“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another….For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Isaiah 48:11; Romans 3:23-26).
In the “Selfie” culture in which you and I live, the self is the ultimate reality. “I am ultimate” is the mindset that dominates every area of our lives, even (and especially) in the church. We love to love that God loves us. We love to love the blessings God gives us, and when we suffer loss we begin to question His goodness. The question I raised in the title of this may seem offensive to some: Is God for us or for Himself?
To put it simply: yes.
Scripture affirms that God is indeed for us, at least in some sense (Rom. 8:31). But over and above its affirmation that God is in fact for us, Scripture reveals a radically God-centered God. If that statement lands on you as offensive, please continue reading this post, because if you see this radically God-centered God as He reveals Himself to us in His word, you will be forever changed.
We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
Before I present my argument, I just want to provide a disclosure: much, if not all of what I will say here is not my own. Yes, they are my own words, but they are not original with me, per se. Men like St. Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, John Piper have radically shaped my view of God as Scripture presents Him (see below for references). The reason I mention this is partly to give them credit for shaping the way I think about God and Scripture, but to also guard myself from falling into the accusation of plagiarism that many recent leaders have fallen into. These men, and others like them, that unleash the God of the Bible have so incredibly shaped how I view God and how I read the Bible that there is almost no distinction between where their thought ends and mine begins.
Now, this is not to say that I am anywhere near the intellectual level of these men, but that their thought has had such an influence on me that their thought has resulted in not just my ideas, but the way I think. I pray that everyone has this same influence; for God has been working in godly men for centuries, so it would be foolish to think that I have the right to come up with my own ideas apart from hermeneutical history. That, my friends, is how cults start. We stand on the shoulders of theological giants every time we read the Bible.
First and Foremost, God is For God
With that said, there are a few considerations from various texts of Scripture that will be helpful to see why God can be, and indeed is, both profoundly and pervasively for Himself, and how He can be for us, as well. Consider the following:
1. If God loved anything other than Himself, He would be an idolator.
This is precisely God’s argument in Isaiah 42, part of which I quoted above. In this passage, God is detailing how and why He will save Israel (and us by proxy). Observe the God-centeredness of God’s promise to save Israel: “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely…For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 42:9, 11; emphasis mine).
Why did God promise to save His people? Answer: for the sake of His name. Answer: for the sake of His praise. Answer: for His own glory.
A God, whose name is of infinite worth (Psalm 96:4), cannot be dishonored without punishment. Therefore, God must have infinite concern for an infinitely worthy name/glory/praise. (Note: the reason I equate them is because God uses them all in conjunction, indicating the same reality in Isaiah 42). The very definition of idolatry is to put anything in place of or higher in our affections than God Himself.
This is true because God is of infinite worth; therefore, to place anything higher than God Himself is to say that there is something more worthy than God Himself. This is an infinite blasphemy to an infinitely, beautifully holy God. God will not stand for His worth to be trampled upon. It necessarily follows, then, that for God to first-and-foremost love anything other than or more than Himself would be nothing less than divine idolatry.
God is of infinite worth; therefore, to place anything higher than God Himself is to say that there is something more worthy than God Himself. To some, this sounds like divine narcissism or compliment-fishing. We don’t tend to enjoy the company of a person that is an egotistical attention-hog. Therefore, some hear God’s command to love and praise Him as C.S. Lewis put it, “a vain old woman seeking compliments”. But God’s self-exaltation is the greatest act of love, as we will see. But for now, we need to let God’s words sink in: “My glory I will not give to another.”
2. Did Jesus die for us or for God?
Again, we must answer, ‘Yes’. This point is one that is especially controversial, especially with the predominant therapeutic God our culture so loves. For God to be loving, they say, He must have to love me most. But as we are beginning to see, this is not the case.
This is clear especially in the third chapter of Romans when Paul says, “…Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25, 26; emphasis mine).
Why did Jesus primarily die? Why did the Father primarily put Jesus forward as a propitiatory sacrifice? Paul says, “to show God’s righteousness” and “so that he might be just”. But how does Jesus’ death show God’s righteousness and justice, as the passage indicates? Well, the passage gives the answer: “because in His divine forbearance (=patience) he had passed over former sins”.
Apparently, according to Paul, because God forgave the “former sins”, the sins of the Old Testament saints, His righteousness and justice came into question. We know that the blood of bulls and goats could never forgive sins (Heb. 10:4), so how could people in the Old Testament be saved? Hebrews 11 tells us that they were looking forward to the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, and God forgave and blessed them. But Jesus had not yet died, and Israel and the nations had not been revealed the mystery of the Cross; therefore, from the outside looking in, it seemed that God was just sweeping their sins under the rug, so to speak. “How can you be righteous and just, God, if you are forgiving sins without adequate sacrifice?”, one might have asked. Paul answers in our passage: God proved and vindicated His righteousness on the Cross when He killed His beloved Son, the second Person of the Trinity. God incarnate had to die to prove His righteousness and justice.
God proved and vindicated His righteousness on the Cross when He killed His beloved Son, the second Person of the Trinity. God incarnate had to die to prove His righteousness and justice.
But the Cross did something for us, did it not? Indeed, Paul makes that clear when he says that the propitiation, or wrath-satisfying sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21), God accomplished in Jesus Christ had effects on humans.
It was firstly to prove God’s righteousness, but it was also to prove God’s love: “But God shows his great love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The Cross not only shows God’s love for Himself, but His love for His people. Therefore, by proxy and consequence, God’s love for Himself is inherently a love for His people.
This is precisely Jesus’ petition in his High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Consider Jesus’ petitions: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed…Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:5, 24). God’s self-glorification is good news because He invites us in to share in His own joy.
Why This Is the Best News
This is indeed good news, the best news in fact, for us. First, as we saw in the first point, God’s concern and protection of His glory is necessary for an infinitely worthy God. But it is precisely because God is infinitely worthy and infinitely beautiful that His self-promotion is good news; for God to elevate Himself, and for God to command us to value and elevate Him above all else, is actually God inviting us to enjoy the greatest treasure in the universe (Matt. 13:44-46).
Or in other words, God’s self-promotion is actually the greatest act of love because when God invites us to love and glorify Him above all else, He is actually providing the only thing that will satisfy our soul’s deepest desire: God Himself (Psalm 42:1). Besides, would we want to serve or worship a God that needed us? Further, upon consideration of this humbling reality, does our greatest consolation and joy come from knowing that God loves us, or does it come from the fact that God has enabled us to love and enjoy Him forever? There is a difference…
Next, God’s self-promotion and self-vindication shown on the Cross is the greatest news because God satisfied His wrath toward His people at the same time He vindicated His righteousness on the Cross. On the Cross, no only did God uphold his value, but He “canceled the record of charges against us by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
When God sacrificed His Son, He ensured that He would give you everything you need to enjoy Him forever: “How could he who did not even spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all, not with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The Father did the most inexplicably difficult thing in the universe by crushing His beloved Son, but He did. In doing so, He provided the basis and ground for giving us the beloved promise of Romans 8:28.
So, is God for us or Himself? Yes.
For further reading, see:
John Piper, Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
C.S. Lewis, Meditations on the Psalms
Jonathan Edwards, Essay on the Trinity
Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World
St. Augustine, On the Trinity