I am troubled this week at how subtly and persuasively the gospel of the Glory of Christ can be subverted to be all about the glory of man. The God who created the heavens and the earth is truly awesome. But how flippant we’ve become with the use of this word. Now we’re being told we too are awesome! I’ve been considering this…
There’s a new gospel afoot. It is the gospel of the glory of man, and it is not good news. Oh, it sounds good. Who doesn’t want to be praised for their inherent beauty, paid homage for their worthiness, exalted as awesome, and generally made much of? But this is not the true Gospel. It is a creeping deception that smacks of its forefather. Lucifer was cast out of heaven for such audacity—wanting to share God’s glory, wanting praise to come to him for his God-given beauty. God will not share his glory with another.
He will not be rivaled. Man exists for God’s glory, not He for ours.
The Gospel is all about the beauty of Jesus—the perfect wedding of grace and truth in the perfect God-man. It is about God made flesh in order to redeem sinful man from the death that is their due. It is the ‘gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ ‘What we proclaim is not ourselves’, Paul said (II Cor.4:4,5). The ultimate culmination of the Gospel will be the summing up of everything in Christ.(Col.1:19,20) Every knee will bow, willingly or otherwise, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. “Worthy is the Lamb” will be our song. We know this and yet the modern understanding of the Gospel has been infiltrated (hijacked?) to legitimize our own desires for glory.
Just this week I read these quotes:
“Jesus is not a window showing us who we can become, He is a mirror showing us who we already are.”
And what is recommended in the aftermath of personal sin? Not acknowledgement that our guilt is real. Not confession that we have sinned. Not a glad and humble repentance. But just :“Stop it! You are way too awesome to be acting like that. You are acting below your nature.”
This is nothing more than self-delusion, an appeal to our insidious pride. It is an effort to brush off the indignity of failing/falling. After all, we are awesome (?!).
Where do we find this view in Scripture? How have we so reduced God’s awesomeness as to unashamedly count ourselves worthy of a share?
We’ve come a long way from Moses’ posture before God:
And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
And we’ve missed the point of God’s awesomeness in taking for Himself a depraved people and doing for them great and awesome deeds. Look at God’s response to Moses:
And [God] said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
God’s work in and through His people is meant primarily to display His own Awesomeness, not ours. We are special only by virtue of Him having chosen us, not by our own merit:
And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making for yourself a name for great and awesome things, in driving out nations before your people whom you redeemed from Egypt?
David understood this:
Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? … And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. For your servant’s sake, O LORD, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things. There is none like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making for yourself a name for great and awesome things, in driving out nations before your people whom you redeemed from Egypt? I Chr.17:16,18-21
Has the New Testament changed all that? Or did these men who walked with God just suffer from a poor self-esteem so that they just never really understood how awesome they were?
It’s not that there aren’t Scriptures that speak of the glory of man, but ours is a reflected glory, not ours to boast in. Yes, we are made in the image of God. Yes, we have been ‘crowned with glory and honor’ (Ps.8) Yes, we can become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ through the fulfillment of God’s promises in us. (II Pet.1:4) Yes, God “has called [us] to his eternal glory in Christ” (I Pet.5:10) and yes, Jesus even said He gave His disciples the glory that God had given Him(John 17:22).
What do we make of this? Are we then such awesome folks that we should really spend more time and energy reflecting on our greatness till we have overcome our feelings of inadequacy and bolstered our self-esteem sufficiently to vanquish all guilt and shame? Is this what Scripture commends?
Let’s be sure to counter-balance these passages with those that liken man to grass and worms and the like, all transient and insignificant things. For instance, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.” I Pet.1: 24,25 (See also: Is.2:22; Ps.144:3,4)
Or this from Isaiah: “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. ” Is.41:14 14 [BTW–For a superb message on this theme see John Piper here: http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/fear-not-you-worm-jacob ]
Yes, we’ve been crowned with glory and honor and those who have put their faith in Christ are destined to be glorified with Him (Rom.8:17), but this is not a glory revolving around us. How can it be? Ultimately all glory must return to its Giver. He is the Source of anything we may glory in.
Psalm 8 is a particularly relevant passage dealing with the magnificence of God and the derived glory of man. You will be familiar with it:
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers…what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that your care for him?”
The verses that follow present an interesting opportunity for the modern generation. We are so inclined to find reasons to glory in ourselves. We update our profiles, keep the status of our ‘goings-on’ up-to-date, and post our blogs, always fishing for compliments, praise and assurances that we are significant. But we sometimes fail to recognize and rest in the real source of our significance. Here it is outlined:
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field…” (Ps.8:5-7)
Here is the God of all Creation putting the very works of His hands into the care of mankind. He has vested us with significance. We can revel in this incredulous glory, stewarding the work of His hands in humble gratitude, and conclude with David: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” OR we can pat ourselves on the back feeling quite mighty and go fishing for human affirmation of our special-ness. The choice is ours. Our response will reflect who is the Lord of our lives.
I come back often to Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. They came to Him to find fault, while glorying in their own significance by way of heritage (Abraham and Moses!) and of meticulous rule-keeping. They lived for the praise of men, such an ephemeral glory, but missed the only source of glory that lasts:
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”, Jesus asked. (Jn.5:44) We would do better to take our cues from Jesus who lived for His Father’s glory, not His own. He refused to seek or ‘glory in’ the praise of men (Jn.5:41). The result: He received glory and honor from the Father expressed in these words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (II Pet.1:18) Isn’t this the ultimate glory we crave—knowing we have brought God pleasure by yielding our lives to His will.
This is the glory we will revel in through all eternity—the glory of God, and the knowledge that we have inexplicably been invited to participate in this glory by yielding to His work in us. He has created us in His image, redeemed us through faith in His Son, and shaped us through all the events of our lives into the likeness of His Son. He has used us to do precisely the ‘good works’ He ordained for us and in the end there will be ‘a crown of glory’ not to our praise but to His. We get a sneak preview in Revelation of what will come of those crowns:
“…the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Rev.4:10,11
It is a glorious privilege indeed to be invited to reflect such a glory.
I savored again this week C.S.Lewis’ explanation of how the glory we crave intertwines with the very glory God has promised us. He notes how quickly praise received turns to deadly self-admiration but suggests that behind this desire for glory is a desire to please the One who created us. In Heaven we will have escaped this ruinous habit of glorying in ourselves and will be able to receive God’s praise: “Well done, good and faithful servant” with the innocent delight of a child. We will gladly return the glory back to the One who alone is worthy. But let me give you Lewis’ own words:
…I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, the lawful pleasure of praise from those whom it was my duty to please turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment—a very, very short moment—before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure. And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex for ever will also drown her pride … Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself; “it is not for her to bandy compliments with her Sovereign.” I can imagine someone saying that he dislikes my idea of heaven as a place where we are patted on the back. But proud misunderstanding is behind that dislike. In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. (C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory,1942)
What a glory that will be! What an awesome God we serve.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. … You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Deut.10:17,20-21
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jer.9:23,24
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor.1:28-31
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. II Cor.10:18
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth visible and invisible.. all things were created though him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Col.1:16-18
“…when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 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, 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. II Thess.1:10-12
“…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” I Pet.4:11
Just a sampling from John Piper’s message: You Worm, Jacob.
[It is available in audio and written transcript here.]
“Satan has master-minded a phenomenal victory in the American church. By teaching us through a thousand lectures and articles and books that we are too valuable to be called worms, he has made it impossible for us to sing “Amazing Grace” with truly amazed hearts. The more beautiful and valuable man is made to appear, the less amazing it is that God should love him and help him.
The gospel of self-esteem is healing our wounds very lightly. The wings of self-worth that carry us briefly out of fear will quickly weary and drop us in despair some day…”—John Piper