To God be the Glory
What is the meaning or purpose of life? What are we here for? The Westminster Confession of Faith addresses this aeons old question this way: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Notice there's nothing there about self esteem or success or "victorious living." Those things might be part of your specific package deal, but for the Reformers, the purpose of our existence is to bring glory to God and enjoy His presence. This is undeniably personal, but it is also undeniably theo-centric (God-centered).
This week I and others praised the Pennsylvania Amish community for their radical grace in response to the most heinous of murders. This humble community of Jesus followers demonstrated an openness and an obedience and a willingness that puts most of our feeble attempts at Christlike living to shame. But that's sort of beside the point. Because as much as the Amish are due honor for their granting forgiveness, we must be careful that it is not the Amish who are glorified. What they did would not have been possible without the work and power of Jesus Christ.
So the media -- including some Christian bloggers -- is providing analysis that is deceptively inaccurate. The Amish deserve kudos, but God deserves the glory. What happened in Pennsylvania in the wake of that tragedy is not only or primarily a testament to the humility, faithfulness, or meekness of the believer; it is a testament to the inestimable grace of the Almighty God.
We Christians today are accustomed to commenting on the strength or size of our faith and the faith of others. When someone overcomes impossible odds, we may say, "She had so much faith." When someone fails -- maybe it's ourselves -- we are tempted to think, "Maybe he (I) didn't have enough faith." I won't discount the necessity of faith. How could I? It's all over the Scriptures. We are justified through our faith. But did you know even your faith is a gift from God? That's right. Your faith, big as a mountain or small as a mustard seed, is there because God willed you to have it.
Last week I shared with my church small group and with the readers of BCC is Broken a message by John Piper called Sustained by All His Grace. An excerpt:
[W]e really do work, but all our working is the fruit of enabling grace. Paul explains this in Philippians 2:12b-13:
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
We work, but when we have worked by faith in God's enabling future grace (rather than for the merit of the law), we turn around and say about our work, "My work was God's work in me, willing and "doing his good pleasure."
So when we say . . . that we are "sustained by all His grace," we do not mean sustained like friends sustaining a broken wheelchair while we do our own independent work. We mean that everything in this spiritual dynamic is sustained by God's grace. "Treasuring all that God is" is a work of grace in my heart. I would not treasure God without a mighty work of grace in my life (Acts 18:27; Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8f; 2 Tim. 2:25). "Loving all whom he loves" is a work of grace in my heart (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; Phil 1:9; Gal. 5:22). "Praying for all his purposes" is a work of grace in my heart (Phi. 2:13; Heb. 13:21). And "meditating on all his word," is a work of grace (Psa. 119:36).
Why has God set it up this way? Because the giver gets the glory. God has established the universe in such a way that it magnifies the glory of his all-sufficiency. You can see this really clearly in 1 Peter 4:11:
Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies [that's grace]; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
God gets the glory because he gave the grace.
But who gets the glory in our lives, in our day, when a great faith is exercised? Is it ever God? Maybe. Is it always God? I don't think so. The Bible talks about "heroes of the faith," and therefore so should we. But we should never make our heroes into idols, and at no time is that more tempting than in our culture of celebrity Christianity. Who gets the glory in the megachurch or the minichurch? Wh gets the glory in Christian publishing or Christian music? Who gets the glory on our blogs and in the blogosphere?
Who gets the glory in your church, in your family, in your life?
Whose reputation are you trying to further?
If you say it is Jesus Christ's, are you ready to apply to your own life, whatever it takes, the fact that He had to go through shame to get to glory? However monumental your own work for the Lord is, it is not your doing, but His. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the starter and finisher of your faith, and that to get to "enjoying God forever," he endured the scorn and shame of the cross. In your life, are you too busy planting your flag to take up your cross?
Your faith has made you well, but God is the healer. Your faith has saved you, but He is the Savior. When you do good works so that men may see, is it to further your career, your public perception, or your renown? Or is to glorify your Father in heaven? If we were to put a spiritual magnifying glass over your house, over your church, over your office, over your personal portfolio, over your promotional website, over your heart -- who would be magnified? I think like most people, I find myself crying out to God when I feel weak but tooting my own horn when I feel strong.
But if I am a real follower of Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live with flesh and blood I actually live in He who loves me and died for me. I hope my life of faith is lived with the explicit and implicit acknowledgment that both my life and my faith are gifts from God and that therefore it is He who gets the glory regardless of what I achieve or don't achieve.
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -— that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
-- 1 Corinthians 1:30-31
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
-- Romans 12:3