IMAGINE COMING ACROSS A CENTURIES-OLD, abandoned set of ruins in the jungle without asking why someone built them. We wouldn’t do this because humans do everything with purpose, and so does God. In fact, we ask about purposes because God is purposeful, and he made us in his image.
With that in mind, have you ever wondered why God created the universe? What motivated him? Does God act with some ultimate purpose in mind? My Catholic grade school nuns told us God created people because he was lonely. But that can’t possibly be true. God lacks nothing, and that includes fellowship. He has eternally existed as a Trinity of fellowship.
Edwards To The Rescue
Maybe you have never asked this question. That was me until fifteen years after my conversion when I purchased The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Perusing through the table of contents I came across this title, A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World. That’s an interesting title, I thought. Why did God create the world? I had never seriously asked that question. So having read nothing of Edwards before, I decided to start there. Edwards’ Dissertation blew up my worldview. He replaced my man-centered thinking with a God-centered view of all reality that was intensely satisfying.
What was Edwards’ conclusion? Joy, not need, motivated God to both create and redeem. God does everything to display and exercise his glory. God’s glory is a catchall term for the sum of his attributes. When we think of God’s attributes, qualities like love, mercy, justice, holiness, etc. come to mind. Edwards would say “yes” to all of these, but there was one attribute that he felt was the pinnacle, the most important, and you will probably find it surprising.
It was grace! Paul seems to assume that praising God for the display and exercise of his grace is the great reason for creation and redemption.
Grace! Really? What about love? Love is important. It motivated God to be gracious, but glorifying his grace seems to be God’s ultimate energizing purpose.
[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself 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.Ephesians 1:4-6
Paul answers our question this way. God does everything to maximize our joy and his by praising him for his glorious grace. In the first two chapters of Ephesians, Paul mentions grace six times. It is a major theme. Dr. Tom Schreiner of Southern Seminary writes,
God’s supreme aim is to display for the coming ages the stunning nature of his grace.Thomas R. Schreiner. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Kindle Locations 330-331). Kindle Edition.
And John Piper, a student of Edwards, adds—
The ultimate goal of God in initiating the entire plan of salvation before creation was that he would be praised for the glory of his grace.Piper, John. Providence (p. 51). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
To appreciate this, we need to make a careful definition of divine grace and how it depends upon God’s sovereignty. Unless we get these two ideas right, God’s purpose for creation and redemption will be diminished. He will not get the praise he deserves.
The street-level definition of grace is kindness. For example, we might say, “Aunt Kathy is a gracious lady.” By “grace,” we mean she is kind, has manners, builds others up with her speech, and makes them feel important.
God’s grace includes those qualities, but if that’s all, it isn’t divine grace expressing God’s holiness. It’s just human grace. Attempting to clarify this definition, some have defined grace with the acronym G.R.A.C.E—God’s riches at Christ’s expense. That is good, but it doesn’t go far enough either.
It only becomes divine grace when we add these eleven words to the end. Grace is God’s riches at Christ’s expense, lavished on his mortal enemies who deserve nothing but eternal damnation. The last eleven words are the point of the spear. Without them, grace is not divine. God lavishes grace on his enemies. “It is legitimate…” writes theologian John Frame, “to define God’s grace…as his sovereign, unmerited favor, given to those who deserve his wrath.”
This is what God created you and me to praise him for, and unless you feel your profound unworthiness, the fact that you were God’s enemy, it will never be “amazing.” Those who understand their “profound unworthiness” will spend an inexpressibly joyful eternity praising God for the glory of divine grace.
This implies that we can’t understand grace without a thorough understanding of sin.
I recently attended a funeral for a relative at a liberal Methodist congregation. At one point, the female pastor boasted, “We don’t talk much about sin here. We don’t like to be negative. We just focus our attention on grace.” Unbeknownst to her, this statement contained an oxymoron. We can’t understand or praise God for his grace by ignoring sin. We need to emphasize sin. Without a robust understanding of sin, grace is not divine. It is merely Aunt Kathy’s kindness.
Here is how God sees us before redemption.
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.Romans 3:10-11
What is our unredeemed condition? We are unrighteous, lacking spiritual understanding, not seeking God, and “worthless.” How does God respond? He is angry. He doesn’t like us. Unredeemed, we are servants of Satan led about by various idols. We are “by nature children of wrath.”
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.Ephesians 2:1-3
In other words, God loves his enemies. In fact, Jesus died to turn dead enemies into living friends. Thank God he did because if you are a Christian, dead and under God’s wrath was you. If you are not a Christian, that is your condition right now.
In addition, Paul instructs the Ephesians that they were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which they once walked.” “Dead” means no ability or desire to turn to God. You must be spiritually alive to do that. But, spiritually, prior to conversion, we are all dead.
You didn’t respond to the gospel because God threw you a life jacket. No! He sent a deep-sea diver to resuscitate a corpse on the ocean floor. “Salvation belongs to our God!” (Revelation 7:10). You did not save yourself. God saved you. He saves dead people alienated from him, at war with him, to display the astounding nature of his marvelous grace.
This brings us to God’s sovereignty. If we are dead in sin, then it must be true that we didn’t initiate our salvation. God did. He must resurrect a dead person before they can exercise faith and repentance. That is why the Bible is clear that God chose us in Christ before we had done anything good or bad.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
Some he chooses for salvation, and some he passes over. This is not unfair. All God owes us is justice. Those he passes over merely get what they and we deserve, but to some of the undeserving, God shows astounding, earth-shaking grace purchased at infinite cost to himself. Jesus went to the cross and took the judgment his enemies deserved so that his enemies, those for whom he felt intense wrath, could enjoy the reward he deserved.
It’s important to remember that God did not choose us because he foresaw that we would choose him. No, we were “dead.” We wanted nothing to do with him.
How should this affect Christians? First, the reality of how God’s grace works should deeply humble us. It should motivate humility. We all have friends who don’t believe. Do we believe because we are better than them? No! We were dead. We had no interest in God or the gospel. Did God choose us because we were more righteous than others? No! Therefore, we have absolutely nothing to boast about except God’s amazing grace motivated by God’s astounding love. We are profoundly humbled. We don’t look down on unbelievers. We look up to God.
Second, the reality of God’s grace should motivate us to praise God for his infinite goodness. Everything in this article implies that this will be our employment for eternity—resounding, joyful, exuberant praise to God for his amazing grace.
Third, the reality of God’s grace should make us rest. Grace forces us to “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23).
Here is the reason for our rest. If Jesus died for you when he didn’t like you, what will he do for you now that you are his friend? That’s the question asked by Romans 5:10. If he died for enemies without any saving virtue, certainly, he won’t reject you because you are now imperfect and fallible.
Fourth, the reality of God’s grace should motivate us to show that same grace to others. Be gracious as God is gracious. How can we accept this kind of unearnable, undeserved grace from God and then refuse to extend it to our spouse, children, and extended family? How can we refuse to love and forgive those who hurt or grieve us? You can’t if you really understand divine grace.
Last, the grace of God should motivate you to exercise the love of God. Remember what Jesus said about the sinful woman in Luke chapter seven, “She that has been forgiven much, loves much.” You and I have been forgiven much; do we love God much in return?
So, in conclusion, are you walking out the reason for your creation? Are you praising God for his “glorious grace?” That is the most important reason God created you. That is the reason for your existence, and you and I will only praise God this way to the degree that we understand what we deserve, how helpless we are, and how gloriously wonderful is God’s Amazing Grace!