Is Glory God’s Only Goal?

Has the glory of God become a cliché among the young, restless, Reformed crowd? The vocabulary of glory is on the rise, but certain misunderstandings and imbalances linger. Will “the glory of God” become a cliché, much like “the love of God” to the previous generation, which too often reduced love to sentimentality?

It is encouraging to hear much about God’s glory as his ultimate end. I rejoice in the renewed interested in Jonathan Edwards as well as the contemporary influence of pastors like John Piper and ministries like The Gospel Coalition. I rejoice that many are captured by God’s glory as the ultimate end, as it is the goal of creation; the exodus; Israel; Jesus’ ministry, life, death, resurrection, and reign; our salvation; the church; the consummation; all of salvation history; and even God himself. Paul often highlights this cosmic goal: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29); “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16; cf. Rom. 11:33-36; Heb. 2:10).

While there is a healthy resurgence in teaching that glory is God’s ultimate end, many inadvertently equate God’s ultimate end with God’s comprehensive motivation (Edwards and Piper do not make this mistake, but many who read them do). As a result, we rarely hear that God often acts with multiple ends in mind.

Many Reasons

Take the exodus, for instance. Why did God redeem his people from slavery in Egypt? One might quickly reply, “For his glory.” Certainly God redeems his people from slavery to glorify himself. But the book of Exodus presents God’s reasons for deliverance in a multifaceted way:

  • Concern for his oppressed people (3-4)
  • Faithfulness to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15; 4:5; 6:8; 32:13; 34:6; cf. Deut. 7:6-10)
  • That Israel would serve the Lord (4:23; 6:5; etc.)
  • That you should know I am the LORD (6:7; 10:2; 13:1f)
  • To give the promised land (6:8)
  • That the Egyptians will know I am the LORD (7:5; 14:3-4; 14:15-18)
  • That Pharaoh will know the LORD as incomparable (7:17; 8:10-18)
  • To display his power (9:16)
  • That his name might be proclaimed in all the earth (9:16)
  • To pass down a heritage to the children (10:1-2)
  • That his wonders might be multiplied (11:9)
  • To get glory over Pharaoh and his army (14:3-18)
  • For Israel’s sake (18:8)

So God delivered his people for a variety of reasons, not merely one. The incomparable God acts out of love, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, and jealousy. This is critical to notice because if we equate God’s ultimate end with God’s comprehensive motivation, we end up subsuming his attributes under his glory. But God acts according to who he is. He loves because he is loving. He acts rightly because he is righteousness. Certainly, as he acts, he displays himself; and as he displays himself, he glorifies himself. But we must not say that God acts for his glory without simultaneously stressing that God acts out of his love, goodness, faithfulness—out of who he is.

Note also that God delivers his people for his glory, for their good, for judgment on Egypt, and for the continuance of his covenant people. Recognizing and stressing these multiple ends does not detract from an emphasis on God’s glory but actually underlines it. Indeed, in the exodus, God displays his love, covenant faithfulness, jealously, providence, and power through his wonders, salvation, and judgment, in which he manifests himself and thus glorifies himself.

Why Does God Save Us?

Or we can consider the doctrine of salvation and ask, “Why does God save us?” One might hastily retort, “For his glory.” Again, that is right and critical. But the Bible provides a wide range of reasons. Powerfully and regularly, God himself explains his motive for saving. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave . . .” (cf. 1 John 4:9-10). Ephesians 1:4-5 extols, “In love” God predestined us (cf. Deut. 7), and Ephesians 2:4 ties our salvation to God’s love, mercy, and grace (cf. Titus 3:4-5). John 17 records Jesus’ high priestly prayer, interweaving God’s glory and the good of his people, praying and acting in part, “for their sake” (17:19). Romans 8:28 also makes it clear that redemptive history is, in large part, for the good of God’s people.

So why does God save? For many reasons, but in and through all of them, God displays who he is and thus glorifies himself. God manifests his glory because in saving us he displays his wisdom (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Eph. 3:10-11), righteousness, justice (Rom. 3:25-26), love, mercy, kindness, (Eph. 2:4-7; Rom. 9:20-23), freedom, wrath, and power (Rom. 9:20-23).

  • Kenton

    Yes, but just by the example given above from Exodus, 9/13 have to do with God’s glory and reputation, while the rest have to do with his purposes as revealed to Abraham. So in fact, we can reduce God’s motivation and purpose to this one thing: His glory.

    Except, I thing the problem is that we have this very objective view of God’s glory, the surrounding-his-throne view that we find in Revelation with the 24 elders and angels, rather than the view presented throughout the Gospels and Epistles and even the end of Revelation, where God’s people share in his glory in Christ as his sons. This is the good that God intends; not that we simply behold his objective glory, but that we share in it for an eternity.

    So yes, the ultimate aim of all things is the glory of God, but it’s that the sons of God would obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the God of all grace has called us as sons to his eternal glory in Christ. And the creation also will be liberated into the glory of the children of God. That’s 2 Thessalonians 2, 1 Peter 5, and Romans 8. So the glory that is the end of God’s purposes and acts is not a glory to be observed from a distance, but a glory that is obtained and shared.

    This is precisely why God’s pursuit of His own glory is for our good. It isn’t simply that our making much of God brings us maximum joy, but that this supremely glorious God has called us into His own glory, which belongs to Christ. That is why Christ in us is the hope of glory, for as he has obtained glory, so through him we are also heirs of the same glory. This was the joy set before Christ, and so it is also our joy. For as Hebrews says, what God is doing is bringing many sons to glory through the Son of God. And so Christ will be the firstborn among many brothers who are conformed to his image.

    • Chris

      As I said, “Recognizing and stressing these multiple ends does not detract from an emphasis on God’s glory but actually underlines it. Indeed, in the exodus, God displays his love, covenant faithfulness, jealously, providence, and power through his wonders, salvation, and judgment, in which he manifests himself and thus glorifies himself.”
      Also, see my The Glory of God for more on God sharing glory.

  • anonymous

    “Is Glory God’s Only Goal?”
    “God often acts with multiple ends in mind.”

    Not sure I understand this post Multiple ends? What other goal of His could even exist? Glory=beauty

    John 1:3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

    Col 1: 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

    1 Cor 15:28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

  • Nick McDonald

    Christopher, you say: “Or we can consider the doctrine of salvation and ask, ‘Why does God save us?’ One might hastily retort, ‘For his glory.'”

    According to Edwards, this view was actually wrong (see his essay on “The Ends for Which God Created the World”). Edwards would say that His saving us IS His glory – that the terms are biblically univocal.

    I appreciate your including the various motivations of God – but Edwards would actually argue that these are all the same thing; God glorifying Himself in the eyes of His beloved.

    • Chris

      In the essay you mention, Edwards argues for something quite similar to what I assert here: ultimate and subordinate ends. Though accurate, “subordinate” might come across as unimportant today, so I prefer multiple. My use of ultimate for glory assumes the others are subordinate.

      • Nick McDonald

        I agree that Edwards talks about subordinate and ultimate ends – however, he argues 1.) That God’s glory is spoken of as the ultimate end of all things, and 2.) The love toward the saints is spoken of as the ultimate end of all things, therefore 3.) God’s glorifying himself and his love to the saints must be the very same thing. Everything else is spoken of as subordinate means to this dually expressed, singular purpose.

        • Chris

          Not sure you are catching my argument. Check out The Glory of God (Crossway). I address some of your issues there.

          • Nick McDonald

            Thanks, Chris. I’ll check it out.

  • Michael

    For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

  • EMSoliDeoGloria

    Excellent. The infinite God cannot be simplified to fit our boxes! And to say that he does X for his glory, while true, often serves only to provoke the question – why does X glorify God more than Y? If God had chosen to do Y, wouldn’t that be for his glory too?

    Indeed, God’s reasons are complex but we need not use glory as a synonym for inscrutability (though his ways are past finding out) in those areas where God has clearly given other reasons for his actions in human affairs. God’s glory does not negate the other aspects of his character which also motivate his involvement in the world he made. His people need to hear of his personal love, faithfulness, mercy, kindness, justice, etc.

  • Thomas Dawsey

    I would agree that God has sub-reasons for His actions but His glory is always the central motivator and those sub-reasons are ways in which He is bringing himself glory. All the examples listed above are specific ways in which God is bringing Himself glory.

    • AStev

      “All the examples listed above are specific ways in which God is bringing Himself glory.”

      Exactly. As the author of the original post wrote, God’s glory is his ultimate motivation, but it is not his only motivation.

  • Chris

    As I read these valuable comments, I find it interesting how hard it is for some to allow God the motivation of love, without immediately subsuming it.

    • David Graham

      I agree, which is why I’m thankful you wrote the article.

      Have you considered that perhaps certain Calvinist soteriologies demand this sort of thinking? If God does things which cannot be loving in any meaningful sense of the term (e.g. unconditional reprobation), then it becomes difficult not to subordinate divine “love” to divine “glory,” which is essentially his sovereign freedom to do what he wants. In my opinion, in order to affirm that God really is Love in the same essential sense that he is Glory, one must reject the voluntarism that seems to underlie certain Reformed theologies.

  • Patrick Beard

    Thank you and God bless you for writing this!!!

    I have grown so weary of the young zealots who negate the love of God as they proclaim His “glory”. I have heard neo-Puritans make presentations of God as though he was the rock-star of the universe, who’s love is superficial and egocentric.

    Thank you for this balanced and Biblical view.

  • PJ Tibayan

    Chris, thanks for a stimulating article. I’m on the last 6 pages of your book, “The Glory of God” and have reflected much on this topic and taught it at our church. I just finished teaching on “The Glory of God in the Local Church” at the Legacy Conference in Chicago.

    My short answer to the question/title of your post is, “Yes, it’s his only ultimate goal AND no, it’s not his only goal if you’re thinking of his many penultimate goals.”

    I believe you’d agree with me on that as Edwards lays out in his dissertation, but the article doesn’t feel like that (though I can point to certain sentences where I would argue you agree with it). Here are a few quotes from your article with my thoughts on it:

    “As a result, we rarely hear that God often acts with multiple ends in mind… So God delivered his people for a A VARIETY of reasons, not MERELY ONE.” You seem to equate the ends and not distinguish between ultimate and penultimate ends. From other parts of the article you make a distinction. I do think you think there is a distinction, but some of your sentences sound and feel not only like you’re arguing for the penultimate ends to be stressed and given their due, but that they are equally ultimate.

    “Simultaneously stressing” is ok, but does that mean equally stressing as ultimate? I don’t think you’d say yes to that, but the sound and feel of your article leans that way. You wrote: “Certainly, as he acts, he displays himself; and as he displays himself, he glorifies himself. But we must not say that God acts for his glory WITHOUT SIMULTANEOUSLY STRESSING that God acts out of his love, goodness, faithfulness—out of who he is.”

    “This is critical to notice because if we equate God’s ultimate end with God’s comprehensive motivation, we end up subsuming his attributes under his glory.” I agree we shouldn’t equate “ultimate” and “comprehensive” motivation/end, but I don’t think subsuming attributes under his glory is bad. You subsumed it (correctly, I think) when you wrote, “Indeed, in the exodus, God displays his love, covenant faithfulness, jealously, providence, and power through his wonders, salvation, and judgment, IN WHICH he manifests himself and thus glorifies himself.” You also did that in the last sentence of the article.

    I mean for this to be helpful and add clarity. Thanks for your book on God’s Glory. I appreciate it and have learned much from it. I know Jose is reading it for one of your classes so I’ll expect a few more discussions on the book with him.

    Your brother in Christ,

    • Chris

      Thanks, PJ. I think you are catching what I am and am not saying. I fear that many are flattening out the biblical storyline as well as the doctrine of God. This may be due to a one-sided definition of glory, when the Bible speaks of it in multiple senses. It may be due to the emphasis on extrinsic glory rather than intrinsic and extrinsic. And it may be due to people not thinking carefully about how God saves out of love. God’s love for me is not only a love for Himself, though it is not less than that.

  • basher

    I think the reason many of the young reformed folks (like myself) hold so strongly to the “glory of God” stance is because of the “love of God” shift we saw growing up. We were a part of that and realized that the God who was there to make things nice and tidy wasn’t the God of the Bible. Romans 9 actually began to mean something. Our generation’s worry is that people will make the penultimate things, ultimate things. We rightly want to assert God’s actions as glorifying to himself before we assume them to be our entitlements as his beloved creations.

    I’m not blanket-defending this new generation though, there are certainly those of us who’ve been cold to the pains of this world because “everything works for his glory.” We can be all truth with no love.

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  • Melody

    I appreciate this a lot. When the emphasis on God’s glory started happening I felt like a lot of well intentioned people were saying that God didn’t actually love us, He just wanted to glorify Himself. It was very depressing.

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  • Jimmy

    The beautiful part of God’s desire to bring glory to himself is that it is never selfish. God is triune. The Father loves and exalts the son, The Son loves and desires to obey the will of the father and all is done by the power of the spirit. Within the community of God we see these characteristice of love and selflessness, which provide the window into seeing the triune God’s greatness! His glory!

    Thankyou Chris for a good article. You’re right to often we answer the reason question with “For God’s glory”. And as you said it’s not that it’s wrong, or should’nt be considered as the ultimate thing. But that God’s reasons for doing things have more behind it than the simply put “For his glory”. Ultimately this is why we exist, but such a truth is more beautiful when we see he does these things because he cares for us, he is just, he is loving (when we see that trinitarian nature spilling out in creation). His many reasons for doing all things ultimate show that he is such a Glorious God!

    • Chris

      Yes, thank you. You are tracking what I am getting at.

  • Ryan

    I have to confess, I struggle a great deal with the idea of God’s primary motivation being His own glorification. God is an omnipotent deity who is infinitely glorified through any conceivable circumstance so to me, the notion of Him being in pursuit of His own glory seems to be an entirely unsatisfactory explanation. Why did God do X? For His own glory! But would He not have been equally glorified if He did Y? Yes! So… why did He do X?

    To me, saying glory is the root of everything God does is like saying breathing oxygen is the root of everything humans do. It’s arguably true, and it even has the potentially to be mildly profound, but it is existentially unfulfilling. The proposition that we should live our lives to glorify God seems to me to be meaningless. If I love my wife as Christ loved the church, then God is glorified through that mirroring. If I hurt and abuse my wife, then God is glorified through demonstrating how far away this is from His will. Either way, God is glorified – and glorified equally, for God is infinitely glorified, and how could one hope to partition up infinity? And yet, the latter is certainly not something we ought to be doing.

    To be honest, I’m still struggling a lot with the statement that God’s greatest passion is for His own glory. Arguments such as this present that God’s glory is a passion of His, but there is nothing in there to suggest that His glory is God’s chief passion. I personally maintain that assertions of God’s greatest desires or chief aims are entirely futile, an attempt to define an infinite being by the (very) limited revelation He has given us. We know that God is glorious, loving, righteous, just, etc. Do we truly possess the knowledge and wisdom to assert which of those is predominant in His mind?

    Just a few questions that this post spurred on in my head.

  • Matthew Johnson

    I get the author’s point, and as I have read the comments, I have been sharpened and for this I am grateful. This comment is not opposed to anything the author has said, because I too am concerned about the YRR’s possible over-emphasis or rather tendency to trivialize the concept of God’s glory. It is much the same concern I have for the “Gospel-centered” movement’s tendency to attack “gospel” as a tag-line on everything, thus legitimizing or at least sounding confessional (eg. Gospel-centered marriage, gospel-centered debt reduction, Gospel-centered sexuality, etc.)

    I wonder if we are on the wrong track when we confuse God’s motives for God’s intended results. This may be a slight distinction to some, but I believe such a distinction is merited. In Greek syntax, I was taught to be careful to distinguish between purpose and result when doing discourse analysis (arcing for the Piper fans). Maybe we should apply this same discipline when thinking about God’s glory and his ultimate purpose. I believe that without question, the end result of God’s work in this world will be what God’s initial work in creating this world accomplished, God is glorified by his creation. God is viewed, proclaimed, and revealed as supreme weightiness. Since the fall, men and all of nature has fought against that end result sometimes intentionally and sometimes just naturally, but God has redeemed man (and continues to do so) and will eventually redeem all his creation so that what he intended as the result of his initial creation does and will come to pass, his glory and praise. Therefore, God orchestrates even evil things and terrible things to ultimately bring him glory. That is not to say that those evil things are good or holy, or glorifying by their own nature, but that they will ultimately result in glorifying God.

    Therefore, the result of everything is the final and perfect glory of God. But God’s purposes which will always produce this final result are varied yet always consistent with his Divine nature. Therefore, he purposes to love sinners, the result is God is glorified, He purposes to fulfill promises, the result is God is glorified. He purposes to judge the wicked, the result is God is glorified. Whatever God purposes to do, and the Scripture reveals multiple purposes within the framework of his perfect nature, will come to pass for the praise of his glory.

    Therefore, we must apply this to ourselves and not simply answer the question, “Why should I love my wife?” with “to glorify God?” Yes, loving my wife will glorify God. But rather, how can I glorify God in my marriage, by obeying by faith the commands of a good and perfect God who has told me “Love your wife as Christ loves the church.” And because of the All-encompassing grace of God, this will redound unto his glory.
    Sorry for the lengthy comment, would appreciate correction where I may be off.

    • Matthew Johnson

      Sorry on line 5 I wrote “attack” gospel, when I meant “attach” gospel.

  • David

    A few years ago I did a study on the topic of God’s glory in Scripture, partly for the reason of trying to explore the reality beneath a phrase that is in danger of becoming cliche. It brought me to an awareness of a few helpful concepts.

    From the usage of Scripture, it is really hard to get a narrow, precise definition of what God’s glory is. It’s used a number of different ways. I found the following definitions helpful:
    1. God’s glory refers to his fame; being known or recognized.
    2. Glory is strongly connected to the concept of the presence of God as experienced by human beings, such as Moses’ Mt. Sinai experience or Ezekiel by the Kebar river.
    3. To experience the glorious presence of God is to experience a piece of the reality of who he is. Glory can meaningfully refer to not just subjective facts about human recognition of God, but to the objective reality of that for which he is recognized and deserves such recognition. When we might talk about “the glory of Rome”, for example, we are making a statement about its wealth and power. To talk about the glory of God, is to talk about the reality that God is the almighty king of the universe.

    I think that we can pretty well wrap these ideas up together and express them in a definition such as “God’s glory is the knowledge of who he is, in all of his goodness.” If God desires his own glory, this means he desires to be known by all. (In the Exodus, he desires this from both the Israelites and the Egyptians.)

    That leads me to ask “Who has the most to gain from knowing God?” God desires us to know him, but if we do not, it doesn’t take anything away from who or what he is. But if we do not know God, we are lost. This would suggest that God’s glory is absolutely benevolent. He wants to be glorified (that is, known by his creation) for reasons absulutle different than a pop star who is internally insecure and addicted to fame. God’s desire for fame is an expression of his love, whereby he desires his creatures to have the relationship with their creator which they ultimately cannot live without.

    But does that change the concept of God’s glory a man-centered rather than a God-centered idea? Not if we place God’s desire for us to know him in the larger cosmic context of his purposes in creation. God is good. God created out of his own generosity, making good things which were not him, but would exist in relationship under him. Therefore, when I say (and I mean it when I say it) that God’s goal is his own glory, I mean that God’s goal is for the full realization of his good purposes in creation. To glorify God, then is to know God as he intented, through Jesus Christ, and to live out this knowledge through faith and obedience to him and to seek to be human according to God’s creational design.

    Does any of this make sense, or am I just making things up? It’s helped me anyway.

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  • Chancellor Roberts

    Ultimately, it’s all by Him, for Him, and about Him.

    What we should be concerned about is that all this talk about God’s glory will become cliche and, thereby, we will cease to have reverence and awe for God and His glory.

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  • Micah

    I believe God’s Love is the ultimate driving force for His actions. How could we read I Corinthians 13, which states that anything said or done without love is nothing or like ‘a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal’, that the greatest of Faith, Hope, Love is Love — and then turn around and try to paint God as compartmentalized, where some of His actions are driven by His Love, and others are not? If God ever engaged in an unloving act, then ‘God is Love’ is a lie; so every act of God must be submersed in and driven by that Love.

    It would also be very odd for us to be commanded to be holy, as He is holy, to be commanded to love and forgive our neighbors and enemies, and then to turn around and find that God’s holiness was actually not always loving. If that were the case, then the ‘holiness’ we are to strive for, if it is to be as His ‘holiness’, would also need to be unloving in some instances, to grow to more closely match His ‘holiness’.

    Trying to dissect God’s Love away from other aspects of His being, such as justice, holiness, glory, etc., is nonsense to me. Nothing can separate any creature from the Love of the Creator. I don’t believe that God loves someone up to the day he/she dies and that if they haven’t yet repented, He suddenly hates them. Love never fails; love always hopes. Giving up on any lost sheep would not be the genuine Love we read about in I Corinthians 13. Fortunately, as Paul describes in Colossians 1, all things in Creation, whether in heaven or earth, will be reconciled to Him through Christ. Even if the sentence of those in hell is eternal (debatable, regarding the meaning of ‘aionion’, whether that just means ‘of the age’) — who holds the keys to hell? Christ. And why would He not have the authority to commute the eternal sentence, upon the ultimate repentance of any lost sheep who at last gives up the old sinful person and embraces the new through Him?

    God’s Love is inseparable from His glory. God IS Love. :)

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