May 23, 2021

Soli deo Gloria

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Five Solas Scripture: Genesis 1:1

Soli Deo Gloria

Typically, our pattern is to preach passage by passage through books of the Bible—an approach that’s often called expository preaching. But this Sunday, we’re actually concluding a five-week series of sermons that are more topical in nature, going through what are often called the “five solas” of the Protestant Reformation—sola being the Latin term for “only.” And even though all of the solas are foundational gospel truths that are central to what we always teach, the reason why we thought it’d be cool for us to do this series of messages is because this is the 500th anniversary of a very important event in the Protestant Reformation known as the Diet of Worms—which was essentially the trial of Martin Luther in the year 1521. So this morning, we arrive at the fifth and final sola, which is soli Deo gloria—“to the glory of God alone.” 

You know, one of the key things that seems to be lacking in our society these days is a sense of purpose—and to be more specific, a sense of transcendent purpose—that is, a reason for living that’s bigger than yourself and indeed bigger than anything in this world. It’s kind of sad, actually, to think about how many people in our society go through their entire lives without any sense of transcendent purpose or even any of the foundational beliefs that could give rise to that kind of purpose. According to the secular worldview, the only reason this universe even exists is because a bunch of molecules randomly came together and interacted with one another in order to produce the world as we know it. That means our existence is purely accidental. And so, as Shakespeare so famously wrote, life really does become “a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Life is ultimately meaningless—if you take secular beliefs to their logical conclusion. Now, people might try to artificially manufacture a sense of meaning or purpose for their lives, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty hard—and I would say downright impossible—to escape the conclusion that we’re all just rearranging molecules that were already randomly arranged to begin with. 

You might think about it like this. Imagine that you were sent to a forced labor camp for the rest of your life. And at this camp, they gave you a shovel and made you shovel dirt all day every day. And to make matters worse, all of your work wasn’t even accomplishing anything. You were literally just moving a pile of dirt from point A to point B, and then once all the dirt got to point B, you had to move it all back to point A. And you had to continue doing that—moving the dirt back and forth for no reason at all—all day every day for the rest of your life. What a meaningless and empty and miserable life that would be, right? Yet, if you embrace secular assumptions about the universe, that’s essentially all you’re left with. You’re just rearranging molecules that were already randomly arranged to begin with. And that’s pretty sad. 

Yet the Bible teaches us that we can, in fact, live with a sense of rich and satisfying and transcendent purpose. And unlike the secularist, we don’t have to try to manufacture that purpose in spite of our beliefs. Rather, it’s our beliefs that fill us with our sense of purpose. So what is that purpose? Why are we here? Why do we exist? Well, the biblical teaching of soli Deo gloria answers that question. It reminds us that we exist for the glory of God—and indeed that the entire universe exists for the glory of God.

And this sola really is a culmination of the other four. The first solasola Scriptura or “Scripture alone”—is the foundation of the solas. It points us to the Bible as the ultimate and authoritative source of our beliefs. Then as we read the Bible, we discover that we have a big problem—namely that we’re sinful and are therefore alienated from God and destined for eternal judgment. That’s the bad news. Yet the good news, according to the Bible, is that God’s acted in a decisive way to save us from our sin. And the way he does that—the way he justifies us in his sight—is first of all through faith alone (sola fide). We’re not justified by religious observances or good works or anything like that but rather through faith alone. Also, going along with that, we’re saved by God’s grace alone (sola gratia). It’s not by our efforts or even by God’s grace plus our efforts but by his grace alone that we’re saved. And this salvation comes to us through the mediating work of Christ alone (solus Christus). Jesus came to this earth and lived a perfectly sinless life that satisfied God’s righteous standards completely. Then, he died on the cross as our substitute, in order to pay for our sins. And then, he triumphantly resurrected from the dead in order to win the ultimate victory over sin and death. So that’s how God rescues us from our sin—through faith alone (sola fide), by grace alone (sola gratia), and through the mediating work of Christ alone (solus Christus). And the result of all of these truths is that God gets all of the glory for our salvation, which means that he gets 100% of the credit. And that’s how we arrive at soli Deo gloria—“to the glory of God alone.”

In fact, that’s the only way we can arrive at soli Deo gloria. You see, any denial of any of the other solas ultimately necessitates a denial of this sola. So, for example, the Roman Catholic Church might say they believe in the glory of God alone, but their denial of each of the other solas totally undermines that belief. Their denial of sola Scriptura by viewing human ideas and traditions as authoritative undermines God’s glory. Their denial of sola fide by requiring human effort and works for justification undermines God’s glory. Their denial of sola gratia by teaching a form of salvation by human merit undermines God’s glory. And their denial of solus Christus by teaching that the church has a role and that priests have a role and that Mary has a role in our salvation undermines God’s glory. So even if the Roman Catholic Church claims to believe in the glory of God alone, their denial of the other solas undermines that belief and actually has the effect of robbing God of his glory. And by the way, the reason I’m bringing up Roman Catholicism is because that’s the historical context in which the five solas were developed. They were all developed specifically as a response to Roman Catholic teachings. So in order to understand these solas, including soli Deo gloria, you really have to understand Roman Catholic teaching. 

So, in summary, soli Deo gloria is the climactic culmination of the other four solas. And this is clear not only from logical deduction, as we’ve been doing, but from Scripture itself. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. So the result of the fact that we’re saved by grace alone and through faith alone is what? “That no one may boast.” No one can make the boastful claim that they contributed anything at all to their salvation. Instead, it’s God who gets all the glory. Romans 3:27 teaches the very same thing. After Paul talks about being justified by God’s grace as a gift and about us receiving this gift simply through faith, Paul then asks, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.” Now theoretically, if we had earned a right standing before God, we’d have something to boast about. We could proudly claim that our own efforts got us to where we are. But the Bible’s very clear: you and I are so far gone spiritually, so sinful, so hopelessly enslaved to sin that we can never achieve for ourselves a right standing before God. Instead, God grants us a right standing with him as a free gift through Jesus to be received simply by grace and through faith. And as a result, God gets 100% of the credit for our salvation. 

It’s kind of like when someone donates an organ to another person. Let’s say you have kidney disease and will die unless you get a healthy kidney. Fortunately, however, your friend generously decides to give you one of their kidneys. So you both go to the hospital, where doctors are able to remove one of your friend’s kidneys and give it to you. Now, obviously, in that situation, you wouldn’t have any grounds for boasting, would you? I mean, if you went around boasting about having received this kidney, people are going to think you’re ridiculous. And you would be ridiculous, because what grounds could you possibly have for boasting? You didn’t provide the kidney, you didn’t perform the surgery, you didn’t contribute anything. And that’s the way it is with our salvation. That’s why both Ephesians 2:9 and Romans 3:27—as well as several other verses in the New Testament—teach us that boasting is excluded. And, of course, that’s just another way of saying that God gets all the glory. 

And this fits right in with a theme that’s actually rather pervasive in Scripture. It’s hard to read virtually any portion of the Bible without encountering the idea that God’s glory is central to everything. It begins with creation. God created this world for the display of his glory. Psalm 19:1 states that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” And not only did God create nature for his glory, he created people in particular for his glory. He states in Isaiah 43:6-7, “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” Then in Exodus, we see that this applies even to the most powerful people in the world. God says to Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” And this fits right in with what the psalmist identifies as God’s purpose in saving the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity. He states in Psalm 106:8 that “[God] saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” And indeed all of the things God does to care for his people are ultimately done for his own glory. We see this stated in the famous words of Psalm 23:1-3: 1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 

Then once the Israelites are in the land God brings them to, he reminds them in Isaiah 42:8: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” Unfortunately, though, the Israelites end up rebelling against God, resulting in him sending the surrounding nations to conquer them and carry them off into exile. Yet, God tells them through the prophet Ezekiel that he’s going to rescue them from their exile. However, listen to why God says he’s going to rescue them. Ezekiel 36:22-23: 22 “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”

Then in the New Testament, God’s people still need saving—not from literal exile but from sin (which is actually what they really needed saving from all along). Yet God still has the very same motive for rescuing them. We see this in Ephesians 1:11-12: 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. In fact, that phrase “to the praise of his glory” occurs not once but three times in Ephesians 1. Three times, Paul emphasizes that as the ultimate goal of our salvation. And he’s not alone. Peter joins him in teaching this very same truth. In 1 Peter 2:9, he says to his readers, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

And friends, this is just a small sample of verses in the Bible that hold up God’s glory as his central purpose in all things. Yet hopefully these verses are enough to illustrate that the glory of God is the very heartbeat of the Bible. As far as God’s concerned, there’s one grand purpose that rises above everything else and encompasses everything else—and that is his own glory. And by the way, on a personal note, this is why I love Reformed theology so much. It makes much of God. It’s radically God-centered in a way that does justice to the pervasive biblical emphasis on God’s glory.   

Now perhaps all of this is making some of you wonder whether it’s selfish for God to be this way and to pursue his glory the way he does. After all, if we encounter a person who pursues their own glory the way God does, we probably wouldn’t have a high opinion of them. So should we think less of God for being this way? Is it selfish for him to be so wrapped up in his own glory? And that’s a question that’s addressed masterfully in John Piper’s book Desiring God. It’s not really possible unpack the answer in just a few minutes, but the gist of it is that God’s passion for his own glory is actually in perfect harmony with his love for us. You see, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” That’s the way Piper phrases it. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” So God’s pursuit of glory for himself is inextricably bound up in us being satisfied in him. And so, he actively pursues our satisfaction in him—by loving us and redeeming us and bringing us into a relationship with himself for all eternity. And there’s no greater joy in all the universe for us than to be recipients of that. God himself is the source of all joy. So you and I experience maximum joy by being redeemed into a relationship with him. So if you think about it, it would actually be a terribly unloving thing for God not to be about his own glory. If God wasn’t zealous for his glory, that would translate to a lack of zeal for our joy as well. So that’s the reason why it’s not selfish—in the way we typically use that word—for God to be so passionate about glorifying himself. That’s actually the most loving way for him to be. 

It would be kind of like the sun—if the sun had a personality—desiring to glorify itself by shining its light throughout the whole solar system and particularly on the earth, so that creatures here on earth could see and marvel at and enjoy its light. Let’s say that that was the desire of the sun—to see creatures here on earth benefiting in various ways from its light. Now, of course, that would be a very self-exalting thing for the sun to do since it would, after all, be displaying its own splendor and glory, but it would also be a very loving thing for the sun to do since it would be intentionally seeking our enjoyment of its glory and our benefit from the light and heat it provides. And that’s certainly not a perfect illustration, but hopefully it helps us understand at least something about God’s pursuit of glory. John Piper writes, “God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimately loving act. For Him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things ‘for the praise of His glory,’ He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings. God is for us! And the function of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be for Himself.” 

So hopefully you can see how soli Deo gloria is one of the most precious and wonderful truths in the entire Bible. And hopefully you want it to be the pattern not only of Scripture but of your life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we’re told, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Not only is the Bible radically God-centered, it calls us to be radically God-centered as well. Notice that word “all”—“do all to the glory of God.” That includes engaging in our jobs for the glory of God, relating to our spouse if we have one for the glory of God, raising our children if we have them for the glory of God, looking after our physical health for the glory of God, spending our money for the glory of God, making the best use of our discretionary time for the glory of God, and of course laboring for the glory of God among those who don’t yet know him by sharing the gospel with them. Christianity is a very all-encompassing thing. There’s not a single area of our lives that’s not affected by this directive to live for God’s glory. Brothers and sisters, God’s glory should be the all-consuming passion of our lives. Is it the all-consuming passion of your life? Like, really. Don’t just tell yourself what you want to hear. Is God’s glory really the all-consuming passion of your life? Like, if someone were to follow you around and observe your every action, conversation, spending decision, relationship, and could even read your mind to observe your thought life, would they really conclude that God’s glory is your all-consuming passion? “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

And this connects in a pretty significant way to our church as well. God’s glory isn’t just something that we put at the beginning of our mission statement on the front of the bulletins each Sunday. It really is the primary focus of our church. As we make decisions about various aspects of our church’s ministry such as what priorities we’re going focus on and how we’re going to approach different things, we’re not primarily asking ourselves what people want or what we think will attract a crowd. Our primary concern isn’t people’s preferences. You know, this isn’t Dunkin’ Donuts. Now, those of you who know me know that I love Dunkin Donuts. I hit that place up every chance I get, and I’m so glad they allow consumer demand to drive their decision-making. It’s led them to make some really good coffee and offer that coffee very conveniently and in a very pleasant atmosphere. I love just about every aspect of my coffee-drinking experience at Dunkin Donuts. And I hope they continue focusing on me, the consumer, so that I can continue enjoying my coffee-drinking experience. But this isn’t Dunkin Donuts, and we’re not called to be consumer-driven in our approach. So we don’t let people’s preferences dictate our approach to things. Instead, our focus is on the glory of God. We want God to look down and be pleased not only with our goals but also with our methods. We’re not primarily concerned about whether something “works” or whether it’ll make our church bigger. We want to know, does it glorify God? Does every part of it glorify God? That’s God’s desire for our church. 

In fact, if you look at the storyline of the Bible, God’s pursuit of glory centers on the church. The church is the very centerpiece of God’s plan to glorify himself in this world. Listen to these words from John Calvin: “The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it.” Isn’t that good? The whole world is a theater for the display of God’s glory. That’s why God created everything—as a theater to display his glory. But in that theater, the church is the orchestra. That’s why Ephesians 3:20-21 states, 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. It’s all about soli Deo gloria—the glory of God alone. That’s our calling, and that’s our passion. 

Now, of course, we want to do all that we can to help people feel welcome here and to let them know that they’re loved and that we care for them and desire to minister to them. Absolutely. In fact, I’d like to see more of that. I’d like to see more of our people making an effort on Sunday mornings to put conversations with people they already know on hold and instead intentionally seeking out conversations with guests and taking a genuine interest in their lives and finding out how they can pray for them and even inviting them out to lunch. To be honest, I think we’ve gotten a little sloppy with that during this whole ordeal with COVID. But even as we make every effort to help people feel loved and welcomed, hopefully all of that’s done ultimately out of a passion for the glory of God. And as far as the overall design of our worship service goes, just know that myself and the other leaders of our church aren’t designing things around consumer preferences. We certainly want the things that we do here on Sundays to be clear and understandable and accessible and helpful for people, but our heart and our passion is to make much of God. As Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.

And hopefully, that’s the effect of this series of messages on the five solas. As we close this series, I believe soli Deo gloria is a wonderful note for us to end on—because it reminds us that theology should always lead to doxology. Here’s what I mean by that. Theology simply refers to our knowledge of God and of the truths he’s revealed, while doxology refers to our worship of God. So our knowledge of God and his work of salvation—as we’ve seen it summarized so richly in the first four solas—should always lead to the worship of God and to a wholehearted, worshipful, exuberant embrace of soli Deo gloria. Theology should always lead to doxology. One theologian named John Stott once wrote, “There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation.” So, we see that there’s more than one way to have bad theology. Of course, you can have bad theology by openly embracing the wrong things—teachings that are contrary to the Bible. But you can also have bad theology by professing to believe the right things—such as the first four solas—but not allowing those things to soak into your soul and lift you into doxology—into the worship of God. Truly good theology isn’t just knowledge for the sake of knowledge but knowledge for the sake of worship.

other sermons in this series

May 16


Solus Christus

Preacher: Kevin Godin Scripture: Hebrews 1:1–3 Series: The Five Solas

May 9


Sola Gratia

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Genesis 1:1 Series: The Five Solas

May 2


Sola Fide

Preacher: Kevin Godin Scripture: Genesis 1:1 Series: The Five Solas