The Heart of the Gospel: Glory to God Alone
The Heart of the Gospel: Glory to God Alone
All glory belongs to God alone. This truth is more than just a matter of opinion. It is a summary of the Reformers’ teaching. But it is still more than that. It is the lifeblood of our faith and it must remain the lifeblood of any effective student ministry.
Few youth pastors purposefully pass over the glory of God in their ministry. In the songs we sing, prayers we lead, and lessons we teach, the glory of God is a common theme. As such, many at first glance appear to be echoing Paul’s command in I Corinthians 10:31:
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Despite its regular mention in our ministries, however, God’s glory is still too-often eclipsed by a pursuit of our own glory. A sure sign of this tendency is when youth ministers seek to present the glory of God as a flashy or “unique” experience captured in singular events or retreats. These manmade mountaintop experiences, in the long term, seem to only advance the glory of the youth pastor or “Mount Sinai” itself, instead of God.
To be fair, the glory experienced by the Israelites in their own encounter with God at Mount Sinai initially appears as an attractive model to follow. It was glory communicated in the midst of fire and trembling ground, and through a Law that revealed the Israelites’ separation from a perfectly holy God. God’s glory was so significant that it left the face of Moses actually glowing. Exposure to that glory rendered the Israelites awe-struck, and then inevitably disappointed when God’s glory was no longer physically visible.
Surely, one might think, this awesome experience must have been enough to motivate the Israelites in their calling. Yet despite the weightiness of that event, it didn’t effect a lasting change. As glorious as the glow of Moses’ face was to behold, that glow would inevitably fade and, as it faded, the glory of God was forgotten. While the Law and occasional obedience to it may have remained, the Israelites quickly forgot the glorious God they served and were instead driven by their own selfish ambition.
Sadly, many youth ministers appear to have forgotten how this story actually unfolded in the long term.
Assuming a Mt. Sinai experience is enough, many fall into the belief that a lasting faith comes from replicating a modern day mountain top experience for our students. As ministers, this belief leaves us in a precarious situation where we view our students’ greatest need as a unique religious experience, and we view ourselves as the ones responsible for manufacturing those experiences.
The problem with this picture, of course, is that it focuses entirely on human emotions, places the spotlight on our own abilities, and speaks very little of the daily walk with and reliance on Jesus.
These sort of events can certainly lead to professions of faith, praise for the hard working youth pastor, and are often times celebrated as great successes. Students who are led to mistake an emotional high for the glory of God will quickly feel the disappointment that comes when that manufactured glory fades – when they realize that their youth minister is just another sinful human – and when they are left once more searching for a greater sense of purpose.
No mountain top experience (not even Mt. Sinai) is enough. We need a greater glory. Thankfully, the Bible reveals a glory that is, in fact, infinitely greater than any experience. That glory is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In Christ we find a glory that is, in fact, better than the glory of Sinai in every conceivable way. Paul, who reminds us in Romans that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” also says in II Corinthians 4:5-7:
“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
While the Israelites beheld a face in Moses which momentarily reflected God’s glory, in the Gospel we behold the Son of God in his resurrected glory. While the Israelites were given a partial glimpse of glory in a Law that illuminated their sin, we have been given a full dose of glory in God’s immeasurable grace through the Law already fulfilled in Christ.
As glorious as a Mt. Sinai moment might feel, its beauty and longevity pales in comparison, and its impact will only go as far as our fragile and self-serving abilities can take it. But the fact that we are frail is good news. Because, as Paul knew all too well, in our weakness is where God’s glory shines brightest.
This is one of the most powerful messages we can offer teenagers today. And we can model it in the way we do ministry – in humble dependence on Jesus as savior, and not ourselves.
In order for our students to understand what Paul and the Reformers meant when they spoke of Glory to God Alone, they need more than an impressive youth retreat (or less, depending on how you look at it). We must die to our natural tendency to glorify ourselves. We must hear the offer of grace and forgiveness that is only found in the proclamation of the Gospel. And we ourselves must see that in the simple message of Christ crucified, we possess a glory that is beyond our imagination; it is undeserved, but permanent and life-giving.
To God alone belongs all glory. Let this refrain remain the lifeblood of our faith, the foundation of our ministry, and the gift we continually hand down to those we serve.