Every field of knowledge has its own words meant to help people communicate and make that communication more effective. However, these technical descriptions can also make the field more difficult for outsiders to understand. They also can leave the impression on insiders that they know what they mean when in reality they are repeating jargon they don’t really understand.
This is especially a problem in religious faith. Churches and parents can easily adopt religious language that they hear repeated without really knowing what it means. This keeps their faith shallow, makes their attempts to share the gospel dramatically less effective, and confuses the church’s children into disinterest in the spiritual convictions of their parents.
For example. two of the most important concepts in the Christian faith are glory and grace. You will read these words in the Bible and hear them in churches and spiritual conversations. It is easy to convince yourself that you understand these words clearly – even if you don’t. Further, these words — grace and glory — are often not found together in many modern churches. To many Christians, the words seem to have cross purposes rather than beautiful and clarifying union. Yet if you misunderstand these two concepts, you cannot understand the gospel, or the message of salvation in Jesus, at the level of depth that produces full freedom and transformation. The gospel won’t change you that much, because you won’t know God that well.
So, let me try to give fairly brief clarifying explanations of the meaning of these two words.
Grace is the favor or generosity of another that is given without someone deserving it. We give people wages or income because they earn it, and we are obligated to give them “their due.” Grace is the opposite idea: we give someone what they need or desire from a reason completely separate from what they deserve. Sometimes grace, or unmerited generosity, can lead us to give someone the opposite of what they deserve. A couple of the most obvious act of grace are:
- Existence or creation: No one is owed existence or deserves it. No one can claim they should have been conceived, or that if they had never existed, that it would have been an injustice. Creation is sheer gift. It is unmerited and generous. It comes from resources you did not own and could not have controlled. It is grace.
- Forgiveness: Forgiveness is the free release of the moral debt you owe someone you have harmed. When we wrong someone, they pay a cost. The satisfaction of that cost is a punishment that we deserve. It is the wages that we have earned. Forgiveness is the willingness of the harmed person to pay that cost instead of demanding that we pay it. In some ways forgiveness is the ultimate form of grace because it is generosity freely given to the most undeserving possible object and reason. We are freeing someone that hurt us, and we are freeing them from precisely the cost of that crime against us. To pardon such a person and crime against us is the essence of grace.
In order to understand the grace of God, it is important to understand the meaning of the concept WITHOUT reference to God — as a non-religious word. This clarifies the concept for God to fill in. When we see what grace is, and then we see God as gracious, the graciousness of God will affect us in a much deeper way mentally and emotionally. This is true in both positive and negative implications of grace (we’ll look at these more deeply in another post).
Therefore, when Christians say “grace,” we may be referring to anything that comes to us by God’s generosity and that is undeserved. If we use the word generically, we may be referring to everything that counts as part of God’s generosity, which is a set of many, many, many things. Consequently, the word grace has two purposes:
- To highlight the extreme and absolute generosity of God that is connected to his magnificence (glory)
- To distinguish God’s gifts and generosity from justice (what is due to us) or wages (what we have earned)
When we talk about the grace of God, we are saying that God generously relates to us not as we deserve, but on the basis of magnificence (immensity) and magnanimousness (good nature) —the two things that make up his “glory.” This “grace” is then the basis for all the good news there is to know about God: what we call the “gospel,” which means “good news” in Old English (God-spel). The supreme grace to us is the supremely costly gift of God’s son, given through the glorious plan of redemption, for the purpose of purchasing forgiveness for all who would respond to the grace of his offer of forgiveness through his Son. This act of salvation is not only his supreme grace to us, but in salvation, we receive more graces of “sanctification” (present transformation and union with his Spirit) and “glorification” (our future destiny in the riches of Christ), as well as all the old graces of creation that we were made to fulfill (everything in our physical daily lives).
The term glory normally refers to the greatness or magnificence of something seen by others and receiving reputation and renown. Glory is not just the fact that something is great. It is that it should be and is known to be great. This leads to three senses of the word glory:
- The fact that something is great
- Knowing that that thing is great
- Enjoying and expressing the knowledge that it is great and living responsively to that truth
This definition is transferable to a woman, a canyon, a sunset, a truth, a nation, or God. Any of these, and a million others, can be great. They can then be known as great. They can then be further adored as great. Such a thing precisely could be said to be glorious (inherently great), to have glory (be known as great), and to be glorified (seen and savored as great).
Therefore, when Christians speak of the glory they are speaking of the magnificence of God, and that greatness and goodness being seen by everything in creation that can see it. Consequently, Christians speak of our expressing and enjoying the seeing (apprehension) of that glory as “glorifying” God. Glorifying God means that we live rightly towards the truth of God’s glory: expressing back to him true appreciation (worship), acting in accordance with its truth (godliness), and expressing his glory so that others will see it and enjoy it (mission and ministry).
Knowing these three senses of the term “glory” should clear up a common, though shallow, misunderstanding of God’s glory. People sometimes say or think, “If God’s glory is his greatness, then why do we talk as though his glory can increase? Why do we talk as though glory is something we give him, rather than just something that is in him?”
You can see now how simply this seemingly very real confusion is resolved.
- God’s glory is static and unchangeable in the first sense. His goodness and greatness are what his glory is and cannot be increased. We cannot make God greater in this sense for two reasons. First, we are powerless to do it. Second, he can’t be improved upon. That thought is right: God’s glory is perfect and absolute, and therefore we cannot add to it.
- However, in the second sense, God’s gloriousness can certainly be known much more by us. This increase in God’s gloriousness being known is an increase in his glory in the second sense; it is an increase in his reputation or renown in his creation. That type of “glory” can increase, and should. The “increase of his glory” in this sense is what we are doing here. We are supposed to increase his reputation — the reputation he already absolutely deserves, but that is obscured by sin, worldliness, and devils. There are many things in the world that seek to diminish people’s understanding of God’s reputation or steal credit for all that he has given.
- Then, in the third sense, glory is something we give God and participate in through the enjoyment of worship. This is what we mean by “glorying in” or “glorifying God.” “Glorying in” God usually refers to acts of savoring and expressing the gloriousness of God through emotional expressions and art that we call worship. This takes the form of singing, prayer, ordinances or sacraments like baptism and communion, or other ways we express our love and adoring of God’s gloriousness. This acceleration of our emotions and will around the truth of God’s glory changes our hearts to align them more to the truth of the glory of God.
When we say “glorify God” we usually mean in actions of holiness, godliness, and service. That is, we seek to obey God and act in ways that are in line with God’s glorious character and so display something of his gloriousness to others in our service of them. Our hope is that in serving others and obeying God in these ways, others would see and savor the beauty and seriousness of God’s glory more and more. We desire for people to know God’s gloriousness and to come to glorify and glory in him with us.
Lastly, though God’s glory is absolute and unchanging, our conceptualization and appreciation of it can be, because it can be ever more clear, complete and deep. The pursuit of knowing God’s glory more deeply, completely, and clearly is called the “pursuit of God” or seeking to “know God” more.
Grace and Glory
Once we understand the meaning of these two words, we will start to see how they are at the center of everything Christians believe about God, and why they can be used so frequently to describe the meaning of our faith. We will also see the interplay of these two concepts and how they enrich each other. Lastly, we will see why God’s grace is seen and savored as one of his greatest glories to us, and why the apostle Paul talked of all the work of faith in Christ as “to the praise of his glorious grace…” We are not meant to only vaguely understand that salvation is by grace. We are meant to increasingly see how every fiber of the plant of salvation is unreservedly and mind-blowingly glorious.