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What is a Reformed Church? (5) Sola Deo Gloria -- To the Glory of God Alone

by Pastor Lars Larson, PhD line

(A sermon delivered on November 2, 2008, at the First Baptist Church, Leominster, Massachusetts, USA)


          Today we will consider the fifth and final major principle of the Protestant reformation.[1]  We have already covered Sola scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola gratia, and Sola fide, these meaning “by Scripture alone”, “through Christ alone”, “by grace alone”, and “through faith alone.”  Today we wish to focus our attention on Soli Deo Gloria, which means “to the glory of God alone.” 
          Let me introduce our subject by reading the following excerpt from a document put together by some reformed leaders in 1996, entitled The Cambridge Declaration.

      Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing His work in our way.  The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable.  It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful.  As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequently upon us.
      God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests.  We must focus on God in our worship, rather than satisfaction of our personal needs.  God is sovereign in worship; we are not.  Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.

          These words describe both the importance and relevance of our topic.  They also describe the consequences if we were to lose sight of Soli Deo Gloria.

            V.  Soli Deo Gloria -- to the glory of God alone”

            A.  The biblical teaching of Soli Deo Gloria

          Let us begin by reading Romans 1:16-32.

      For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” {Hab 2:4}
      For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man ‑‑ and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things.  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  Amen.
      For this reason God gave them up to vile passions.  For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, now only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

          The Bible is a book in which God has revealed to us the most basic but most important truths of life.  It answers the questions that thinking and inquisitive people have posed for thousands of years.  The Bible answers the questions: “Who and what is God?”  “Who am I?”  “Why am I here?”  “What is God’s purpose for me?”  How should I order my life?”

                        1.  The purpose for which God created us.

          God reveals in His Word that He created us for a purpose.  We may see this expressed in the opening chapter of the Bible.  Genesis 1:26 and 27 read,

Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

          God created you and me in His image.  This is important implications for our understanding of who we are and why we are here.  The expression, image of God, has been a matter discussed and debated a great deal over the centuries.[2]  The idea essentially signifies man’s unique ability to know God and recognize and reflect the glory of God in his existence; linked with this is the idea that man is God’s representative on earth to rule over his creation on his behalf. 

God set man in the world as the sign of his own sovereign authority, in order that man should uphold and enforce His--God’s--claims as Lord.  Earthly monarchs too have the habit of setting up images of themselves in their kingdom as signs of their sovereign authority--it was in that sense that Israel thought of man as the representative of God.[3]

This necessitates that man was created originally “like” God in that he was pure and rational, capable of thinking intelligently and rationally, and living in a manner consistent with God’s holiness.  In other words, God created us in His own image that we may represent Him and live for Him in such a manner that our lives display to the world who He is and what He is like.  When the Bible speaks of our giving glory to God, it means that we are to recognize, acknowledge, publish, and celebrate who He is in truth and what He has done.  This is ultimately the reason that God has made us.  This is the purpose for which we are to dedicate our lives.

                        2.  Man’s failure and refusal to live for God’s glory.

          God has placed us in a world which He created that was designed to reveal who He is to His creatures.  As Psalm 19 states:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
          And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
          And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
          Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
          And their words to the end of the world.

          Again, we see that mankind is to respond to this revelation by first recognizing God’s glory, and then to express praise and thanksgiving to Him for who He is and what He has done for us.  But sin corrupted both our desire and ability to live in this way.  Sin has made us deaf to the “speech” of creation and blind to His works of providence so that we do not hear Him nor see His hand in our lives.  Rather than living for Him, we live for ourselves.  And this is the essence and nature of sin.  This is what unfolds in the Romans 1 passage that we read.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Rom. 1:20f)

Rather than live for the glory of God, fallen man lives for himself, for his own pleasure, for his own glory.  Rather than serve God in righteousness, he chooses to serve himself and his own lusts. 
          This is a downward spiral into depths of depravity.  We see in Romans 1 that the manifestation of a life lived irrespective of God’s glory, a life lived for self, descends into more egregious sin.  Although they may think themselves wise, they become fools, twisting and distorting the truth that is so evident before them.  And the result is every manner of sin becoming manifest in their lives--idolatry, heresy, sexual promiscuity and perversion, “wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness.”  They become “whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful” (vs. 29-31).

                        3.  God has purposed, nevertheless, to continue to manifest His glory through His creatures

            We would be mistaken if we think that man’s refusal to live for God’s glory results in God not glorifying Himself in them.  God has purposed to glorify Himself by His creatures, and this is what indeed occurs.  How is God glorified in them?  He glorifies Himself through His judicial dealings with them.  We read in Romans 9:22, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…”  God reveals aspects of His nature through them.  He shows forth His power in sovereignly controlling even their evil intentions and deeds to accomplish His purposes.  God manifests His wrath in judging them in history.  He shows Himself as longsuffering in His patience, as He prolongs there life and forestalls His just dealings with them.  God manifests His glory through His enemies, though they have no thought or intention to live for His glory.
            Thankfully, however, God has purposed to glorify Himself in a much different way in and through His people.  God has purposed to redeem them from their sin, working in them so as to restore His image in them to the end that they live willingly in order to render glory unto God.  He, of course, does this through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

                        4.  God redeems His people that they would live for His glory.

                                    a.  God does this first by revealing to them who He is in truth through Jesus Christ.

           Jesus Christ is the true and full image of God.  Hebrews 1:1-3:

God who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high...

When Jesus came into the world and lived among us, He manifested the glory of God to us; we saw who God is and what He is like in all His wonder, purity, love and grace.  John wrote,

      And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…
      And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:14-18)

When Jesus Christ is revealed to us as Lord, then the glory of God is revealed to us.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:3-6)

                                    b.  God then transforms us through redeeming us from our sin through Jesus Christ.

           He saves us from our sin, pardoning us, and transforming us into ones who see and delight in who He is.  He so works in us that we are desirous to live for Him and make Him known.  In His work of salvation in us, He renews the image of God in us, by making us more like Jesus Christ, who is the image of God.  As Christians. therefore, we are to live for Him.  Paul wrote of this in 2 Corinthians 5:14f.

For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them for them and rose again.

Jesus Christ came into the world to glorify His Father in His life and death, and now through Jesus Christ, God calls us to live in like manner.  We are not to live chiefly to please ourselves, but rather we are to live to please Him, serve Him, and serve others in His name.
           Because Christ has purchased us with the price of His blood, we are obligated and we are desirous to live to glorify God.  1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

                        5.  How then, do we live in order to bring glory to God?

         1)  We glorify God by having high thoughts of God.  We are to be “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

        2)  We glorify God through our speech. 1 Peter 4:11, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.  Amen.”

         3) We glorify God by living holy lives.  1 Cor. 6:18-20.  “Flee sexual immorality.  Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

          4)  We glorify God through our good deeds.  Matthew 5:16,“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

          5)  We glorify God by serving others, seeking their well-being.  Romans 15:1ff. "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.  For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, '“The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.' …Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

           6)  We glorify God in the nature and manner in which we deal with suffering.  Jesus Christ glorified His Father most in His submission to His suffering according to the will of God.  Similarly, when we suffer patiently for doing rightly, we glorify God.  Paul wrote to the suffering church at Thessalonica: "Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 1:11f). And Peter wrote: “Yet is anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:16). 

           7)  We glorify God through praying.  Jesus encouraged His people, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).

           8)  We glorify God by our private and corporate worshipEphesians 3:21, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen.”  When we gather on the Lord’s day, we come to glorify God.  We attempt to rehearse before ourselves who He is in truth and what He has done and will do through Jesus Christ.  We celebrate these things.  We exalt His name.

           Do you see how shallow and empty it would be if we were to shape our church according to how people perceive their needs and whether or not they feel that they are being met?  We are not here to serve ourselves, but we are here to serve God and one another for Christ’s sake.

            9)  We glorify God by bringing others to Christ for salvation.  We glorify God most by bring great sinners to Him,  Consider these words:

      Recollect, again, that God has been pleased to stake his honor upon the gospel.  Men desire a name, and God is jealous of His glory.  Now, what has God pleased to select for His name?  Is it not the conversion and the salvation of men?  . . . And do you think God will get a great name by saving little sinners by a little Saviour?  Ah! His great name comes from washing out stains as black as hell, and pardoning sinners who were the foulest of the foul.  Is there one monstrous rebel here who is qualified to glorify God greatly, because his salvation will be the wonder of angels and the amazement of devils?  I hope there is.  O thou most degraded, loathsome sinner, nearest to the damned sinner, if this voice can reach you, I challenge you to come and prove whether God’s mercy is a match for your sin.  Thou Goliath sinner, come to Him; you will find that God can slay your enmity, and make you yet His friend, and the more His loving and adoring servant, because great forgiveness shall secure great love . . . Will you depreciate Christ so as to imagine that what He has accomplished is, after all, little, so little that it is not enough to save you?  If it were in my power to single out the man who has been the most dishonest, most licentious, most drunken, most profane--in three words, most earthly, sensual, devilish--I would repeat my challenge which I gave just now, and bid him draw near to Jesus, and see whether the fountain filled with Christ’s atoning blood cannot wash him white. . . There is in Him pardon “enough, and to spare.” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 17, pp. 386-91)

          We introduced our subject with a reading from the reformed document of 1996, entitled The Cambridge Declaration.  Let me now conclude with words from the same:

      We affirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify Him always.  We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for His glory alone.
      We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law of Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.

          We say “Amen” to that statement and we are resolved as best as we are enabled by Him to order our lives and our church life to the end that He might be glorified.


[1] For a number of weeks we have been addressing what it is and why it is that we are a reformed church.  We use the term, “reformed”, to identify ourselves with the principles and beliefs that were held by the Protestant Reformers of the 16th and 17th century.  These foundational principles are five in number.  They are commonly identified by five Latin phrases that were developed during the Protestant Reformation, each containing the word “sola”, being translated in English as “alone” or “only.”  They are as follows: Sola scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola gratia, Sola fide, and Soli Deo Gloria.  These five expressions are translated as the following: by Scripture alone, by Christ alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, and to the glory to God alone.  These are the main tenants and principles that were espoused through the Protestant Reformation. 

[2] For a discussion of the issues involved, see the article by C.F.H. Henry, “The Image of God” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), pp 545-48.

[3] Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957), p. 146f.