I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. ~Psalm 50:15
Of all the “Christianese” words and phrases that have been tossed around and used repeatedly and casually until they lose all meaning, “glorify” is probably a contender for top offender. “Glorify God” is a phrase you’ll hear a dozen times in a typical church service between the songs sung, the Scriptures read, and sermons preached, without an attempt to ever stop and define what “glorify God” means exactly. We say that we exist to glorify God, but when pressed as to what that actually means, we usually can’t think beyond other tired cliches. What the Bible’s command– perhaps, even, the Bible’s central command– means for our jobs, our classes, our friendships, our families… well, we’re just not sure. We don’t quite know what glorifying God means and looks like, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that our fuzzy thinking has led to fuzzy living, just as we’ve seen in this study before.
When trying to get to a definition of “glorify,” not even the dictionary helps very much. Webster’s first definition says, “to give glory to,” to which I say, thanks a lot, Captain Obvious. The second definition gets a little closer: “to make glorious by bestowing honor, praise, or admiration.” “Bestowing honor, praise, or admiration” is a little more helpful, but you can see the issue: when even the dictionary can’t define the word without reusing the word in its own definition, you know we’ve got a problem.
So before we can even start seeing how the cross connects to this central Scriptural command, we first have to step back and get a hold of what, exactly, it means to glorify God.
THIS IS AWESOME
Let’s define the word “glory,” and how it relates to God, and then we’ll be able to tackle “glorify.” Glory, whether it relates to God or something else, means the display of worth and value. God’s glory, then, is the “going public” of his infinite worth, the display of his value and beauty and perfection to be admired and praised. God’s glory, according to John Piper’s definition (which I think is a good, biblical one) is “the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.”
But let’s move beyond definitions and consider for a moment: even if you can’t nail down a precise definition, you know what glory is, because you know it when you see it. When you stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and feel a sweet and thrilling sense of smallness come over you as you survey something ancient and beautiful and huge, you are seeing and experiencing glory. When you cheer for your football team surrounded by 50,000 other fans, see athletes perform amazing feats that you could never hope to do, and feel the elation that comes with being swept up into an excitement that is bigger than you, you are seeing and experiencing glory. When you watch Lord of the Rings (or pick another epic, thrilling movie for you non-nerds) and you see the battle lines drawn and brave men laying down their lives for the cause of goodness and truth and freedom and you feel a tug in your heart saying, “This is exciting! You should be like this!”, you are seeing and experiencing glory. Glory is the showcasing of something valuable and beautiful and worthy that says, “Admire me!”
The reason that we are drawn to visit places like the Grand Canyon, to cheer for sports teams, and to watch epic movies, is that we were created to see and savor glory. Our hearts yearn to admire something bigger and better than us, to be caught up into something bigger than us, and then to go tell our friends, “The Grand Canyon is awesome! You should go see it!”
If looking at the Grand Canyon is seeing glory, then describing the experience to your friend and inviting them to experience it as well is what it means to “glorify.” To glorify means to point to someone or something whose glory (in other words, whose worth, value, or beauty) has moved you, and say, “Look at that! Isn’t that awesome! Don’t you want to admire it too?”
I’ve purposely used a broad definition and example like that to help you see something: “glorifying” isn’t something we just do at church, or just do when we talk about Jesus, or even just do in relation to God. We were created to glorify, and so we do it instinctively, with all the things we love and admire. What you love and admire and think is worthy, valuable, or beautiful, you will glorify.
Here’s a simple way of explaining it. I’ve used this to explain “glorify” to little kids (sometimes those are the kinds of things that are most helpful to adults as well). Imagine that every day, you’re carrying around a big arrow with the words “This is awesome!” written on it. Throughout your day, when you are excited about something, or admire something, and you share that excitement and admiration with others, you are pointing your arrow to that thing and drawing attention to it. That’s what “glorifying” is.
For example, everybody who knows me knows that I have a deep and abiding passion for pizza (you’ve probably picked up on that simply from the number of pizza-based illustrations in this book). I can wax eloquent and talk at great length about the respective merits and flavors of all the pizza chains. Friday night is pizza-and-movie night at the Beale house– otherwise known as the best day of the week. I would, and could, (and, sadly, have) eaten pizza seven days a week and will never get bored of it. I truly love and admire pizza and think it is worthy, valuable, delicious, and yes, maybe even beautiful.
The reason that everybody who knows me knows that I love pizza is because that arrow I carry around every day is so often pointing at pizza. I am quick to say how much I love pizza, and will eagerly invite others into the enjoyment of it. Many days of the week, my life and emotions and conversations are an arrow pointing to pizza saying, “This is awesome!”
What are you passionate about? Music? A certain TV show? A hobby or job? A special person? The latest electronics products (I’m guilty of that one too- ask me about the most recent iDevice)? That which you are passionate about, you naturally talk about and think about and enjoy and seek to share with others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s the way we were created to be.
The problem is that our “arrow” spends so much time pointing at things that, in and of themselves, simply are not awesome. So much of our lives are dedicated to praising and enjoying and promoting trivial things, or good things, or even great things. But when the arrow of our life is not pointing up to God, declaring “He is awesome!”, we are malfunctioning at the very core of what our purpose as humans is, and are failing to do what we were created to do.
The most fundamental reason that you and I exist is so that, by the things we do and the way we do them, the things we say and the way we say them, the things we think and the way we think them, the things we love and the way we love them, the arrows of our lives would point to God and say, “He is awesome!” We exist to admire and enjoy the beauty, worth, and value of God, and to invite others to admire and enjoy him with us. To glorify God– “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7)– is why you exist.
GOD’S PASSION FOR HIS GLORY
If we are to truly understand what the Bible says about God’s glory and our purpose in glorifying him, there is a massive truth we need to get before us: God is radically passionate about his glory. Everything he does, he does for his glory; that is, to display his supreme value, worth, and beauty for the admiration and enjoyment of all creation. The reason God commands us to admire and enjoy his supreme value, worth, and beauty, is because God admires and enjoys his supreme value, worth, and beauty.
Does that sound selfish or conceited to you? If I said that I admire and enjoy my value, worth, and beauty, you could rightly call me a narcissist and despise me as such. But the reason we know that it’s bad to be self-absorbed is because we were created to be God-absorbed. And the reason that it is right to be God-absorbed is because God himself is God-absorbed.
I think that we’re often willing to be God-centered, as long as God is reliably man-centered. I will live my life for God, as long as God is committed to loving me and blessing me and saving me. All of God’s actions are seen with me at the center as the recipient and beneficiary of them. But this backwards, upside-down theology ultimately is still self-centered; it just arrives there by different means. Being centered on a God who is centered on me is just another way of centering on me.
But the Bible gives us a radically different picture of God: a God who is fully committed to the display of his glory; who does everything out of a commitment to uphold his own value and worth; and who, at great cost to himself, has done everything necessary to remove every obstacle between us and himself in order to enthrall us with his glory forever.
This theme is seen throughout Scripture, but perhaps its most clear and condense portrayal is in the heart of Isaiah, from chapters 40-48. This section of Isaiah resounds with this firm declaration: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8). Here are some of the God-centered glory statements from this incredible portion of Scripture:
This is the pervasive and unified message of Isaiah, and of the Bible: God is committed above all to upholding and displaying the worth of his glory. As you can see from several of those texts, all of his actions– even his saving, loving actions towards us– are motivated by this central passion in the heart of God. He blots out our transgressions– for his sake. He defers his anger from us– for the sake of his praise. He equips and guides– so that all the people on earth will know that there is none beside him. He redeems– so that he will be glorified. This is who our God is.
SAVED TO SEE, SAVOR, AND SHARE
This is the motivation that stands behind the cross of Christ. At great cost to himself, the Father put forward his Son to bear his wrath, defer his anger, and blot out transgressions. Why? Isaiah unveils the reason: “for my name’s sake,” “for the sake of my praise.” Paul tells us that “Christ became a servant… in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9). This is the burning motivation that Jesus himself displays the night before the crucifixion as he is praying:
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you… And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed… Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” ~John 17:1,5,24
Jesus came on a mission of glory: to glorify the Father, to glorify himself, and to purchase entrance for us into the everlasting seeing and savoring and sharing of that glory.
We can see these twin aims, God’s glory and our salvation, come together as one in our Cross Connection verse: “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). In other words, God says, “I will save and rescue you, and you will admire and enjoy my beauty, value, and worth, and invite others to admire and enjoy me with you.”
Psalm 50:15 points us to two important truths: first, our salvation is the means by which we glorify God; it would be impossible for us to admire and enjoy God if he doesn’t take the initiative to rescue us from our blindness and sin. God delivers us, and the result is that we will glorify him. And second, we see in Psalm 50:15 that glorifying God is the goal of our salvation; it is the very reason we were saved.
SAVED TO SEE
“I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.” If God does not take the initiative by first delivering us, we will never be able or willing to glorify him. The Bible defines our primary problem, from which we need deliverance, as a glory problem. Romans 1, laying out its indictment against sinful humanity, says that we have foolishly and rebelliously “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (Romans 1:23); we have exchanged the Creator for the creation, the true God for idols, and the Masterpiece for the mirror.
A friend of mine recently gave me a great illustration of how foolish and absurd this trade is. He compared our exchange of God’s glory for images to trading your TV for a picture of a TV. Who would do something that dumb– give away their brand new TV, and hang a snapshot of it in its place? No wonder Paul says that “claiming to be wise, they became fools;” that’s a foolish trade. Or consider another illustration that cuts right to the heart of it: it’s like me trading my wife for a picture of my wife. “I don’t need my wife,” I might say, “because I’ve got this picture of her in my wallet!” It’s that absurd, that foolish, but that’s exactly the picture that Paul gives us: we’ve exchanged God’s glory for empty images of it, and we think we’ve gotten a good deal!
This is the essence of sin: we prefer things over God, and are more impressed by the glory of TV, or sports, or food, or sex, than by the glory of the infinitely glorious God. Every other sin flowers out of this poisonous root. That’s why Romans 3:23 defines sin like this: “All have sinned and fall short (or literally, in the Greek, “lack”) the glory of God.” We have sinned and lack God’s glory. Of course we lack the glory of God; we have exchanged it, pawned it off and traded it away for this world’s trinkets. And that, Paul says, is what sin is.
When you continue reading in Romans and the rest of Scripture, it’s clear that by rejecting the sweetness and light of God’s value and worth, what we get is spiritual darkness, blindness, and emptiness. And then, to top it all off, our guilty blindness is compounded and darkened by Satan himself. “The god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
This is our condition apart from divine deliverance: we have a massive glory problem. We have exchanged the glory of God, lack the glory of God, and are therefore now blind to the glory of God. Therefore if we are to have any hope of glorifying God– of enjoying and admiring him and inviting others to do the same, which is what we were created for– we need a massive rescue. We need our sin of glory-exchanging paid for, our eyes opened to see the beauty and worth of who Jesus really is, and his glory replaced as the highest treasure in our hearts. And this is exactly the rescue that God has undertaken.
Into the evil of our glory-exchanging, which is a crime so heinous and treasonous that God regards it as worthy of death and hell, Jesus steps forward as a wrath-absorbing sacrifice in the place of sinners (Romans 3:23-25). Dying in our place for our sin, he not only pays for our rebellion; he also vindicates the worth of God’s glory by demonstrating that God would rather slaughter his Son than let even one instance of preferring creation over Creator ever go unpunished. The death of Christ proves God’s righteousness– his upholding of the worth of his own glory– and God’s love, and enables him to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
Into the darkness of our blinded condition, the Holy Spirit then undertakes to open our eyes to see the beauty and worth of who Jesus is. We may have exchanged the light of God’s glory for darkness, and Satan may have taken our guilty darkness and made us utterly spiritually blind, but God is in the business of overcoming blindness. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is what happens when God steps in to save someone; if you are trusting Christ today, this is what he did for you. With the same sovereign command that lit up the universe in Genesis 1:3, God speaks to our darkened hearts and says, “Let there be light! Blind heart, open your eyes and see Jesus for who he really is: compelling and beautiful and valuable and a sufficient Savior for all your sin.”
When God sovereignly speaks like this to a human heart like yours, Satan’s blinders fall off, the eyes of your heart are opened, and Jesus, whom you used to regard as boring, irrelevant, or offensive, no longer appears that way. You see him for who he really is, see that he’s true and real and sufficient and glorious, grasp the gospel’s good news for the first time, and freely and irresistibly claim him as your Savior. For some, this comes as a dramatic revelation, like Saul getting knocked off his horse and coming to face to face with the risen Christ. For others, like me, it involves the lights slowly coming on in the heart. I can’t pinpoint the moment when my heart first saw and embraced Jesus. All I know is, “I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). And the only reason I saw him, and thus the only reason I embraced him, is that God sovereignly spoke into my heart with unblinding authority and grace. All of my salvation, and all of my current standing before him, is owing to the way he graciously, gloriously delivered me. It all started in his heart and was accomplished by his power, for his purposes of glorifying himself– of demonstrating that he alone is able to save, that he alone is merciful and mighty. Lest we think it was our own cleverness or spirituality that made us receptive to the gospel, properly understanding how we were saved preserves God’s glory at the center of salvation. The only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin from which we need to be rescued.
SAVED TO SAVOR AND SHARE
While glory is the central issue in salvation, the gospel is so much bigger than just being rescued from our glory-exchanging ways. Let’s go back and look again at what Jesus prayed in John 17:
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”~John 17:24
Jesus’ prayer, which is a prayer that the Father delights to answer, is that we would one day finally be with him, to see his glory. The ultimate goal of the gospel is John 17:24– that we, with our eyes opened to the beauty of Jesus’ glory and our hearts changed to love his glory– would be welcomed into an eternity of seeing, savoring, and celebrating that glory. John Piper has much to say about that; the following is a quote worth reading in its entirety and meditating at length on:
“The best news of the Christian gospel is that the supremely glorious Creator of the universe has acted in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection to remove every obstacle between us and himself so that we may find everlasting joy in seeing and savoring his infinite beauty. The saving love of God is his doing whatever must be done, at great cost to himself, and for the least deserving, so that he might enthrall them with what will make them supremely happy forever, namely, himself. Therefore, the gospel of God and the love of God are expressed finally and fully in God’s gift of himself for our everlasting pleasure. ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).'”
There is a lot of good news in the gospel– forgiveness of sins, justification, eternal life. But those are all means to this end: every obstacle removed between us and the One we were made to see and savor and share forever. Forgiveness removes the sins that have made a separation between you and God (Isaiah 59:2), so that you can return to God. Justification gives you the blessing of perfect, right standing with God… so that you can joyfully say, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). And eternal life is simply the full and final enjoyment of what Jesus prayed for: “I desire that they may be with me where I am, to see my glory.”
I believe that this is the most significant key to a life that glorifies God: knowing that God has rescued you so that you can take great delight in his glory. Remember, glorifying God (or glorifying anything else for that matter) means pointing to something or someone whose worth and beauty has moved you and saying, “Look! Isn’t that awesome? Don’t you want to admire it with me?”
It’s one thing to say that about God with our lips. But it is a far more powerful testament to the beauty, worth, and value of God when people see, by the way we respond to God and talk about God and order our lives and value our possessions, that he is our supreme Treasure. God doesn’t want you to just say, “God is glorious.” He wants you to savor his glory, to respond to him as the most valuable reality in the universe, and then live like that’s true, like he’s really better than pizza and family and houses and cars and success and popularity. If Jesus Christ is more precious to me than all those things, that will change the way I relate to those things, the way I talk about them, and the way I talk about him.
And you know what? People will see that. People will see your different values system on full display when you face loss or disappointment and can confidently say, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). The great worth of Jesus will be clear to people when you make choices that seem crazy to them; when you give sacrificially to advance his kingdom, when you sacrifice your time to make him known, when you leave your job and family and comfortable life to take his gospel and glory to the nations. If his “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3), and we have tasted and seen that his glory is what satisfies our souls, then the choices we make will make that evident. What we truly love and admire and think is beautiful and valuable– that is what we will glorify.
The call to glorify God is the call to let your life be like the lens of a telescope (hence the icon for this chapter). A telescope makes faint, faraway objects appear more like they really are. For most people, God and his glory is like a star in the night sky; at best, he’s a faint twinkle on the horizon and periphery of their life. What they need is to see his reality in our lives, to put their eyes to the lens of our lives and see that God’s glory is not small and faint and irrelevant, but massive and spectacular and weighty and beautiful. And it is only when we are affected and moved and awed by his glory and grace that our lives will become the telescopes they were designed to be.
LIVING TO PROVE HIS LOVE IS BETTER THAN LIFE
Since glorifying God means admiring and enjoying God as the most valuable reality in the universe and inviting others to join you, the heart of glorifying God is believing that Psalm 63:3 is true, and living like it: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Glorifying God starts with believing and experiencing God’s steadfast love to truly be better– more valuable, more precious– than life itself and everything that life has to offer. Because if that’s really true– if God’s love, and God’s love alone, outweighs every blessing and joy this life has to offer– that will have radical, transforming implications for how we live. Glorifying God, then, means living to prove that his love is better than life. Think for a moment of all the things you love in this world, all the good things, and all the things that draw your attention and consume your time. What would it mean if you really believed that experiencing and seeing and possessing and sharing God’s steadfast love was better than all of those things?
Would you care quite so much what other people thought of you especially as it related to sharing the life-changing news of God’s saving, steadfast love with them? If we really believed Psalm 63:3, then our lips and our lives would have one message to those around you: “His steadfast love is better than popularity.”
How would you think about and use money, if all your money was just a means to savor and spread the news of God’s infinite worth? Would entertainment and comfort be the priorities people would see in your budget, or would God’s purposes and God’s kingdom and sacrificial generosity shine? If we really believed Psalm 63:3, our wallets and budgets would proclaim, “His steadfast love is better than money!”
If “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10), what would that mean for the way you spent your time, and scheduled your days, and the priorities you have? Would your calendar demonstrate to people that you are the center of your life, or would it suggest that God’s purposes are what you love most? If we invested our moment and our days in savoring his glory and making his glory known, maybe then our calendars would shout to everyone who saw them, “His steadfast love is better than life!”
This is where the “rubber” of glory meets the “road” of your life. Your friends and family and co-workers and relationships have been given to you so that you might live with them in such a way that demonstrates that they are not your treasure; Jesus is your treasure. Your money has been given to you so that you might spend it in a way that demonstrates that money is not your treasure; Jesus is your Treasure. Your days and weeks and years have been given to you so that you might use them in such a way that demonstrates that they are not your treasure; Jesus is your Treasure.
When this becomes the heartbeat of our lives– “Your steadfast love is better than life!”– then our lips and wallets and calendars and relationships will begin to do what they were created to do: sing his praise. And our lives will become telescope lenses, in which the world can see the glorious, precious, weighty reality of Jesus Christ, whose love is better than life.
Father, You are glorious– valuable, weighty, worthy, beautiful– beyond all compare. Open my eyes day by day to see more of you in your Word and in your world, so that my heart will be thrilled with that which is most thrilling. Forgive me for loving trinkets more than you, the supreme Treasure of the universe. Reorient my values system until you become my highest Good, so that everyone who meets me will see that you are worthy of love and honor and praise.