Soli Deo Gloria: To the Glory of God Alone
The last of the five “solas” of the Reformation is soli Deo gloria, which means “to the glory of God alone.” Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” From one point of view, we could say that the work of the Protestant Reformers was all about restoring God’s people to a God-centered Christianity. To do this, they sought to identify and correct all kinds of man-centered distortions in the church’s doctrine, worship, and life and to redirect people’s attention and energy in every case to pursuing the glory of God alone.
First, the Reformers sought to restore the glory of God to the center of the church’s theology. If God saves us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, then we cannot take any credit for our salvation; “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9). The Reformation doctrines later summed up by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. have at their heart a steady insistence on the sovereignty of God in salvation—that if it were not for God’s gracious initiative, we would not even reach out to him in faith; soli Deo gloria! Likewise, in their doctrine of the church, the Reformers were keen to emphasize that Christ alone is the king and head of the church, rejecting the spiritual tyranny of the pope and the outward pomp of the medieval church hierarchy, which transferred to men power and glory that belong to Christ alone. Reformation theology has been described as “big God theology”—theology that seeks to promote the glory of God alone.
Second, the Reformers sought to restore the glory of God to the center of the church’s worship. Sometimes man-centered worship can be highly traditional, formal, and aesthetically sophisticated; other times it may be very casual, sentimental, and popular; we sinners are endlessly creative in inventing for ourselves self-centered ways of worshiping God. But Christian worship ought to be God-centered worship—simple, understandable, Christ-exalting, and rich with the means of grace (word, sacraments, and prayer) that God has appointed in His word for His people to commune with Him.
Grace-Based Action Point
Finally, the Reformers sought to restore the glory of God to the center of the Christian life. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism recognizes the pursuit of God’s glory as fundamental for all of our faith and life when it says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Calvin writes in his Institutes (3.7.2), “When Scripture bids us leave off self-concern, it not only erases from our minds the yearning to possess, the desire for power, and the favor of men, but it also uproots ambition and all craving for human glory and other more secret plagues. Accordingly, the Christian must surely be so disposed and minded that he feels within himself it is with God he has to deal throughout his life.”
“We are not our own” he says. “Let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him….” (3.7.1). That’s what it looks like and feels like to live your life soli Deo gloria.
Yours in Christ,