Do you remember your first job? Mine was in high school when I was hired to be a bagboy at a grocery store. It was a good summer job. I met a lot of new people and did lots of tasks throughout the store. However, the thing I remember most was when I received my first paycheck. The manager said, “Nick, it has been a joy having you here. Because I am so gracious, I have a gift for you. Here is a check, my free gift to you, because I am such a generous person.” I was so overcome by his gift that I began praising him for being such a magnificent manager.
Wait a second… What? Yeah, I made that up. But you understand how ridiculous that would be. Anyone who has ever had a job would think it crazy if your boss told you he was giving you your paycheck as a gift, and therefore we should honor him as if he had done a gracious thing for you. No, a paycheck from an employer is not a gift; you’ve earned it through your hard work. A paycheck is your due. The company you work for owes you your paycheck and if they do not give it to you, they are in the wrong.
This is the exact point the Apostle Paul makes in the book of Romans. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” (Romans 4:4) Paul shows that if there were anything that people added to their salvation–if they worked for it– then salvation wouldn’t be a gift from God but rather what God owes people. Therefore, people would rightly be able to boast before God and receive glory for a job well done. The Reformers faced opposition when they taught that you cannot buy salvation through indulgences and you cannot work for salvation through church rituals. No, the Reformers agreed with the Apostle Paul that salvation is completely a gift from God. Salvation is not earned or merited, and therefore no one is able to boast and God receives all the glory. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The month of October I have been focusing on key issues of the Reformation, issues that are still relevant today. Each summarized in brief Latin phrases we call the Five Solas. Today we end with the last sola, the one that is the outpouring of the other four, Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone. This vital teaching is what Paul is arguing for in Romans 4, what the Reformers proclaimed, and what true Biblical churches hold to today. God alone receives all the glory!
The Bible is crystal clear in that everything we are and have is a gift from God. (James 1:17) It follows, then, that God is due all of the praise and glory for His goodness and mercy towards us. The Apostle Paul goes as far as telling us that even meager, daily activities should be done to God’s glory. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) The Westminster Divines got it right when they wrote, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Soli Deo Gloria was important to the Reformers because they recognized that salvation, going to heaven, being made right before a holy God, all were possible only because God had made them possible. God receives all the praise and glory because He has done the work on the behalf of His people. “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5) Stop trying to work and earn something from God. Stop trying to be a good person, thinking that it may gain you some merit before your Creator. Instead, give up “working”. Humble yourself and recognize that even your supposed “good works” are actually more like filthy rags before a holy God. (Isaiah 64:6) Have faith that Christ died for your sins and rose again for your justification. Turn to God and call out to Him for mercy and grace. Do it all, not for your glory, for the glory of God alone!