Romans 11:34-36: Soli Deo Gloria!
- From Him
- Through Him
- To Him
I come to this text with a deep sense of my inadequacy at trying to explain the immense profundity of the portion before us. In many ways that is the point of the text. This particular portion is especially important to me and it is the text used as the subtitle on our church website, ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.’ I can think of no better way to respond to the gospel we have just spent 11 chapters of Romans exploring, in February we will be coming up to five years in this overwhelming book. But this climactic note of worship takes me back to my own conversion. I was an arrogant know it all who could not be told anything. I was aggressive and antagonistic to Christianity in particular. I remember condescending to put what I considered to be my great intellect to the problem of the Christian God. I was forced to sing hymns at school and so knew songs like Amazing Grace. I knew the words in the last verse, ‘…When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun…’ my first thought was that heaven was going to be the biggest bore imaginable, eternal church. I could think of nothing worse than singing before God forever, as a teenager I saw it as a cruel and unusual punishment. Then I thought a little more and thought about God punishing those who do not worship Him. I thought to myself that this God must be vain because He demands worship and punishes those who do not give it. I found this notion repulsive and stored that argument away to throw in the Christian’s faces the next time the matter arose. I have since come to see my total blasphemy and blindness, I feel like there was never a man who could have underestimated God more than I had. I don’t know anyone who had such a slanted blindness to think of God as so small, so unworthy. I was converted through an inescapable sense of my sin and deep need for Christ and upon reading the bible I came across the worship of heaven, and was shamed by the worship of the angels who never sleep and never tire and never cease to find constant inspiration to ecstatic whole-souled worship: Rev. 4:8-11, ‘And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’ The God who is, is the eternal God of infinite majesty. He is worth the praise of all of creation at all times and this cannot exhaust His worth. He is enough to provoke constant fervent whole-souled worship so that all eternity spent worshipping Him will not seem long enough. Hell and eternal punishment is the fair punishment upon those who reject this God. There is no more wrong thing that has ever been thought than my notions of God. I could not be farther from the truth for I underestimated Him by an infinite amount. There can be no greater sin I could commit, it is ‘infinite upon infinite.’ And so I look at Isaiah in his vision in Isaiah 6, where he sees the glory of the Lord and God of holiness worshipped, and I hear my heart in his words, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’ here is a man who is an Israelite, not a criminal, a man who is part of the people chosen to declare God’s praises and who has the revelation of God to inform him. But for all this when he sees God the first thing he knows is his total unworthiness and lostness and the second thing is how wrong and bad and tainted his worship has been. Lips that had from a boy declared God’s praises might as well be sinners lips for the justice he did to God, and the Jews for all their psalm singing and praying might as well have been blaspheming for the shortcomings of their worship of the God who is. I am a man unworthy of declaring His praises, of speaking of Him, who only ever takes His name in vain, even in my best praises. And He takes a coal from the fire and touches my lips and calls me to speak to and of Him. Who can plumb the depths of this mercy?
But my journey went on, for all my understanding of God was merely a response to the reality of His being, I had not even yet considered God as He is portrayed in the Gospel. And this is where this portion comes into focus. It is as if I had only ever seen God for what He was, and that was an infinity too great to grasp. But then Romans put into view all that God has done, and infinite upon infinite ravishes the soul and just when you thought you could not worship any more, you must. Paul in this portion before us talks about God’s being but also about God’s plan of salvation and crowns these 11 chapters of Romans with some of the greatest expressions of worship in the bible. God is not only worthy of all praise because of who He is, but also for what He has done in the Gospel.
The theology of the Reformation can be summed up in what is called in Latin, the 5 Solas. The word sola meaning ‘alone’. Against the synergistic salvation of Roman Catholicism these 5 distinctives are stated. Basically put they are these: Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone that the Bible alone is our sole authority for what we believe and how we are to live and worship. We do not allow any traditions of men, or so called office bearers in the church to Lord it over the consciences of the people of God. Sola Fide or Faith alone this is the biblical teaching that we are saved by faith apart from any added works of our own. Sola Gratia, by Grace alone, this is the teaching that God’s decision to save us was by grace. His decision to save was not coerced by anything in us actual or potential. We were His enemies who deserved to be punished and saved those who did not deserve it in any way. Solus Christus or Christ alone, here we are confessing that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man and the only sufficient saviour by His life and single sacrifice of death. The fifth ‘Sola’ is Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory! If any one of the 5 solas has to be chosen as central and driving the others it would be this one. God is God and no one else He does not and will not share His glory with another. He is the author and finisher of our salvation, and He should be credited, worshipped and adored for His great actions in saving us. It is because God’s glory is the goal that His word, the Bible is the rule of our faith and living. It is because we are unable to save ourselves by works that we magnify God’s gracious provision in emphasizing the gift of faith, and that it is the sole instrument of our justification. It is because we submit to the Bible’s teaching about our sinfulness and pollution that we see that it can only be by Grace that God has chosen to save us, that there is no goodness in us at any level which puts God in our debt. Therefore it can only be by Christ that our sins can be fully paid for and God’s justice fully satisfied in the forgiveness of sins. And so when it has all been said and done, who gets the glory? God alone be praised for the wonderful salvation He has wrought without our help and coercion! To paraphrase Luther, he said something like this, ‘If I don’t know who does what in salvation, I don’t know who to thank, God or myself.’
The thought of Soli Deo Gloria is what we want to explore a little now. Lets think with Paul about how all things including salvation are from Him, through Him and to Him.