Today’s APJ episode deals with mature themes. Particularly, Pastor John deals here with the world’s infatuation with lust, and how to escape it. The clip is from a 2004 sermon. Pastor John had been preaching on Romans 11:32–33, a text that tells us, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Verse 32 is an astonishing claim — so astonishing that Paul moves directly into worship: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Late in his 2004 sermon, as he turned to celebrate the majesty of our sovereign God so clearly on display in this text, Pastor John looked at some troubling social trends. Here he is.
If you come to the end of this message, hearing me open Romans 11:30–32, and you’re scratching your head, and you’re saying, “I don’t get it. How can this be? How can God be sovereign over and plan periods of disobedience?” then know that you’re in good company, because the apostle Paul himself responded to his own teaching with “Unsearchable!” “Inscrutable!” (Romans 11:33). Those are his words, not mine. I use the words astonishing, shocking — which is why I prayed for you at the beginning, “Go down to the deeps of our heart, Lord, and cut away the calluses on the capacities to be shocked.”
It’s very intentional that Paul is doing this, and verse 33 proves it. He means to shock us. He means to astonish us. He means for us to put our hands over our mouths and say, “I don’t get it. I can’t explain it. It’s inscrutable. It’s unsearchable.” He means to leave us there. So, if you feel that way, don’t resent it. Learn as much as you can from as much as he gives.
These high things about God that we’re about to look at — God’s governing history from beginning to end, disobedience and obedience all leading to the magnification of his mercy — these high things are really relevant for your daily life.
Take sex, for example. One of the main reasons that we are drowning today in America and in the church in an ocean of lust and pornography — men and women committing fornication, adultery, masturbation, exhibitionism, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, and sexual innuendo on every screen virtually — one of the reasons that we (the church included) are awash and drowning in this sea is because we are intellectually and emotionally disconnected from infinite, soul-staggering divine grandeur, and instead we are drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness.
We have lost, by and large, our capacity for being staggered by divine grandeur, and we live at a low dog-in-heat level. TV is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are pressed by publishers to be trivial. Worship styles become increasingly trivial. We trifle with our little jokey ways so that everybody will feel kind of comfortable, because that’s what they feel when they watch TV, and if they can feel comfortable and at home in our jokey churches, they might come back. We have lost our capacity to be staggered by the terrifyingly joyous dread and peace of an infinitely untouchable, embracing God. Life is just boring, humdrum.
And when a creature created by God to live in the presence of God and to be staggered by the glory of his infinite power and justice and wisdom and truth and grace, when that creature swims in an ocean of triviality, it must be that he will embrace the best buzz available, and it is sex.
So many of you have become fish, and therefore do not even miss air anymore. You just can’t imagine what I’m talking about — that there’s another air to breathe, there’s another level of joy, there’s another experience of magnificence and grandeur and staggering, mouth-shutting, unsearchable, unspeakable divine truth, and if you lived there, you wouldn’t want to be a dog in heat in front of your monitor anymore. You’d get victory over your life of lowness. But you’ve become a fish. All you drink is triviality. The best buzz you can imagine is a low buzz, which is why I prayed at the beginning of the service that God would do what I can’t do. I can’t awaken the taste buds for the divine; God can.
The deepest cure for our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies. I have them, I use them, I teach them. I’ve got my own strategies against lust. That’s not the deepest cure. The deepest cure is to be intellectually — and I underline that word. I’m not going to apologize for theology and doctrine and head, but I’m going to now say the second one. The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by God.
There’s this tremendous, American, pragmatic pressure not to form churches like that, not to write books like that, not to have music like that, but to keep everything low and chatty and comfortable and silly and trivial and small. This is so sad. Sex is one of a hundred issues that will overwhelm you and debase you if your life is out of touch with the magnificence of God.
Well, I will do my best to stagger you, because I feel bound by Scripture to help you get to verse 33 emotionally. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” I don’t get it. It is inscrutable. His ways are unsearchable. His thoughts are beyond me. I bow. I put my hand over my mouth. I humble myself. I love this God. I will not just sit in front of my monitor and look. I will stand up. I will walk outside in the cold and look up and say, “The heavens are declaring the glory of God. Make me pure.”
Come on. Come on, America. Wake up to reality. Don’t live in the ocean of triviality, swimming around, fearing air. Be a man, be a woman — not a dog in heat.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.