What does it mean to give glory to God? This is a question I struggled with for far too much of my life and surprisingly didn’t receive an answer to for most of the time I found myself in need of one. Yet I was constantly commanded to do it over and over–often with contradictory advice from the world, and even some other Christians, that my ultimate responsibility was just to be concerned about my own reputation, my own well-being, and my own goals and priorities.
As we can see in one of the most famous catechism questions ever written, glorifying and enjoying God is, in fact, “the chief end of man.” The chief end of something is its primary, all-consuming purpose. It’s the “why” behind every “what”–the goal which surpasses all other inferior goals and the foundation of every facet of discerning, deciding, and doing that makes up our being as persons. It would be a bit ridiculous to say it isn’t necessary to be concerned with your chief end. After all, isn’t this the question every human being recognizes in the pit of their heart both when tragedy strikes and when they wake up to the sound of an alarm signaling the start of another work day? “What on earth am I here for? What’s the point of my existence? And who gets to decide?”
The God who created and sustains the Universe is the One who gets to decide, of course. And He says in His Word more than once that He is the rightful recipient and manifestation of glory. One of my favorite of all these declarations is Isaiah 42:8: “I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other." This should be obvious, right? But we still strive and grasp for our own sense of glory. More self-esteem. More public acclaim. More autonomy. Don’t let the culture fool you; we don’t really have as much of problem with self-hatred as much as we have an out-of-control problem with self-obsession. We spend a lot of time trying to find a way to pull the spotlight over onto ourselves, whereas God rightfully demands that it remain permanently fixed on Himself. The glory–the acclaim, the spotlight, the credit due, and the praise offered–all belongs to Him and Him alone.
This is what the phrase “Soli Deo Gloria” means: “to God alone be the glory.” It takes this extraordinary truth to an even higher level: God’s deliberate, benevolent, and amazingly gracious salvation of depraved human souls. Where many, many people attempt to portray the Gospel of Christ as orienting around God’s need for man, the reality is that it is rooted in and motivated by man’s need for God. His grace isn’t owed to us or else it wouldn’t be grace. His love for us is motivated not by our goodness but by His own. We cannot possibly earn it or lay claim to it except by the finished work of the Son, Jesus Christ.
This is why it is absurd and even blasphemous to think that anything–even our salvation–is foundationally about us. We didn’t accomplish it–Christ did (Ephesians 3:11). We didn’t choose it–He did (John 15:16). So how can we let it offend and confuse us to affirm that God saved us for the sake of His own glory? May we praise Him, and only Him, for this and all else.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:3-6