For most of my adult life for the past fifty years, I have focused on trying to help people display and make much of the glory of God — spread a passion for the glory of God — by enjoying God as the supreme treasure of their lives.
In the last five years or so, without altering this overarching goal of my life at all, I have been focusing not directly on the relationship between the glory of God and our satisfaction in him, but on the glory of God and our certainty about him. The one focus is on the relationship between the glory of God and our spiritual affections. The other is on the relationship between the glory of God and our spiritual knowledge.
What I would like to do with you this morning is take you with me in a progression of thought that focuses on this second issue of the relationship between the glory of God and spiritual knowledge. Before we are done, it will lead up into our final enjoyment of God and the display of his beauty and worth through that joy. But I want to focus on the progression of thought that leads there.
So, the aim is that we walk together through
- a focus on the glory of God and knowing, then
- a focus on the glory of God and Scripture, then
- a focus on the glory of God and reading, which is why this session is about reading the Bible supernaturally.
The Glory of God and Knowing
If you want to see in your Bibles where I am getting my ideas, please turn with me to John 7:14–18.
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”
Let’s bore in on verses 17 and 18. Verse 17 talks about the relationship between our willing and knowing. And verse 18 relates that willing and knowing to the glory of God.
Willing Governs Knowing
Verse 17: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” This is not the way many people think about knowing. The question here is: How can we know whether Jesus is speaking “from God” or merely “from himself”?
Jesus’s answer to that question is that, in a profound way, our willing governs our knowing. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know.” To say it another way: deep down in each of us, at the root of willing, there is a nature that either rebels against God and his way, or rejoices in God and his way. We are either begrudgingly resistant to God or gladly compliant to God. And Jesus says that if deep down you are resistant and rebellious against God, then you will not be able to know whether his teaching is from God. Why not?
“God’s will is a complete, from-the-ground-up renovation of our fallen self-centeredness.”
Notice where he goes next in verse 18: “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” In other words, the decisive mark of my truthfulness is my seeking the glory of the one who sent me: God, my Father. If I am simply, like so many other teachers, seeking my own glory — exalting myself, not God — then I am not true.
A Passion for His Glory
Now, what does that have to do with verse 17? What does it have to do with the fact that he can only know if Jesus is speaking from God if our deepest inclination, disposition, willing is in sync with God’s will? I think the answer is this: in verse 18, Jesus rivets our attention on the essence of God’s will for man; namely, that we live for the glory of God, not merely to exalt ourselves.
So, Jesus doesn’t leave the “will of God” in verse 17 hanging vaguely in the air with us wondering what it is. He shows the essence of God with us (verse 18) so that we can tell if our will is in sync with it. In verse 18, he drills down to the essence of God’s will that puts our will, our disposition to the test: God’s will is that humans be done with self-exaltation, and live utterly for God-exaltation. In other words, God’s will is a complete, from-the-ground-up renovation of our fallen self-centeredness.
So now the logic of verse 17 goes like this: If your will — your deep disposition toward God — is the willing — the valuing — of his glory over your own self-centeredness and self-exaltation, then you will see and know that what Jesus says is from God and not merely from himself. Because you will see that Jesus perfectly embodies a passion for the glory of his Father.
In summary, then, on this first focus on the glory of God and knowing, what we see in John 7:17–18 is that our willing profoundly influences our knowing. The inclinations of our will direct the affirmations of our mind. And specifically, Jesus says, if our will is not devoted to God-exaltation over self-exaltation, we will not have any certainty that Jesus speaks from God.
The Glory of God and Scripture
“We know that the Scriptures are the word of God because in their true meaning we see the self-authenticating glory of God.”
Next, we turn from the glory of God and knowing to the glory of God and Scripture. Let me start with my conclusion to this focus and then show you how I got there: the whole Bible authenticates itself by shining with the distinctive, divine glory of the God who inspired it. Or, to say it another way, we know that the Scriptures are the word of God because in their true meaning we see the self-authenticating glory of God.
Now, what I have found is that this generally lands on people as an odd notion — something strange and unfamiliar. They have a hard time getting their head around this notion that the glory of God shines through the Scriptures and authenticates them. So, let me show you three analogies to this process that are perhaps not as strange or unfamiliar. This might help make my point more understandable.
Analogy #1: God intends for us to have a well-grounded conviction that he created the world, and he provides this well-grounded conviction by the revelation of his glory in creation.
Psalm 19:1 says that “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Notice: The heavens — the sun and moon and stars and galaxies — are not themselves the glory of God. We are not pantheists. The heavens are not God. And their glory is not the glory of God. They are telling — pointing to, declaring — the glory of God. Which means you must have eyes to see through the glory of nature to the glory of God. Paul makes the same point in Romans 1:19–20,
What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
In other words, the physical, created universe reveals so much of God that every human being is accountable to know him and thank him and glorify him. And yet God is not nature. His glory is known through nature. Many scientists look at nature all day, and do not see the glory of God. But Paul says, they are accountable to see it and be thankful and worshipful in response.
And my argument is that the same thing happens when you read Scripture. The Scriptures reveal themselves to be the word of God the way nature reveals itself to be the world of God — God’s glory shines in and through the meaning of these words and authenticates their divine origin the way God’s glory shines in and through the creation and authenticates its divine origin.
Analogy #2: God intended for his disciples to have a well-grounded conviction that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, and he provided this well-grounded conviction by the revelation of his glory in Jesus.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8–9)
“The Scriptures reveal themselves to be the word of God the way nature reveals itself to be the world of God.”
Many people looked at God incarnate and did not see God. Jesus said, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear” (Matthew 13:13). Divine glory was shining through the way Jesus thought, and felt, and talked, and acted. But people did not see.
In the same way, many people today hear the truth of Scripture, but do not hear God. Nevertheless, the Son of God was really there for those who had eyes to see the glory, and the word of God is really here, for those who have ears to hear.
Analogy #3: God intends for us to have a well-grounded conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and he provided this well-grounded conviction by the revelation of his glory through the gospel.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The gospel — the story of how God came to save sinners — emits a supernatural light to the eyes of the heart — “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Christ’s self-authenticating glory shines through the gospel.
If we don’t see it, when we hear the gospel, we are spiritually blind. Which is why verse 6 is so essential and glorious. God shatters that 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.”
So, the light is called in verse 4, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And the light is called in verse 6, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul is saying that the way we come to know that the Christian gospel is God’s truth is by a sight of its divine glory.
So, my argument is that just as God confirms that
- the world is his by revealing his glory through it,
- and Jesus is the Son of God by revealing his glory through him,
- and the gospel is the gospel of God by revealing his glory through it,
in the same way, the whole Bible, breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), authenticates itself by shining with the peculiar, divine glory of the one who inspired it.
So now we have walked through two of our three focuses together: (1) a focus on the glory of God and knowing, and (2) a focus on the glory of God and Scripture. Now we turn to the third focus: (3) the glory of God and reading, or you can call it a focus on reading the Bible supernaturally.
The Glory of God and Reading
You’ll see how we get here when you ask: How do these first two focuses relate to each other? How does what we saw under the glory of God and knowing relate to what we saw under the glory of God and Scripture?
What we saw under the glory of God and Scripture is that God, by inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:19–21), has given us in a book a revelation of his glory. This glory is objectively real — not just in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, God has given us an objective, external (outside of us) revelation of his glory in the Bible.
And what we saw under the glory of God and knowing is that in order for us to see and know Christ as a true, glorious, divine spokesman for God, our will — our heart, our deepest disposition — has to love the glory of God more than we love the glory of self. We will never see or know Christ as the glorious person that he is as long as we love self-glorification more than God-glorification.
Born Again to Behold
Which means that in order for any of us to see the glory of God in that external, objective revelation called the Bible, we have to experience an internal renovation or regeneration called the new birth. Because there is not a person in this room — or in the world — who by nature loves God-glorification more than self-glorification.
“When regeneration in your soul meets inspiration in the Bible, what happens is reading the Bible supernaturally.”
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person [what we are by nature before regeneration or the new birth] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Our only hope for seeing the glory of God in Scripture is to be born again; that is, to experience the supernatural miracle described in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “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.” When that happens, we are a new creation — born again. We have new spiritual eyes in our hearts (Ephesians 1:18) and new spiritual taste buds (1 Peter 2:3).
Regeneration, Meet Inspiration
Now, when this internal regeneration in your soul meets this external inspiration in the Bible, what happens is reading the Bible supernaturally. It is supernatural from the side of the Bible, because God inspired it and embedded his glory in it. It is supernatural from the side of the soul, because we have been supernaturally changed from lovers of self-glorification to lovers of God-glorification. And the result is a supernatural reading in which we see the glory of God.
Consider, for example, Ephesians 3:3–4: “The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.” And four verses later he unfolds that mystery like this (verse 8): “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” And in Colossians 1:27, Paul puts it all together like this: “To [the saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So “the mystery of Christ” becomes “the riches of the glory of this mystery,” which becomes “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
And this, Paul says, you can know — perceive, see, savor, embrace — by reading! Reading! Think of it! The God-ordained point of contact between your soul and God’s glory is reading. By reading this, you can perceive my divinely inspired insight into the unsearchable riches of the glory of Christ. Because God has taken out the heart of stone, which was adamantly committed to self-glorification, and replaced it with a tender, teachable heart utterly in love with God-glorification. A new will has made possible a new knowing.
Just Act Natural
“By inspiration, this book is more than natural. By regeneration, you are more than natural.”
One last clarification: when I speak of the revelation of the glory of God through Scripture, I mean through the meaning of Scripture. We don’t discern the glory of God because there is a glow over the page. We discern it because the meaning of the words and sentences — the reality that the author intends to communicate — reveals the glory of God.
Here’s the implication for reading: just as God reveals divine glory through human means (the Bible), so we see divine glory through human means (reading the Bible). Reading the Bible supernaturally does not mean that we cease to read the Bible naturally. It means that there is more going on than meets the eye. By inspiration, this book is more than natural. By regeneration, you are more than natural. But it and you are not less than natural. Therefore, every one of us must learn the natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally.