Self Serving Grace?

‘True grace is given from a selfless motivation, to benefit the one to whom it is given, not with sights set on what one will receive in return.

This truth is what makes God’s grace so absolutely glorious!

Some Calvinists undermine this truth by suggesting that the grace God gives is in fact given with the ultimate purpose of His own Self-exaltation. These Calvinists are unwittingly undermining the very truth about God’s grace that best exalts His glory. Allow me to explain:

Notable Calvinists are known to argue that God’s primary concern is not the welfare of man, but for Himself and His own glory. In contrast to the claims of Calvinism, related to God’s ultimate desire for Self-glorification, Traditionalism emphasizes God’s concern for humanity over and above His concern for Self-glorification.

Back when I was in college I was very drawn to the Calvinistic teachings about God’s desire for His own glory. This was especially attractive to me coming out of the more “seeker sensitive” movement that seemed to put way too much focus on pleasing man rather than on glorifying God. And quite honestly, Calvinistic authors introduced me to many texts within scripture which so clearly appeared to support their understanding of God’s Self-glorification that I could not begin to understand how any Bible believing Christian could deny such truth. They would have to be “man-centered,” “selfish” and “humanistic” to do so, right?

Regardless of what some of my Calvinistic friends may think; in my journey out of Calvinism I did not abandon the truth that God does seek to reveal His own Glory. Instead, I realized that God’s Glory is best revealed in His self-sacrificial love for all.  I came to understand that God does not sacrifice creation for the sake of His own glory, but instead He sacrifices Himself for sake of His creation, which in turn reveals Him as the most glorious of all. It is the selfless motive of Christ’s sacrifice that brings Him so much glory. To in anyway undermine the selflessness of the Divine motive actually undermines the very thing that makes His grace so glorious.

By putting the welfare of man above His own Self-glorification, God reveals Himself to be so much more abundantly glorious than anything we could imagine.  The Calvinist seems to think that God’s glory is best manifest by putting His own exaltation first, whereas the example of Christ reveals just the opposite.  It is through giving up His glory, by putting the needs of lowly undeserving humans first, that He is most abundantly glorified.

Is Traditionalism Humanistic?

These are some comments sent to me via social media:

  • “Your theology is man-centered…”
  • “You are a humanistic Pelagian…”
  • “You start with man and build your view of God around humanistic reasoning.”
  • “Making God in your own image is not theology, Mr. Flowers!!!”

And those were the nice ones. But is Traditionalism really more humanistic than Calvinism? Which soteriological world view actually paints God to look more like humanity?  Let’s observe…

In the flesh I always care more about my own glory than the needs or wants of others.  Don’t you?  Yet, would Calvinists have us believe that God has this same “humanistic” characteristic?  Does God care more about His own glory than the welfare of humanity? Or, does God’s genuine love and provision for all humanity reveal just how glorious He really is?

How can the Calvinist rightly accuse our view of God as being “humanistic” when their view of God looks and sounds just like self-seeking humans who desire all the glory for themselves even if it means the sacrifice and suffering of others? John Piper is quoted as saying,

“God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking his own praise is the ultimate loving act. For him self-exaltation is the highest virtue.”

I would re-word that by saying,

“God is the only Being in all the universe who actually deserves to seek His own glory, praise and self-exaltation, but instead chooses to empty Himself for the sake of worthless humanity in the ultimate act of love on Calvary. This act, once accepted by faith, leads us to freely praise, exalt and glorify Him for the self-sacrificial God He is.”

Piper believes “God’s highest virtue” is “self-exaltation,” but the cross reveals otherwise.  God’s highest virtue is His gracious, self-sacrificial love for unworthy vessels.

Is God’s genuine love and provision for all humanity the true reflection of His glory? Or, is God seeking His own glory at the expense of most humanity?  And which of those views is really more “humanistic?”

It’s only fair to consider the argument directly from a Calvinist. In John Piper’s sermon titled “Is God for us or for Himself?” he lays out the dilemma quite well:

“God’s aim and effort to glorify himself is wholly good and without fault of any kind and is very different from human self-exaltation because it is an expression of love… This observation leads us to the biblical reason why it seems offensive for God to seek his own glory. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love seeks not its own.” Now this, indeed, seems to create a crisis, for if, as I think the Scriptures plainly teach, God makes it his ultimate goal to be glorified and praised, how then can he be loving? For “love seeks not its own.” For three weeks we have seen Scriptures that teach that God is for himself. “For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, my glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11). But if God is a God of love, he must be for us. Is, then, God for himself or is he for us?” 

If you go on to read the rest of this message you will learn that Piper teaches God is for Himself because that is what is best for us. As Piper explains, “To be supremely loving, God must give us what will be best for us and delight us most; he must give us Himself.”

Of course, I agree with that statement, but you must keep in mind that in the Calvinistic worldview God only “gives Himself” to a select few while leaving the rest to perish in their innate depraved corpse-like condition (an unchangeable condition from birth as decreed by God).  Many of those “passed over” are people we dearly love and would sacrifice ourselves for if we were able (Rom. 9:1-3). Traditionalists, by contrast, believe that God “gives Himself” to all people by sending His Son to provide atonement for every man, woman, boy and girl.

Did Christ not teach us to stop and help our enemies rather than “pass them by on the other side?” (Luke 10:25-37)  Yet, are we to believe God passes over most of His own enemies from the time they are born until the time they die?  How can one reconcile this with the God revealed in Christ?

Tim Keller, in contrast to some other Calvinists, wrote something that I wholeheartedly affirm:

“That is why God is infinitely happy, because there is an ‘other-orientation’ at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.” (Tim Keller, The Reason For God, pg.218)

Ben Witherington, a non-Calvinistic New Testament scholar, agrees with Keller’s view. He wrote in an article title, “For God So Loved Himself? Is God a Narcissist?

“I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.”

When I made a similar argument, Dr. James White called my soteriology “man-centered,” and I have to agree. I have centered my soteriology on the man, Jesus Christ. In Christ we find someone who emptied Himself of glory so as to serve the needs of His enemies and then He called us to do the same. God, as revealed in Christ, is not a hypocrite. He practices what He preaches. Philippians 2:1-9 states:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature Goddid not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”

Jesus, being the very nature God, is said to have emptied Himself, which is not His way of ceasing to be divine, but rather His way of revealing true divinity.  To be like God we mustn’t seek our own glory, but we must humble ourselves and seek to love even our greatest enemies. In doing so, we will find true glory because we find what it really means to be in the image of our Maker.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6'

source: Leighton Flowers (soteriology101).


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