This is the final in a 5-part series commemorating 500 years of the Protestant Reformation.
The sixteenth century Reformers were all fighting for one thing: a recovery of the true gospel, which had been lost and obscured by tradition and man-made religion. That gospel is summarised in 5 Latin phrases known as the “5 Solas.” The word “sola” means alone. The Roman Catholic Church taught that the authority of the church was based on Scripture and tradition and the Bishops and Popes. The Reformers said no, it is sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. Rome taught salvation was by faith plus human merit. The Reformers said no, it’s sola fide – faith alone. Rome taught forgiveness was mediated by way of the sacraments. The Reformers said no, it’s sola gratia – grace alone. Rome taught salvation is in Christ with the help of Mary, the saints and good works. The Reformers said no, it’s solus Christus – Christ alone.
Now all this leads to a very natural and simple conclusion. If salvation is by God’s grace alone by faith alone and in Christ alone – then who gets the glory? God and God alone. And that brings us to our focus today – Soli Deo Gloria.
Let’s start by looking at one of my favourite Psalms – Psalm 19.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard. Their message has gone out to the whole earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1–4)
Have you ever looked up at a night sky and seen all the stars and planets in dazzling array, and asked yourself, “All those planets and stars – they all seem rather unnecessary. There’s no one living on them. They’re not being used for anything. So, what are they for?” I’ll tell you what they’re for: they are there to display God’s glory. They are there so that we might see how great and glorious and majestic and powerful and AWESOME God is. And seeing this is meant to evoke some response in us. God wants us to look at what he has made and say,
“Look at what you have done! Look at your power and glory on display. God, you are really, really awesome!”
The Hebrew word for “glory”—kavod—is a fabulous word. It literally means to be heavy, to carry weight, to be of substance. The idea is the glory of God gives weight, meaning, and significance to life and creation. All of life matters. The universe matters. The planets and stars – they are not random accidents that exploded out of nothingness. They matter. You also matter. Your life is not a random accident. You were created by God. You carry weight (I don’t mean that literally!). You have substance; you have meaning. And unlike the planets and stars you are made in God’s image and likeness. And you have the capability, unlike anything else in creation, to magnify, display, and broadcast to the world the glory of God.
That’s your God-given purpose for existence – if you would only acknowledge and accept it. And there-in lies the problem.
Human beings, for the most part, will not accept this purpose for their existence. Instead of living to glorify God, we live to glorify ourselves. Remember the story of Babel in Genesis 11. “Come,” they said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top to the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves.” Let us do something great for ourselves. Let us not make God look great. Let us not ascribe glory to due his name. No, let us ascribe glory due our name.
This is the human condition – we are in the name-making business. We want to accumulate glory. We don’t want to give glory – to God or anyone else. But in the end, it never works. Because we weren’t designed for this. We just end up looking silly.
Imagine you’re part of the newly elected government in NZ and you have just been given a cabinet position. You’re pleased as punch. You’re sitting there in your office and your someone knocks on your door. Wanting to look important, you pick up the phone and pretend you’re talking to Jacinda Adern. You say, “Yes, Prime Minister I’ll get right on to it, you can count on me.” You hang up the phone and say to the person standing in the doorway, “Yes, how can I help you?” The person has a puzzled look on his face – “I’m here to hook up your phone.” Seeking glory for ourselves never works. We just look silly.
Yet people continue to do it. Politicians do it. Teachers and taxi-drivers do it. Salesmen and students do it. Priests and pastors do it. We put on a show. We act all bravado. We play the act. Because our souls are hungry for glory. But we go seeking it in the wrong places for the wrong reasons. The moon does not provide its own glow; it reflects the light of the sun. We are designed to be glory reflectors; not manufacturers.
You see, it’s not about us. The reason you and I exist; the reason Grace church exists, the reason the universe exists is not about us. It’s about God. Even our salvation – although we benefit greatly by it, it not about us. It’s about God.
If you were to read through Ephesians chapter one you would find one long, massive list of blessings that God has given to believers. We have been chosen, predestined and adopted; we have been redeemed and forgiven and God has lavished us with all wisdom and understanding – for what great purpose? To what great end? Three times Paul tells us in that chapter (v.6, 12 and 14) – it’s to the praise of His glorious grace.
You’re not the point of the universe; God is. God did not create you to glorify you but to glorify himself. Everything he does is for his glory. When he saved you, it was for his glory, when he’s forgiving you, it’s to the praise of his glorious grace, when he’s loving and caring for you, it’s so that his goodness and kindness and mercy might be put on display to a watching world.
Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone. It’s the battle cry of the Reformation. It’s what the church is about. It’s what you are about. It’s what planet earth and the entire universe is about. And it all makes sense and is made possible by way of the glorious gospel which tells us we can be redeemed, we can be restored, we can be made whole again by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone to the glory of God alone.
Living it out
So how do we apply this great truth in our everyday lives? The answer lies with this one verse:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Glorify God in the ordinary – that’s what Paul is saying here. When you eat, eat to the glory of God. God is present with you, and he has given you food. You did not earn it. Eat it. Savour it. Don’t just shovel it in. Don’t cram it down as fast as you can so you can’t remember what it was. Chew on it and while you are chewing, think about how good God is. Think about how good God has been to give this food to you. There are people in the world who don’t have food. Ask God to give them food, too. Eat to the glory of God.
While you are driving, do it to the glory of God. Look out your windscreen, and you see the mountains and hills or the reflection of the sky on the ocean or the estuary think about how good God is to place you in such a beautiful world. Thank him for it. Give praise to him for giving you the eyes to see and the heart to know it.
You can do this. This is what makes a life glorious. This life is your shot at glory. Your office can be a place of shekinah glory. Your car can be a place of glory. Your kitchen can be a place of glory. Everyday activities like paying your bills, having coffee with a friend, talking with people in your neighbourhood, reading a book, and sleeping can be glorious moments.
This is what the Reformers fought and died for. They could not exist if anything else or anyone else in the world should steal God’s glory.
May we be men and women after their own hearts.
Note: this post is based on a series preached at our Church called “The 5 Solas.” You can listen to it on our website here.