Editor’s Note: What is the glory of God in the Bible, and why does it matter to learn about? Far from being a peripheral concept, God’s glory is actually central to the gospel—to the good news about King Jesus—and central to understanding God’s agenda for our lives. To help us understand God’s glory better, I recently reached out to Donnie Berry (PhD, Amridge University), author of Glory in Romans and the Unified Purpose of God in Redemptive History, and theology teacher for Training Leaders International. I found his answers very helpful and found myself fascinated and encouraged by what I heard.
Q. Sometimes we’ll use the word “glory” today, for example, to refer to an amazing sports or military victory. What are the main ways the word “glory” is used in the Bible?
Glory is one of the richest Bible words and concepts that exists. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that glory is at the heart of the gospel and the story of the Bible and who God is and what he has done and why he has done it. It all comes back to glory. So it’s a big deal.
The Bible can use “glory” language in similar ways as we use it today. The Hebrew word commonly translated “glory” originally meant weightiness, and by extension, characterizes a person of great importance, worthy of honor or respect. So, for example, Joseph, who has been exalted to second in command over Egypt, asks his brothers to go and “tell my father of all my glory in Egypt” (Gen. 45:13).
Similarly, in the New Testament “glory” is often associated with honor, and to “glorify” someone is to give honor or praise to them. Jesus, for example, told a parable about taking the lowest seat at a banquet, so that when the host comes, he might say, “‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be glorified in the presence of all who sit at table with you” (Luke 14:10). And Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for seeking the glory that comes from man rather than that which comes from God (John 5:44).
“In the New Testament ‘glory’ is often associated with honor, and to “glorify” someone is to give honor or praise to them.”
This is much like how we might use “glory” today—with reference, for example, to a person pursuing glory (honor, praise, esteem) through great achievement, or even criticizing someone on a sports team for wanting all the glory for themselves rather than caring about the team as a whole.
I would guess, though, that “glory” language is still most commonly used in religious contexts, with reference to God. This is true of the Bible as well. God is the most “weighty” one, the one deserving of honor and praise. And so the Bible speaks often of God’s glory, and calls us to glorify him: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Ps. 29:1b-2a, ESV). “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, ESV). In the grand, sweeping narrative of the Bible, the end of all things for all eternity is the glory of God, as many of the doxologies of the New Testament proclaim:
- “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory Amen” (Rom. 11:36, ESV).
- “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom. 16:27, ESV).
- “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:21, ESV).
- “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Phil. 4:20, ESV)
“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
- “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17, ESV).
- “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6, ESV).
Q. What is the “glory of God” and why is it important to think about?
The Bible commonly uses the phrase “the glory of God” or “the glory of the Lord.” For example:
- “The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34b, ESV).
- “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1a, ESV).
- “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9a).
- “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18a).
- “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3a, ESV)
“Glory” is something of a summary term the Bible uses to describe God’s character and nature, or to refer to his presence made visible or manifest. One interesting example of this is in Exodus 33:18, when Moses asks God, “Please show me your glory.” The Lord responds by saying, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name” (33:19, ESV). The Lord then hides Moses in a cleft of a rock and passes before him, proclaiming the character and attributes of God: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (34:6b, ESV).
“‘Glory’ is something of a summary term the Bible uses to describe God’s character and nature, or to refer to his presence made visible or manifest.”
God’s glory, we might say, is the “shining forth” or the “public display” of God’s character and nature. “Glory” describes all the things God is full of—his wisdom, love, creativity, beauty, strength, compassion—all the things that make him weighty and wonderful, made manifest for us to see and experience and respond to.
Just one very practical reason why we should think about the glory of God: God’s glory is the greatest source of our joy. We were made to see and know and delight in God’s glory. It’s in contemplating the glory of God that we are freed from our preoccupation with lesser things, our anxieties and fears begin to lose their grip, our hearts come alive, and all things begin to find their proper place in light of him.
Similarly, Paul tells us that, as we “behold the glory of the Lord,” we are “transformed in the same image, from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). That’s a huge statement. How does transformation happen in our lives? By beholding the glory of the Lord. As we see him, we become like him. There’s nothing more wonderful than that. And that makes the glory of the Lord worth thinking about.
“Paul tells us that, as we ‘behold the glory of the Lord,’ we are ‘transformed in the same image, from one degree of glory to another.'”
Q. Was glory meant to just be a God thing? Or is there a glory that humans were supposed to have as well?
Glory is first and foremost a “God thing,” as you say. But because he is a loving God, he does not keep his glory to himself, but shares what is most valuable (his glory, which is the fullness of who he is) with his people, for their joy and delight. And this moves us to the heart of the Bible’s unfolding story, which as I have already said, is all about glory.
God, the eternally glorious one, created the world in order to share and display his glory. The Psalmist tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). It seems we are meant to look into the heavens at the sun, the moon, the stars—these wonderful things God has made—and see in them reflections and pointers back to their source, the God who is glorious.
So too with human beings. Genesis tells us that God created humans “in [his] image, after [his] own likeness” (Gen. 1:26). In other words, humans are meant to be like God—reflecting who he is and what he is like as they exercise dominion and stewardship in the world (Gen. 1:26-28). David, in a later meditation on this exalted status given to human beings in creation, marvels that God “crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:4, ESV). Humans, “crowned with glory,” were meant to be the ultimate reflections of God’s glory in the earth.
“Humans, ‘crowned with glory,’ were meant to be the ultimate reflections of God’s glory in the earth.”
This idea of glory becomes a unifying thread that runs through the story of the Bible. God is the eternal and triune, full-of-glory God. And he creates the world as the canvas on which he can paint his glory everywhere to be seen and experienced and enjoyed. He tells us in Numbers 14:21 that “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (see also Is. 6:3; Hab. 2:14). And how does God intend to fill the earth with his glory? Primarily through his people, who bear his image and share in his glory.
God created humans so that they might (1) see and delight in his glory, and (2) share in and display his glory. The mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over it” (Gen. 1:28) is a mandate to multiply image bearers—those who share in and reflect God’s glory—so that they might fill the earth with the glory of the Lord as they build homes and families and societies and governments and cultures and schools and businesses and art and all that makes up our world.
Everything dripping with the glory of God, so to speak—reflecting his goodness and generosity and wisdom and love and beauty and righteousness—all points back to him and leads all of creation to glorify him for who he is and what he has done.
“Everything dripping with the glory of God points back to him and leads all of creation to glorify him for who he is and what he has done.”
Though the Fall has caused humanity to fail both to see and to delight in God’s glory, and also to display his glory as we were intended, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a day when God’s glory will once more be seen in his people, causing all nations to come into the light of this glory:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
…the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Is. 60:1-3, ESV)
Q. Moses, you mentioned, once asked God, “Show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18). What are some ways we can see the glory of God today?
We can see reflections of God’s glory anywhere we see expressions of God’s goodness, kindness, justice, beauty, or love. But that’s a very general answer. Let me be more specific. We can see God’s glory today in three places:
Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s glory. He is God’s very person and presence, his character and nature, in flesh and blood. John tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV). He then says (in a statement that has as its backdrop the incident where God revealed his glory to Moses in Exodus 33-34) that “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18, ESV). In other words, Jesus is the revelation of God to us, the one in whom we see God’s glory most fully.
Similarly, Paul tells us that the very God who displayed his glory in creation, saying, “let light shine out of darkness,” has now “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, ESV). And the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3, ESV).
Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”
If we were to ask the question Moses asked in Exodus 33:18 today, I think God might say to us: “Look to Jesus, and see him proclaiming my name and causing all my goodness to pass before you in his very person and work, as you behold him in the pages of Scripture.”
As I mentioned above, the Psalmist tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1a, ESV). God’s creation bears the imprint of its Creator, and so we see in the created world expressions of God’s greatness, his beauty, his creativity, his wisdom, and so much more. We are meant to see in God’s world reflections of his glory, pointing us back to the God who, from the fullness of his glory, has painted whispers and signposts of this glory across his creation. This, I think, is one reason why people are so moved by sunsets and mountains and starlit skies and so many other aspects of creation—they are speaking to us of the glory of God.
In human beings.
Humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation, and, as I have already said, we were made in God’s image and likeness to reflect his glory. While we have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), in Christ we are being conformed to the image of his Son once more (Rom. 8:29). In other words, through redemption in Christ, God is restoring us to the glory for which we were intended: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18a, ESV).
As believers reflect the character of God in their lives, especially through self-giving love, which is the essence God’s nature, they are expressing God’s glory. So too, in our work, our families, our relationships, our art, our cultures. As we etch upon these things the marks of love and generosity, justice and beauty, wisdom and goodness, we are fulfilling our high calling as image-bearing, glory-spreading kings and queens over God’s world, causing the earth to be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (see Hab. 2:14).
“While we have fallen short of the glory of God, in Christ we are being conformed to the image of his Son once more.”
Q. It seems that the glory of God should play a part in the gospel story, but we often leave that part out. How does God’s glory connect with the gospel story?
Glory is the heart of the gospel. The gospel, I sometimes tell my students, is a storied gospel. It’s the story of redemption that unfolds in the Bible. God, out of the fullness of his glory, creates a world in which his glory can be on display. And he creates humans to be in relationship with him, to see his glory and shine with his glory as they rule as his representatives over creation, so that the whole earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord—with his life and love and joy, forever.
But humans have turned from God’s glory—from both delighting in it and displaying it. So rather than a world filled with the glory of God, the world is full of brokenness and evil and futility and sadness and death. But God is committed to restoring his people to relationship with him (seeing and delighting in his glory once more) and to their high and noble calling of sharing in and displaying his glory, filling the earth with his glory.
“God is committed to restoring his people to relationship with him and to their high and noble calling of sharing in and displaying his glory.”
He accomplishes this great redemption through his eternal Son, the one who is the perfect image of God, who for all eternity has seen and delighted in and shined with his Father’s glory (see John 17:5). The Son became human to reveal God’s glory, and in his great act of self-giving love on the cross, he displays the fullness of God’s glory and bears our curse, making atonement for our sin, so we could be reconciled to God.
Through faith in Christ, we can know God once more—with a restored relationship with God, leading us to our restored role in God’s world. This is “the hope of glory” that Paul talks about in Romans 5:2 and unpacks in Romans 8:17-30, where he shows so plainly that glory marks the fullness of our redemption in Christ. Believers will be glorified with Christ (v. 17). Glory will be revealed in us (v. 18). And all creation will enter the freedom of the glory of God’s children (v. 21).
This is the destiny of those who have been united to Christ. We are “glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17)—sharing in Christ’s very relationship with the Father in which we see and delight in God’s glory (Rom. 8:15-16). We are also conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29), sharing in and displaying his glory in a freed and flourishing creation for all eternity.
“We are also conformed to Christ’s image, sharing in and displaying his glory in a freed and flourishing creation for all eternity.”
God’s desire to reveal his glory to and through humanity, then, is at the heart the redemptive story of the Bible that runs through Creation to the Fall to Redemption and into the New Creation, when we will be like him, seeing his glory and shining with his glory for all eternity. It’s the story of (1) God’s eternal glory, (2) shared with but spurned by humanity, (3) restored through Christ to humans, and (4) through humans to all of creation. And so, just as God intended from the beginning, “all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num. 14:21b, ESV).
There are many ways to express the gospel and many facets I haven’t covered here. But I hope this way of expressing the Bible’s story helps to show how God’s glory is not peripheral to but stands at the very center of the gospel. Who God is, his purpose for the world, what it truly means to be human, what we lost in the Fall, what Christ has come to restore, where it is all headed—all of this is tied directly to the glory of God.
Q. What part does the glory of God play in your own daily relationship with God?
There are twin themes that give shape to my life, which, if you’ve read this far, you’ve heard me express multiple times: seeing God’s glory, showing God’s glory. This is what we were made for, and it’s my aim in life and gives shape to my understanding of who I am and why I exist.
I want to know God, to know his heart, his character, his greatness, and to be captivated by his glory. And I also want to be like him, displaying his glory in all I do, though I fall so short of this. But even then, I find my repentance to be informed and clarified so helpfully by this understanding of God’s glory.
Often, when I have failed to love the way I know I should, it is Paul’s words about sin in Romans 3:23 that shine light on the real issue. I have not merely been impatient or unkind or proud or selfish. I have fallen short of God’s glory. I have failed to be like him—which is my deepest longing, and my greatest joy. I have expressed something less than the truth about what God is like, since my actions toward others are intended to be reflections of him. This has a way of engaging my heart in repentance and also of reorienting me toward what God is like, and what it looks like to reflect him in my own life.
I’ve already mentioned how central to our own transformation the glory of God is. It’s only as I see and behold his glory that I become like him (2 Cor. 3:18). As I see, behold, and truly experience the kindness and compassion of God for me, I become kinder and more compassionate toward others. As I am gripped by the revelation of God’s sovereignty and his loving care for me, it becomes easier to trust him and to surrender my fears and relinquish my destructive desires for control. On and on we could multiply examples.
“It’s only as I see and behold the glory of God that I become like him.”
I find myself praying often—for myself, but also for my wife and kids, and for others I know— along the lines of these twin themes: “God, open their eyes to see your glory; and as they do, may their lives shine with your glory.”
It’s my prayer for all who are reading this interview.