Discovering all that we are and will be in Christ may be one key to escaping the cold cells of man-centeredness. Because anything glorious we discover about ourselves — and we will be glorious — is a mere reflection of him. We don’t receive any glory that does not whisper his glory and therefore glorify him all the more. We are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9–11).
It might be hard to imagine that a phrase like soli Deo gloria could be misunderstood or misapplied. To God alone be the glory. What could be unclear or mistaken in those six simple words?
Fortunately, the main burden of the phrase is wonderfully and profoundly clear. Our generation (and, to be fair, every generation before us and after us) desperately needs to be confronted with such God-centered, God-entranced clarity. The clarion anthem of the Reformation has been the antidote to what ails sinners from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We fall short of the glory of God by preferring anything besides the glory of God above the glory of God. That’s what sin is.
We want the credit, the appreciation, the praise for any good we’ve done (and pity and understanding for whatever we’ve done wrong). We were made to make much of him, but we demand instead that he make much of us. That is, if we think much of God at all. John Piper has been waving the red flag for decades.
It is a cosmic outrage billions of times over that God is ignored, treated as negligible, questioned, criticized, treated as virtually nothing, and given less thought than the carpet in people’s houses. (“I Am Who I Am”)
God’s glory gets less attention than the fibers under our feet — and we wonder why life feels so confusing and hard. Five hundred years ago, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other reformers recovered the priceless medicine: soli Deo gloria. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).
To Us be the Glory
The Reformers were living in a spiritual pandemic of compromise and confusion. As they walked through the darkness and corruption, they stumbled into the holy pharmacies of Scripture. And what did they find in those vials? They found, above all else, the glory of God. And that startling light became the North Star of all their resistance. They would not settle for any religion that robbed God of what was his and his alone.
Justification — what makes us right before God — had been distorted and vandalized in ways that uplifted our work, our self-determination, our glory. God’s justifying act was no longer found by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but in significant measure, muddied by our efforts. And that emphasis on what we do in salvation siphoned off glory from the gospel. To us, O Lord, and to our name, be some of the glory.
The stubborn word of God would not surrender glory so easily, though. “I am the Lord,” the Reformers read; “that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8). “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). Then four more times in just three short verses:
For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off. . . .
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 48:9–11)
The only God who saves is a God rightly, beautifully jealous for glory. He plans and works all things, especially salvation, “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). Our only hope in life and death is that God will do whatever most reveals the worth and character and beauty of God.