What Can Christians Learn from the Reformation Phrase Soli Deo Gloria?

Author of Someplace to Be Somebody
What Can Christians Learn from the Reformation Phrase Soli Deo Gloria?

In Psalm 29:2, King David writes, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” David, an earthly king anointed by God through the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13a), lays aside his glory to exalt God by proclaiming God’s glory—or, as we would say in Latin, Soli Deo Gloria.

King David declared God’s glory and experienced God’s grace through the many toils and tribulations he faced. The Psalms he penned attest to his acknowledgment of, praise to, and thanksgiving to God. He wrote, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). Knowing God deserves all the glory, David was humbled and expectant to receive His grace.

What Does Soli Deo Gloria Mean in English?

Soli Deo Gloria is one of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. It means, “To God alone be the glory.” As Ligonier Ministries states, the Reformers coined the phrase “to capture the Bible’s teaching that everything in creation, providence, and redemption is done for God’s glory and not our own.” Soli Deo Gloria means our theology must be God-governed and for His glory alone.

While we usually use God to talk about God the Father, ultimately the glory goes to all members of the Trinity. As Ryan McGraw asserts, “Each of the three persons of the Trinity saves us in harmonious unity in a way that leads to worship all three divine persons. We have fellowship with the Son in grace, with the Father in love, and with the Holy Spirit in strength and comfort” (2 Cor. 13:14; Acts 9:31).

What Are Other Sola Statements Besides Soli Deo Gloria?

The other sola statements emanate from the Protestant Reformation. All have to do with biblical theology (what the Bible teaches). All five solas summarize Reformed theology, but they serve as more than that; they bring transparency to and protect the Gospel. Because each statement includes “sola” or “solus” (both meaning alone), the emphasis is rightly centered on God in the Gospel and our Christian life. The five solas may not cover everything about the truth of theology, faith, and life, but they are foundational to Protestant theology—and particularly the Reformed tradition.

The remaining four solas are:

  1. Sola Scriptura:Theology must be based on Scripture alone. That is, all that pertains to life as a Christian stems from God’s Word, the Bible (2 Peter 1:3). Our theological wisdom is guided by the Holy Spirit through the Bible alone.
  2. Sola FideTheology must be propelled by faith alone (in God alone as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). The Bible tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We believe in God, in His promises and prophecies, and that He will fulfill every one of them. Jesus told His disciples, blessed are those who have not seen Him and yet believe (John 20:29). We live by faith in Jesus Christ, Who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
  3. Solus ChristusBecause Jesus Christ is the focus of all the Scriptures and life (Revelation 22:13), our theology must be Christ-focused. The whole Bible is a testimony to Him (John 5:39Luke 24:271 Peter 1:10–12). Christ alone reconciles God and man (Romans 5:11), and He alone can save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
  4. Sola GratiaTheology must be flooded with grace. Romans 11:6 says we are saved by grace, not by works. Grace and faith work together; we must believe God’s grace saves us. By God’s grace, we receive all we need—most importantly, our salvation. Salvation comes by grace alone because it is by faith in Christ Jesus alone.

How Have Other Christians Used Soli Deo Gloria?

Soli Deo Gloria isn’t just a phrase used by Martin Luther and other Reformers. Two famous composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, used it to sign their works and describe their lives.

Bach inscribed SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) on the footer of his church works. His most famous church work is his “Christmas Oratorio,” six cantatas for Christmas celebrations. Bach also put the letters “J.J.” atop his compositions, an abbreviation for Jesu Juva, Latin for “Jesus, help me.” With this, he asked for the Lord’s help to write and then gave Him the glory for what he wrote when he placed SDG on the bottom.

Handel wrote SDG on the manuscript of Messiaha three-part oratorio initially written for Easter but more famously associated with Christmas today.

  • Part I is the prophecy of Jesus’ birth.
  • Part II extolls Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners.
  • Part III proclaims His resurrection.

When he was 56 years old, Handel’s career was struggling, but his faith in God helped him with his calling as a composer. He wrote the entire work in 24 days, over 250 pages of music. He reportedly said later, “Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it, I knew not. God knows it!”

When he finished writing Part II, Handel reportedly told one of his servants, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.”

What Does Soli Deo Gloria Teach Us about Serving God?

Because God graciously gave His only Son that we may have life in His name (John 3:16), everything we endeavor should be as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Several passages bring clarity to our roles as servants of the Lord to His glory:

Malachi 3:16-18 speaks of those who fear the Lord and esteem (honor) His name. God distinguishes between the wicked and the righteous, “between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.”

When Satan tempted the Lord Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus answered the devil’s offer to give him the world by saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

In His grace, the Lord Jesus came to serve, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Ought we not serve the One who came to serve us?

Romans 12:11 commands, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Why do we serve the Lord? Because of His many gracious benefits toward us. We don’t serve to receive anything; we serve Him as our way of thanking Him and displaying our love to and for Him. A passage in Hebrews gives us the culmination of His graciousness as we serve Him:

“ . . . how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:14-15)

How Can We Live Soli Deo Gloria Today?

When we realize God's glory, we are amazed by His holiness (Psalm 19). How could the holy, Almighty God deign to save sinful humans, much less even think of us? Just as God’s communicable attributes point us to His perfect nature—justice, love, kindness, goodness, wisdom, etc.—many Christians hold grace at the top of the list. We are saved by His grace alone (Ephesians 2:5).

We can regard God’s glory in two ways: His Shekinah glory and how we bring glory to Him.

God’s shekinah glory is His visible manifestation on earth. Writer Madeline Kalu explains, “The divine presence of God on earth is depicted through the following:

As far as giving God the glory He deserves, writer Stephanie Englehart helps us understand this better, “He created us so that the glory He already had within Himself would be known and praised” (Colossians 1:16). As His image bearers, we reflect who He is. Unbelievers can’t help but reflect Him just by being living beings. But Christians have the privilege of glorifying God in all we are and do as we reflect the Lord Jesus, obey His commands, and share the Gospel.

Because we have nothing apart from what God has given us (1 Corinthians 4:7), all we do should be done in the name above every other name—the Lord Jesus Christ—and we are to give thanks to God through the Lord Christ (Philippians 2:9; Colossians 3:17).

We are to live by the Spirit as He guides us in and through the Word of God (Galatians 5:25). This is the key to living Soli Deo Gloria today.

No man-centeredness survives when a Christian faithfully believes God gets all the glory—all the glory.

Photo Credit: Unplash.com

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.