It’s true. Ultimately, Jesus didn’t die for you. But walk into just about any church and before you even find the coffee, which is your only hope for not awkwardly standing out, you’ll hear someone say, “Jesus died for you!” Unsure of how to respond, you hesitantly, yet politely reply, “Thank you?” Wanting to convince them that this isn’t your first church service, with a confident head nod you inject a more ‘religious’ response. “And also for you!”
I grew up in the church and I’ve always heard the exact same thing countless times. My chest would puff up a little bit as I thought “Jesus died for ME! Man, I must be a pretty big deal.” What they said wasn’t necessarily wrong, but it was incomplete. I want to plead the case that, although Christ died and made a way for salvation, ultimately, he didn’t die for your sake and he certainly didn’t die for mine either.
I recently started a new job at Youth For Christ and my ministry coordinator loves to debate and wrestle with deep theological questions. One day as we were talking about church planting and philosophy, he asked me a question that nobody had asked me before. “Does God love us or himself more?” I was taken aback at such an appalling question. I mean, after all, Jesus died for US! God loves ME! Has this idiot never heard of John 3:16?
“He loves us more!” I quickly answered, “……..I think.”
I walked out of his office without being able to get that question out of my head. All of my life I’d heard that I’m a child of God, that Jesus died for me, that he wants relationship with me and how much he loves ME! So naturally I’d think that he doesn’t love anyone more than his beloved creation. I decided I’d get back to my coordinator later with a better answer. I put the question to rest and started diving into my new book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. A few chapters in, the book listed a biblical passage that, coincidently enough, answered that very question.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” -Ezekiel 36:22-23 (ESV)
Platt elaborates, “We are not the end of the gospel; God is. God centers on himself, even in our salvation. Remember his words in Ezekiel: he saves us, not for our sake, but for the sake of his holy name. We have received salvation so that his name will be proclaimed in all nations. God loves us for his sake in the world.”
In western Christianity, where we church shop according to our own wants and conditions to learn about a grace that centers around us, this might come as a shock. But if we look at this passage and Scripture as a whole, it looks like God surely loves us, but that he is a whole lot more concerned with his own glory than ours. He offers grace, mercy and salvation which is nothing short of a gift, but ultimately it is so that in the end God receives more glory. God blesses us with these so that we might extend his glory. It is not for our sake, but for the sake of his holy name.
I’m not saying we weren’t part of the reason Jesus died on the cross, but we are not the primary reason. I think his motives somewhat go hand in hand and play off of each other, meaning they are not completely separate. His blessings stem from his glory and in turn extend his glory.
“God is for God, more than God is for us.” -Matt Chandler
For us (see I included myself) that still are skeptical or have a hard time with this, I’ll list some more supplemental verses.
-Psalm 23:3 – He leads me in paths of righteousness for HIS NAME’s sake.
-Isaiah 43:7 – …everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for MY glory
-Isaiah 43:25 – I, I am he who blots out your transgressions FOR MY OWN SAKE, and I will not remember your sins.
-Psalm 106 – Yet he saved them (Israel) for HIS NAME’s sake, that he might make known HIS mighty power.
-John 17:24 – Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, TO SEE MY GLORY that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
-Ephesians 1:5-6 – In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of HIS will, TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORIOUS GRACE, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
-Romans 3:25-26 – This (Jesus dying on the cross) was TO SHOW GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was TO SHOW HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
“God’s ultimate goal is to uphold and display the glory of his name.” -John Piper
So as we, often self-centered Christians, try to swallow this truth, I am sure that many questions arise. “God has ulterior motives? Does God really love us then? Wait, is God selfish?”
But as David Platt writes, “Whom else would we have him exalt?……The Bible is not saying that God does not love us deeply. On the contrary, we have seen in Scripture a God of unusual, surprising, intimate passion for his people. But that passion does not ultimately center on his people. It centers on his greatness, his goodness, and his glory being made know globally among all peoples. And to disconnect God’s blessing for God’s global purpose is to spiral downward into an unbiblical, self-saturated Christianity that misses the point of God’s grace.”
If this does come as a shock to you (like it does to me) or doesn’t sit quite right, then I would propose that maybe you’re more concerned with your own glory than the glory of God. We want Christianity to be about us. We want to keep hearing about what Jesus can do for us. We want the object of our faith to be us. But it’s not.
In conclusion, I am not saying that God doesn’t love you. I am also not saying that you weren’t a motivation in Jesus going to the cross. But you weren’t the end all. It wasn’t just for us. To say it was is an incomplete view of the gospel and Bible. I am saying that ultimately, God is more concerned about His own glory than about yours. He has an underlying motive in his love for us and in sending his Son. Ultimately, above all, the main purpose for the cross is for his name’s sake and to display his glory and righteousness.
I text my coordinator, “I’ve got my final answer. Ezekiel 36:22-23. God loves himself more. Next question please.”
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