Most Christians are not surprised to hear that God commands us to do all to his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). What is unnerving to many, however, is to discover that God does everything he does to his own glory. For some of us, we may be happy to live for God’s glory, provided that God reciprocates. We will center our lives on him, provided he centers his life on us.
But God is no idolater; he will have no other gods before him. And one of the most bracing and clarifying and (counterintuitively) steadying things we can do is to rehearse what God himself has told us in Scripture about why he does everything that he does. He is the most God-centered person in the universe, and when we come to see this as good news — that our eternal joy rests on the unshakable foundation of his own God-centeredness — it can make us the most fearless, and happy, people on the planet.
Walk with me from eternity past to eternity future, and let your spiritual lungs fill with the unnerving, and then stabilizing, God-centeredness of God.
[God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5–6)
Why did God, from before the foundation of the world, choose a people to be holy and predestine those people to be adopted into his family? So that the glory of his grace might be praised. In fact, two more times in Ephesians 1:3–14, Paul accents that all of God’s saving acts are designed to call forth praise for his glory (“to the praise of his glory” Ephesians 1:12, 14).
The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1)
“From Genesis to Revelation, from creation to consummation, God does everything he does for his own glory.”
Why did God make the heavens in the way he did, with a sun that blazes triumphantly across the sky and with billions of stars to bedeck the night? In order to declare his glory. And the heavens are not unique. All of creation declares the glory of God. God designed everything in creation to reveal what he is like. His invisible attributes — his power, his eternity, his beauty, and his character — are made visible in the things that he has made (Romans 1:20). And this includes human beings, whom he created after his likeness so that we might image him in the world in a special and unique way (Genesis 1:26–28).
You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. (Isaiah 49:3)
Why did God choose Israel to be his treasured possession among all peoples? So that he might be glorified in them. He caused them to cling to him so that they might be for him “a people, a name, a praise, and a glory” (Jeremiah 13:11).
For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16)
Why did God raise up Pharaoh to oppress his people and oppose his purposes? So that he might get glory over Pharaoh by demonstrating his power through signs and wonders and plagues, so that his name would be proclaimed in all the earth. God’s judgment and righteous wrath for human sin displays his glory.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. (Psalm 106:7–8)
“God is no idolater; he will have no other gods before him.”
But wrath is not his only response to sin. When Israel sinned at the Red Sea, why did God not punish them as they deserved? Why did he show them mercy? For his name’s sake. His name is proclaimed and his power made known not only through the destruction of Pharaoh but also in the deliverance of his wayward people. And this is a pattern throughout Israel’s history.
When the people rebel against God in the days of Samuel, why does he not abandon them and leave them to themselves?
For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. (1 Samuel 12:22)
When they rebel again in the days of Isaiah, why does he not cut them off completely?
For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9–11)
God is emphatic. Six different times he insists that his merciful refusal to forsake his people and cut them off is for the sake of his name and his praise and his glory. Even after he sends his people into exile in Babylon, he promises to bring them back to the land. Why?
Thus says the Lord God: 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. 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. (Ezekiel 36:22–23)
In fact, over sixty times in the book of Ezekiel, God says that he does all that he does in order that Israel and the nations and everyone “will know that I am the Lord.”
And it’s not just the Old Testament. Why did God send Christ to earth as a Jew?
Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:8–9)
“Trinitarian glory is shared glory.”
God will display his truthfulness and faithfulness to his promises, and he will magnify his mercy among the Gentiles as the one in whom they hope.
Even more, why does Jesus go to the cross? What was the divine purpose in his journey to Golgotha? Jesus said,
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27–28)
Jesus reminds himself that his purpose for enduring the hour of darkness is so that the name of his Father might be glorified.
And not just the cross. Why did God raise Jesus from the dead and exalt him above every authority?
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
God’s purpose in exalting the Lord Jesus above every name is ultimately for his own glory.
And what about his return? Why is Christ coming back to judge his enemies and deliver his saints?
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:9–10)
And it’s not just the major events of redemptive history. Why does God forgive sins?
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
Why does he answer prayer?
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)
Why does he strengthen us to serve each other in love?
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10–11)
We could go on and on, but one bright truth will remain clear: from Genesis to Revelation, from creation to consummation, God does everything he does for his own glory.
Now at this point, some are content. We know why God does what he does. Others, however, want to press deeper. What does it mean that God does everything for his glory, for his name’s sake, for his praise? Can we unpack the meaning of God’s God-centeredness any further?
“The God-centeredness of God is profoundly good news and deeply stabilizing in an unsteadying world.”
Few people in history have thought as deeply about this question as Jonathan Edwards. In fact, he wrote an entire treatise devoted to answer the question, “Why did God create the world?” In it, he identifies three elements that are included when we say that God does something “for his glory.”
First, the glory of God includes the manifestation or display of God’s attributes and perfections. God’s wisdom and power and justice and mercy and faithfulness and majesty are revealed in his acts of creation and providence and redemption.
But, second, God’s glory isn’t just a display; it also includes the creaturely knowledge that results from the display. There’s an audience for the manifestation of God’s perfections, and their knowledge is part and parcel of the glory. If God’s glory isn’t known, then his purpose in creation is incomplete.
Third, not just the display of his perfections, and not just the creaturely knowledge of those perfections, but the glory of God also includes creaturely love and delight in those perfections. It’s not enough for us to know that God is wise and powerful and faithful and just. We must taste it. We must love and delight in his perfections the way that he does.
Display of divine perfections. Knowledge of divine perfections. Love for and delight in divine perfections. All of these are included in the glorification of God. Edwards refers to this as the communication of God’s fullness. God’s own fullness consists in his absolute perfections and glorious attributes, his infinite knowledge of himself, and his infinite love and delight in himself. That’s what makes up God’s internal glory. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, knowing, loving, and rejoicing in each other, from all eternity with infinite intensity. And when he creates the world, it is this infinite fullness that he communicates to his creatures.
In his book, Edwards demonstrates this definition of glory through careful reasoning and argumentation, but I think that the clearest way to see this deep and rich understanding of God’s glory is in Christ’s prayer in John 17 on the eve of his crucifixion. Let me make five comments about “glory” in this chapter.
First, Jesus’s prayer is fundamentally about Trinitarian glory. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). John 17 is about the mutual glorification of the Father and the Son. The Son has glorified the Father by accomplishing the task he was assigned, and now he asks that the Father glorify him so that the Son can glorify the Father even more (John 17:3–5).
Second, glory is something that can be shared. “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). Trinitarian glory is shared glory. It’s eternally shared glory. Before the ages, the Father and Son shared glory with each other.
Third, glory is something that can be given. In John 17:22, Jesus refers to “the glory that you have given me.” In John 17:24, he talks about “my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” So now we have an eternal glory, a shared glory, a given glory, all wrapped up with the infinite love of the Father for the Son.
Fourth, this eternal, shared, given glory is shared and given to us. Or, to put it the other way around, you and I are invited into this glory.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one. (John 17:20–23)
Fifth, this glory involves knowledge of the Father and Son, the joy of the Son, and the love of the Father for the Son.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)
I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me [that’s eternal life] and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you [that’s part of the glory we share, and that I’m giving to my people], and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:23–26)
So, when God glorifies himself, he invites us to participate in his own Trinitarian fullness, so that the fullness of God’s own knowledge, love, and joy comes to exist in us. This is a deeply Trinitarian and participatory understanding of glory. The glory of God — his eternal and mutual knowledge, love, and delight in himself — is given to us and shared with us. We “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), sharers in the triune fullness.
And this truth — that God is God-centered and therefore does everything that he does in order to glorify himself, by sharing the riches and fullness of his divine life with us — this truth is profoundly good news and deeply stabilizing in an unsteadying world. This arresting God-centeredness of God, far from robbing us of joy, is the very foundation of our being truly happy in God. Because God will seek, and have, his glory — and God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.