The Reformation and the Glory of God
The Protestant Reformation was fundamentally a controversy with the Roman Catholic Church over how helpless we really are in our deadness and guilt. The Reformers believed that only grace could raise us from the dead, and only Christ could become our punishment and our perfection. These two miracles—of life from the dead and wrath removed—could only be received as a gift through faith. They could never be merited or earned, all so that the entire transaction would culminate soli Deo Gloria—to the glory of God alone.
1. What is the glory of God?
The basic meaning of holy is “separated” from the common. When you carry that definition all the way to the infinite “separation” of God from all that is common, the effect is to make him the infinite “one-of-a-kind”—like the rarest and most perfect diamond in the world.
From cover to cover, the great dominating reality of the Bible is that this infinitely valuable, infinitely pure and beautiful divine uniqueness shines forth through creation and through all the acts of God in history and in redemption as the glory of God, that is, the outward radiance of the intrinsic worth and beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections.
I refer to the radiance of the beauty of his “manifold perfections” because the Bible can speak of the glory of God’s might (2 Thessalonians 1:9), the glory of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:6), and so on. Every attribute of God is a facet in the diamond that is the glory of God. If God lost any of his attributes, he would be less glorious. Indeed, he would not be God.
So when I speak of the glory of God, I am not treating it as something God possesses, as if it’s different from his own essence. No, God’s glory is the radiance of the worth and beauty and greatness of God himself to be spiritually seen and savored and shown by his redeemed people.
2. Why is the glory of God the goal of everything?
God wanted it this way. This was his plan from eternity. This was his purpose and design in all creation, all history, and all redemption. God created, sustains, governs, and saves in such a way as to reveal his glory.
It all began with his purpose in creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). That’s what they are for. “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6–7).
This purpose extends to everything God does: “God works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Why is there such a vastness of uninhabited galaxies and only one tiny dot of human existence? This universe is not intended to portray the importance of man or even creation itself. God intends it all to give us some inkling of his own grandeur and majesty. And it is an understatement.
God created and sustains and governs and justifies the ungodly soli Deo gloria.
3. How is God glorified most fully by his justified people?
I am a Christian Hedonist. I believe that God is most glorified in his justified people when those justified people are most satisfied in him. And I believe that the pastors and theologians who wrote the great summary of Reformation teaching in the Westminster Catechism were giving expression to this as well when they said, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
They did not just say that our goal is to glorify God, but to glorify God and enjoy him. And they did not call glorifying and enjoying two ends, but one singular end. They discerned what Paul meant when he said, “To die is gain” (Philippians 1:20). The way Christ’s supreme beauty and value would shine brightest would be for Paul to be most satisfied in Christ—even in suffering, and ultimately death.
God planned for us to discover his glory as all-satisfying, not because our happiness is the ultimate aim of the universe, but because the all-glorious God—the ultimate value in the universe—is shown to be the supreme Treasure when he becomes the supreme Pleasure of his people.
4. If God alone gets the glory, what about our glorification?
When we say “soli Deo gloria”—“to God alone be glory”—we should mean: Whatever glory is shared with man is a glory that calls attention ultimately to the source and end of all things—the glory of God alone.
The Bible is stunningly clear that the children of God will be glorified with the glory God.
We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)
Why is God so intent on making us glorious with his own glory? The reason for this is not hard to see. Jesus said his aim for us is that his joy—his divine joy—might be in us and our joy might be full (John 15:11; 17:13). But you can’t put the jet engine of a 747 in a tiny Smart Car. You can’t fit the volcano of God’s joy in the teacup of my unglorified soul. You can’t put all-glorious joy in inglorious people. We will be glorified, because it is the only way we can be fully satisfied in God, so that God alone will be fully glorified in us (John 17:24–26).
I hope you feel drawn to Jesus—to embrace him by faith. Because all of us who trust him, no matter how sinful we have been, are now justified by grace alone, with no merited favor whatever, on the basis of Christ alone, with no other sacrifice or righteousness as the foundation, through the means of faith alone, not including any human works whatsoever, to the end that we might enjoy God alone as the supreme Treasure of our lives, and so display that all glory belongs ultimately to him alone.