The Glory of God in the Cross of Christ

By Matt Perman

"Our Christian mind-set is so skewed by natural and secular man-centeredness that we can barely comprehend or love the God-centeredness of the cross of Christ," John Piper has said.[1] It can revolutionize our lives to catch a view of the God-centeredness of the cross. To do so, let us investigate this question: Did Christ die for us or for His Father?

Christ died for His Father
To understand the glory of God in the cross of Christ, we must go all the way back to creation. Isaiah 43:6-7 says that God created us for His glory (see also Colossians 1:16). From this it is follows that we should all live for God's glory (1 Cor. 10:31). The glory of God is the majesty and splendor and supreme value of the perfections of God's character. Glorifying God means calling attention to His greatness and showing His supreme value by delighting in Him and cherishing Him. The failure to live for God's glory, which we are all guilty of, is the essence of what the Bible calls sin. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Piper elaborates on this: "Falling short of God's glory means exchanging it for something of lesser value. All sin comes from not putting supreme value on the glory of God...All sin is a despising of God, before it is a damage to man. All sin is a preference for the fleeting pleasures of the world over the everlasting joy of God's fellowship." Romans 1:23 says that humanity "exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man..."

Because of our sin, we all deserve eternal punishment under the wrath of God (Romans 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:9). God would be denying the infinite worth of His glory if He did not adequately deal with the fact that all of us, by our refusal to live for and value and love His glory, have dishonored and rejected the infinite and awesome worth of His glory. Therefore God must punish sin to preserve and vindicate the worth of His glory which we have attacked through our sin. Hell is therefore an eternal demonstration of the infinite worth of God's glory. For the infinite severity of the penalty for attacking God's glory reveals the infinite value of the glory that was attacked.

The good news is that God is love and therefore forgives the sins of those who repent and turn to His Son in faith. But this leads to a startling dilemma: How is God able to forgive sins without compromising His glory? The answer is given in Romans 3:23-26: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

According to this verse, God crucified Jesus in order to demonstrate His righteousness. It was necessary for God's righteousness to be displayed because God has forgiven people who have sinned against Him--that is, attacked and refused to value His glory. Since God's righteousness had to be displayed in order for Him to justly forgive people who have attacked the worth of His glory, we can define God's righteousness as His unfailing commitment to preserve and uphold and display the worth of His glory.[2]

In other words, since God's glory has been attacked and dishonored by us when we sin, He must do something to vindicate--show His commitment to the worth of--His glory before He can forgive our sins. If God did not do this, He would not be valuing what is supremely valuable--His glory--and thus would not be righteous. In the crucifixion, God showed His commitment to the worth of His glory ("demonstrated His righteousness") by punishing Christ for our sins, thus enabling Him to forgive those who have not been committed to the worth of His glory.

This verse uses the world propitiation, which is simply a sacrifice that satisfies, or absorbs, the wrath of God against sinners and thus makes God favorable to them. On the cross, Christ paid the penalty for sin (and thus vindicated God's righteousness) by enduring the punishment we deserve for our sins. The punishment of sin has two aspects: the pain of loss and the pain of sense. The pain of loss means being shut out from experiencing fellowship with God and enjoying His glory (see 2 Thessalonians 1:9). It means being cut off from God. The pain of sense is the addition of torment and suffering by the wrath of God against sin (see John 3:36; Luke 16: 23, 28).

On the cross, Christ experienced both aspects of this punishment. He was temporarily abandoned by God the Father (Matthew 27:46; Galatians 3:13) and He experienced the wrath of God the Father against sin (Romans 5:9; John 18:11). Biblical statements on God's wrath are terrifying. Revelation 14:10 says that those who reject God will "drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." On the cross, Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath for those who would come to believe in Him. "The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?", He said on His way to the cross (John 18:11). The Old Testament background behind this cup is revealing: "For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, `Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it'" (Jeremiah 25:15). By drinking the "cup of God's wrath" Jesus propitiated God's wrath against His elect and thus made it possible for God to show mercy to us.

When this was finished, Jesus died and completed His work of paying the penalty for sins, for "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). He did this all in the place of those who would come to believe in Him (1 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). If you believe in Christ, Christ experienced the wrath that God had for you so that He could give you mercy instead. Those who do not come to believe in Christ will have to pay the penalty for their own sins by being eternally cut off from the glory of God and eternally punished by the wrath of God in hell (Matthew 25:49; Revelation 14:10-11).

John Piper summarizes the wonder of the cross very well: "The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, and all the while upholds and demonstrates the righteousness of God."[3]

Having seen the horrors Christ went through on the cross, it is now very significant to know that Christ went to the cross in order to preserve and uphold His Father's glory. In light of this, what do you conclude that God was saying about His glory when He sent His Son to the cross? What was Jesus saying about His Father's glory when He willingly endured the cross for His glory?

I conclude that the cross demonstrates the infinite worth of God's glory since Christ was willing to go to such great lengths to uphold the value of His Father's holy name. It shows that God the Father is an all glorious God who refuses to settle for anything less that being all glorious, and that God the Son loves His Father infinitely and therefore places infinite worth on His glory.

Christ died for us
Now we are in a position to understand, in a God-centered way, that Christ died for us as well as His Father. Christ's death not only shows the infinite worth of God's glory, but the greatness of His love for us. But it must be understood that we are not at the center. Christ did not die for us because we are of infinite value, but because God's glory (which we have attacked) is of infinite value. God loves us because that is the kind of God He is--it is His nature to be loving. And the goal of His saving love is "that we should be to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6).

Perhaps it can be explained this way. Because God places superior worth on Himself, He delights in Himself above all things. And since He delights in Himself above all things, He delights in making His name known and honored so that He can spread and share His delight that He has in Himself. This overflow of God's delight in being God is manifest as His love for us--He acts to save us from the penalty of our sins so that we can share with Him the joy He has in Himself. And in going to the amazing extent that He did (the horrors of the cross) in order to bring His elect into the enjoyment of Himself, the greatness of His glory and love is made crystal clear. His glory is shown to be so wonderful that even the sacrifice of the cross cannot stop His loving pursuit to make His greatness known and enjoyed forever by His people.

Do you see how everything God does is first and foremost rooted in His own superior worth? Do you see how God's passion and commitment to exalt and display the superior worth of Himself is the ground of our salvation and His love for us?

This forces us to ask some very relevant questions: In light of the fact that God's love for His elect is grounded in Himself and His character, not us, how does that give us security? I would answer that since God's love for us is grounded in Himself, His love cannot fail or stop any easier than God's commitment to upholding and preserving His glory could fail. The cross demonstrates that God's commitment to preserving His worth will never fail, and therefore His love for those He has chosen will never cease or fail. Further application of this knowledge is that we should glorify God by acknowledging His superior worth as the ground of all that He does.

In light of the fact that our forgiveness and salvation is also grounded in God's commitment to His glory, as the cross reveals, how does that give us security? It seems to me that this gives us the confidence that our salvation cannot fail because God's commitment to preserving His worth cannot fail. First Samuel 12:22 says "For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself." God has made it so that our salvation is tied up with the glory of His name. First John 2:12 says that "your sins are forgiven you for His [Christ's] name's sake." God forgives our sins so that His name may be magnified and exalted. Whenever someone turns to the cross of Christ for forgiveness, the saving grace of God in the work of Christ is magnified and exalted. Since God will not deny Himself the pleasure of magnifying His saving grace or the pleasure of making a people for Himself through the work of His Son (1 Samuel 12:22 and 1 John 2:12), we can be confident that God will most definitely grant us forgiveness if we repentantly turn to the cross of Christ for forgiveness. And He will not forgive us angrily or begrudgingly, but joyfully because God delights to honor the work of His Son which was done for His glory. And how does God honor the work of his Son? By giving the forgiveness that His death has provided for His elect.

The full picture
The great news of this all is that there is no necessary conflict between God's commitment to Himself above all things and His love for us. The cross shows that the most loving thing God can do is be first and foremost committed to displaying His glory and exalting Himself. If God Himself takes infinite delight in His own glory, how wonderful and splendid that glory must be! This makes one look forward eagerly to the fulfillment of Christ's prayer for us: "Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). It is a wonderful truth that the most loving thing for God to do is seek His own glory. The cross of Christ makes this crystal clear because it preserves, displays, and magnifies the infinite worth of God's glory while also being the most loving thing He could do for us! Christ died for us precisely because He died for God!

In conclusion, let us ask: If God takes His glory so seriously, shouldn't we? Shouldn't we stop unwittingly belittling God by ignoring the fact that He values Himself above all things? Shouldn't we stop ignoring that God's goal in everything He does is to exalt and proclaim the superior worth of His glory? How can we acknowledge the greatness of our God (and thus honor Him) if we deny that He is at the center of everything He does? Let us start living for and proclaiming the supremacy of God in all things.

All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.

1. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the article by John Piper, "Did Christ Die for us or for God?"
2. This definition is from Piper. For an in-depth defense of this definition of the righteousness of God, see his book The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23.
3. John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, chapter 2.

Appendix: Summary of why God must judge sin to be righteous
1. Sin is an attack on the infinite worth of God's glory.
2. Therefore, if sin is treated as inconsequential and its attack on God's glory is not repaired, God's glory is treated as inconsequential.
3. This means that if God did not judge sin, He would not be valuing His glory. He would be treated Himself as cheap.
4. God's righteousness is His unfailing commitment to uphold the superior worth of His glory and not treat Himself as cheap. For God to be righteous, He must place superior value on what is supremely valuable--Himself.
5. Therefore if God did not judge sin, He would be unrighteous. For Him not to judge sin would be to join the sinners of Romans 1:23 and exchange the infinite glory of the immortal God for a creature. He would be treating humans and their sin as more valuable than Himself. This would be idolatry.


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