Can We Really Give God More or Less Glory?
We talk often on this podcast about how God gets “more glory” or “most glory” by various things. It’s in the Desiring God slogan, of course: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Thus, we can conclude that depression will not exist in heaven, because we can give God more glory without it (APJ 30). And God gets more glory in our struggle with sin than if we were made sinless immediately (APJ 33). And God gets more glory in the harmony of diversity — in male and female genders and in his abundance of ethnicities — than he would get if we were all the same (APJ 169 and 927). And Christ receives more glory in the atonement than he would have if he didn’t take up the cross (APJ 265). And Christ gets more glory by defeating Satan at the cross than he would have by taking out Satan at a distance, like as a sniper (APJ 408). And God gets more glory from our willing service than if he forced and coerced labor from us as “a tireless slave-labor force” (APJ 1432). On and on it goes.
With this background in place, we get a question from Devin in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for this podcast and for your excellent books, particularly Providence, which I just read and finished with great delight. I have a question for you about discerning our intensity of glorifying God. It seems central to Christian Hedonism — this idea that there are levels of glory that can be given to God. There’s a way to bring him some glory. And then we can bring him more glory. And occasionally we can bring him most glory. Hence, ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’ You seem to root a lot of ethical decisions in this gradation of doing what most glorifies God. I went to the podcast archive and found that you have explained that we can honor God in three various states of emotions — when our affections are white-hot, or cooled-off, even when our hearts fall into deep depression. But we glorify God most when our affections are white-hot. This was APJ 30. Where in Scripture do you find this gradation of glory? From what I see in the Bible, we either honor God or dishonor him; glorify him or fail to glorify him. It seems more binary. But I assume you’ve put a lot more thought into this than I have. Thanks for any help!”
Well, that’s a sharp question. I like that kind of question because it presses me into the Bible to see if my thoughts are in sync with God’s word. So the question is, Is there biblical warrant, justification, for speaking of more or less glorifying of God, acts that more or less glorify God, rather than a simple either-or: either we glorify him or we don’t — no gradations? Does the glorification of God by man happen in degrees — glorifying more sometimes, less sometimes? Or is that an unbiblical way of thinking? And is that the only way we should speak — namely, that we glorified God or we didn’t, without speaking of degrees or gradations of glorification?
Degrees of Clarity
Now, Devin has a good biblical ground for asking this because if you do the word search on all kinds of formations of the word glory or more or less or other degree words, you do find that the Bible does not very often speak of God being given more or less glory by his people. Almost entirely, it speaks of God being glorified without any references to degrees of more or less. So why do I speak so often about God being more or less glorified?
And here’s the answer. I’ll give a general answer and then some biblical specifics. It basically flows from asking, What does glorify mean? I think it means to show God to be glorious. I think that’s what glorify means: to show God to be glorious — that is, show him to be great or beautiful or valuable. Or you could break it down: show him to be wise, strong, kind, good, loving, just, holy, merciful, gracious, satisfying. So, to glorify is to make clear to others what God is like, so as to seek their praise and admiration of him, so that they join us in seeking to show how great he is. That’s what glorify means, as I understand it.
“To glorify is to make clear to others what God is like, so as to seek their praise and admiration of him.”
So once we trace the meaning of glorify back to things we do or feel or think or say to make God look glorious, then it seems right to say that, since our doing and speaking and feeling and thinking are more or less in accord with God’s worth, from day to day and from hour to hour, therefore, our showing God’s worth will vary in the way our acting and speaking and feeling and thinking vary in the degree that they reflect God’s character. That’s basically my argument.
In other words, my speaking of God getting more or less glory from my life of holiness and love follows from the fact that, biblically, my holiness and love are greater or lesser from time to time. And so, I am showing with greater or less clarity — or greater or less accuracy, or greater or less fullness — the glory of God, because my behavior is more or less in accord with God’s character. That’s my basic understanding of how degrees of glorification are rooted in degrees of clarity that God’s character is seen in my degrees of holiness.
Now, let’s look at some texts to see whether or not there really are biblical pointers to the legitimacy and helpfulness of talking like this. Let’s start with degrees of glory when talking about the progress of redemptive history. Second Corinthians 3:7–10:
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.
So, it is not unbiblical to speak of God’s acting through his people in one way to show less of his glory, and in another way to show more of his glory. And by inference, I would say, that’s true individually as well.
Or consider 2 Corinthians 4:15:
It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Now, I think that implies that if thanksgiving increases in your life or in your church, God gets glory more clearly, more fully, than if thanksgiving were not increasing in your life or in your church; otherwise, I don’t see why Paul would refer to the increase of thanksgiving and then connect it with the glory of God the way he does.
Or consider Philippians 1:9–11:
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Paul links this incremental growth or increase of love with his aim that we be filled with the fruit of righteousness “to the glory and praise of God.” So I draw from this that my growth in love, from one degree to the next, is like the good deeds — it’s part of the good deeds or is expressed in good deeds — that Jesus said cause people to glorify God:
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)
So if my love abounds more and more, it seems that the correlation of what it is done for, what my deeds are done for and my love is shown for, would also be greater; namely, God is seen more clearly to be glorious because I have more clearly reflected his character.
Engaging the Heart
Or what about Ephesians 5:18?
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.
Now, what that implies is that the engagement of our heart matters in whether our songs of praise are fitting. Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
“As more or less of our hearts are engaged, we show, more or less clearly, the worthiness of God to be loved.”
So it seems to me that the heart is a very variable source of affections for God. The heart can be warm or cold or all kind of gradations in between. And Paul says this matters for the authenticity of our worship, and I would say that it matters for the degree to which our worship conforms to the worth of God, and thus the degree to how clearly he is shown to be our treasure in singing — that is, how clearly he is glorified.
The same thing could be said about the Great Commandment, right?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
As more or less of our hearts are engaged, we show, more or less clearly, the worthiness of God to be loved.
Glorified in Gradations
So to wrap it up, let me take Paul’s words when he speaks about his own preaching the mystery of Christ, which includes the truth that “Christ [is] in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). He says, “[Pray] that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).
So, he’s asking, “O God, would you put it in the hearts of the Colossians to pray for me that when I open my mouth, the mystery of Christ, the glory of Christ, would be clear? Paul knew that when he preached the glories of Christ, the unsearchable riches of Christ, sometimes they were more clear than other times. That’s why he asked for prayer. So he asked for the Colossians to pray that it might be more clear, which is another way of asking for the purpose that Christ would appear more glorious. So that’s the way I think about the gradations of glorifying Christ.