John Piper 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 A Peculiar Glory.
Piper gave the following sermon, “The Ultimate Essence of Evil: The Majesty of God, the Triumph of Christ, and the Glory of Human Life” at the Passion 2017 Conference in Atlanta, GA on 1/3/17.
Until you know and hate the ultimate essence of evil in your own soul, and in the world, you will inevitably dumb down the majesty of God, and diminish the triumph of Christ, and gut the glory of human life that pleases God.
I. The Ultimate Essence of Evil
A. Glory traded away.
“Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water,” (Jeremiah 2:10-13, ESV).
- The fountain forsaken (v. 13) – It is a great evil to lose a taste for God as your fountain of life and joy.
- Broken cisterns (v. 13) – Not only have they turned away from the fountain of life and joy, but the cisterns they make can’t hold that water anyway. They’re broken.
The essence of evil in this passage? “The essence of evil is to lose a taste for God and prefer anything more than God, especially when he offers to be for us the never-ending fountain of life and joy.”
B. Back to the Beginning.
[Satan] said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1b-6, ESV).
Every heart is infected – see Romans 5:12.
What is God withholding? The essence of this temptation that Adam and Eve faced goes like this, “God is withholding something from you that is really exciting. And he’s keeping it from you by threatening you with death if you try to get it. And God is lying. You will not die.”
We will not be denied what we desire more than God.
- Desiring fruit – “Eating was not the essence of the evil because, before they ate, they had already lost their taste for God. He was no longer their all-supplying life and joy. They preferred something else. That is the ultimate essence of evil.”
- What about rebellion? – “God makes not desiring something more than him a commandment.” “Treasuring, desiring, preferring anything or anyone above God is not evil because it’s forbidden. It’s forbidden because it’s the essence of evil.”
- Evil is already there – “Commandment-breaking is not the arrival of evil. It’s simply the confirmation that the essence of evil is already there.”
C. We have all fallen short.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3;23, ESV).
- The evil exchange – The darkness of evil in the human heart is seen in the exchange of the glory of God for the glory of the creature.
- Preferring the created. The ultimate essence of sin in Romans 1 is the failure to treasure the glory of God above every created reality.
The ultimate root of disobedience is the loss of taste for God as our all-supplying life and joy and the preference for created pleasures above God.
II. War Against the Essence of Evil
A. The Majesty of God
- “The crucial point: God’s supreme, all-satisfying, infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful glory will not be magnified in your soul until your soul is supremely satisfied in him.”
- “You will never feel this with the massive weight that it has, until you feel that the ultimate essence of evil is the failure to be satisfied in God above all things.”
B. The Triumph of Christ
What was this triumph?
- The forgiveness of sins?
- The absorption and removal of the wrath of God toward his people?
- The imputation of his perfect righteousness to us as sinners?
- The defeat of death and the devil?
- The deliverance from hell and everlasting misery?
- The resurrection of our bodies?
- The healing of every physical and mental disease or disability?
- The entrance into the new heavens and the new earth?
We were made to display the all-satisfying beauty and greatness of God by seeing and savoring and showing him as the supreme treasure of your life.
“Until you see and hate the ultimate essence of evil in your own soul — namely, treasuring anything more than God — you will not celebrate the triumph of Christ for the ultimate treasure for which he died: the enjoyment of God himself above all.”
C. The Glory of Human Life
And the more you move toward that understanding of human life, the more that so-called “good” becomes the fruit of the ultimate essence of evil.
- Not from faith – Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6
- This means that the goodness and beauty of human life is the fruit of faith — that is, the fruit of embracing God in Christ as our supreme treasure.
- The essence of good deeds – “If you don’t see and hate the ultimate essence of evil in your own heart — the treasuring of anything above God in Christ — you will not realize that the severing of good deeds from the root of treasuring God is the loss of glory and the desecration of human life.”
Conclusion: Don’t Lose Your Taste for God
The ultimate essence of evil is the loss of taste for God as our all-satisfying life and joy, and the preference for other things above God himself.