I am not completely sure why the glory of God began to be so central for me.
The roots probably go back farther than I think. My mother and my father quoted 1 Corinthians 10:31 to me as often as any other text, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” So I grew up thinking everything in life from eating pizza to drinking Coke is supposed to somehow glorify — make God look glorious. And so it felt early on primarily like a duty. That is what you are supposed to do. But the Bible reveals things about the glory of God that make that little duty in 1 Corinthians 10:31 explosive with significance.
Can You Define Glory?
We use the term “glory of God” so often that we seldom pause to define it. It’s like trying to define beauty. So let me make a stab at it. In Isaiah 6, you have these angels with wings: “With two they cover their face, with two they cover their feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty. The whole earth is filled with his . . .” You would expect them to say “holiness.” And they don’t. They say, “glory” (Isaiah 6:2–3).
So why the move from “holy, holy, holy” to “the whole earth is filled with your glory”? I define the holiness of God as his intrinsic, infinite, and transcendent purity and worth. It’s intrinsic. It is who he is. But when he moves out into the earth — when he goes public, when he displays himself for the world to see — the Bible regularly calls that radiance “glory.” Therefore, it is not as though holiness and glory are different things. They are the same thing expressed differently. One is the intrinsic worth and transcendent purity. The other is that worth and purity going public to be worshiped.
Infinite Beauty and Worth
My best effort to define glory is the public radiance of the infinite beauty and worth of God — all the things about God that make him excellent and beautiful and desirable and supremely valuable.
What began to raise the stakes for me was the discovery — and I got it by reading Jonathan Edwards’s The End For Which God Created the World, but then I saw it everywhere in the Bible — that God does everything from eternity to eternity for his own glory. God does everything he does to lift up his beauty and his magnificence for people to see and to love and to enjoy.
That means he created you and me for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). We are predestined for sonship unto the praise of the glory of his grace. “These things I have spoken to you that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). Why? Because when my joy is in you, your joy is a reflection of the radiance that I have because of my love for my Father and for myself.
The Great Conspiracy for Glory
I have just been trying to memorize recently the prayer of Jesus in John 17 which begins, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify the Son that the Son may glorify you.” And then verses 4–5: “Father, I glorified you on the earth having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world was.”
In other words, the Father and the Son are in this great conspiracy of making each other look magnificent, and therein their joy consists. So for me to have my joy in him and for him to be radiating through me is virtually the same thing, which answered a different question for me: If God does everything for his glory, why is he not an egomaniac? There are lots of people who have turned away from God because God is so into God. God magnifies God. God exalts God. God glorifies God. It’s all over the Bible.
That little interchange about joy in John 17 made me realize God is not an egomaniac because when God lifts up God, when God magnifies the beauty of God, the power of God, the sovereignty of God, the wisdom of God, the love of God, the justice of God, the truth of God — everything about himself — when he lifts himself up, he is doing it for me to see and to enjoy. God’s seeking to be glorified is virtually the same as him seeking to satisfy me. God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.
So God is not an egomaniac. He is loving me when he lifts himself up for me to enjoy, because I was made for the glory of God. My heart here has a glory-of-God-shaped vacuum in it. Unless God gives me God — unless God shows me God — then I am going to be unhappy all my eternity.
The Gospel of Glory
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing — now listen to this phrase — the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). The gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ. I think that has two meanings. Jesus Christ was displaying his glory on the cross and he was being glorious on the cross.
He did the most glorious thing on the cross, thus, purchasing my new birth and capacity to see the glory that he was displaying on the cross. He was paying the price for me to enjoy his glory, and he was being the most glorious person imaginable when he did that great act of love. So the glory of God comes to its highest climax in the glory of his grace, displayed most fully when Jesus died in the place of sinners and rose again.
The Greatest Pleasure in the World
The nitty gritty practical is this: John Piper is a sinner. Every day I am tempted to have attitudes or thoughts, to say things, to do things that are defective, hurtful, proud, and selfish. What is the gospel way to slay that dragon? My answer is that sin is never performed out of duty. You only do sin because sin is lying to you, telling you that you will be happier. It will feel good.
You have to slay that promise of pleasure with the promise of a superior pleasure. And in the end, the highest pleasure is knowing, loving, and delighting in the glory of God manifest in Jesus Christ, which means it has been liberated from sin. Fighting to see and savor the glory of God is not only a great honor to him, it is a great liberation for the one, like you or me, battling sin every day.