EXPLORING THE WORD
The Glory of God Alone (Soli Deo Gloria)
Today we finish our mini-series on introducing the Reformed Faith. We have looked at the popular slogans that marked the Reformation and summarized their distinctive teachings from that of the Roman Catholic Church. The first four parts examined the following:
1. How is a person justified before God? Answer: Through Faith Alone
2. What is the sole authority for the Christian in matters of faith and practice? Answer: The Scriptures Alone
3. Upon what basis are we made righteous before God? Answer: By Grace Alone
4. Through whom are we made righteous before God? Answer: In Christ Alone
Today we will answer the following question: What is the goal (or end) of man's salvation? The answer to that question is the glory of God. All things are done for the glory of God, and it is to God alone that all glory belongs. After exmaning this question, we will offer some concluding remarks to bring this series together.
So what did the Reformers mean by the slogan "To God Alone be the Glory?" This slogan gives us the reason, or the goal, of God's saving activity. The reason why God justifies mankind by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is to manifest and make known to all the world the glory of God in the salvation of his people.
The work of salvation is an act that God performs alone; man has no active part in the process (contrary to other theologies that suggest otherwise). In a previous article, we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9 in reference to Christians being saved by grace alone. In that passage, we see that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works "so that no one may boast." In salvation, all boasting is silenced! No one can claim any credit when it comes to salvation because even the faith we exercise to make salvation a reality is graciously granted to us by God.
Perhaps at this point it might prove beneficial to explain what God's glory is. Simply put, God's glory is what eminates from his being. It is the totality of all his attributes made manifest. In Exodus 33:18, Moses asks God to show him his glory. God responds by giving him a glimpse of his glory (for no one can see God's glory in its fullness and live):
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:5-7)The manifestation of God's glory is equivalent to God proclaiming his name. In the brief glimpse Moses gets of God's glory, he learns of the infinite graciousness and mercy of God as well as the infinite justice and holiness of God. God is glorified in showing grace and love and mercy to the righteous, and he is glorified in showing judgment and wrath and justice to the wicked.
The glory of God is also something that is manifest all throughout creation. David proclaims in the psalms that "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). The Apostle Paul echoes this thought when he writes, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20). The universe, being the work of God's hands, shows forth his glory in a multitude of ways.
God's glory is made even more evident in the creation of mankind who was created in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Man is God's crowning creation and alone among God's creatures is said to be in his image. So much could be said of what it means to be created in God's image; suffice it to say that it involves such things as our ability to reason, feel emotions, make rational choices, communicate intelligibly, relate interpersonally, and think abstractly. The ulitimate display of God's glory and his "exact imprint" is Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3) who fully manifests the glory of God in mankind.
We could go on talking about God's glory for quite some time, but for our purposes here, the glory of God is manifest in the salvation of his elect. If God's glory is manifest through the display of his attributes, then we get a good picture of this in the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the wicked. The salvation of the elect demonstrates God's love, grace and mercy; whereas the damnation of the wicked demonstrates the holiness, wrath and justice of God (Romans 9:22-23).
This is an unpopular stance to take in today's politically correct environment. We don't want to think that God is glorified in the damnation of the wicked. We read passages like 2 Peter 3:9 and say that God desires all men to come to faith and repentance. However, we must face the fact that the bible clearly teaches that not all will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14). If God is sovereign (and he is), then clearly he has decreed that not all will be saved. This only makes sense if we see God's glory as the overarching story of redemptive history instead of the salvation of man. Man's salvation (and damnation) serve to further God's glory, not the other way around. In fact, the whole story of the bible won't make sense unless we begin to view the Scriptures through God-centered glasses instead of man-centered glasses. Much bad theology that exists out there ultimately comes from a failure to acknowledge the glory of God in all things.
In conclusion, if there is one thing that summarizes the breadth of Reformed Theology, it's the glory of God. This was the central focus of the Protestant Reformers over against the glorification of man found in Renaissance and Enlightenment thinking or the glorification of the church and her saints in Roman Catholic thinking. The Reformers were zealous to protect the glory of God in their theology and practice.
How does this relate to Christians living in the 21st century? No different than it did for Christians living in the 16th/17th centuries or at any other point in history. The glory of God is the ultimate purpose for everything that exists. Paul told the Corinthian church that whatever they did, they needed to do it to "the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). That exhortation is as true today as it was the day it was first penned. The particular problem we face in the 21st century is that the church is infected with a lot of man-centered theology. From liberalism to the seeker-sensitive movement to the emergent church movement; all of these philosophies are infected with a man-centered approach to doing church. They may have begun with the best of intentions, but once you untether the glory of God as your basis for doing anything, you deviate from the God-ordained means and methods for doing church. We need to return to a more God-centered focus in our practice – preaching the word faithfully, administering the sacraments regularly, living God-honoring lives day to day, and trusting the Holy Spirit to do his work. Only then will we see the glory of God manifest in his church.
Next: What is Covenant Theology?
Soli Deo Gloria!
Faith Alone (Sola Fide): Rome calls "faith alone" a legal fiction; is it something more?
Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura): Is Scripture really the sole source of inspired authority?
Grace Alone (Sola Gratia): What does God do and what does man do in salvation?
Christ Alone (Solus Christus): Is Christ or the church mediator between God and man?
The Glory of God Alone (Soli Deo Gloria): Does man do nothing to merit his salvation?
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