RICHMOND, Va. – One of the battle cries of the Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone. The Reformers looked at the Medieval Roman Catholic understanding of the Christian faith and realized that it was fundamentally flawed at several points. The Medieval Roman church believed in three sources of spiritual authority: Scripture, tradition, and the leadership of the church of Rome. Final deciding authority fell to the Roman church.
But the Reformers believed that the Bible was the supreme, sufficient, and only source of such authority. This is the heart of what Sola Scriptura means.
The Medieval Roman church believed that a person’s own works played a role in their salvation. The Reformers understood from the Bible that we are saved only by grace and only through faith: grace alone and faith alone. The Medieval Roman church taught that the institutional church and the saints played a role in salvation, while the Reformers insisted that we are saved only by Jesus: Christ alone. Finally, the Medieval Roman church divided the credit for salvation between God, the believer, and the church, while the Reformers were convinced that it belonged exclusively to God: Glory to God alone.
Salvation is of the Lord
Only God is God, and only God can save. God will not share his glory with anyone else (Isa. 42:8, 48:11). In our pride, we want some of the credit for our own salvation, and we also want credit for the fruit of our ministry. God will have none of it. Salvation is of the Lord, from first to last, and only he gets the credit. He gets glory; we get grace. Likewise, when it comes to our work for God, we can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5). He receives glory, and he alone, for everything he graciously chooses to do through us.
Soli Deo Gloria: A Healthy Obsession
A passion for the glory of God is a hallmark of spiritual health. Everyone who knows God knows how gloriously wonderful he is. No one who has ever glimpsed the glory of God can ever get over it. Those who have tasted the goodness, holiness, and sufficiency of God realize how sinful and inadequate they are in themselves.
People who are in love with God and who are passionate for his glory want him to get all the credit for everything good, and they realize how absurd it is to take any of the glory for themselves. They are obsessed with God, and that obsession is utterly healthy.
The Highest Motivation for Missions
This kind of passion for God’s glory lies at the heart of missionary motivation. Ultimately, we take the gospel to the nations so that God will receive the glory due his name from all the nations and peoples of the earth (Ps. 96:7–8). It is true that we engage in global missions because the peoples of the earth must hear the gospel to be saved. Love for our neighbor compels us to tell them about Jesus because apart from hearing the good news and trusting in Christ, everyone on earth faces certain judgment for rebellion against God. But love for God and a passion for his glory are the highest motivation of all.
God is primary. People come second. God himself has a passion for his own glory, and because he is God, this is altogether right and good (see, for example, Isa. 6:3, 42:8, 43:7, 48:11). We are to share that passion. We take the gospel to the ends of the earth so that all peoples and nations might hear of him, trust him, love him, worship him, and serve him.
The Enduring Motivation for Missions
In practical terms, passion for the glory of God is the most stable and enduring of all missionary motivations. It is true that we take the gospel to unreached peoples and places out of love for our global neighbor. However, our love for people ebbs and flows. Many times, in the heat of culture shock, missionaries find themselves struggling to feel love for the people they are trying to reach. All people everywhere are sinners, and sinners are not always easy to love. God never changes. There is nothing in him that ever makes him less glorious or less worthy of our adoration. He is always worthy of our obedience and our witness, regardless of how we might feel about anyone or anything else.
Missions is about Worship
In fact, the task of missions is basically an act of worship. We are declaring “his glory among the nations and his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Ps. 96:3, ESV). In speaking the gospel to others, we are proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9, ESV). Evangelism is not a form of insurance salesmanship. Evangelism is both an act of worship (as we proclaim who God is and what he has done to redeem undeserving sinners), and it is an invitation to worship (as we call others to join us in our love affair with God). Such evangelism must flow from a heart that is obsessed with the glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria Purifies Missions Methodology
Passion for the glory of God alone also purifies our missionary practice. If our primary motivation is to report as many converts as possible, we most certainly will be tempted to engage in manipulative means and creative reporting. If our motivation is to glorify God, how we do our work must honor him as much as the results of our work. Commitment to God’s glory in all things safeguards us from attempting to reach worthy goals through worldly means.
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone! This was the pinnacle of the five “Alone!” declarations that summarized the agenda of the Reformers in the sixteenth century. It is also the heartbeat of biblical Christianity. It needs to be the heartbeat of all our missionary endeavors as well.