Well, of course it’s right and fitting for us to talk about praising and glorifying God. That’s our calling and our great delight. Our greatest joy is found in magnifying God, so that those two things — our joy and God’s glory — are not two things, but one mutual aim. They are wed together. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. That’s what we call Christian Hedonism.
So then, is it possible for us to talk about God praising and glorifying us? This seems very awkward. But is it biblical to even go here, to say God will praise and glorify us? It’s a question because you caught off guard one watcher of your Look at the Book videos, Pastor John. Here’s the email we got. No name was given. “Hello, Pastor John! I was watching one of your 2017 LAB videos, the one titled ‘To the Glory of God Alone.’ I was really confused with something you said near the end of the session, at the 15:47 mark. There you said that we will be praised and glorified. I was stunned. I had never heard that before. What did you mean that we will be praised and glorified? Isn’t this for God alone? If not, what Bible verses would help this make sense to me?”
Let’s begin with this biblical principle. It’s very important. Listen carefully to this biblical principle: Just as God in his mysterious providence governs all the actions of non-Christians in such a way that their bad deeds are still blameworthy, so also he governs all the actions of Christians in such a way that their good deeds are still praiseworthy. That’s not a presupposition that I bring to the Bible. That is a conclusion from thousands of hours of pondering what the Bible actually teaches.
God Who Works in Us
So, we should get out of our minds the thought that any praise that Christians will receive from God is because their good deeds were done without God’s decisive, enabling power. Get that out of your mind: that good deeds done by Christians were done without God’s decisive, enabling power. All our good deeds are done by his power. That is part of what makes them good, and they are praiseworthy.
There are numerous texts that teach that everything a Christian does that is pleasing to God is done by the power of God. In Hebrews 13:21, the writer says that God equips us “with everything good that [we] may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”
Another example is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Paul did the work, but the decisive cause was the grace of God.
One more example: In Philippians 2:12–13, Paul tells Christians to “work out [their] own salvation . . . for it is God who works in [them], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God causes the miraculous willing and working of our good deeds, but we act the miracle. He causes it; we act it.
“Everything a Christian does that is pleasing to God is done by the power of God.”
Now, all of that tends to make us think that only God is to be praised for the good that any Christian does. It tends to make us think that it would be unfitting for God himself to commend his people, to praise his people, for their good deeds when he himself is the decisive cause of those very good deeds. But that would be a profoundly unbiblical thing to say. This is where human reasoning can so easily go off the rails if it’s not magnetized to the iron tracks of all of God’s word.
Glorified by God
God’s word says plainly and repeatedly that God’s imperfect, ever-in-need-of-forgiveness people are going to be glorified and commended and praised by God in proportion to the way they lived. So, let’s start with the glorify texts and then look at the praise texts.
Romans 8:30: “Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” That means he’s going to make us beautiful, glorious.
Second Thessalonians 1:11–12: “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you [yes, yes, we all know that; yes, amen], and you [might be glorified] in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, his glory gets magnified and our glory shines in that process.
First Corinthians 15:42–43: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown [the bodies of believers] is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.” You look in the mirror now, and it is not glorious; you look in the mirror at the resurrection, and you will be tempted to worship. But you won’t because you’ll be perfected.
Second Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord.” Yes, of course it does, but it’s glorious.
First John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” The process of 2 Corinthians 3:18 comes to completion in the twinkling of an eye when we see him face to face.
All of those passages unpack what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 13:43, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” I’m smiling. Hasten the day!
“Christ will not be married to a homely bride. He died for a homely bride. But he is making her glorious.”
So, the upshot is that the Holy Spirit is gradually bringing Christians into conformity to the glory of Christ, and that when we see Christ face to face (this will be completed spiritually at death and physically after the resurrection), God not only takes away the guilt of sin, but he will take away the ugliness of sin. And what will be left will be glory, glory, beauty, glory. Christ will not be married to a homely bride. He died for a homely bride. He is faithful to a homely bride. But he is making her glorious. It says that explicitly in Ephesians 5:27: Christ gave himself for her, “that he might present the church to himself in splendor.”
Praised by God
So, the final question is, Will we, because of our progressive and climactic glorification, receive praise from the Lord? And the biblical answer, which our friend is stumbling over, is yes.
Matthew 25:21: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Faithfulness in this life is acknowledged by the Lord of heaven and commended.
First Corinthians 4:5: “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” Now, that’s translated commendation, and that’s fine; commendation is praise. But the word is epainos in Greek. That word is used three times in Ephesians 1.
- Ephesians 1:6: “to the praise of his glorious grace”
- Ephesians 1:12: “to the praise of his glory”
- Ephesians 1:14: “to the praise of his glory”
This same word that we use to describe what we will say to God, he says to us. In other words, epainos is a fitting response of strong approval for something glorious or beautiful.
There are numerous other places that teach this — like John 5:44; Romans 2:7; 1 Peter 1:7 — but let me quote just one more. Romans 2:29: “A Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise [a true Christian, a true Jew in the Messiah Jesus] is not from man but from God.”
His Merciful Workmanship
So, my conclusion from all these passages is that genuine Christians will be glorified both progressively in this life and then finally at the second coming. And the faithfulness shown to Christ in this life and the beauty completed at the end of this age will receive commendation and admiration from the Lord Jesus himself.
And this will not contradict the biblical teaching that everything we do by the power of Christ will result in him, not us, getting the ultimate glory and praise and commendation, because what Christ will be commending and admiring in us will be the essence of true virtue. What’s the essence of true, Christian virtue? The essence of Christian virtue is our joyful treasuring of God himself in all we do, so that God’s admiration of our sanctification and glorification is, in fact, ultimately the admiration of his own merciful workmanship.