The Big Three

Desiring God has asked listeners to help them select the best of John Piper’s sermons so that they might feature them in the Desiring God app. They are asking not only for the sermon title, but also for a brief testimony of how God used the sermon to impact your life. I’m going to offer my response in this space. For me, there are three messages that stand out. They are messages that proved to be spiritual watersheds in my own life, and they are still impacting me today.

“Did Christ Die for Us or for God?”
Passion ’98, Austin, TX – January 1, 1998

I first heard John Piper preach in 1995. The sermon was on a cassette tape that someone had loaned me, and it was a message about the supremacy of God in preaching. I didn’t like what I heard. After listening, I wrote Piper off as someone who focuses too much on emotions and who needs to rely on the sufficiency of the word preached, quite apart from the preacher’s emotions. I didn’t have ears to hear. But that changed in 1998.

In 1998, I attended the second annual Passion conference in Austin, Texas. I didn’t come with high expectations. I had no idea that a Copernican revolution was in the offing for me spiritually. The message that the Lord used was Piper’s exposition of Romans 3:25-26. Piper’s exposition of the cross of Jesus Christ in these two verses made my heart soar in worship. I was gripped by the notion that Christ died not just for me but for God. The “basic riddle of the universe” had nothing to do with my rights but with God’s rights. It was this exposition of the cross that gave me ears to hear the following two messages.

“Passion for the Supremacy of God” (Parts 1 & 2)
Passion ’97, Austin, TX – January 2-3, 1997

Part 1 – God’s Passion for the Supremacy of God

Part 2 – Our Passion for the Supremacy of God

After a bad experience with the charismatic movement during college, I came to the conclusion that emotionalism was the great error of modern evangelicalism. I felt so betrayed by my own experience that I wrote off the relevance of the affections in the life of the Christian. I took on a cold, doctrinal orientation that manifested itself even in my devotional life. I journaled my way through the Psalms in 1996-1997, and my hermeneutic consisted of trying to abstract the attributes of God from the passionate expressions of the Psalmists. There was theological truth there, but I had to dig it out of the dirty husk of emotional expressions from the authors (e.g., “as the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you”). My journals reflected my coolly rational attempt to ponder God quite apart from my emotions.

After Passion ’98, something changed. I listened to Piper’s two messages from the previous year’s Passion conference and my theological world was turned upside down. I learned that not only is God passionate about His own glory, but He also insists that His people be passionate about His glory as well. I began reading Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections in that period and learned that authentic Christian faith consisted in having gracious affections. I learned that emotions were not an optional add-on to the Christian faith. On the contrary, they were at the essence of the new birth. So Piper and Edwards did a one-two punch on me, and the Bible opened up to me like never before. I began reading the Psalmists’ exultation not as a husk to be discarded but as the essence of “true religion.” A religion that I needed to have. It was at this moment that I was first gripped by the truth that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. This is when I became a Christian Hedonist, and I have never looked back.

Piper’s sermons have meant more to me over the years than any of his books. And these are the big three for me.

13 Responses to The Big Three

  1. Brent Hobbs October 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain (Wheaton College 1996)
    Boasting Only in the Cross (OneDay 2000)

  2. Jonathan Parnell October 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Man! That’s awesome. Thanks for this post.

  3. John October 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    I was at the Pastor’s Conf when he preached on Judson’s life…How Few There are that Die So Hard…one of the, if not the, more powerful sermon I’ve ever heard.

  4. JM LaRue October 16, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Thanks Denny! My mind went back to the similar Copernican revolution that went on in my heart during that time because of Piper. Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain radically changed my outlook on life.

  5. Marcus Huebner October 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    is it surprising, that all of those sermons were at a passion event? I was reminded of the title of the first chapter in ‘Young, Restless, Reformed’, where Hansen writes about passion and calls it: ‘Born Again Again’.
    For me it was the passion 2010 talk ‘Is Jesus an Egomaniac’. I’ve listen to this sermon a few dozen times till then, in think. I even memorized parts of it (by accident though, due to my excessive listening ;-)). Can’t wait to be at passion next year!

  6. Joe Blankenship October 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    The first sermon I ever heard John Piper preach was at a Ligonier Conference in Dallas, TX where he took on Chuck Colson’s message from the previous night. He expounded on the unbiblical nature of the debtor’s ethic. His willingness to confront error that had received a standing ovation the night before with an exposition of the biblical text was transformative.

    Did Christ die for us or God? was a message that gave a measure of gospel clarity and God-centeredness that has remained central to my life and ministry.

    Every Race to Reign and Worship – January 1998 – was a central catalyst in God’s literally moving me into a church plant where the beauty of the gospel is seen in people coming together according to God’s divine plan, not because they have common backgrounds or common interests, but simply because they have a common Savior who is the greatest treasure of all to them.

  7. Joe Blankenship October 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    The first sermon I heard Piper preached (which I mentioned above) was titled The God-Centered Ground of Saving Grace, March 1994

    • Denny Burk October 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      I remember y’all telling us about this sermon, and I’ve always wanted to hear it. Is it available on DG?

  8. Joe Blankenship October 18, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    There is a manuscript but not the sermon. No reference to Colson in the manuscript. Couldn’t find the audio
    I couldn’t find it at ligonier either

  9. Henry Bish October 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    In regard to Denny’s charismatic connection, I too was incredibly helped by one of Piper’s sermons, but in a different regard. The sermon is called ‘Why the Gift of Prophecy is not the Usual Way of Knowing God’s Will), and can be found here:

    It set me free from an unbalanced emphasis on supernatural revelation being the only way to make decisions.

  10. rockstarkp October 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    The Resolved 2008 Piper talks are 2 sermons that I listen to every year.
    Move me to tears every time.

  11. Derrick Ousley October 20, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I was also at Passion ’98, and his exposition of Romans 3:25-26 played a similar role in my spiritual journey. I still remember walking away amazed at what this passage said, and I had never seen it before. Truly watershed for me as well. Thanks for sharing. If I remember correctly, Joshua Harris shares a similar experience.


  1. It made a difference to me that John Piper went to jail | Denny Burk - January 23, 2013

    […] I have written in this space before, beginning in 1998 God used John Piper to awaken me from my dogmatic slumbers. […]

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