“God’s Main Motive for Missions”


This week we return to our series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church.  Up to this point, we have seen that the mission of spreading the glory of God through the gospel of Christ to the nations is at the very core not only of what we are to do as a church, but WHO WE ARE in Christ as believers.  The glory of God is the most important and the most energizing motivation for missions.  Until I was exposed to this truth about the primary motivation for missions—local and global—I was embarrassingly lukewarm about the mission of the church.  But this central biblical truth has repeatedly and I believe will in the future put the wind in my sails and cause me to be not only not apathetic toward missions, but I pray, white hot with zeal for the greatest cause.  After all the reasons we have up to this point given as to why we are not impassioned about missions, if you sit here today and are not yet impassioned about missions and evangelism, this may very well be the missing link for you.

This morning I will argue, as John Piper and many others have argued, that the central motivation for missions in our hearts should be that God may be glorified here and to the nations and the reason why the glory of God should be our main motivation for missions is because it is GOD’S main motivation for missions—the magnification of his own glory on a global scale. In order to prove this, I want us to see just how central it is to the character of God to seek his own glory (and we will explain why that is a good thing and not an egotistic thing later).  There are many ways we could show God’s overwhelming zeal for the glory of his name, but because we are dealing with the topic of missions I want to highlight a way that deals directly with the salvation of lost sinners.  I trust we know that the bible teaches that salvation is a process that involves far more than a person being born again.  Theologians have divided this salvation process into several stages, which they call the Order of Salvation.

These stages in the salvation process assume our creation—no one experiences salvation until they physically exist.  This process involves God’s predestination of sinners to be saved, their regeneration, their faith and repentance, their justification, their adoption into God’s family, their progressive sanctification in this life and finally their glorification, when their salvation process is completed in heaven.  We’re going to look briefly at each of those stages through the lens of God’s desire for his glory and we will find at each point in our salvation, God’s essential motivation is his glory.  Then, we want to expand upon that beyond the salvation of the individual to the salvation of sinners on a global scale.             All of that will prove that God’s primary motivation in missions is the spreading of his glory through his kingdom by his gospel proclaimed by his servants to the nations.

Let’s very briefly look at these stages of salvation.  The first stage is technically not part of the order of our salvation but it is a necessary prerequisite to our salvation process and that is, our creation.  The bible clearly teaches that God creates humanity ultimately out of a zeal for his own glory.  Isaiah 43:7 tells us “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." We were created out of God’s passion to be glorified.  God didn’t need us—He had perfect, eternal fellowship within the Trinity—we exist for his glory.  The bible teaches that God’s process of salvation however begins even before we are created.  Before the foundation of the world, God predestined all those who would be saved.  This is a huge topic and you are welcome to more information about this, but for today we simply want to establish the fact that God does his predestining work of those who will be saved for the purpose of his glory.  The text is Ephesians 1:4-6 and Paul says, “even as he [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 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.”

            Paul is saying that before the foundation of the world, God chose us to be a holy people and out of his love he predestined us for this reason—to the praise of his glorious grace.  The fall of man in the garden did not take God by surprise—it was part of his planned purpose so as to manifest his unspeakable grace.  So before creation, God knew that sin would enter the world and that the result would be sinners in need of redemption and he had already purposed that this redemption would come through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus.  As part of that redemptive plan, he chose certain people—he predestined some to be saved FOR THE PURPOSE of bringing praise to his GLORIOUS grace.  God was under no external obligation to save sinners.  But because he wanted to manifest his glorious saving grace—a part of his character that, without sin in the world, he could not manifest. So, in order to manifest that part of his character and receive the praise due him for being such an intensely gracious God—he predestined some of his fallen, rebellious creatures to be adopted into his family as forgiven sinners through the blood of Christ.

         After his predestining work, he creates us for his glory and then comes that moment in the life of a predestined sinner when God calls them to himself and gives them the new birth or regeneration.  They are reborn, given spiritual life out of deadness—they are given a new heart—they are new creations in that moment.  Ephesians 2:4-5 shows us the centrality of God’s zeal for his glory in this regeneration of sinners.  Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”  Do you hear how unbreakable is the link Paul establishes between our regeneration and the glory-revealing character of God?  Why does God gives us new life?  Because he is “rich in mercy.  We are given new life out of spiritual death because our God is merciful!  Paul broadens his categories a bit and says, “because of the great love with which he loved us.  God loved us—regeneration is about God’s love for us and Paul takes pains to show that this love was given NOT because of anything in us because he says God’s great love for us was shown “even when we were dead in our trespasses.”  His love for us was shown when we were in complete rebellion against Him and his reign over us.  That’s why Paul closes the verse off with the added clarifier—“by grace you have been saved.”  Do you see how God is motivated by the zeal for his glory in our regeneration—being made alive from the deadness of sin?  In our regeneration, God shows his mercy to sinners, his totally underserved love for sinners and his unspeakable saving grace.  We are regenerated to new life in Christ because God uses that miraculous work to put on display his rich mercy, his undeserved love and his saving grace.   In our salvation process, our faith and repentance comes after our regeneration because only people who have been made alive can show saving faith and turn from their sins.  Spiritually dead people can’t believe or repent and the bible teaches that our faith and our repentance are gifts from God and they are given for the purpose of bringing him glory.  As it relates to faith, we see God’s motivation for his glory in Romans 4:20.  Paul is speaking of Abraham, the father of saving faith and he says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith giving glory to God.”  Saving faith brings glory to God.  Now, let’s look at repentance.  In Acts 10 Cornelius, a Gentile believed on Christ through Peter’s preaching.  In his wake several other Gentiles were brought into the kingdom.  Peter went back to Jerusalem to tell the Jewish believers and it says in Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things they fell silent.  And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”  This text is one of several biblical verses that tell us that repentance is a gift from God, but it also tells us that God is glorified when he gives this gift to people, in this case, the Gentiles.  And the reason faith and repentance bring God glory is because he intends for them to do so. 

We know this because everything God does is for his glory.  Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are ALL things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.”  That means that God is the starting point of ALL things—“from him are all things.”  God is the conduit through which all things pass—“through him are all things.” And God is the termination point of all things—“to him are all things.”  And the intended result is, “To him be glory forever. Amen.”  Everything is for God’s glory.  We may not understand how God could possibly be glorified in some things, but we will when God reveals his purposes for all things to us in glory.  So faith and repentance are given to sinners for the glory of God.  Next, let’s look at forgiveness and justification.  Those two are not exact equals but we must see how both of them are given for God’s glory.  We see that God forgives sinners out of a zeal for his own glory.  In Psalm 25:11 David says, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”  David had sinned greatly and comes to the Lord for forgiveness.  Notice he does not ground his request for forgiveness in his own need or desire for it.  He appeals to God for forgiveness for the sake of God’s name.  That’s another way of expressing, “God, for your glory, pardon my great guilt.”  This link between forgiveness and God’s glory could not be more clear than in it is in Isaiah 43:25 where God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”  God forgives us fundamentally for His glory.

          We know from Romans chapter three that God sent Jesus to the cross first and foremost to atone for our sins for the sake of his righteousness.  Romans 3:25-28 says Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This 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.  Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law? By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”  God had waited a long time to send Jesus to the cross as punishment for sins to show forth his patience but the potential danger in showing his patience was that after a time, he might be accused of not being righteous or just because all these sins had accrued but he had punished no one for them—the blood of sheep, bulls and goats though the sacrificial system were not sufficient to atone for sin.  So, in order to vindicate that he is indeed a just God—to vindicate his righteousness, he sent His Son to atone for sin and justify us by placing the righteousness of Christ on our accounts. 

Notice, the motive for the atonement of Christ and our justification is not found fundamentally in our need of it, though we do need it desperately!  No.  The motive for God’s atoning and justifying work through Christ was his own glory—to show that he is indeed a righteous God who does ultimately punish sin.  He did that when he placed his Son on the cross as the wrath-receiving, propitiatory sacrifice for us.  The cross was fundamentally about vindicating and glorifying GOD!  We must know that—we must be God-centered in our theology of the cross and not man-centered otherwise we drain it of its deepest significance.  Finally, notice that the effect of God’s atoning and justifying work on our behalf is to nullify our boasting.  Paul writes, “Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded.”  God is not only zealous for his glory but he is equally zealous that he ALONE be given all the glory.  We see this in Isaiah 42:8.  God says, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”  God’s desire for his glory is a jealous desire.

          In addition to forgiving us and justifying us—that is, enabling us to wear the righteousness of the perfect life of Christ, God also adopts us into his family.  Our salvation is not only a legal act declaring us righteous—it is a personal reconciliation between us as redeemed sinners and God—so much so that we are actually brought into a familial relationship with God and can by the Spirit call Him, even Abba, Father.  This adoption of redeemed sinners into God’s family is done for his glory.  First John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  John’s burden is to speak of our adoption into God’s family so that others will see what kind of love the Father has given to us.  Implicit here in First John is the truth that God adopts sinners to show the kind of love he has for us.  He hasn’t given us a love that merely pardons us, but leaves us behind the door.  NO!  The kind of love he has given us brings us into his throne room where we can look up at the glory of God enthroned above the heavens and say, “Father.” That is glorious!  Do you hear that the reason we are adopted is to reveal the kind of love God gives to redeemed sinners?  This is for his glory—to manifest the kind of paternal love He alone can give.

            Another part of our salvation is our sanctification—that process we go through which is rooted in our justification and which is seen as we progressively are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. One of the classic texts on sanctification is Romans 6:11-13.  Paul says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments to God as instruments for unrighteousness.  Paul tells us to do three basic things in this text.  First—“consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Second, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” Third, “present yourselves to God, not sin” That’s clear enough but WHY are we to do those things?  Why are you to consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God?  The answer is in verse ten where Paul says of Christ, “For the death he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”   He then says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  The reason we must do that is because if we do not do that, we are living as if Christ’s death to sin was not once-for-all sufficient.  If we do not consider ourselves dead to sin, we are not proclaiming with our lives the sufficiency of Christ’s death.  A huge motive for our holiness should be to proclaim the sufficiency of Christ’s death through a holy life.  I must consider myself dead to sin because when Jesus died on the cross he died to sin and because I am in Christ I was with him in that death to sin.  Therefore, when I fail to consider myself dead to sin but instead choose to sin, I am through my sin denying or betraying the sufficiency of his sin-delivering death for me.  One motive for holiness should be to trumpet the sufficiency of Christ’s sin-conquering death, not simply because I don’t like what sin does to me.

            Second, the reason we are to “not present our members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but to instead present ourselves to God” is found in the next phrase—“as those who have been brought from death to life.  The reason we present ourselves to God and not to sin is because we are people whom God has brought from death to life.  God’s life-giving work in us is the reason we should give ourselves to God and not sin.  Our motive for choosing God over sin is because when we present ourselves to sin, we are not manifesting the glorious truth that through Christ we have been brought from death to life.  This is the ground of God’s motive for our sanctification—to shine the light on the sufficiency and life-giving quality of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  He is glorified when we live in holiness because it shouts the glory of his work through Christ on the cross.

            The final stage in our salvation process is our glorification--that moment when we see Jesus and are finally perfected.  What is God’s motive for our glorification?  We see the answer in Philippians 3:20-21. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Why will we be transformed in our glorification?  So that we can be like Jesus and his glorious body.  To glorify means “to reflect or shine the light on.”  Our glorification will glorify God because his glorified church will more perfectly reflect his glorious body and character.  We will be glorified so that heaven will be populated with billions upon billions of people who look like God—reflecting HIS glory.  In redemption, God’s ultimate goal is his glory and that glory will be consummated when God surveys heaven and sees the vast multitude of people who once violently rebelled against him, but now because of his grace and overflowing mercy, glorify him by reflecting his image in glorified human form.

            That is ultimately why God saves sinners.  There are other purposes but the ultimate purpose is for the glory of his name.  He creates us and predestines us and regenerates us and gives us saving faith and repentance, He justifies us, adopts us, sanctifies us and glorifies us that his glory might redound through out all creation.  God’s zeal for his glory is seen in Habakkuk 2:14.  He says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”  God wants the knowledge of his glory to be so prevalent—so universal that it will cover the earth—this is what motivates God in everything he does and that includes our salvation.

            Now, let’s bring this back to our point about what motivates God for missions.  If in the case of our individual salvation (and in fact in all things as we have seen) God is motivated by his glory, then its pretty clear that his motive for missions is his glory. We need to pause for just a moment to explain why the fact that God is zealous for his glory does not make him an egomaniac because if you or I were motivated by this zeal, we would in fact BE committing a horrible sin.  When I first heard this teaching many years ago, I became very agitated because it felt to me like God was some sort of self-absorbed, insecure, haughty deity.  That’s because I took what would be true of us and unfairly plastered onto God’s heart, but he is qualitatively different than us.  The explanation why this disposition is awful for us but glorious for God is found in part in Romans 1:25.  Paul is explaining why God’s wrath is being poured out against sinners and he says in verse 25, “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”  The unifying principle that unites God and us as it relates to seeking after glory is not “never seek after your own glory.”  The unifying principle is “seek after the highest glory—the glory of the Creator.”  We are creatures and God is the Creator—that is a qualitative difference.  We will always be creatures and never the Creator and God will always be the Creator and never a creature.  The unifying principle that explains why this attitude is appropriate for God is, “to the Creator goes all the worship and all the glory.”  Think about it.  If God were to occupy himself with anything other than zealously seeking after his own glory, he would be settling for second best.  God must seek after God’s glory and we must seek after God’s glory.  God couldn’t do anything else and still be God.

            Now, what does all this mean as it relates to the mission of the church?  We will treat that in detail in the weeks to come but for now it means this—in order for us to be zealous for missions in a way that honors God, we must be impassioned for the mission of the church because we are zealous for the glory of God being spread to the nations.  If we have a white- hot zeal for the glory of God, we will 100% of the time be white-hot in our zeal for the global spread of the gospel for the extension of his glorious kingdom.  If we are zealous for the glory of God, then we will be zealous to be part of God’s mission wherein he populates this world with redeemed worshippers who will cry out to Him, “Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory.”  If that motive burns in our hearts then some of us will leave this gospel-saturated, worldly culture and go to the unreached where there are no worshippers of God.  If this motive has captivated our hearts then we will give our lives and our treasure because the value we place on what we have and the life we have been given will be swallowed up by a vision for “the earth to be filled with the knowledge of his glory as the waters cover the sea.  If our hearts are like God’s we will have as our highest desire, our strongest passion what is HIS strongest passion—the spreading of his glory and if that is what drives us then the local and global mission of the church at Mount of Olives Baptist church will outstrip anything anyone of us could ever say, think or imagine.  May God give us an ever-expanding vision for his glory for our lives, families, church and the nations as we seek by God’s grace to populate it with worshippers for His glory. 


Page last modified on 8/3/2003

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