October 29, 2017
Soli Deo Gloria – The Glory of God Alone
We are in our fifth and sadly final week of remembering and celebrating the Protestant Reformation. But it’s not just a historical movement called a Reformation. If we’ve only seen this as a study of Middle Ages, European church history, then we’ve missed the point. We have been remembering and celebrating the recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the very gospel that saved us.
As you know, we have been reviewing the biblical and theological commitments of the Reformers which can be summed up in The Five Solas of the Reformation – namely, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. That is, Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and today, the Glory of God Alone.
You should understand, the glory of God of necessity follows the other four solas. That is, because the other four are true, then all glory redounds to God alone. If, in fact, the other four solas are not true, then all glory does not redound to God alone. The church, or Mary, or the saints, or the priests, or I get some of the credit and therefore some of the glory. This was the point of the Reformers. These Five Solas, John Piper says, “preciously clarify the crux of the Reformation and the heart of the gospel.”
Let me remind you the central issue of the Protestant Reformation, around which these solas orbit, was the doctrine of justification. That is, what makes a person right before God? Remembering Scripture is clear that all humanity is in sinful rebellion – humanity is not right before God – therefore, the question of eternal significance is, what makes a person right before God to avert His deserved, righteous wrath, or anger? He is against us, what makes Him for us?
The Church had developed an entire sacramental system by which people cooperate with grace to contribute to their justification, by which system, they missed it altogether. You see, in the system, in the end, I have God, the church, and me to thank and glorify for my justification. The Reformers, more, the Bible says, no.
Now, to illustrate the centrality of justification…these Five Solas are prepositional phrases, which means, they must be attached to something. If I may give a simple lesson in grammar. If I say, I ran on the Greenway – on the Greenway is the prepositional phrase which tells you where I ran. If I just say to you, on the Greenway, it is meaningless, or at least, not precise. I could be referring to seeing you on the Greenway, walking my dog on the Greenway, riding my bike on the Greenway, which no one should do except kids, tripping on the Greenway, getting caught in the rain on the Greenway – the possibilities are endless. It’s not precise.
So also, the Five Solas are attached to something – and they are attached to the doctrine of justification. So, we say, justification is, or I am justified by the free gift of God’s unmerited grace alone with no favor or works of my own whatsoever, through faith alone – faith as the only means by which I am united with God’s grace in Christ, on the basis of or in the finished and all-sufficient, sacrificial, atoning work of Christ alone, as declared finally and decisively with authority in Scripture alone, resulting in all glory to God alone. That’s the idea, and why justification as the central issue of the Reformation has these Five Solas orbit or revolve around this truth. They are five phrases that tell us how God justifies the ungodly. So, this has been more than a glance at Middle Ages history – this has been, I trust, a glorious reminder of the gospel.
In fact, I will go two steps further. First, if you have been confronted by the Gospel, you realize you have been trying to make God like you, notice you, accept you by what you do – even if they are good things like coming to church or reading your Bible or fill in the blank – you must come to the end of your pitiful resources and receive God’s unmerited favor through faith in the finished work of Christ alone.
Second, if you talk to someone who says, the Reformation was unnecessary, a needless division or distraction, or an unfortunate rebellion, or they say we need to reunite with the Church, you now know the issue is tied to justification. So for example, when I say, as I did when I began this series, a group of people got together in 1994 to author the ECT Accord – Evangelicals and Catholics Together – you know, they ultimately and frankly didn’t get it. You’ll remember they put the doctrine of justification in an appendix in the back, suggesting they still did not agree on the nature of justification. Which means, they didn’t understand the central issue. They wanted to detach the solas from their orbit and make them meaningless prepositional phrases. We can agree on Christ, right? We can agree on grace and faith, right? Who doesn’t believe in God’s glory, right? But as those truths are rightly tied to justification, we do not agree – we’ve redefined the terms. And I would suggest further, by detaching the solas from the central truth, we make justification a secondary doctrine. We must not do that. It is of eternal significance.
The reason for the Reformation was this most fundamental of Christian doctrines. And the only way we can unite is if we agree on this essential, central, orthodox doctrine of the Christian faith. Now, I want to be clear, as the first four solas orbit justification, so also does the fifth, Soli Deo Gloria. Meaning, the truth of the first four solas result in the glory of God alone. How is this so? And how is it that by denying the truth of the first four solas, we diminish, as if that were possible, the very glory of God? How is it, in their unbiblical sacramental system of earned grace, the Catholic church attempts to become a recipient of undeserved glory? We’ve seen this over the past few weeks, but they are truths of eternal and unparalleled importance.
We must understand that all humanity lives in sinful rebellion against a holy God, and are therefore spiritually dead and eternally culpable. And to be spiritually dead means there is nothing we can do about our spiritual condition. It is not as if we can do anything to make ourselves right before God, because even our best actions are tainted by sin – as filthy rags before God. So there is to be, there can be no cooperation – even if we make the actions seemingly spiritual like baptism, penance and the Eucharist, that can merit grace or favor. Even if I feel really sorry, that is, contrite for my sin and confess, and do works of satisfaction, no works can possibly atone for my sin. That work belongs to Christ, and Christ alone.
We are dead, and our need is not self-improvement or even acts of righteousness – we need resurrection. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). And unless God makes us alive by His Spirit in regeneration and justifies us by a free act of His grace through faith, we are helpless and hopeless. But that is exactly what God does every time He justifies ungodly sinners. He breathes spiritual life into them, and saves them by His unmerited grace, through faith in the finished, all-sufficient, sacrificial work of Christ alone. Christ is the wrath-removing sacrifice and our justifying righteousness alone. And by adding works, we diminish Christ’s work, and God’s glory.
Now, we also remember, just because grace is free to us does not mean it is cheap or freely purchased by God. He did not just declare us righteous on a whim, nor as the result of some divine sentiment. It cost God the enormously, indeed infinitely great price of the blood of His own Son. Why? Was there not some other way for God to redeem humanity? And the answer to that question is ultimately Soli Deo Gloria. God used the most glorious means of redeeming His lost, disobedient, rebellious children, whom He loved. This is a display of most glorious grace. The tension between God’s love for His glory and His love for ungodly, unrighteous people who have profaned His glory are reconciled at the cross. God’s justice and mercy meet. And as a result, since it is all of God and none of us, to Him alone redounds all glory.
Martin Luther, and the other Reformers, understood this. Luther, for example, was a voracious writer – his works are said to total over 600 titles. We have hundreds of his sermons, his commentaries on the Bible, his catechisms, both long and short, letters he wrote, his so-called Table Talk when his students wrote down what he said after dinner, and not forgetting his numerous political and polemical works by which he took the Church to task, seeking to correct false teaching. As it took him years to write, I would suggest it would take years to read.
But Luther says, of all his writings and works, you could throw them all away, save two. In fact, he heard someone was thinking of publishing all of his works in collected volumes, and so Luther wrote a letter saying, “Regarding [the plan] to collect my writings in volumes, I am quite cool and not at all eager about it because…I would rather see them all devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except perhaps the one On the Bondage of the Will and the Catechism.”
In his own estimation, his most important works included On the Bondage of the Will, written in 1525. He was writing in response to Erasmus of Rotterdam. You may remember him – he’s the guy who gathered and edited a Greek New Testament, published in 1516. It was an incredibly important work. Luther used that Greek text to translate the New Testament into German in 1521, as did John Tyndale into English – which, by the way, cost Tyndale his life.
But while Erasmus did much good, he did not join the Reformation – he stayed within the ranks of the Catholic Church. There were lots of reasons for that, but he eventually wrote a work called, On the Freedom of the Will in 1524. Why was this important to him as a Catholic? Because, he believed a man not entirely dead in trespasses and sin – that he had the ability through the freedom of the will, to make the first step toward God in faith; and to cooperate with grace to earn salvation. He argued that baptism, repentance and conversion were possible because of the freedom of the will to choose good.
So Luther wrote in response, arguing the human will is incapacitated by sin – unable to choose the good. Therefore, it takes a sovereign work of God to justify the ungodly, dead sinner. In other words, justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as declared in Scripture alone, to God be the glory alone. This is how the five solas are tied together – in that they revolve around justification. The Protestant Reformation was a controversy with the Roman Church as to how helpless we are to raise ourselves from the dead and be justified.
Now, I want to take a moment and answer a couple questions regarding this idea of the Glory of God Alone. Some have leveled criticism against it saying, but doesn’t this idea demean humanity? If it is all of God, and none of us, doesn’t it make much of God, and nothing of us? The answer is actually yes…and no. Yes, it does make much of God – in fact, that was His design as the all-glorious God of the universe. His plan has always been to make much, indeed most of Himself.
You say, but, doesn’t that make God, ego-centric? And the answer is yes, but He must be. As the most-glorious being in the universe, for Him to not be most concerned about His glory would be an act of idolatry on His part. He is most glorious, and therefore must make the most of Himself and His glory.
By the way, I should define glory. Jonathan Edwards defined it as the effulgence of His being. John Piper says, it is “the outward radiance of His intrinsic worth and beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections.” I simply say it is the display of His infinite and altogether beautiful attributes. And since God is most glorious, He makes most of His own glory. You see, this is the problem of humanity – our problem – we want to make much of us. We want to make ourselves the center of our little universes. And that is the ultimate act of rebellion, blasphemy and idolatry.
Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another….
Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O LORD, not us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”
God alone deserves all the glory. Now, I said in answering the question, doesn’t this make much of God and nothing of us? I said, yes…and no. I said no because, He makes much of us in God loving altogether unlovable people. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Behold, what manner of love the Father has given us that we should called children of God. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters. He loved us, and thereby made much of us by giving His very own Son.
Which leads to a second important question, but, don’t we give God glory? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? And the answer is no…and yes. No, while created in the image of God, in our rebellion, humanity does not bring God glory in any way – except perhaps in their righteous judgment, condemnation and wrath. And no, remembering, these solas orbit the central doctrine of justification. And in our justification, we receive no glory, because it is all of God. The only thing we bring to the table of justification, is our dead corpses in trespasses and sin. He brings the all-sufficient work of His Son – and gives us saving, undeserved grace through the blood and righteousness of His Son.
But the answer is also yes, we do bring Him glory. How so? Having been justified, we now live lives of sanctification, that is, growing in holiness being transformed to the image of His Son. That does two things – first, as we saw last week, it proves the reality of our faith – of our justification. Remember James? Faith without works is dead. No good works means we haven’t been justified – we are still dead corpses. But justifying faith produces good works, proving the reality of our faith.
Second, in living sanctified lives, we do bring Him glory. Now, do not think for a minute that we add to God’s glory. He is the all-glorious God of the universe, and He is most glorious with, or without us. He did not create us because of some lack in Himself – so that we could by our lives add to His glory. We do not add to His happiness, His satisfaction, or His majesty. No – by our sanctified lives – which are empowered by the Holy Spirit anyway – as those created in His image, now redeemed, we magnify His glory, we reflect His glory, we put it on display, and incredibly, we share in it. So, Paul can say things like, whatever you do, in word or deed, do all to the glory of God. Or, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do to the glory of God. So in the end, God is glorified in our justification, and in our Spirit-empowered sanctification.
Now, there is a third question – what about our glorification – doesn’t the Bible promise that? Yes – and I’ll come back to that in just a moment.
So, because we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone – in other words, through God’s work alone, all glory redounds to God alone. Now, we’ve spent the last four weeks seeing the first four solas are indeed biblical. And I am now suggesting, that since they are true, then God gets all the glory. Let me give you some of the biblical basis for Soli Deo Gloria.
Isaiah 43:6-7 – “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” God’s creation of His OT people is ultimately for His glory.
In Romans 11, at the very end of his explanation of the gospel, Paul breaks out into doxology, praise:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?
35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?
36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
He gets to the end of his discussion of the glorious gospel and breaks out into praise for the God of glory. Ephesians 1:11-12 says the same thing of His New Testament people, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
So, this predestination that results in our justification is to the end that, for the purpose that we who hope in Christ will be to the praise of His glory. Because, you see, from beginning to end, our justification is all of God, to Him alone be glory.
But finally, what about that question I asked a moment ago – what about our glorification? Didn’t Paul write in Romans 8, these whom He predestined He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified, and these whom He justified, He also glorified? Didn’t He say that? Yes.
And didn’t he also say in II Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of God, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory? Yes, he did. So what does that mean? It simply means, now, and in the ages come, when we put off this sinful flesh, we are and will be transformed – from one degree of glory to another – and will reflect His glory the way those created in His image were supposed to in the first place. Putting aside all sin, when this corruption will put on incorruption, this mortality will have put on immortality, then, will we glorify Him fully as we ought, and be with Him glorified.
So, if I may take just a moment longer. How do we bring glory to God in our justified lives, as we pursue sanctification? Two thoughts, with acknowledgement to the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and John Piper. First, we live lives of gratitude – thankfulness. Gratitude leads to humility which leads to acknowledging our source of life and grace – and bring God glory. Be thankful people. Lose any sense of entitlement. Lose all bitterness, whining and pride. Thankfulness breeds humility, and keeps our focus on Christ.
And second, to quote John Piper, God is most glorified is us when we are most satisfied in Him. Find in Christ all the joy He intends for your life. Was it not Jesus who said, I came to give you life, abundant life, that you may live it to the full. The Reformers and those who lived just past them understood this truth. They wrote two enduring catechisms – The Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1562, begins with this question:
1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
The glorious truth of the gospel causes me great joy, to live for him with all my heart. Live for Him, and find greatest joy. The Westminster Confession of Faith in its Shorter Catechism, published in 1647, makes it even clearer:
1. Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Notice how the question is asked in the singular – what is the chief end? And the answer is two-fold, because they go together. They are in fact inseparable – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Piper suggests we may read it this way: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. God is most glorified in us when we find our greatest joy, satisfaction, treasure in Him. To God be the glory alone.