Tuesday, July 30, 2013
What Does it Mean to Glorify God?
All of these questions are based on a false premise. They stem primarily from human experience, and in asking them this way we are projecting back on God things that we know are true from human life in a sinful world. The reality is, God is completely perfect and sufficient and is not in need of anything outside of himself. This is not true for us, for we are wholly dependent on outside sources for our very survival. We are dependent on food and water and air to breathe. God has no need for any of those things. He is perfect and deserving of all worship and praise since he is the source of all things (Col. 1:15-23).
So then, to say that we need to glorify God, we are not saying that we need to add something to God that is lacking in His who He is, as if He is empty and needy and is in dire need for others to revere Him so that He can become more complete. Nor is it to say that God has any sinful pride that needs fed. He is holy.
Ok then, what are we saying? What does it mean to glorify God? Simply put, to glorify God is to praise and worship Him for who He is and to enhance is His reputation above anything else in the universe. Thus, the Westminster Confession (a reformed statement of faith adopted by the Church of England in 1646) states clearly that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This says something about God and it says something about us.
What it says about God is that He alone is the One who is worthy of worship, adoration, and praise. He is the center of the universe and the purpose of all life. But it also says something about us and that is this: we are by nature designed and created for God’s glory, and so all that we do and say ought to be done towards that purpose. We live not for ourselves, but for Him.
Consider these two Scriptures:
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth -- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." Isaiah 43:6-7, NIV
“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16, NIV (some versions translate it as, “glorify your Father who is in heaven.”, which is more accurate according to the Greek. Sometimes the NIV lightens things a bit).
So you and I exist for the select purpose of glorifying God, to enhance His reputation. We were made to worship Him, to revere Him, to find our primary sense of fulfillment and purpose in nothing else than in Him alone. That’s why we were made. Simple. In a crude illustration, if we want someone’s reputation be known or enhanced we talk that person up. We tell others about that person. We might make signs and billboards and do things that will get others to notice the person whose reputation we want to accentuate. (Dare I say, it’s like putting a sign in your yard to promote a candidate for office.) This leads me to my second point.
According to Jesus in Matthew 5, every good deed we perform ought to be designed towards enhancing the reputation of God. Every action, no matter how small. In fact Paul went much further. Not only our good deeds ought to do this, but practically everything should be for this purpose. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That’s pretty comprehensive.
John Piper calls glorifying God a “joyful duty.” Well said. This is not a command made to make us miserable, but in actuality, we are never more satisfied and fulfilled than when we are bent towards glorifying God. Like John the Baptist said, “He must become greater, I must become less.” More of Jesus, less of me. And when that starts to happen, then I will find the real me, the “me” God created me to be.
So how does this affect my everyday life? How does the command to glorify God impact my attitudes, actions, conversations, dreams, goals, and relationships?
I am reminded of the old hymn that we used to sing (and still do), which says “turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” If a person is striving to glorify God in everything they do, and wants to commit themselves to that end, then as they rely upon the Holy Spirit to help them change, there will be noticeable attitudes and actions that will begin to emerge. The things of this world will hold less appeal in comparison to “seeing and savoring” God.
Our goal is to develop an all-consuming “God-centeredness” to our lives. It is a focus that will gradually lead us towards a mindset that seeks to abandon the focus on the self (self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-sufficiency). In some older theological writings, this is the idea of “self mortification,” or just plain “mortification.” It is dying to one’s self by putting to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), something we can only do with the help and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So point one is this: in order to glorify God in my life I must be committed to doing away with or putting aside the things in my life that put the focus on or feed the desires of the sinful self. Those things are nothing but roadblocks that prevent others from seeing Christ in me. And how could God’s fame and reputation be enhanced by my life if I am involved in things that prevent others from seeing Christ in me?
So first practical application – commit myself to forsaking any known sin. Examine my heart. Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal it to me. Confess. Admit. Forsake. Stay away. Maybe even have someone else ask me and hold me accountable to it (a rather mature thing to do). This is essentially, repentance, which in itself glorifies God by putting the spotlight on the cross, where Jesus paid for sin. It is strange to think this, but yes indeed, a place where God was glorified was on the cross. Such a wrathful event also glorified God at the same time. And since Christ paid for my sin, then I in response should be willing to forsake it (see Romans 6).
Point two is this: in order to glorify God in my life, I must discover what God’s will for my life is and pursue it. This obviously includes point one above, but more than that, it is a commitment to understanding the positive character shaping power of the Holy Spirit as well as to commit myself to certain actions/activities that are designed by nature to exalt and glorify God.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”I Thessalonians 5:16-18
I was in campus ministry for many years, and whenever a college student came up to me and told me they were struggling to know God’s will for their life this is where I would point them. For how could one be in a position to know the unknown and future will of God (regarding specifics) for their life when they have not first committed themselves to living the already revealed will of God for their lives? Wisdom comes from discernment, and discernment comes from being spiritually disciplined in what God has already said is clearly His will for your life.
So living and pursuing God’s will for one’s life is a means of glorifying God. Study and memorize Scripture, pray heartfelt prayers often, fellowship with other believers, serve others, be joyful and thankful, use your giftedness to encourage and build up the church. Live sacrificial lives, giving generously. As you do these things, you will find that the Holy Spirit will empower you for them and in the process will develop your character to become more like Jesus, which is the end goal of the Christian life – Christlikeness. And Christlikeness in a person’s life is glorifying to God.
This all may seem simple. Well, guess what? It is. It’s supposed to be. The Christian life is simplicity – simple satisfaction in Christ and less attachment to the world. Fixing minds on things above and not on earthly things. Dying to self and living for God, commiting oneself to obedience, walking in faith, trusting in God for all things. Living a life of love. Serving. If a person tries to make the Christian life more complicated than that, then stay away from that person – they may have an unhealthy interest in man-made rules and traditions that make one look more spiritual than they really are. You just stick to the basics, and let God get the credit for everything.
But still, isn’t there more application than this? Listen, if you are walking with the Lord and are testing everything, forsaking known sin, reading the Word and letting it shape you, praying regularly, serving others out of love and joy, then guess who it is who is shaping the desires of your heart? God is. And God’s will for your life is being realized naturally. Simple? Yes, simple.
Note the Scripture below:
“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12b-13
If you are working “out” your salvation as described above, then you need to understand that God is working at the same time, and he is the One who is (dare I say, “causing”) you to have certain desires and to perform certain actions that are in keeping with His will and that in the end will bring glory to God.
Ask yourself the following in the following areas:
1) Attitudes – does my attitude about something reflect God’s priorities in life or my sinful ones? Is my attitude shaped more by circumstances or by the internal relationship and trust that I have placed in Christ who reigns over me? Is my attitude similar to the selfless attitude that Christ had (see Philippians 2)?
2) Actions – is what I’m doing more inclined to enhance my reputation or God’s? This kind of gets to motives, which will always reveal itself eventually in actions. Are my actions then in keeping with the behavior and good works that exalt the name of Christ – because really, He has prepared some things for me to do that are specifically designed for that purpose (Eph 2:10).
3) Conversations – does this conversation build up others? Will it help someone else be inspired towards pursuing the things of God? Now wait here, aren’t some conversation neutral? Like isn’t it great that the Cubs are in first place? Well, yes, we can talk about that – and that conversation may not inspire someone to pursue the things of God, but indirectly it is building commonality, friendship, enjoyment of life, communication, and all those things are good – gifts of God I say.
Perhaps more specifically here we can just watch to make sure that no
“…unwholesome talk comes out of our mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” - Ephesians 4:29
That seems to be a good rule of thumb for knowing if I am glorifying God in this area of my life.
4) Dreams and goals – pursuing what you know God has designed you and gifted you to do is a major aspect of glorifying God. For example, I know a person whose gift is singing, and the more she pursues and uses it the more her gift gives testimony to God’s glory since He is the one who gave her the gift in the first place. So in doing what we are good at and doing it in such a way that it has a positive impact on others is all a way to glorify God with your life. Just remember, when we use our gifts we are “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
5) Relationships – committing yourself to purity, considering others as better than yourself, serving someone else with a sacrificial love that seeks to cause them to grow (Ephesians 5:25ff). All this is glorifying to God. Taking an interest in the spiritual growth of others is a priority that is often missed among many Christians today. But it is one of the main reasons why we exist – especially as a church.
All this is what it means to glorify God – to point everything to Christ and to encourage others in such a way that they do the same. Even being good stewards of creation is a way to glorify God because we are valuing what God has made, which places value on God himself as its author.
If you take the advice of John the Baptist, “He [that being Christ]must increase, and I must decrease,” then you are on the right path to what it means to glorify God. It is the greatest life in the world. Fulfilling, and ultimately rewarding – if not in this life, then surely the life to come.
*This post is a revision of a two part previous post from 2008 but in the fuller form.