Do you have a theology of glory, or do you follow the theology of the cross? Here’s an easy test: honestly ask yourself the question, “Do you seek God primarily because you consider him useful, or because you find him beautiful?”
There are many things about God that are useful; He is omnipotent and He is able to answer prayers, do the miraculous, help in time of need. But do you seek Him primarily for what He can do for you, or do you seek Him primarily because of who He is?
Martin Luther and the Theology of the Cross
A theology of glory, as Martin Luther explained, most famously in his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), views God primarily as useful to you. A theology of glory, as Luther used the term, is really a theology of man’s glory. Rather than focusing on and seeking the glory of God, a theology of glory is focused on seeking your own personal glory — with Jesus as your self-help guru, who gives you a “boost” or a “shot in the arm” to help you achieve your goals and reach your potential.
The theology of the cross, on the other hand, states that it is ultimately by looking at the cross that we learn who God is and who we are (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). For example, the cross of Christ shows us that, as human beings, we are completely unable to save ourselves — this is why the Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary. Furthermore, it is through the cross that we come to known the depth of God’s love for us.
The theology of the Cross understands that Jesus is your savior, not your side-kick or personal assistant. The cross causes us, as Paul the Apostle puts it in Philippians 3:3, to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” i.e. our own abilities or goodness to justify ourselves or earn God’s blessings.
As we come to see the beauty and depth of God’s love, displayed for us in the most ultimate way on the cross, it compels us to respond by surrendering our lives to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). This transforms us from being people who seek to use or leverage God for our own power or glory, and who instead take up our crosses and die to ourselves, that Christ might live in us (Galatians 2:20). We do this, remembering that Jesus surrendered himself to the will of the Father, even unto death on a cross, after which God highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:8-9). Therefore, we also know that if we, rather than seeking to exalt ourselves, seek to exalt Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, God will exalt us in the end as well (1 Peter 5:6).
Useful or Beautiful?
Do you seek God primarily because you consider him useful, or because you find him beautiful? How you answer that question will have big implications for how you view God, and how your faith weathers the storms and trials of this life. For example, if you seek the Lord primarily because you find Him useful, what will happen if there is ever a time when you feel that following Jesus isn’t useful? What if God doesn’t answer your prayer in the way, or within the time frame you expected, or hoped?
If, however, by looking at the cross, you become acutely aware of the beauty of God’s heart and the depth of his love, you will have a faith that is able to weather any storm.
By looking at the cross, we are made aware of who God is and who we are. May we look to the cross, and rather than putting confidence in our flesh, may we glory in Christ Jesus. As we look to the cross and see the beauty and love of God on display, and may it compel our hearts to live not for our own glory, but for Him who died and was raised for us.
9 thoughts on “Do You Have a Theology of Glory, or the Theology of the Cross?”
“Therefore, we also know that if we, rather than seeking to exalt ourselves, seek to exalt Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, God will exalt us in the end as well (1 Peter 5:6).”
Isn’t that just a slightly more roundabout way of saying that you find God useful, simply on a longer timescale? You follow because you ultimately expect to gain something from it. Moreover, why shouldn’t you? Not only does God promise rewards many times, but it’s hardly as though he could need anything from you. Being entirely self-sufficient, the only reason he would have to ask something of your is ultimately for your sake or your fellows’, not his.
Certainly that is true in regard to the initial coming to faith. What I’m referring to is the reasoning for continuing to pursue God, continuing to pray, etc.
You continue to pursue God because you want something from him, in the end you want him in himself given to you. It would be indicative of something wrong with you if you didn’t. You continue to pray and pursue because you expect to ultimately gain from doing so. It would be fairly nonsensical to do it for any other reason – certainly you cannot expect him to be the one deriving benefit. He can’t.
Right, you want him in himself, not the things which he can give you. That’s my point.
Himself is a thing which he can give you.
Clearly when I referring to things other than Himself that people want from God.
The basic motivation (gain) is the same, the difference is an incorrect perception of value.
The object of gain is different. I think you get my point. Thanks for reading and engaging.
Interesting post! I’m glad to see someone talking about these two different theologies, and I agree with most of what you have to say about the theology of glory. However, I wonder if your explanation of the theology of the cross might have the wrong actor doing the verbs. As a Lutheran myself, I understand the theology of the cross as being primarily about God seeking us, not about us seeking Him because of His beauty. The theology of the cross turns everything upside down instead of merely giving us a different motivation for seeking God. I’d love to hear what you think!