One of the five “Solas” of the Reformation (which is actually a “Soli” not a “Sola”!) is Soli Deo Gloria: “God’s Glory Alone”. A healthy gospel church is eager that God alone be glorified in all of its work and witness, because, as the Apostle says, “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:35). Let us consider three aspects of the church’s life in which it is vital that God alone is glorified.
God’s Glory Alone in Worship
“I didn’t like the worship this morning,” said the congregant to the pastor. “That’s ok,” the pastor replied, “we weren’t worshipping you.” When the church gathers to worship, God is far from indifferent about what takes place. He is jealous for his own worship – and that is just the point, it is his worship, not ours. Why then do we so often start with ourselves and our preferences when we think about worship? Instead of “what kind of worship do I like?” or “what kind of worship would attract non-believers?”, a truly healthy gospel church asks “what kind of worship most glorifies God?”
This will in fact attract the worshippers God is seeking, those who will worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). After all, what non-believers need to see when they come to church is truly that God is in our midst (1 Cor. 14:25). Accordingly, worship must be offered according to his Word. If we bring to God what he has not specifically asked for in worship, then we have to ask ourselves, “who are we really worshipping? Whose preferences are driving this – God’s or ours?” This is not an argument for the traditional over the contemporary – for if we exalt the traditions of men over the law of God we are not giving God glory either. Rather it is the recognition that, when a healthy gospel church gathers to meet with its God, it is God’s preferences, not ours, that are given first and last consideration. We can only know what these preferences are by careful and reverent reflection on the Scriptures. Worship should indeed be consumer-driven – if we recognise that the consumer is God!
“Worship should indeed be consumer-driven – if we recognise that the consumer is God!”
God’s Glory Alone in Salvation
In the gospel, God alone is glorified, because salvation is a work of his sovereign grace from beginning to end. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9). We are simply the grateful recipients of this grace. No glory is due to us. I recently had the unpleasant experience of hearing a Christian testimony in which the person sharing it repeatedly gave themselves a big verbal pat on the back for their faith and that following Jesus was the best decision they had ever made. There was no mention of God’s amazing grace, without which they would have remained spiritually dead and utterly without hope in the world. Whilst we ourselves do exercise faith, this faith is a gift from God, as is every other aspect of salvation (Eph. 2:1-10). It is by grace we are saved, so that none can boast. Yet it seems that many professing Christians today would indeed love to take some of the credit, because what is taught in many allegedly evangelical congregations is little more than sanctified self-help – “you can do it” rather than “Christ has done it”. God’s glory alone in salvation must be at the core of a healthy gospel church’s teaching, lest we raise a generation of boastful Pharisees who would congratulate themselves in the Lord’s presence: “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men!” Teaching on salvation (otherwise known as the gospel) in a healthy gospel church, must give glory to God alone.
God’s Glory in Service
There is nothing more off-putting than a Christian seeking to get glory for him or herself whilst ostensibly “serving” the church. This is rarely undisguised and is often masked by a false humility that will readily say “to God be the glory” but rarely, if ever, means it. Church leaders are some of the worst culprits. As Francis Schaeffer once put it, if we really want to do the Lord’s work, we must do it in the Lord’s way. And that means doing it with a genuine servant-hearted humility that doesn’t seek glory for ourselves but is always pointing to our Saviour. As the Apostle says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). If we are honest, we ourselves are rarely, if ever, entirely selfless in our service. Vainglory is something we can all repent of, and we should do just that. Healthy church members in healthy churches repent of putting themselves before God and their brethren in worship, work and witness. We should, of course, honour, encourage and support those who serve. But the motivation for such service should not be praise or honour for ourselves but love for God and others. The best antidote to self-conceit is to meditate on the utterly breath-taking self-emptying of Christ which took him from the heights of glory to the depths of Golgotha, for God and others, and to remember that a servant is not above his Master.
“The best antidote to self-conceit is to meditate on the utterly breath-taking self-emptying of Christ which took him from the heights of glory to the depths of Golgotha, for God and others, and to remember that a servant is not above his Master.”
This was part of Paul’s gospel medicine in pastoring the congregation in Philippi, which was in many respects the model of a healthy gospel church, but was being threatened by disunity and self-interest. Our service too then, must be reformed according to Scripture. But we ought never to use that phrase as some tribal badge, but rather as expressive of a genuine desire for Spirit-wrought change in our hearts and in our churches as the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word does its renewing work.
I heard recently of a church that decided to meet for extended times of congregational prayer. For long periods of these sessions, which lasted for several hours, the people simply praised God and gave him the glory. That sounds very healthy to me. There is nothing healthier for a church than to be captivated by the glory of God.
Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory (Psalm 115:1)
The vision of the Free Church of Scotland is to see a “Healthy Gospel Church for Every Community in Scotland.”
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