Theology in 3D

Celebrating the Solas, Part 5: Soli Deo Gloria

Layton Talbert | November 27, 2018
New Testament, Theology

In one of his most seminal essays, “The End for Which God Created the World,” Jonathan Edwards demonstrates both logically and scripturally that that “End” is the glory of God. Some people, even some theologians, object that for God’s ultimate motive—either in creation or redemption—to be his own glory is selfish, egotistical, narcissistic. After all, when we do things for our own glory, it is considered to be conceited, not to mention sinful. The objection overlooks two tiny stubborn facts: (a) God cannot sin, and (b) we are not God.

If God is the only God, there is nothing outside himself that is greater than himself; so to put anything before himself would be to admit that there is something other than himself that is greater and worthier than himself. And if God himself is the greatest good, then there is nothing greater that he could give to us than himself, and nothing greater that he could do for us than to show to us and to share with us his glory. James Hamilton writes,

God’s glory is shown when he gives himself for others, and there is nothing better that he could give to others than himself…. He is loving us by seeking his own glory, and he is seeking his own glory and acting according to his nature by loving us. As Jonathan Edwards wrote [in The End for Which God Created the World] … “God acting for himself,or making himself his last end, and his acting for [our] sake, are not to be set in opposition; they are rather to be considered as coinciding with one another, and implied one in the other” (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 561).

So where does one turn to demonstrate that God’s goal in all things—including redemption—is His own glory? Edwards explores scores of passages in his essay. All the solas are taught and illustrated throughout the NT. But if there is a gravitational center for the 5th sola, I’d argue for Ephesians 1-3 where the secret to seeing soli Deo Gloria is particularly pedestrian: identifying exactly who the pronouns belong to, and who is doing the actions described in the passage. I just grabbed my wife’s NASB and recounted all the third person singular pronouns (he, him, his)—over 40 of them. Just in chapter 1.

Scripture teaches that God is one unified Being eternally existing in three Persons, which means that there is a sense in which an act by one is an act by all. And yet, in some passages (like Ephesians), God very explicitly distinguishes between particular works that uniquely belong to one person in the Godhead.

We are accustomed to thinking very Christocentrically. The NT is a Christocentric document. And Ephesians is, of course, full of Christ. But Christ’s own goal was to glorify the Father (Jn 12:2817:4). And when you read Ephesians 1-3 carefully you discover that, for all it has to say about Christ, it is not a Christocentric passage. It is a Patricentric passage—centered on the Father’s actions and motives as the Planner and the Provider, the Originator and Executor not just of creation, but of our salvation. Trace the grammar of Paul’s extended sentences closely; most of the actions and descriptions that we instinctively tend to attribute to Christ, the text actually attributes to the Father.

The piling up of verbals on top of one another in Ephesians 1 reinforces God’s sovereign initiative: he chose before the world’s foundation (1:5); he predestined according to the good pleasure of his will (1:5) in order to display his grace (1:6, 7); he has made know the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself (1:9), and all according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of hiswill (1:11).

Ephesians contains the most concentrated focus on God the Father in the NT. If my count is correct, there are over 50 nominal/pronominal references to God the Father (over 80 when you include the understood subject of many verbals). Colossians has about that many references to Christ. But Ephesians compels our protracted attention to the active, initiatory role of God the Father in redemption. Everything from election and predestination all the way through to glorification is motivated by the Father’s love and rooted in the Father’s will to accomplish an eternal purpose, a goal, a design, an intention, an end. Which is what? The answer is repeated three times:

  • 1:6—to the praise of his glorious grace
  • 1:12—to the praise of his glory
  • 1:14—to the praise of his glory

Read through Paul’s first prayer (Eph 1:15-23) and you’ll find the same emphasis on the Father’s actions. Read Paul’s exposition of salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:1-10) and again it is all the Father’s doing. And one of the Father’s ultimate purposes is to use his redemptive work in and for the church to display his manifold wisdom to the angelic intelligences (Eph 3:10). This is no peripheral matter. It is an expression of “the eternal purpose which he carried out in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:11).

Citing Ephesians 3, Charles Bridges opened his classic work on The Christian Ministrywith these words:

The Church is the mirror that reflects the whole effulgence of the Divine character. It is the grand scene in which the perfections of Jehovah are displayed to the universe. The revelations made to the Church—the successive grand events in her history and, above all, the manifestation of “the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ”—furnish even to the heavenly intelligences fresh subjects of adoring contemplation.

Paul concludes his second prayer (3:14-19) with a benediction to God the Father: to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (Eph 3:20-21).

To hear what that will sound like, you only have to fast-forward to Revelation 4-5, or 7:9-12, or 19:1-7—passages that depict the praise of God’s glory in redemption described in Ephesians 1. That’s why God has made salvation by grace alone though faith alone in Christ alone on the basis of his Word alone—so that it is all to his glory alone.

God’s purpose in salvation is not rooted in us. The failure of salvation for those in Christ is impossible precisely because God’s eternal purpose in redeeming us is rooted in his determination to magnify his own glorySoli Deo Gloria, like all the other solas, is the ground of our assurance and the guarantee of our security in Christ. As believers, our assurance of acceptance with God, our confidence that we have direct access to the very presence of God whenever we pray, the certainty of our eternal destiny, are grounded in

  • sola scriptura—not in the whims of men, but the words of God alone
  • solus Christus—not on the decisions of a church, but the sacrifice of Christ alone
  • sola fide—not in your own feeble efforts, but simple faith in the finished work of Christ
  • sola gratia—not on any human merit, but the pure grace of God alone
  • soli Deo Gloria—not in your own worthiness, but the glory of God

… so that in the ages to come, He might put on display the extravagant wealth of his grace, by showing infinite and eternal kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7), to the praise of his glory.

There is no greater ground for assurance, or gratitude, than that.

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