we temper these things? We’re physical beings, but we’re spiritual creatures. How would you counsel us in that?
Piper: She’s picking up on Lewis when he says, “Don’t try to be more spiritual than God.” God made matter, which includes your skin and bones and sexual drives, your hair, your shape, your height, and your complexion. He likes matter. That’s amazing. I mean, you don’t make something you don’t like if you’re God. He made a universe of stuff. It’s just astonishing. And we will be stuff forever. That’s why there’s a resurrection of the body.
I just read the end of Luke 24 this morning where Jesus shows up and, for joy, they’re unbelieving. They’re thinking, “This is too good to be true.” And they think they’re seeing a ghost. And he says, “Here, touch me.” And they don’t do it. And he says, “Do you have anything to eat?” And they give him a piece of fish, and he eats it. That’s the resurrection body. Okay, so we are in this for keeps. And God chose to do it that way.
Now, it’ll be a spiritual body, which is unimaginable, but there’ll be some kind of continuity with this body. Her question is, “How do you navigate the goodness of it and the weakness and danger of it?” I wrote down here, “Immerse yourself in the Bible so deeply and steadily that you keep before you the good purposes of the body and the dangers of the body, because the Bible is really earnest about both.” For example, listen to 1 Corinthians 6:13. I remember the first time I saw this. I thought, “I can’t believe it says that.” It says, “The body is . . . for the Lord.” I get that — my mama told me that since the day I was born. She said, “Glorify God in your body.” And then it says, “And the Lord [is] for the body.” What?
The Lord is for the body, not against the body. That’s what it says. And then it says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Whether it’s your tongue, your hands, your feet, your eyes, or your sexual organs, make God look great by the way you handle your body. That’s life, and it’ll always be that way, forever. The way you use your body is to make Christ look magnificent, which would include being willing to be burned at the stake rather than renounce him. That’s one way to glorify God with your body. Paul said, “My earnest desire is that I would magnify Christ whether by life or by death” (see Philippians 1:20). So, there are some of the positives.
Another one would be Romans 12, where it says, “I beseech you by the mercies of God to present your bodies to God as living sacrifices” (see Romans 12:1). That’s saying, “Take me; use me whatever way you can,” which is why I think this whole issue of feelings and living out a healthy spiritual life is just so crucial. Or it’s like Jesus saying, “Let your light so shine that men may see your good deeds” (see Matthew 5:16). How are they going to see your good deeds? You do them with your body. There’s no other way. You do them with your body.
However, in Romans 7:23, Paul says, “I find in my members another law, the law of sin.” And therefore, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I pommel my body.” Literally, he says, “I give it a black eye, lest I myself should be a castaway.” His body is viewed by the Bible as a good thing, a God-created thing, a destined-for-glory thing, and it’s a great enemy when sin takes occasion to tempt us through the body. Lots of our temptations come through the body, not all. And many sins are more emotional, more spiritual. But lots of them come through the body. And therefore, Romans 8:13 says, “Put to death the deeds of the body.”
I’m right now shepherding a guy who might even be here. He won’t mind me sharing. He has real temptations with lust. I’m back and forth with emails, and we have been for a couple of years, and I’m trying to help him. He asked me about the contradiction that he saw in John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. Owen says that we are saved by grace through faith, and then he says, “If you don’t put to death the deeds of the body, you will go to hell.” Which is it?
A lot of people have that question, and it’s a great question. And it shows a fundamental failure to grasp the essence of the Christian life. The essence of the Christian life is that you are a new, unleavened lump of dough; therefore, get the leaven out. That’s the Christian life. You are crucified with Christ, so put yourself to death. These paradoxes run all through Christian ethics. The essence is that if you’re a child of God, you are accepted, loved, forgiven, and righteous in Christ; now become what you are.
So, the body has to be renounced in order to reclaim it for who we really are. Basically, my answer is to be immersed in the Bible, to be readily aware of the glories and potential of worshiping and glorifying Christ in the body. And be aware of its pitfalls and its laws that Romans 7 says can really ruin you.
Thorne: How would you say you are specifically tempted to be more spiritual than God? What would be something you would see that students should watch for?
Piper: Let’s just take students as an example. You would be tempted to be more spiritual than God if you didn’t think you needed sleep. I remember when I was in graduate school it really baffled me that patience was said to be a fruit of the Spirit when I knew from experience that patience was a fruit of sleep. The less sleep I got, the shorter my fuse became. And my answer to how that contradiction works is that the reason patience is also a fruit of sleep is that the Holy Spirit gives you the humility to acknowledge you have a body. You’re not God. Go to bed.
Thorne: Okay, I will. I’ll go home.
Piper: And this will depend somewhat on your season of life. I know I have a daughter with a nine-week-old baby. This is not a sleep season. So I get that, and we do the best we can. But that would be just one example of thinking that we can ignore the demands of this body. Just take appetite for example, or exercise. A lot of you function as though you really are a gnostic. You really are people who think your body is just a mirage, like it doesn’t need any attention regarding what you eat and whether you sleep and whether you get exercise.
I’m saying if you want to be a properly spiritual person, you better pay attention to your body. God doesn’t want you to unnecessarily kill yourself. He might want you to kill yourself by being willing to sacrifice your body in a risky situation. But ordinarily, he doesn’t want you to kill yourself. “Thou shall not kill” applies to the person in the mirror as well as the person beside you in bed or on the street (Exodus 20:13). So, those would be a couple of examples.
Howard: We’ll have one more question. Katie, do you want to ask a question?
Katie Semple: In your chapter on understanding, you talked about the relationship between willing and understanding, and you said that God has made humans in such a way that the mind sees more clearly when the will inclines to the truth. So, my question is, as students who are taking in truth all day long from many different disciplines, we have opportunities day in and day out, hour by hour, to take in truth, submit to it, and obey it. How can we cultivate that kind of attitude so that we are doers of what we are learning?
Piper: Don’t miss the premise of that question. To me, it’s one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. It’s John 7:17, where Jesus says, “If your will is to do God’s will, you will know whether the teaching is from God or from men.” I remember sitting in a chapel at Wheaton College when a preacher read that, and I sat there thinking, “That changes everything.” To bring your will by grace somehow — that’s what you’re asking — into alignment with God enables you to know things.
My first part of the answer about how you cultivate a willing heart, an obedient heart for the sake of that kind of knowledge, is to be amazed at that verse. Just be amazed that in God’s way of reckoning, right willing often precedes right knowing.
Now, the flip side works also: you know in order to will rightly. That’s true. Paul’s constantly saying in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know?” It means that if they knew, they wouldn’t be acting this way. So, knowing does produce right willing, but it works the other way around. If your heart is bad, if there’s a rebellion in your heart, if there’s a resistant spirit, there are things you will not be able to know. So, that’s one answer. Just be amazed that God set it up this way.
In my struggle to be a humble, wise, godly, obedient person, the top of my agenda is to ask God to incline my heart. Psalm 119:36 says, “Incline my heart to your testimonies.” Pray that he would make your heart obedient. Pray that he would make your heart hungry. I’ve had people come into my office for counseling, and they talk about not desiring to read their Bible or having few spiritual desires, and I say, “Well, when was the last time you asked God to make you desire it?” It’s amazing how many people haven’t even asked him, “Make me desire.”
We sing that song, right? It says, “Make me love you as I ought to love you.” In general, people sing that song, and I think a lot of them feel uncomfortable singing that song because it sounds coercive. It says, “Make me love you as I ought to love you.” And I say, “Coerce me, kill me, slay me.” Augustine should get some say here, right? He said, “Command what you will, and give what you command.” We can say, “Make me what I need to be.” So, prayer is right at the top of the list. Then immersing myself in the word would be another thing. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word, and faith is the source (Romans 10:17).
Maybe I’ll give just one illustration of how it actually works. The goal is, How can I become a person with a more obedient heart, so that in my classes, in my studies, I recognize what’s really there, and then become a more effective person in the world? And my short answer under prayer is, Get a good storehouse of promises that God has made to his children, and believe them. Because it’s believing promises that frees you from the selfishness and the fear that hinders obedience.
I’m just right off my front burner this morning. We’re finishing Hebrews in my discipleship reading plan from this morning. If you’re on the discipleship reading plan, you’re right with me. I was in Hebrews 13. Although if you’re on time, you finished three days ago. I’m always a little behind.
It says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6). So, if you’re tempted to be a disobedient person with your money, a greedy person, a fearful person, the answer to being an obedient person is to believe that promise. Believe when it says, “I’ll never leave you. I’m God. I’ll take care of my children. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” And then respond to that by saying, “What can man do to me?”
So, I think believing promises is the key, under prayer, to becoming an obedient person with a heart that then, when it reads the Bible, can see what’s really there.
Howard: Thank you, Pastor John.