Grace Bible Church
David S. Harris
November 12, 2017
Soli Deo Gloria: The Glory of God through Ordinary Lives
Good morning everyone, it’s an immense privilege for me to be able to wrap up this series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation. As my father mentioned last week, it’s something that I’d been harassing him about for several years now – doing somewhat of a recognition of this important part of our history and the foundational doctrines that it maintained. I’m very excited about the interest that there’s been in the Reformation and in church history in general over the last couple of months – I’ve always been interested in history, but the lives of the Reformers became especially important to me in my late teens as my faith started to transfer from being something merely passed down from my parents to something that had personally taken a hold of me. As I came to understand and appreciate the doctrines of Grace, I found that studying the lives of great Christian men and women who were willing to give their lives to articulate and defend them to be immensely helpful to my walk. In that way the Reformers were some of my first heroes.
I want to briefly consider the question: Why should we study these men and their impact on theology? Why give attention to their works? Why specifically dedicate 5 weeks to studying the Solas, the expression of the Reformed doctrines? Primarily, it is and must be because of the faithfulness to the gospel and to the truth of the Scriptures these men had and these doctrines express, – Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Farel, Tyndale, among others – not in just an abstract dedication to biblical principles, but their willingness to sacrifice career, comfort, family, blood, and in many cases, life, gives them a place in that “great… cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12 that we can look to for “endurance… (to) run the race that is set before us.” We don’t worship or venerate the reformers because we know that it’s not through their own strength that they were able to accomplish anything of merit– this is very clear if you study their lives individually. They were all flawed, fallible and finite human beings, just as we are.
I think for example, of John Knox, the Scottish reformer and founder of the Presbyterian Church – he struggled immensely with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness throughout his preaching ministry – yet, through an unshakable faith in God, successfully led the greatest spiritual movement in Scotland’s history, a movement that has had a profound impact on the rest of the world, especially through missions. Another example, John Calvin, was a very sickly man – some of us can identify with that; he went from one illness to another, all while completing some of the most well-known theology works in Church history and informing the ideas of many who came across the Atlantic to America, like the Pilgrims, eventually leading to the creation of the United States.
Ordinary people, extraordinary God, and we can glean some of their strength in giving attention to God’s sustaining grace in their lives – this is true not only with the Reformers, but with faithful men and women throughout history – we are a part of their legacy. And it is, indeed, it must be, a legacy that is firmly rooted in an uncompromising dedication to the truth of the Scriptures, and its application to life, a legacy that we have been tasked with continuing as we follow God’s will for our lives.
Review of the 5 Solas
You can turn in your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 1. We are going to look more closely at the first 14 verses of Ephesians 1 this morning, but first let’s quickly review the 5 Solas.
1) Sola Scripture – Scripture alone. This refers to the doctrine that the Bible is the sole source of authority for faith and life – again, this goes beyond just what we do here at church, but is meant to touch every area of life and every belief (“Take every thought captive to Christ”). 2 Timothy 3:16 is typically held as the proof text for this doctrine, but here are many examples throughout scripture of the principal being applied – for example, the Bereans searching the scriptures carefully to see if what Paul was saying was true – they viewed scripture as their sole authority.
2) Sola Gratia – Grace alone. This refers to the doctrine that it is only through grace that God saves – there is nothing that we contributed to our salvation, save the sin that made it necessary. Ephesians 2:8,9 is the most often quoted in reference to this doctrine, but .
3) Sola Fide – We are saved by faith alone – this is not an act of our own volition, but something that God produces in us: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Again, we don’t contribute anything beyond the sin that makes salvation necessary. We don’t walk up a few stairs and then God helps us get the rest of the way – we can’t even reach the first step – God does it all, and we rely on solely on Him for our faith.
4) Solas Christus: We are saved through Christ alone. There is “but one mediator between God and man, the man, Jesus Christ.” “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no name under heaven given among man, whereby we must be saved.” Salvation is found only through Christ and in no other.
5) Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone. This doctrine is the mighty crescendo of the Solas, and really of biblical doctrine as a whole – the purpose of salvation, indeed, everything is to glorify God because He is worthy of glorification. This is at the heart of our text this morning and comes through most explicitly in verses 5 and 6, but we will first set up the context.
Ephesians is an immensely rich and beautiful epistle, communicating deep and grand theological insights, but also highly practical applications to those insights. In chapter 1 we are introduced to the author, Paul, the intended audience, the fairly young Church at Ephesus.
After his somewhat standard introduction, Paul launches into a explanation of what God’s purpose for the church is – why are we, believers, here? What is our purpose, and how did we come to acquire this purpose? Paul answers those questions here in Ephesians 1; please follow along with me:
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and care faithful1 in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known3 to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is he guarantee4 of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,5 to the praise of his glory.
May God bless the reading of His Word.
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 – Every blessing we have is founded in Christ – this idea is communicated again 2 Peter 1:3: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. Essentially, we have everything we need, it comes from God, and there’s a specific purpose for why we have it. Calvin’s commentary on the purpose of the blessing in this verse says “The lofty terms in which (Paul) extols the grace of God toward the Ephesians, are intended to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them all on flame, to fill them even to overflowing with this thought.”
Paul is about to do something incredible in this passage. He’s going to explain the plan – the overall plan of everything. He does something similar in Romans, though more drawn out – here he’s going to give us the reason, as Macarthur puts it, for the “master plan of salvation.” He does this in a chronological order, noting where we were in Christ before redemption, in our present state of redemption and then where we’ll be when we’re glorified.
In verse 4 Paul explains what happened before we were saved – but it isn’t just before we were saved during our lives on earth. This has been the plan since “before the foundation of the world,” as he indicates: 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will
Now, I just want to speak to this idea of being “predestined” for one moment. You need to understand something about this word “predestination,” if you read it in the Greek; it means “predestination” (tip of the hat to Matt Chandler, that’s not original). It actually means, according to Strong’s Greek index, to “foreordain, predetermine, mark out beforehand.” The idea is that God has decided beforehand to redeem the ones he’s set aside for Himself . The idea of the Christian’s “predestining” has caused no end of theological and philosophical turmoil in the church and outside of it – my undergraduate degree is in English literature, and I found secular academics to be obsessed with it in a negative sense. Indeed, a large part of my testimony and the testimonies of a number of Christians here this morning have to do specially with wresting with this doctrine.
What I hope that we understand is that God’s “choosing” of His elect is not meant at all to be something to cause concern and contention – in fact, the whole point of this passage is that this is an incredible, almost inconceivable, blessing – the God of all Creation decided before He even created the world to save you, not just so you’ll escape His judgment, but so that you’ll be “holy and blameless” – a part of His plan, set apart, distinct – DIFFERENT. If you’re here and you know Jesus, have you ever felt different? It’s because you are. Do you feel like nothing in this life really satisfies you? Do you find yourself yearning for things that are “purer and higher and greater?” It might have something to do with the fact that you were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before the all-knowing, all-sovereign God of the universe.
Notice though, there is a specific point and purpose to our being predestined – to be “holy and blameless.” Notice also that this is an act of adoption. Time bars too much dwelling on that image, but it is indeed a beautiful one – when someone is adopted they don’t just get a family, they get a name, a legacy, often times a culture and potentially, a purpose. This is also a benevolent adoption – we are chosen out of love – we have nothing to offer, nothing to add to relationship, we’re simply chosen, as the NASB puts it in verse 5, out of “the kind intention of His will.” Is that not a beautiful image?
Again, note that in verse 4 that this adoption has happened “before the foundation of the world” Calvin notes the importance of this in his commentary on verse 4: If the reason is asked, why God has called us to enjoy the gospel, why he daily bestows upon us so many blessings, why he opens to us the gate of heaven, — the answer will be constantly found in this principle, that he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world. The very time when the election took place proves it to be free; for what could we have deserved, or what merit did we possess, before the world was made? In other words, what could we possibly have had to offer God before we existed? This is one of the reasons that this doctrine of election is so vitally important – salvation MUST be a free gift from God – how could it not be if God chose us before we existed? Let’s look back at verse 5.
In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved,. – Again, why are we predestined? “to the purpose of His will, TO the praise of His glorious grace.” The whole point is the exaltation of God. This idea appears other places in scripture as well – Philippians 2:13 –for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work (WHY?) for his good pleasure.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 –To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We began to see a picture of the overarching purpose of salvation – it’s to glorify God.
The Present and Future
In verses 7 – 11 Paul talks of the present – what part of God’s “master plan of salvation” are we in right now? 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known3 to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
This is the gospel – we were predestined by God, but redeemed from our sins through Christ – and Christ the expression of God’s will – This is what is expressed in John chapter 1 when it refers to Christ as the “Word,” the “logos,” or “divine utterance” that “became flesh and dwelt among us. Do you want to know what God’s plan is? Look to Christ. There’s also a future hope expressed here in verse 10 – “for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him.” I think the NASB may articulate this better with “the summing up of all things.” I belief this refers to the present, but it also seems to point to a future time when history will be done (unfortunately many teachers and professors will be out of a job at that point) – when God has brought this world’s history to an end and brings everything together. Macarthur identifies this as a reference to the Millennial Kingdom – Calvin’s commentary focuses more on the idea of things going from disorder to order; he says: The meaning appears to me to be, that out of Christ all things were disordered, and that through him they have been restored to order. And truly, out of Christ, what can we perceive in the world but mere ruins? We are alienated from God by sin, and how can we but present a broken and shattered aspect? The proper condition of creatures is to keep close to God.
This is such a grand thought. And yet this talk of the summation of all of history involves us specifically – God has a grand, master plan for everything He’s created in this vast universe, but He is also interested in the details – meaning us! Look at verse 11: In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,; again the language of adoption – not only do we gain a life, a legacy and a purpose from our adoption, but also an inheritance of eternal life. He further explains in verses 12-14
12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is he guarantee4 of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,5 to the praise of his glory.
Unlike an earthly inheritance that can be stolen by thieves or politicians, we have a guarantee of this inheritance of eternal salvation in legal terms as it is sealed by the Holy Spirit – this is the doctrine of eternal security. Indeed, if God predestined you, redeemed you and sealed you for eternal salvation, what exactly is it that you can do to void all these things? To speak in earthly terms, this isn’t a situation where you’re a child who decided: “you know, I’m going to move in with this family, they seem nice. No. You have been adopted, it’s out of your control, but you’ve never benefited from anything more than this adoption.
Now, looking back at the passage as a whole, there’s one particular phrase that repeats several times: “to the praise of His glory.” This is what we’re going to focus on. The whole purpose of talking about predestination, redemption and glorification is showing what God has done so that we understand why we’re worshipping and why God is indeed, worthy of our worship. Many of us are familiar in the book of Romans, once Paul has done a similar explanation of our riches in Christ, he says in chapter 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore brothers by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship.” In the NASB I believe it says your “reasonable service of worship.” In other words, in light of what God has done for you, is it not logical that you would serve him with every fiber of your being? Is there any higher form of fulfillment, joy or even we could say pleasure, than the service of God? This is also expressed later in Ephesians: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
“…to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”
The purpose of the whole thing – all of it, is “to the praise of His glorious grace.” That is why the universe and we in it, exist. This doctrine has been probably most famously expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in question form:
- 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (IN SPANISH IF TIME)
I want to explore this idea of glorifying AND enjoying God, but I’d like to briefly go over the history of the Westminster Catechism so that we have some context that will enable us to feel the full weight of these words.
First, a word about catechisms. Catechisms are basically summaries of doctrine that are expressed in question and answer form. They are intended to be used to teach doctrine comprehensively in a way that is easy to remember and has a logical flow. Some may have been “catechized” in the Roman Catholic Church, for example. My mother was catechized Lutheran – the idea being that once you have memorized, repeated and professed the catechism, you are now well acquainted with the doctrine of your church. While we still do question and answer exercises with our young children to teach some doctrines, the practice of catechizing has been mostly lost in the evangelical church, abandoned primarily because many thought it became “meaningless repetition.” While this is inevitably true in many circumstances, just as its true about the repetition of anything, it’s ironic that the same evangelical denominations and churches have replaced catechisms with many worship lyrics that are about as deep as shallow end of a kiddie pool – thus we are left with the same “meaningless repetition,” now we just also have no doctrine. Perhaps we would do well to look back at some of the great reformed catechisms.
Westminster Catechism History
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, called such because of where it was written, was penned in 1643 by an assembly of Congregationalists, Anglicans, Puritans and Presbyterians. The fully appreciate the gravity of the situation it helps to know the historical context. Many would be familiar with the political turmoil surrounding Henry VIII’s break from the Roman Catholic Church to get a divorce – English Reformation history is very complex because of all the political issues that were intertwined with it. William Tyndale, the Reformer who translated the Bible into English from the original Greek (Wycliffe had from Latin), was martyred during this period. The Church of England was created under Henry VIII, with Thomas Cranmer being the first Archbishop. Unfortunately for Protestants in England, not all of Henry’s children were Protestant – after he died, the throne bounced back and forth from Protestant to Catholic several times in an intensely dramatic time in English History, the worst period for Protestants being under “Bloody Mary,” so called for the Protestants she had executed, including Thomas Cranmer. Many Protestants fled to Geneva, Switzerland and were influenced by Calvin. After Bloody Mary died at the age of 42, her sister Elizabeth I came to the throne – a Protestant. Many of the Protestants that had fled England returned, but were not satisfied in the Church of England, as to them it hadn’t reformed enough. Those who wanted to purify the Church from the areas that it still seemed Catholic became known as “Puritans,” the more radical ones becoming known as “separatists,” as they wished to completely separate from the Anglican Church. We celebrate one group of these separatists every November – the Pilgrims.
The Religious conflict between Catholics and Catholic leaning Anglicans, which by the middle of the 1600s included the King of England himself, Charles I, eventually led to the English Civil War in 1642, a war of King against Parliament. Eventually Charles was defeated and executed by the primarily Puritan/Presbyterian controlled Parliament. While the Civil War was still raging, Parliament assembled 121 ministers and 30 laymen to write a more reformed, Biblically based creed. The result was the Westminster Confession, Longer Catechism and Shorter Catechism.
Why all this history? Well, for one thing, it’s important to note that at the time of authorship, those involved were taking a risk. Many Reformers had already been killed for what they believed – if Parliament lost the war – and it hadn’t been going very well at the beginning, there could be serious consequences. But more importantly, they produced an incredible expression of biblical doctrine, I believe best exemplified by this first question: What is the chief end of man?
The question gets to the heart of our being – if you boil it all down, for what purpose, what end, what final principal do we exist for? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Notice it’s not one, but two reasons: to bring glory to our Creator, but there is a direct resultant effect upon us – we get to “enjoy Him forever.” This is no doubt a profoundly puzzling idea to those who don’t believe the gospel – Indeed, how can someone find their greatest joy from anything outside themselves? This is in direct contradiction to our natural selfish inclinations. And yet, any Christian mature in their faith will more than likely tell you that as time goes on, the greatest pleasure in life is found in the worship and glorification of God. It’s taken me a few years to understand this – but praising God in “Spirit and in Truth” is the most fulfilling thing that life has to offer – nothing brings more satisfaction to the human soul – that’s one of the reasons we must be mortifying sin – it’s a acidic poison that eats away and disintegrates this satisfaction.
John Piper has well summarized this idea in his well known axiom, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Let me repeat that: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Think back to Ephesians 1 – why are we predestined? Redeemed? Glorified? “To the praise of His glorious grace.” But we are not merely passive bystanders to these incredible spiritual blessings – we should actively find the greatest joy, fulfillment and pleasure in knowing and praising the amazing Creator who adopted us – in fact, and this is what Piper is getting act, our satisfaction and fulfillment in God is what most glorifies Him in our lives.
There are a number of passages that also state this idea that all things are “Soli Deo Gloria”, for the glory of God alone, for example, Romans 11:36: For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.
What I want to focus on in our last bit of time this morning is the question of what our response should be to “Soli Deo Gloria.” How should we react to the knowledge that the purpose of our existence is to bring glory to God? How can we be satisfied in God? I think a key principle is given in 1 Corinthians 10:30, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Everything we do is to be for the purpose of glorifying our Creator – this doesn’t mean that we should stand and stare at the Cheerios and the Chex boxes in the morning and stress out to the point that we labor in prayer about which choice would honor God more for our breakfast – if fact, that would be in direction contradiction of doing things to glory of God, considering He’s commanded us to be “anxious for nothing.” Rather it’s living with the end goal in mind – not getting entangled in the side distractions, but rather asking every single day: how can I glorify my creator? How will this particular thing that I’m doing serve the purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever? It may seem on the surface like an overly grandiose question to ask ourselves, but I bet if we asked it more frequently then there would be a lot of things that we’d be doing less of. I bet, for example, we’d far less time looking down at our phones. How much time do waste because we don’t bother to consider how what we’re doing will glorify God? On the flipside, how much joy, happiness and peace have we missed out on because we neglected to remember that we are to “do all to the glory of God?”
This is Soli Deo Gloria – the belief that everything is and for the glory of God above all else. In closing, I’d just like to consider one more question: what is it that you’re living for? Do you live “Soli Me Gloria” – for the glory of me alone? When we sin, we are essentially rejecting Soli Deo Gloria because we’ve replaced God’s glory for our own – we decide that our pleasure and satisfaction are more important than anything else. Is this not the source of most of the suffering in the world? In contrast, what has been accomplished with a belief in Soli Deo Gloria? Essentially, anything good that there is. Look around the world – compare societies, communities and individuals that exist, or at least primarily or traditionally have existed for the glory of God to societies, communities and individuals that exist solely for their own glory. I believe find a profound difference.
If you’re here this morning and you exist for your own glory, please consider two things: 1) God is worthy of being glorified more than you are – you may be a super nice person or extremely talented, but the Scripture is clear in James 1:17 when it says “every good and perfect thing is from above” – that’s pretty hard to compete with. 2) There’s nothing more fulfilling than living for the glory of God – nothing brings more joy and satisfaction than to worship God – again, it may sound strange to the unconverted ear, but those of us who know God personally know what I’m talking about. True worship – not going-through-the motions, but real and deep communion with God, I believe most often experienced in the midst of great trial, is as good as it gets – knowing that your life has a great purpose because you serve a great God. That’s how you can survive over half your church getting slaughtered in front of you and simply say afterwards to the cameras, “Jesus needed them more” as we heard last week – that’s how someone like John Huss, the 15th century reformer, was able to lift his voice in song to God as his body slowly was consumed by flames. But that’s how we can live our sometimes monotonous, every-day lives with real, true tangible purpose and joy – but only if we live them Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone.