Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone!
Topic: Protestant Reformation Passage: Romans 11:33–11:36, Romans 3:23, 2 Corinthians 4:4–4:6, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:5–2:11
“THE 5 SOLAS OF THE REFORMATION
SOLI DEO GLORIA: GLORY TO GOD ALONE”
Romans 11:33-36, Romans 3:23, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6,
1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:5-11
If you happened to grow up in church, then it is quite likely that you have heard many references to “God’s glory.” You probably sang about it, heard sermons in which it was mentioned, and you may have even included in your prayers that He be “glorified.” But when is the last time you paused to consider what “the glory of God” really means?
It presents something of an unfair challenge for us to attempt to define or describe what, in many ways, is indefinable and indescribable. Even the Apostle Paul had a difficult time doing so. He piled descriptor upon descriptor in Romans 11(:33-36), but he was still forced to concede, saying...
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
In the mind of the 16th-century Reformers, salvation was a gift of God’s “grace alone” (“Sola Gratia”), in “Christ alone” (“Solus Christus”), and received by “faith alone” (“Sola Fide”). Such an awareness arose out of “Scripture alone” (“Sola Scriptura”). Only if and when all those things were so, could the “glory be God’s alone” (“Soli Deo Gloria”). Therefore, the litmus test that the Reformers applied to all theology in their day is the same that must be applied to our belief systems today. Namely, does what we believe and hold to be true cause all glory to given to God alone, or do we insist on holding onto some of the glory for ourselves?
One of the difficulties in defining the nature of God’s “glory” lies in the fact that there are more than a dozen Hebrew words that are used in the Old Testament for that one English word. Far and away the most common is “kabod,” which in itself has a range of implications, including “splendor,” “brightness,” “dignity,” “beauty,” “adornment,” “excellence,” “abundance,” “worth,” “honor,” “importance,” and “acclaim.” The concept of “glory,” therefore, is much more complex than we might imagine. The New Testament summarizes all of those qualities into a single word, “δοξα,” which is meant to convey “the intrinsic worth or value of God.”
The “glory of God” is the radiance of his manifold perfections. It is the sum of all that He is. It is that character of God which separates Him from all else. The Puritan Thomas Watson described it simply as “the sparkling of the Deity.”
No listing of terms will ever adequately express the greatness of God’s “glory.” Given the variety of contexts in which the term is used, its meaning is expansive. One of the descriptors that captures our imagination is the one used by C.S. Lewis, who has written of “the weight of glory.” Those who has been confronted with God’s glory feels a “weightiness”...a burden, actually, that presses down upon us and becomes even heavier as we come too comprehend the greatness of the “glory” that is God. It is a “weight” which causes the one who senses it to “give glory” to God alone.
But of course, we cannot in any real sense “give” glory to God. How can anyone “give” to the One who made and possesses all things? What we are able to do—indeed, what we must do—is to acknowledge the glory that is already His, bow before Him in humble adoration, and urge others to do so as well.
This is what you and I have been made for. As His “image bearers,” we were created to reflect His glory. But more often than not—as Kevin DeYoung has pointed out—we are “glory thieves” instead, robbing Him of glory and insisting upon it ourselves both openly and in secret.
It was zeal for the glory of God that provided the driving energy behind the Protestant Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others whose names we may have forgotten recognized that the entire Bible is “the story of His glory.” They understood that all things exist for God’s glory. All of the “solas” are brought together in this one statement: “Soli Deo Gloria.” Practically speaking when our concern for God’s glory grows cold, it undermines and actually short-circuits all of the other “solas.” It been well said that “no people will ever rise higher than their idea of God.”
As we bring to a conclusion our month-long commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and our rehearsal of the essential doctrines of that movement, we do well to reflect upon what it all means. There is a great deal we might include when ascribing glory to God, but let me propose four essential components.
To begin with,
Sin separates us from the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
The sovereign aim of all creation is that God receives the glory that is due Him. John Calvin saw the created world as a “dazzling theatre” of God’s glory, alive with multiple witnesses of His power and majesty. As filled with wonder is the universe that He spoke into existence and the world with all of its beauty and splendor, it was man who was chosen to bear the most direct imprint of God.
In reflecting upon this, King David pondered Psalm 8(:3-5):
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
It was man who was the “crowning glory” of God’s creation. It was man—and man alone—who was made in God’s “image” and “likeness” (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). It was man to whom “dominion” was given over all the earth (cf. Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:6). Consider the amazing privilege and astounding responsibility that comes with that honor
But soon after man was placed into his paradise-like environment, he lost it all because he willfully disobeyed the one prohibition imposed upon him by his Maker. In a heartbeat—in a moment of indiscretion and tragic judgment—Adam forfeited all that had been endowed to him by his Creator. From then on, there would be no walks with the Lord in the Garden in the cool of the day (cf. Genesis 3:8). In their place there would be alienation, broken trust, and loss of fellowship.
Because of God’s absolute holiness, there would be no “second chance.” The righteous standard of God had been compromised and, with Adam’s fall, every other human being who would ever be born was dragged along in his condemnation.
Consequently, as Romans 3:23 has declared, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Those damning words apply to every child of man. They may as well be tattooed upon our foreheads or emblazoned with a branding iron on our innermost being. The profound indictment of that statement summarizes what is found earlier in the same chapter. From verses 10 through 12, we learn that there...
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside;
together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
It is clear that man has fallen from his exalted position and can’t get up. We must recognize that to be the case and we must admit our plight before we are in any position to be helped. And the help we need—in fact, the only help that is able to address our desperate circumstance—must come from God.
But how? This was the question that tormented Martin Luther for years. He tried the way of good works and discovered that he could never do enough to pacify his conscience toward God. He tried the way of confession, every day and often for hours at a time, but no matter how much he confessed he never felt absolved...there was always something more to confess. There was no peace whatsoever in this deeply religious man’s soul...until, at last, he came to the realization that...
Jesus Christ is the revealer of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
It wasn’t that Luther had not believed in Jesus before, because he had. But until then, he had only been able to relate to Him as the avenger who needed to be consoled for His suffering, rather than the Redeemer who, through His suffering, had brought consolation.
Passages like 2 Corinthians 4:4 though 6 came to life for Luther. There, in speaking of those whose spiritual eyes are blinded and unable to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” the Apostle Paul had written, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
That discovery changed everything for Luther. He and countless others began to understand that Christ offered to restore to man what Adam had lost in the fall. Sinful men and women, so alienated from their Maker, could be reconciled to God through the work Jesus had accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection.
Elsewhere, we learn that this Jesus is none other than “the image of the invisible God...by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible...all things were created through him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-16).
Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian of the last century, expressed it this way: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!’”
As the revealer of God, Jesus bears “the exact imprint of his nature” (cf. Hebrews 1:3). He is God who “became flesh” through whom the “glory” of the Father has been revealed (cf. John 1:14). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Those who have seen Him have “seen the Father” (cf. John 14:9). That is why the Bible tells us to “look to Jesus” and “consider” Him (cf. Hebrews 12:2-3).
On more than one occasion, the Lord told the prophet Isaiah (42:8 and 48:11) that He would not give His glory to another. And yet we are told that Jesus possesses the “glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father” (John 1:14), and that He has had that “glory” from “before the foundation of the world” (cf. John 17:24).
The only logical conclusion—because God will not share His glory—is that Jesus Himself is God, and must be worshiped as such. As we have seen before, “Christ alone,” “Solus Christus”—because He is the revealer of God—is the sole answer to man’s sin problem.
If you have not yet fully grasped that truth, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will make my words clear enough for you to understand this morning that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (Him)” (John 14:6).
One of the Puritan John Owen’s lesser known works was entitled Meditations on the Glory of Christ. On the day of his death, having only recently completed the manuscript, Owen was heard to say, “The long-wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in this world.”
Death will inevitably claim every last one of us. Will you be facing it with a similar joy of anticipation that John Owen had? For those who are His, faith will give way to sight and “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” will be made clearer than ever before.
In order to prepare for that day, we must realize the third component, which is...
All of life is to be lived to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
At one time or another, you have no doubt wondered about the meaning of life and its purpose, especially as it relates to you personally. We are told that it is the perceived meaninglessness or purposelessness of one’s existence that keeps counselors and psychiatrists in business. The pace of life in our day is said to have contributed to the hopelessness felt by so many, but that malady is certainly nothing new. In Book One of his Confessions, Augustine prayed, “Thou hast made us for Thyself (O God), and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”
That longing that we all feel from time to time for “something more,” something just beyond our reach, has been placed there by our Creator and it can only be satisfied by yielding to Him. The Lord told Jeremiah (29:13), “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes sought for fulfillment in every kind of pleasure “under the sun,” and found them all to be nothing more than “a striving after wind” (Ecclesiatses 1:14). All was “vanity” until he came to the end of himself and admitted that “The end of the matter...(is to) Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Paul expressed it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Everything we do is to be done to “the glory of God.” That is our purpose. The reason we are so often restless, bored, unsettled, and unsatisfied is that we are looking for purpose and meaning in those things that were never meant to bring us permanent satisfaction. C.S. Lewis put this into perspective when he wrote,
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Nothing will ultimately “please” us until we discover that for which we were meant to be “pleased” with.
The psalmist wrote, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1). The Westminster Shorter Catechism was completed in 1647 by a synod of English and Scottish theologians and laymen. In its very first article, the question is asked, “What is the chief end of man?” To which the answer was given, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” That is our purpose in life. It is what Jonathan Edwards a century later would call “the end for which God created the world.”
So what is that purpose? What is “the end for which God created the world?” It was in order that His glory be displayed, and that people would be drawn into a worshipful experience with Him, where they might glorify Him as well. We must never forget that as Creator, God has every right to require, and even command, worship on the part of those whom He has created. That is because He is the most glorified Being in the universe and, therefore, worthy of all praise and honor. To “worship (God) in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) is give Him the glory that He alone deserves. To settle for anything less is to “have other gods before Him” (cf. Exodus 20:3).
It is the duty of every person to live for the glory of God. That does not mean to “make Him more glorious,” for we could never make Him more than He already is. He is already perfected in glory. What it does mean is to acknowledge His glory, to value it above all things, and to make it known. It implies heartfelt gratitude of which He alone is worthy.
And that brings us to the fourth component that was insisted upon by the Reformers when they spoke of “Soli Deo Gloria.” We have observed that sin separates us from the glory of God, that Jesus Christ is the revealer of the glory of God, and that all of life is to be lived to the glory of God. But any discussion of this summary of the five “solas” would be incomplete apart from the acknowledgment that...
Everyone will bow before the glory of God (Philippians 2:5-11).
If the Bible is “the story of His glory,” then people are created by God to live out their roles in that story. And if the ultimate meaning of that story is to give God the glory He deserves, then John Piper is spot on when he says that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
There is no conflict between God’s passion to be glorified and man’s passion to be satisfied. One day every creature will come to understand that God’s seeking glory for Himself has also been His desire to bring the greatest happiness to those whom He has created. For them to search for fulfillment in any lesser object would be to miss the greater good and to forfeit eternal life.
God was not overstating His glorious character when He exhorted, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your mind and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Jesus would later call this “the great and first commandment” (cf. Matthew 22:38).
We must understand that God’s passion to glorify Himself and His Son is an act of love on His part because of the preciousness of what He gives and the price that He has paid to give it. He shares His glory with those who are His as a result of the death of His Son. There is no greater gift that God could give than Himself and His glory. There is no greater price that it cost than the death of God’s Son. There is, therefore no greater love than God’s glorifying Himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is no wonder that Isaac Watts could say,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Because this is so, and because God is God, the Scriptures hold everyone accountable to respond to that love and to give “glory to God alone.” Lest any of us think that we might somehow escape this accountability, we are reminded in Philippians 2, verses 5 through 11 to...
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore (and this is the point) God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Every knee...bow...and every tongue confess.” Don’t let the inclusiveness of those phrases escape your notice. Every person that has ever been conceived in the womb will one day acknowledge that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The glory of God will eventually bring all of creation to its knees. Those who refuse to humble themselves before Him now will one day be humbled before Him.
From the dawn of the Protestant Reformation to today, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ remains “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). For those who have embraced this salvation “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone,” Jesus has left the challenge stated in His Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to Your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
John Calvin, who is at times referred to as “the theologian of the Reformation,” was consumed by a passion for the glory of God. He believed that no one could truly understand the nature of salvation apart from seeing “the glory of God as central.” He wrote, “We never truly glory in Him until we have utterly discarded our own glory.” In other words, “Soli Deo Gloria!” So insistent was Calvin that he personally receive no earthly glory that he ordered, upon his death, to be buried in an unmarked grave.
You don’t have to be a fan of classical music to know the name, Johann Sebastian Bach. He is considered one of the most brilliant composers of all time. Three-and-a-half centuries after his death his music continues to be revered and played around the world. In fact, two of his pieces are found in our church hymnal. If you were to look closely at the bottom of his handwritten compositions, you would notice the initials, “SDG.” It was never Bach’s wish to become famous. His desire was to glorify God. “SDG”...“Soli Deo Gloria.”
Since God’s glory is the radiance of His manifold perfections, the outshining of the infinite value of all that He is, it is only fitting that His people reflect that glory. Everything that Jesus did when He walked this earth was done with a view to making God look great. His sinless life and willingness to bear the cross on behalf of hell-deserving sinners was in order to display the greatness and the beauty of the full range of God’s perfections. In ways no less significant, you and I have been called to do the same.
A.W. Tozer wrote that “What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.” How true that is, and yet how many times during the course of a day do we find ourselves having little-to-no thought of God at all?
For Martin Luther, it was the power of the Gospel uniting the salvation of men with the glory of God that was the root issue of the Reformation and the heart of what would be the Protestant movement. “It is true,” he wrote, “that the doctrine of the Gospel takes all glory, wisdom, (and) righteousness...from men and ascribes them to the Creator alone, who makes everything out of nothing.”
“Soli Deo Gloria” has been called “the glue that binds all of the “solas” together. From “Scripture alone” we learn that salvation comes to us by “grace alone” through “faith alone” in “Christ alone,” and because of that “God alone” is worthy to receive all glory, honor, and praise.
“Sola Scriptura!” “Solus Christus!” “Sola Gratia!” “Sola Fide!” “Sola Deo Gloria!” Amen.
We’re going to close our service a bit differently today, and so I ask you to please be seated for another few moments. Earlier this year, in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Bob Kauflin and Tim Chester wrote a hymn based upon the five “solas” we have been considering this month. In the place of our benediction, I ask that you listen and give careful thought to their words. I believe you will find them to be a fitting summary to our Reformation series:
We will trust God’s Word alone,
Where His perfect will is known;
Our traditions shift like sand
While His truth forever stands.
We will live by faith alone,
Clothed in merit not our own;
All we claim is Jesus Christ
And His finished sacrifice.
We are saved by grace alone—
Undeserved, yet freely shown;
No accomplishment on earth
Can achieve the second birth.We will stand on Christ alone,
The unyielding Cornerstone;
Nations rage and devils roar,
Still He reigns forevermore
Glory be, glory be to God alone.
Through the church He redeemed and made His own.
He has freed us, He will keep us till we’re safely home
Glory be, glory be to God alone!