God Glorified through Human Dependence

One recent trend that I am pleased with in many conservative churches is the return to a more God-centered theology.  This used to be the cry of the church for years, soli Deo gloria, especially the years following the Reformation.  But in our modern day church, man has crept to the center, leaving God as a secondary consideration in our theology and our practice.  I am glad that there appears to be a returning, though slow and small, to a God-centered Christianity.  It is not uncommon to hear talk about the glory of God and about how Christians must live for His glory.  There is much talk about glorifying God, but many times we do not really have a concrete understanding of what this means.  It remains vague theological talk, while having no practical bearing on the lives of most Christians.  Glorifying God is something that we know how to talk about in a superficial manner, but to often is not something that we know how to live out in our daily lives.

The more I study the Scriptures, the more God-centered my theology becomes.  I am absolute convinced that God does everything that He does ultimately for Himself and Himself alone.  God definitely acts for the good of His people, but even this is not God’s ultimate aim or chief end.  God’s chief end is His own glory, period.  God’s works of creation, providence, and redemption are means that He has chosen for the accomplishment of that end.  All believers will agree that the purpose of human existence is to live for the glory of God.  In this article, I would like for us to focus on one very practical way that we can glorify God by our lives.

There are two very important questions that we must answer before we go any further in considering how we can glorify God.  They are: (1) what is the glory of God and (2) how does God glorify Himself.  Very simply, the glory of God is His unique excellence.  It is the sum total of all of His being, the manifold perfections of His nature.  For God then to glorify Himself, He puts on display the manifold excellencies of His greatness.  This is how God seeks to glorify Himself, in creation, in providence, and in redemption, by manifesting more and more of the beauty of His perfections.  I am currently writing some thoughts on this very subject, the goal of God in all that He does.  One specific area is the goal of God in sanctification, which I have argued is the display of the sufficiency of His enabling grace.  God glorifies Himself by showing His ability and grace in the backdrop of our inability and weakness.

One way then in which we can glorify God is by living a life that reflects a belief in our inability and the sufficiency of God and His grace.  And I think that this is displayed as we live the following kind of life:

  • A life of complete dependence upon God for His grace.

Key Text: 1 Peter 4:11 “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

This text teaches us at least two things.  First, God is the one who supplies the strength, grace, or enablement to serve Him effectively.  And second, God does this to magnify Himself by displaying the greatness of His grace.  In other words, God desires to glorify Himself through the display of our insufficiency by demonstrating the greatness of His sufficiency.

In order to live the live of God-dependence, the first thing that we must realize is that we can do absolutely nothing apart from God and His grace.  We are entirely unable to do the things that God has given us to do in a way that please Him.  We can attempt to live the Christian life and serve God apart from dependence upon Him for His grace, but failure is the certain result of such an endeavor.  The biblical teaching of total inability is not just a teaching that relates to the unbeliever.  Yes, unbelievers cannot do any good thing that pleases God, but neither can the believer apart from God’s enabling grace.  Scripture is replete with statements and examples of this.

John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Galatians 5:17 “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

Anyone who is gripped with the truth of His own inability will be driven to look outside of himself for help.  I am afraid though that far to often, while we may admit to the above concept in our theology, we deny it in our practice by living independently of God so much of the time.  While we claim that we believe it, our lives affirm otherwise.

The second thing that I think is essential to realize in order to live a God-dependent life is that God is most certainly able.  We must be absolutely convinced of the greatness and ability of our God, and not only that, but the availability of that grace for our own lives.  I probably do not need to take the time to emphasize this, but I will cite just two verses.

2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 

2 Corinthians 12:9 “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Although this first verse is specifically in the context of financial giving, I believe that there is a broader principle here.  God’s grace is sufficient not only when it comes to giving of our possessions, but, as the second passage makes clear, in every area of life.  To successfully live a life of God-dependence requires absolute confidence in this truth.

Having concluded that man is unable to serve God in His own strength and that God desires to display His glory through the provision of His enabling grace through man’s dependence, we come to the question of how God imparts this grace to the life of the believer.  How is it that the believer can experience the fullness of this divine enabling to serve God for the glory of God? While I believe there are many channels through which God gives His grace, I think that God primarily supplies His grace through these following two means, both of which are expressions of dependence upon God.

1. God gives grace through the Word of Grace.

Acts 20:32 “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

God’s Word is described as a Word of grace.  One of the primary means through which God pours out His grace upon His people is His Word.  Therefore, the life of dependence upon God for His grace must be a life a dedication to the Word.  Neglecting the Word is an expression of independence.  The Christian is powerless for service and against temptation apart from the grace that God gives through the Scriptures.  The life of God-dependence is the life of Word of God-dependence.

2 Peter 1:2 “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.

Here again, the connection is made between the full experience of the grace of God in the life and the Scriptures (which are at least indirectly in reference here).  Knowledge of God and of Christ are the specific channels through which God pours out His grace in abundance into our lives, and such a knowledge is found chiefly in the Word of God.

2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

Notice again the connection that Peter makes between the grace of God and the knowledge of God.  As one increases, so does the other.  And as we saw in 1:3, the increased knowledge is the means of the increased grace.  Here he also ties in the theme we saw in 1 Peter 4:11, the glory of God.  As we pursue the knowledge of God and grow in the grace of God, He is glorified.

2. God gives grace at the Throne of Grace.

Hebrews 4:16 “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Prayer, I believe, is the second primary means of God’s grace.  The presence of God, the place where He dwells, is described as a place of grace.  And here in this epistle, the author commands believers to enter into His presence with confidence based upon the person and work of Christ.  And the reason that we are invited to come is to receive mercy and find grace.  God’s grace is always available to the believer.  As the later part of the verse communicates, whenever we are in need (which is all the time, though in differing degrees), we may receive the enabling of God.  And this does two things: it allows us to successfully handle the problems of life, and it displays the glory of God by magnifying the sufficiency of His grace.

To sum it all up, God will be glorified and you will be able to accomplish all that God has for you as you recognize your utter dependence upon Him for His grace, which He supplies freely through His Word and prayer.  And if all of this is true, then the opposite is true.  If you want to dishonor God and be a failure in the Christian life, then live your life independently of God, not relying on Him for His grace, which He gives through the Word and prayer.

So if you ignore the Word and Prayer, you are not going to experience the fullness of the grace of God in your life because you are choosing to live independently of God.  And in essence, while you would never actually express it in these words, you are saying, “God, I don’t need you.  I can do it on my own.  I am sufficient in and of myself to make it through life without your grace.”  And such a choice can only dishonor God and lead to failure.

I think often the Christian will look at the busyness of his day and rationalize in his mind that he does not have enough time to spend with God.  Let me show the foolishness of such a mindset with an illustration.  This mentality, which pervades so much of profession Christendom, is comparable to a man who has an all-day trip to make by car who says, “I have such a long way to drive today that I don’t think I will have time to stop at the gas station for gas.”  Now please excuse my comparing the grace of God with the fuel in a car, but I think you see the foolishness of such reasoning.  A long trip necessitates more gas, so a busy day is a day that requires more of God’s grace.  Martin Luther realized this, which he demonstrated by saying once that he had so much to do that he would spend the first three hours of the day in prayer.

Let me conclude with one passage from the gospels found in Matthew 14:13-21, the feeding of the five thousand.  This is a very familiar story, but I would like to point out just one lesson.

“Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.  When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, ‘This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’  But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!’  They said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish.’ And He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.’ Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.  There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.”

Here Christ instructed the apostles to feed the five thousand, knowing full well that they did not have the ability to accomplish the task.  I often hear the objection against Calvinism that God never asks us to do anything that we cannot do, therefore, man must have the ability to believe.  That is utter and total nonsense, and as I said earlier, not even the Christian has the ability to do what God has asked him to do.  Christ commanded the apostles to do what they could not do to teach them their inability and His ability, to teach them that when they approach an impossible circumstance God’s grace and enablement is sufficient and available.  God wants to turn our eyes toward Him and off of ourselves.  By this He is glorified.

In conclusion, to summarize it all, God delights in giving His people impossible tasks in order to glorify Himself through supplying the grace necessary for accomplishing them.  In other words, God will glorify Himself through your life by showing you your inability and causing you to depend upon Him for His grace, which He gives through His Word and Prayer.  Let us join together in glorifying our great God by recognizing our inability and His ability, showing our dependence upon Him for His grace by saturating our hearts and minds with His Word and pleading often before His throne for His grace! Let us live the God-dependent, God-glorifying life!

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