In a certain sense, the final Sola of the Reformation sums up all the others. It is that salvation from start to finish is for the glory of God alone.
Artists like Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel alluded to it to signify that what they composed was to glorify God. Here’s how Wikipedia defines it: “As a doctrine, it means that everything that is done is for God’s glory to the exclusion of mankind’s self-glorification and pride. Christians are to be motivated and inspired by God’s glory and not their own” (Wikipedia, Soli Deo Gloria).
This sola emphasizes everything God does is for his own glory, especially when it comes to human salvation. That includes the creation itself, as numerous Scriptures make clear. David tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), a fact which Paul picks up on in the first chapter of Romans where he describes how God is glorified in the creation (Romans 1:20). But sinful man refused to give God the glory, turning instead to idolatrize the creation instead of the Creator: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (1:22-23). This has been called the Great Exchange—sinful man exchanging God’s glory for that of created things.
For the Reformers, who gets the glory in human salvation was the crux of the matter. They indicted the Catholic Church for smuggling human righteousness into salvation, therefore making salvation synergistic (both a divine and human endeavor). The Reformers saw that the only way God could get all the glory in salvation was if he did it all. So they fought vigorously any view of salvation, which attributed it to both God and man. If God was to receive all the glory, He had to do all the work.
This is critical to understand when it comes to preaching the Gospel. We must always make it our aim to present the Gospel not in a man-centered way, but as the message which secures the glory of God. When Paul summarizes the human condition in the Roman letter he simply says “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That is the crux of human sinfulness; that human beings have not lived for the glory of God alone. In the Garden, Adam and Eve put their own selfish needs above the glory of God. Instead of honoring God by being obedient, they made their own desire for glory tantamount. And that is how sinners live today. This statement in the original Greek text is present tense indicating that it continues to this present hour. It is true even for believers; none lives properly for the glory of God alone.
But once we are saved, we must learn to live for God’s glory more and more: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Here, Paul says that something as mundane eating and drinking can be done to the glory of God alone. Most of us, when we think of eating and drinking do not think of it as a means of glorifying God. We think rather of doing some stupendous work like raising the dead or healing the sick as a means of glorifying God. Such divine feats do glorify God, but we mustn’t think that they glorify God more than eating and drinking to his glory. We are to live every aspect of our lives to the glory of God.
That is why the Reformers also taught the priesthood of every believer. Before the Reformation, the faithful believed that only pastors and priests glorified God through their ministry. The Reformers taught that God has not only called pastors and priests to glorify God through their vocations but lawyers and doctors and common laborers as well. It is not what one did that determined if God gets glory; rather, it is that every station of life can bring God glory if one understands that.
I remember talking to a man in a church I pastored several years ago. I asked him what he was doing right now and with a defeated look simply said, “I’m just working in a factory, but I’m looking for the will of God.” As we talked further, I learned that he could not fathom that working in a factory could bring God glory. I took the opportunity to tell him that every vocation brings glory to God if one understood it properly. He confessed that he never heard that before.
Are we living our lives to the glory of God alone? Think about how freeing that is—no longer playing to a human audience but to an audience of One! It is true freedom indeed. Sadly, so many are bound to receive glory from others and have become slaves to human opinions. When we live to the glory of God alone, then we are free to serve others without needing their approval.
Make a decision today that, by God’s grace, Soli Deo Gloria will be the anthem by which you live.