Soli Deo Gloria: God's Glory Alone
Romans 5:1-2 – The Five Solas
21st Sunday after Pentecost | Reformation Day (Observed) – October 29, 2017 (am)
We’ve been talking about the heart of Reformation theology for the whole month of October in celebration of 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
We’ve learned that our salvation—our justification before God—is an expression of His grace alone—it is a free gift from God, undeserved on every level: sola gratia.
We’ve learned that we’re justified before God in Christ alone—there is salvation in no other name: solus Christus.
We’ve learned that our salvation is by faith alone—it cannot be earned, in-whole or in-part, by anything we do. It is gained only by trusting in the finished work of Christ as payment for our sin—payment that absorbs the judgement of God that our sin justly deserves: sola fide.
And all of this is told with direct and final authority in Scripture alone—the revealed, unerring Word of God, the Bible. While clearly there are other authorities in our lives, and Scripture itself identifies several, none of them are exalted above Scripture. Not even our interpretation of Scripture, or the cumulative weight of all interpreters throughout history, stand above the text of Scripture as our authority. Our methods of interpretation and our systems of theology do not and cannot trump Scripture. Certainly there is no church authority that stands above Scripture. But Scripture alone is our direct and final, infallible source of authority in this world: sola Scriptura.
All of this brings us to the threshold of our topic today—the final sola, to the glory of God alone: soli Deo gloria. All we’ve been talking about this month with regard to our salvation feeds and flows into this final sola! What we want to do today is, first, remind ourselves that the glory of God really is the ultimate aim of all things, the highest and greatest good in this good universe. Then we want to take a few moments to link our salvation to the glory of God, look at our passage a bit, and revel in some of the amazing aspects of all that means for us. And finally, we want to finish this series well, and anticipate a time of sweet worship and rich instruction this evening. Let’s walk through these three steps together.
A Reminder of God’s Great Glory
We’re pretty used to the idea that the glory of God is the highest and greatest good in this universe. Most of us, I’m sure, could recite the answer to Question 1 in the Westminster Catechisms: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. But even with such an indescribably amazing affirmation like this one, familiarity can breed contempt, or at very least ambivalence! But the glory of God is nothing to take for granted. It is only by God’s direct action on our behalf that we even know anything about it! But He’s actually interwoven His glory into everything He’s made. And He continues to do everything He does in such a way that it reveals His glory. Psa.19:1 says: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. It’s evident everywhere! Yet it’s uniquely displayed in particular situations. To pick just one (Exo.14:4), God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Egypt’s ruler would pursue His departing people and, as God Himself put it: I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!
And God defends His glory with a zealous passion. For instance, later on when He judged His people for caving in to fear and refusing to enter the Promise Land as He had commanded (Num.14:20-38), their disobedience was an offense to His glory! He said to them: 21 (As) truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory… in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet… have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. … So highly valued is the glory of God by God Himself!
So, what is the glory of God? How would we define it? This is no easy task! But we get some help from a modern-day proclaimer of God’s glory. John Piper looks to Isa.6:3 to capture its essence. There we read: … Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his… and we’d expect to read holiness. But what we read is: … the whole earth is full of his glory! So, from this Piper reasons that when the holiness of God radiates out and fills the earth for people to see, it’s called glory. So, the glory of God is the God-ness of God made manifest (Piper sermon), made visible. And that’s why He defends it so ardently! That’s why He displays it so conspicuously! The glory of God is all the perfections of God put on display for all to see! Or, again in Piper’s words: The glory of God is the outward radiance of the intrinsic worth and beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections (Piper sermon). There is an excellent definition!
And nowhere is the glory of God displayed more gloriously than in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Apostle John opened his gospel calling Jesus the Word of God and affirming that 1:14 … the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. There is the Person of our Savior. And in Eph.1:14, the Apostle Paul wrote that our salvation in Christ, and our receiving of the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of our promised inheritance, is all done to the praise of (God’s) glory. And as Paul wrote to the Romans about God’s work of salvation, he erupted in praise at the end of c.11 saying: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen!
And surely that will happen, for as John spoke of the Holy City in Rev.21, the New Jerusalem where God’s redeemed and reconciled people will dwell with Him in His unshielded presence forever, he wrote: 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb! Such is the greatness of the glory of God!
A Rehearsal of God’s Glorious Salvation
As we’ve already seen, His saving grace is expressed precisely in order to bring praise (to) His glory (Eph.1:14). We’re redeemed and reconciled to Him as a clear manifestation of His glory. When we realize that we Eph.2:1 … were dead in trespasses and sins…, 4 but God… 5 … made us alive in Christ… 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, and also 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he (has) strengthened (us) with power through his Spirit in (our) inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith…, we recognize that our justification before God must bring praise to His glory alone, and to nothing else! In fact, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!
When there is nothing we contribute to our salvation of any sort, on any level, we’re forced to acknowledge that God alone should receive the glory for it. John Piper summarized the era we’re celebrating this month by saying: The Protestant Reformation was a controversy with the Roman Catholic Church over how helpless we are! (Piper sermon) True statement! Our salvation is glorious! But it brings glory to God and God alone! And yet, once He’s acted on us by His grace, and granted us the faith by which we’re justified before Him, we who were once dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1) now reflect His glory! And even though He will give His glory to no other (Isa.42:8), He actually gives it to us! (Joh.17:22; cf. Rom.8:30) In fact (2Co.3:18), as we… (behold) His glory (esv) by faith in Christ, we are transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory! (niv) We actually partake in God’s glory! (cf. 2Pe.1:4) Now that is a glorious salvation!
But that’s just the salvation we see in our passage today: Rom.5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and as part of that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Paul goes on to say that we also rejoice in our sufferings. But here in v.2 his focus is on our (rejoicing) in hope of (God’s) glory. That is what we long for: a taste of God’s glory, an encounter with it, like Moses asked for on the mountain (Exo.33:18 … Please show me your glory.). And Paul says here that this is part of our being justified by faith!
A Reflection on God’s Providential Presence
It’s actually quite hard to imagine that the Church ever lost touch with such a great salvation, distorted it, diminished it by allowing it to get mixed up with human effort of different sorts. But then, not only is it hard for human beings to accept what feels like charity, something for nothing, we’re also just bent on exalting our own glory, even if ever so slightly!
The Roman Catholic Church was willing to say that our salvation was by God’s grace, but they say His grace enabled our good works such that we could then earn His favor. Martin Luther realized (from his personal struggle, not just by his great intellect) that this just wouldn’t work. If God’s standard is perfection, no matter how much help we receive by His grace, we’re incapable of closing the gap between it and ourselves. Unless we can get a complete restart, including a brand new heart, we have no hope of meeting God’s standard. And if we’re truly dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1), we have no hope of life, unless someone is able to raise the dead!
Well, praise God He can raise the dead! And He does! You and I are proof of it. But when He does, He alone gets the glory!
This is just what happened 500 years ago. The truth about how God’s salvation works was rediscovered. And that happened not because some brilliant and uniquely gifted man came along and discovered it, although some could see it that way. It happened because God in His sovereign grace raised up servants and equipped them to see these truths as they’d been originally revealed. There were many who came before Martin Luther, like John Wycliffe in England, and Jan Hus in Prague. Others were concurrent with him, like his friend Philip Melanchthon in Wittenberg, and Ulrich Zwingli down in Zurich. And still others followed, like Jean Calvin in Geneva, and many more. But all of these were raised up, gifted, and called by God for the fulfillment of His purpose, and to the praise of His glory. They were the clear evidence of the providential Presence of God in human history at just the times He’s needed most for His gospel to be preserved, and His glory to be exalted! David VanDrunen wrote (15-16): By holding forth soli Deo gloria as the lifeblood of the solas, we remind ourselves that the biblical religion recaptured by the Reformation is not ultimately about ourselves, but about God.
It’s about soli Deo gloria! The Protestant Reformation is a story we tell and re-tell, a story we celebrate, not in order to raise awareness of Martin Luther, or the other Reformers, or even to set ourselves apart from the Roman Catholic Church—let’s not forget that we share three-quarters of our history in common. We claim the same Councils and Creeds through most of the first fifteen centuries of the church as the clear expressions of our faith. We share many of the same heroes: the so-called Church Fathers in the post-Apostolic Age and beyond. So, let’s remember that church history did not begin on 31 October 1517, such that we acknowledge what happened then was a reform of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, not a restart of it!
And let’s remember that the courageous work that was done by Luther and others in obedience to God back then still needs to keep happening today. We still need to cling to the clear, pure gospel—salvation before God by His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as told with direct and final authority in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone! And let’s remember that as we press hard into this final sola—as we press hard to rejoice in hope of the glory of God, since we have been justified by faith (Rom.5:1-2), that will lead us back into remembering well the other four solas. So, let us strive to realize our chief aim: to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever!
We’re going to press hard in that very direction this evening. We’re going to sing the praises of God together until we’re saturated and soaking in His glory! And then we’re going to remind ourselves one last time of the central truths and controversies and personalities of the Reformation toward strengthening our grasp on the real issues, and sharpening our readiness to defend them again in our day. Please join us this evening for a time of worship in song, followed by the viewing of a new documentary: Luther: the Life and Legacy of the German Reformer—a fitting conclusion to our month of celebrating the Heart of Reformation Theology: the Five Solas.