When the Gospel Drives the Church (pt. 1)

In the days ahead I will be posting some articles based upon my message and vision presentation on Vision Day at Church of the Saviour.

When the Gospel drives the church:

1. God’s glory becomes our chief end and highest value.
Perhaps the first issue we should settle is whether or not we can be sure that God’s glory ought to be our chief end.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father who is in Heaven,…” (Matt 6:9ff). These words are not just a sensible prelude to a generic prayer. Notice that Jesus directs our attention heavenward. This is not “Our Father” the invisible helper. This is not “Our Father” the kindly, magical grandfather. This is the glorious Creator and King of the Universe. This is the One encircled by praise from all the inhabitants of heaven. Even now the Father is surrounded by strange and holy beings who call out day and night, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is, and is to come!” (Rev 4:8). In teaching us to pray, Jesus invites us to begin by acknowledging what all of heaven already recognizes about his matchless worth.

The second clause in Jesus’ prayer is, “hallowed be your name.” Jesus invites us to pray that God’s name will be recognized throughout the world as holy. In other words, Jesus is saying, “When you pray, what ought to be uppermost in your mind is that God’s name be hallowed, revered, reverenced in all the earth.” And when Jesus says, “hallowed by your name” he is using the word “name” as a summation of all the perfections of God. We are to pray that God, in the totality of his being will be recognized and praised for being holy.

In Ephesians 1 we read that God’s purpose in election is His glory: “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1:5-6). In other words, the reason for God’s election of His people before the foundations of the world (Eph 1:4) is that He might be praised for His glorious grace. Certainly there are innumerable blessings that accrue to the people of God because of the Father’s electing grace. But the chief end of God’s gracious saving of His people is His own glory.

How does Jesus motivate us toward greater obedience? “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). This same theme is echoed in 1 Peter 2:12 where we are told to keep our conduct before pagans pure so that the day will come when they too might glorify God. Paul sums it up nicely in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” No matter what we do, whether washing dishes, commuting to work, or declaring the Gospel; all these are to be gathered up for the purpose of magnifying the greatness of God.

The writers of the Westminster Catechism saw the priority or God’s glory throughout Scripture. What is more, they understood the interconnectedness of the glory of God and the joy of mankind. The first question of the Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Treasuring the glory of God above all else guards us from the idolatry of self. We are to pursue the glory of God precisely because God is the highest good and chief treasure in the universe. We do not pursue the glory of God as our chief end because we imagine that God will then make us His chief end. John Piper rightly concludes, “Teaching God’s God-centeredness forces the issue of whether we treasure God because of his excellence or mainly because He endorses ours.” Stephen Nichols has written, “The glory of God is the compass that keeps all our theologizing, pastoring, and Christian living oriented in the right direction – toward God and not toward ourselves.”

So how does the Gospel drive this? How does the Gospel ensure that our chief end will be the glory of God? It begins with the fact that the Gospel is, above all, a God-glorifying reality. That is, the content of the good news, the dying and rising of Christ, is primarily about the glory of God. This is a necessary corrective for many of us raised in a brand of evangelicalism to think that we are the primary reason for the death and resurrection of Christ. We hear songs and sermons proclaiming that as Jesus hung upon the cross He was thinking of me “above all.” But is this true? I would suggest that this sentiment is a grave misunderstanding of Jesus’ primary motive in dying for sinners.

In what Martin Luther called the chief place in all the Bible (Romans 3:21-26), we learn that Jesus died to vindicate the righteousness of God.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Before He died for sinners, Jesus died for the Father. He died to show forth God’s righteousness because in His patience with the sins of His saints under the Old Covenant, God opened himself up to the charge of injustice. “How could a holy God forgive such a one as David?” “How can a righteous and just God forgive such a duplicitous man as Jacob?” Over and over again these challenges to God’s character could be raised. But the cross answers all these challenges. For it was on the cross that God punished the sins of all His people, past, present, and future. This is why Paul tells us that in the Gospel, “the righteousness of God” is made known.

God put forth His Son as a propitiation (a substitutionary sacrifice satisfying his wrath) in order to “show His righteousness.” God crucified His Son in order to remain just even as He chose to be the justifier of sinners.

Do not misunderstand. Jesus certainly died for sinners. He was crucified and raised that sinners might live. But even this is a means toward the greater end of magnifying the glory of the One who saves sinners through the sacrifice of His beloved Son.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) The fruit of God’s redeeming work through Christ, to make for himself a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, was ultimately for the purpose of showing forth His glorious light. God saved us for the sake of His praise. He saved us for the magnification of His glory.

The Gospel communicates just how good God is, not how good we are. The Gospel shows off the righteousness of God, not the value of man. The Gospel puts on display the holiness of God who will not fail to judge the unrighteous and the merciful God who saves the unrighteous at the cost of His own Son. The Gospel is saturated with the glory of God and therefore Gospel people will have about them the aroma of God’s glory. Gospel people will love the glory of God. Therefore, a church that is driven by the Gospel will treasure above all else the magnification of the greatness of God for that is what the Gospel does.