Great Sin and the Glory of God
There are two primary ways that God is exalted in the life of the believer. It is easy to see that God is glorified in our obedience. In fact, the pharisee in us all naturally exalts self-righteousness. We know we are supposed to be good, but we are often mistakenly persuaded that God is only glorified through the believer obedience. This often leads to excessive despair and discouragement in our struggle with sin. We would be wise to remember that our sovereign God is glorified both through our obedience and through His pardoning of our sin. Let me explain each of these.
1. God is glorified through our obedience. Obedience by emulation is not difficult to understand. In fact, its usually what we learn first. When I obey God, I proclaim through my actions that I consider Him to be worthy of my obedience. Therefore, my actions point to Him as the worthy object of emulating. Christ operated under this notion when he said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4). This is the same principle that Jesus taught on the Sermon at the Mount when He said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). To put it simply, obedience glorifies God.
2. God is also glorified by pardoning sin. In fact, the greatness of the sin pardoned does not make it more difficult to receive mercy, but rather magnifies the greatness of the mercy received. This seems to be Paul’s understanding as well since he stated that the whole reason he received mercy was to display the perfection of Christ’s patience towards sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (1 Tim. 1:15-16). This means that not only is God glorified by pardoning sinners but that the greatness of the sin pardoned does not hinder mercy but actually magnifies the greatness of it!
This should come as a tremendous comfort to those of us who are chiefly concerned with Christ receiving the glory our converted hearts know He is due. For as our sin dishonors Christ and subsequently causes us anguish and grief, we must be reminded that God is a sovereign God. He will obtain glory for Himself, in spite of our sin. May we be comforted that the greatness of our sin magnifies the greatness of the mercy we receive!
One final word of caution is necessary. Now that we have silenced the self-righteousness of the ‘older brother,’ we must also silence the rebellion of the younger brother. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). It is better that we should glorify God through our obedience rather than receiving mercy for our disobedience. For our obedience magnifies both aspects of God’s mercy: mercy that pardons heinous sin and mercy that transforms heinous hearts. God’s mercy will be exalted, wether through our obedience or disobedience.
Oh what comfort for sinners is to be found in the God of all mercy.