Presented at Trinity Fellowhip during October 1997
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love; having also predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace . . ."
Paul wrote this magnificent document to help us enlarge our vision of what our salvation is all about, and already in the opening verses we have seen salvation not simply as fire insurance but rather as exaltation from the utmost depths of sin and degradation to the privileged position of sons and daughters of God. We have seen that this great blessing does not depend on the chancy course of temporal events or the fickle predilections of our own wills but rather on the eternal counsels of God. And we have seen that He does this not only for our own personal benefit but so that we might have a part in His plan to bring cosmic Shalom to the whole creation through the Church by summing up all things in Christ (v. 10). But now we come to the grandest statement of all, the most final purpose of all, the most fundamental reason of all, and if we have the grace to receive it, the most mind-expanding and invigorating truth of all: God's ultimate purpose in the salvation of sinners is His own glory (v. 6a).
This is a perspective that is conspicuously absent from much contemporary preaching and evangelism, but it is essential to an accurate understanding of the Gospel, and even of why the Gospel is good news. It is emphasized three times in this passage as a refrain for emphasis. Why did God the Father conceive the plan of salvation and elect us to sonship? To the praise of the glory of His grace (v. 6). Why did God the Son redeem us? That we should be to the praise of His glory (v. 12). And why did the Holy Spirit seal us for redemption as a pledge of our inheritance? To the praise of His glory (v. 14b). But we find this doctrine not just here; it is a major theme of the whole Bible (Ex. 3:12, 7:3-5, 9:16, 40:34, Ps. 79:9, Is.48:9-11). The climax is Jn. 17:1. What was foremost in the mind of Christ as He was facing the Cross? "Father the hour is come. Glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee." Yes, He loves us, and yes, salvation has our good in mind. But the emphasis is inescapable: God's ultimate purpose in the salvation of sinners is His own glory.
If you were to trace the word "glory" through the Bible, you would find it associated with the presence of God and the nature of God. We could define the glory of God as the manifestation of His perfect and holy character in all its awesome and majestic splendor throughout the whole of creation. What does it mean to say that God's glory is the purpose of salvation? That for God's character to be revealed is the greatest good, the highest value, the ultimate reason for which the world was made. That is why Creation glorifies God (Ps. 19:1). But the primary way God is to be glorified in the history of this Creation is through the salvation of sinners. The virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, and trimphant resurrection of Christ; the work of the Holy Spirit in calling out a people for His name, preserving them, uniting them in one body, the Church, and keeping them for final union with Christ: all this reveals the nature and character of God and writes it indelibly on the pages of space, time, and history in the fullest and deepest manner conceivable. And in this, God is glorified. For God's ultimate purpose in the salvation of sinners is His own glory.
A sobering fact follows from this. Salvation is nor primarily for our benefit. Now, do not misunderstand. God does love us and salvation does bless us, designedly so. But that can no longer be considered the primary consideration. And there, for some, lies a problem.
This emphasis makes many modern Christians profoundly uneasy. After all, it evicts us from the center of things; it is a frontal attack on our pride. But there is a more noble reason for objecting to it than that. It might seem to make God appear selfish, less than altruistic, to be a blot on His character. It's as if we discovered that a millionaire who had given much money to charity had done it only for publicity. We would prefer to think of God as purely altruistic, motivated only by love for us. Therefore, we need to look carefully at
The first line of defense is that the Bible teaches it. We have already demonstrated that this is inescapably true, and that ought to settle the matter. But it is always useful, if we can, to understand why the Bible teaches something. And therefore there is a second line of defense: A proper understanding of who God is demands it. Our uneasiness is based on a false analogy. You see, it would be wrong for us to seek our own glory, and we mistakenly transfer that feeling to God. But it is not wrong for Him to do so. He is eternal and infinite and dwells in unapproachable light; we are weak sinners who dwell in dolorous darkness. He is the Creator; we are the created. He is completely self-sufficient; we are utterly dependent. All glory belongs to Him as an inalienable right; it does not belong to us. He belongs in the center; we do not. Therefore the feeling of "selfishness" we get from this doctrine does not apply to Him either. The glory of God is not just HIS greatest good; it is THE greatest good--and therefore ours. Because of who He is, it would be wrong for God NOT to seek His own glory. To do so is the most loving thing He can do for us. And that is why God's ultimate purpose in the salvation of sinners is His own glory. This leads us to
Ironically, evicting ourselves from the center is actually the shortest and surest path to joy and blessing. This is so in at least three ways.
First, it gives us a new perspective on pain and affliction. If our Christianity is self-centered rather than God-centered, then the pain of living in a fallen world appears as a defect in our salvation, which may cause us to doubt God's benevolence, which may lead to a vicious circle of spiritual defeat. But if our Christianity is God-centered, then suffering becomes an opportunity to fulfill our purpose by glorifying Him. When Francis Schaeffer was dying of cancer, he was asked if he prayed to be healed. Of course, he replied. But even more he prayed that God would be glorified in his illness--whether by healing him or by letting him show how a Christian faced death was immaterial to Schaeffer, and completely up to God. It is undeniable that when the Holy Spirit allows a believer to show Christian character in the midst of suffering, God is glorified. Suffering is going to be part of life in a fallen world until Christ returns. To understand the purpose of salvation as God-centered is to be spared the agony of compounding that suffering with doubt.
Second, it gives us, paradoxically, a greater enjoyment of the benefits of salvation. For a secondary purpose of salvation is our benefit. But those benefits can only be enjoyed when they are not our primary focus. A focus on self kills your enjoyment even of earthly pleasures. A person who asks himself, "Am I enjoying this concert?" is not. If he were, he would not be thinking about himself at all but rather about the music. The same is true on the spiritual level. Do you want the joy of salvation? Don't try to be joyful, worship God! Do you want more faith? Don't focus on your faith or your lack of it, just serve the Lord with what little you have. Do you want Christian fellowship? Stop thinking about whether you are having fellowship and love the brethren. Do you want to know the benefits of salvation? Forget about your own benefit and focus on the glory of God.
Finally, to see God's central purpose in salvation as His own glory is to gain a greater grasp of spiritual victory. Diluted Christian living flows from belief in a diluted Gospel. Therefore, examine the Gospel you believe in! Is it man-centered? Does it contain the subtle assumption that all this is done just for our benefit? Brothers and sisters, there is something far greater at stake in all of this than that! Return to the God-centered Gospel of the Bible and make His glory your greatest good. And if you do not know the Lord, receive Him today, and begin to experience in your life the greatest good of all: the glory of God.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams