As we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in Europe, we are considering five of the great principles that lie at the heart of the Reformation. These are the five ‘solas’ – the five ‘alones’ – that sum up some of the central emphases of this great time of theological and spiritual revival. In June we considered ‘Faith Alone’. This month we turn to the final ‘sola’ – ‘God’s Glory Alone’, ‘Soli Deo Gloria’.
When we think about salvation, one of the hardest ideas to clear out of our minds is the conviction that ‘it’s all about us’. Why has God gone to such lengths in order to provide salvation for unworthy sinners like us? We know that in eternity he set his love upon us, choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world, as Ephesians 1:4 reminds us. That is an uplifting and at the same time a humbling truth, precious to every child of God. It’s easy then to conclude that the ultimate purpose of the work of Christ is our wellbeing, our enjoyment of the blessings in store for us in the new creation. Not so – it isn’t all about us, and we need to remember that.
Salvation, like everything else in God’s universe, ultimately serves God’s glory. He is the one who says, with reference to the refining of his people, ‘For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another’ (Isaiah 48:11). Although we rightly delight in the blessings of salvation that are and will be bestowed on us, we know that the final goal is not our glory or pleasure or happiness, but the glory of God.
Sin robs God of his glory. Sinners have ‘exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images’ (Romans 1:23) and thus ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). The chief goal of the work of Christ in his life, death and resurrection is the restoration of the glory of God. It is not that somehow God receives additional glory from salvation: he is and always will be infinitely glorious. In Christ, however, sinners are placed in a position where they may glorify God. Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 4:6 by stating that, when a sinner is saved, God is shining into his heart ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’. Saved sinners may now reflect, albeit imperfectly, the glory of God into a dark world. Thus God is glorified in the fruit of evangelism, and in this we have the supreme motivation for evangelism.
The biblical truths that we have considered so far in the ‘solas’ present a God-centred and God-glorifying view of salvation and indeed of all of life. How could any child of God want it to be otherwise? The framers of the Shorter Catechism got it exactly right when they wrote that ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’ (Q1). We will not be able to do the latter unless by grace we do the former.
Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will inevitably issue in a life of increasing holiness and God-centred good works. Notice how Paul’s prayer for the Philippians ends with the desire that they will be ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God’ (Philippians 1:11). Good works, as the Reformers understood clearly, flow from salvation: we do good works because we have been saved, not in order to be saved (as Ephesians 2:10 reminds us). These are works done as a result of the gracious enabling of the Holy Spirit and are evidence of the grace of God that is at work in us. As a result the redeemed are ‘God’s temple and…God’s Spirit dwells in you’ (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The resulting lifestyle has as its focus and goal the glory of God. This is a profoundly transformative understanding of our Christian calling. All of life is embraced in this perspective. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 expresses it, our Christian calling is centred on the pursuit of the glory of God: ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’. Even the most apparently mundane activities are to have in view the glory of God, done with an awareness of him and, in must be said, performed by his enabling grace. Grace does not bring us to the point of entrance to the kingdom of God and then leave us to go on in our own strength. Salvation is by grace from beginning to end.
At the last day it will be seen by every creature that all things glorify God alone. On that wonderful Day of consummation ‘every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:11). The Son and the Holy Spirit will share equally in that glory, as our Trinitarian theology reminds us. It will be Christians’ joy and privilege willingly to give all glory to God as they begin to experience the full fruits of God’s grace in Christ. God’s eternal plan of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, revealed in Scripture alone, all to God’s glory alone, cannot fail. Having begun a good work in us ‘will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). There we have a firm foundation for assurance, thanksgiving and service for the glory of God.