Self Serving Grace?

Here is a podcast responding to some of the critics of this article.

True grace is given from a selfless motivation, to benefit the one to whom it is given, not with sights set on what one will receive in return.

This truth is what makes God’s grace so absolutely glorious!

Some Calvinists undermine this truth by suggesting that the grace God gives is in fact given with the ultimate purpose of His own Self-exaltation. These Calvinists are unwittingly undermining the very truth about God’s grace that best exalts His glory. Allow me to explain:

Notable Calvinists are known to argue that God’s primary concern is not the welfare of man, but for Himself and His own glory. In contrast to the claims of Calvinism, related to God’s ultimate desire for Self-glorification, Traditionalism emphasizes God’s concern for humanity over and above His concern for Self-glorification.

Back when I was in college I was very drawn to the Calvinistic teachings about God’s desire for His own glory. This was especially attractive to me coming out of the more “seeker sensitive” movement that seemed to put way too much focus on pleasing man rather than on glorifying God. And quite honestly, Calvinistic authors introduced me to many texts within scripture which so clearly appeared to support their understanding of God’s Self-glorification that I could not begin to understand how any Bible believing Christian could deny such truth. They would have to be “man-centered,” “selfish” and “humanistic” to do so, right?

Regardless of what some of my Calvinistic friends may think; in my journey out of Calvinism I did not abandon the truth that God does seek to reveal His own Glory. Instead, I realized that God’s Glory is best revealed in His self-sacrificial love for all.  I came to understand that God does not sacrifice creation for the sake of His own glory, but instead He sacrifices Himself for sake of His creation, which in turn reveals Him as the most glorious of all. It is the selfless motive of Christ’s sacrifice that brings Him so much glory. To in anyway undermine the selflessness of the Divine motive actually undermines the very thing that makes His grace so glorious.

By putting the welfare of man above His own Self-glorification, God reveals Himself to be so much more abundantly glorious than anything we could imagine.  The Calvinist seems to think that God’s glory is best manifest by putting His own exaltation first, whereas the example of Christ reveals just the opposite.  It is through giving up His glory, by putting the needs of lowly undeserving humans first, that He is most abundantly glorified.

Is Traditionalism Humanistic?

These are some comments sent to me via social media:

  • “Your theology is man-centered…”
  • “You are a humanistic Pelagian…”
  • “You start with man and build your view of God around humanistic reasoning.”
  • “Making God in your own image is not theology, Mr. Flowers!!!”

And those were the nice ones. But is Traditionalism really more humanistic than Calvinism? Which soteriological world view actually paints God to look more like humanity?  Let’s observe…

In the flesh I always care more about my own glory than the needs or wants of others.  Don’t you?  Yet, would Calvinists have us believe that God has this same “humanistic” characteristic?  Does God care more about His own glory than the welfare of humanity? Or, does God’s genuine love and provision for all humanity reveal just how glorious He really is?

How can the Calvinist rightly accuse our view of God as being “humanistic” when their view of God looks and sounds just like self-seeking humans who desire all the glory for themselves even if it means the sacrifice and suffering of others? John Piper is quoted as saying,

“God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking his own praise is the ultimate loving act. For him self-exaltation is the highest virtue.”

I would re-word that by saying,

“God is the only Being in all the universe who actually deserves to seek His own glory, praise and self-exaltation, but instead chooses to empty Himself for the sake of worthless humanity in the ultimate act of love on Calvary. This act, once accepted by faith, leads us to freely praise, exalt and glorify Him for the self-sacrificial God He is.”

Piper believes “God’s highest virtue” is “self-exaltation,” but the cross reveals otherwise.  God’s highest virtue is His gracious, self-sacrificial love for unworthy vessels.

Is God’s genuine love and provision for all humanity the true reflection of His glory? Or, is God seeking His own glory at the expense of most humanity?  And which of those views is really more “humanistic?”

It’s only fair to consider the argument directly from a Calvinist. In John Piper’s sermon titled “Is God for us or for Himself?” he lays out the dilemma quite well:

“God’s aim and effort to glorify himself is wholly good and without fault of any kind and is very different from human self-exaltation because it is an expression of love… This observation leads us to the biblical reason why it seems offensive for God to seek his own glory. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love seeks not its own.” Now this, indeed, seems to create a crisis, for if, as I think the Scriptures plainly teach, God makes it his ultimate goal to be glorified and praised, how then can he be loving? For “love seeks not its own.” For three weeks we have seen Scriptures that teach that God is for himself. “For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, my glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11). But if God is a God of love, he must be for us. Is, then, God for himself or is he for us?” 

If you go on to read the rest of this message you will learn that Piper teaches God is for Himself because that is what is best for us. As Piper explains, “To be supremely loving, God must give us what will be best for us and delight us most; he must give us Himself.”

Of course, I agree with that statement, but you must keep in mind that in the Calvinistic worldview God only “gives Himself” to a select few while leaving the rest to perish in their innate depraved corpse-like condition (an unchangeable condition from birth as decreed by God).  Many of those “passed over” are people we dearly love and would sacrifice ourselves for if we were able (Rom. 9:1-3). Traditionalists, by contrast, believe that God “gives Himself” to all people by sending His Son to provide atonement for every man, woman, boy and girl.

Did Christ not teach us to stop and help our enemies rather than “pass them by on the other side?” (Luke 10:25-37)  Yet, are we to believe God passes over most of His own enemies from the time they are born until the time they die?  How can one reconcile this with the God revealed in Christ?

Tim Keller, in contrast to some other Calvinists, wrote something that I wholeheartedly affirm:

“That is why God is infinitely happy, because there is an ‘other-orientation’ at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.” (Tim Keller, The Reason For God, pg.218)

Ben Witherington, a non-Calvinistic New Testament scholar, agrees with Keller’s view. He wrote in an article title, “For God So Loved Himself? Is God a Narcissist?

“I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.”

When I made a similar argument, Dr. James White called my soteriology “man-centered,” and I have to agree. I have centered my soteriology on the man, Jesus Christ. In Christ we find someone who emptied Himself of glory so as to serve the needs of His enemies and then He called us to do the same. God, as revealed in Christ, is not a hypocrite. He practices what He preaches. Philippians 2:1-9 states:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature Goddid not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”

Jesus, being the very nature God, is said to have emptied Himself, which is not His way of ceasing to be divine, but rather His way of revealing true divinity.  To be like God we mustn’t seek our own glory, but we must humble ourselves and seek to love even our greatest enemies. In doing so, we will find true glory because we find what it really means to be in the image of our Maker.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6

14 thoughts on “Self Serving Grace?

  1. Excellent discussion, Leighton, of a needed emphasis in support of the Scripture’s clear presentation of an attribute of God that is not allowed in the Calvinistic ideas of immutability, sovereignty and perfection… that is the divine attribute that God can allow Himself to suffer loss and still bring glory to Himself and remain perfect!

    1. Man where do you guys get this stuff from??!!! Calvinists believe no such thing Brian! The Cross is THE GREATEST expression of both God’s glory and love. However, we must also realize and accept the fact that God is also glorified in His wrath and punishment towards the reprobate because “..He worketh ALL THINGS after the counsel of His own will.” I would never say that God’s ultimate purpose is to sacrifice Himself to bring glory to man or for man. That’s almost blasphemous! EVERYTHING God does is ultimately to glorify Himself. God is so concerned about His own glory that one of His names is “Jealous” (Exodus 34:14) and of course we know that the many names of God are meant to reveal His character.
      Also Prof. Flowers is not correct in his description of Calvinistic (Reformed) perspective on God’s glory as it pertains to His sacrificial love for mankind. Of course Calvinists believe that His sacrifice for mankind is His greatest act of love and brings Him the highest glory possible. But He doesn’t have to sacrifice Himself for EVERY individual to bring Himself glory! Remember grace cannot be demanded which is another way of saying that God owes no man fairness; but only justice. God’s glory is most manifested in His holiness and His holiness demands His wrath and punishment on the reprobate. And this too brings glory to God!!

      1. Hi Troy… So are you confirming that Calvinists do believe that God is able suffer loss and remain perfect… and that He did so on the cross?

        And you will have to explain to me how the cross is “THE GREATEST expression of both God’s glory and love” when it appears less people in the Calvinistic view experience that love then experience His wrath by being eternally reprobate.

        And Eph 1:11 only says that God is presently working out everything according to the plan of His desire. It does not prove that such a plan has no conditional and undetermined elements in it for which His and man’s free will can freely interact. In fact, the normal reading of Scripture demands that the idea of everything being predetermined before creation is a false idea because of all of Scriptures conditional statements, universal invitations and warnings, and clear verses about God making determinations and allowing for future possibilities not yet decided.

      1. In Jesus’ the parable of the prodigal son, the father allows himself to suffer loss.

        The calvinist might declare this as an anthropomorphism, because of a presuppositional investment in a “Kata-Kurious” deity.

        But that argument works two ways. And its much more probable that the image of a “Kata-Kurious” deity who is the true anthropomorphism, since Jesus condemns the “Kata-Kurious” nature.

        Blessings!! :-]

  2. When one examines the origins of Augustine synchronizing Gnosticism and NeoPlatonism into Catholic doctrine, resulting in a deity (consistent with pagan deities such as Pan) who is morally-dualistic (malevolent-benevolence), it becomes clear that pointing a “man-centered” finger at other theologies, has them simply pointing 4 fat fingers at themselves.

    The guilty fall into their own nets, while the Godly walk by safely. Psalm 141:10

    I love God’s irony!! :-]


  3. Dr. Flowers I wish to express my heartfelt deep gratitude that the Lord has blessed you with such a heart for His Truth, and through you, myself. I now no longer awaken in the middle of the night wrestling with difficulties I have had in understanding God’s love as I did for so long after hearing and reading about and being shocked by Calvinism, held to be true by so many years of my friends. I have read your podcasts and your book and delightedly share them with those who would like to know the Lord more clearly. I thank God for the gift of your ministry to all of us – may He bless you!

    Dirk Mous MD


    Alfred R. Mele – Director of Philosophy and The Science of Self-Control Project – Self-Deception Unmasked – Princeton University Press

    “A situation where person [A] persuades person [B] into believing [P], is true, while at the same time, [A] (at some level of consciousness), holds [P] to be false. In this process, [A] unwittingly deceives himself that [P] is true. [A] knows or truly believes, (at some level of consciousness), that [P] is false, yet convinces himself to believe that [P] is true. Thus, [A] operates in a form of double-think, and facilitates his own self-deception through the mechanism of double-think. The result, is that [A] can exercise faith that [P] is true while at the same time, (at some level of consciousness) hold [P] as false.” end-note

    In our examination of the psychology of Calvinism:
    Let [P] = the proposition: “God has predestined my eternal fate as salvation and not damnation”.

    William Lane Craig on Calvinism’s CUL-DE-SAC
    “when one’s interpretation of scripture, leads one into this sort of cul-de-sac, it is a good idea to reassess whether one has, indeed, rightly interpreted scripture”.

    How can one’s interpretation of scripture be trustworthy, when one’s psychology is reliant upon double-think? Indeed, the Calvinist’s degree of UNCERTAINTY reduces him to insist: quote: “Whatever God’s will is for me (salvation or damnation), I am to affirm the God of the universe will always do **RIGHT**.

    The dilemma the Calvinist embraces, is that of having no **CERTAINTY** of what **RIGHT** is, as it pertains to God’s intentions for his eternal fate.

    Calvin further teaches him that God may be inducing him into a DELUSION of being saved, so that God can magnify his taste of damnation, while burning in eternal flames. Quote: “Holds it [salvation] out as a savor of greater condemnation”.

    It should be obvious that conceptions of (1) God designing the believer as a “despised creature”, (2) to be given the delusion of salvation while in this life, and then (3) flicked into a lake of fire in the next, would be anxiety producing.

    How is the Calvinist to retain a sense of normalcy in daily intercourse while retaining such intense subconscious anxieties?
    Calvin teaches: “go about one’s office AS THOUGHT none of it is determined in any part”

    At some point, we should have understanding and compassion for the poor soul, drawn into a doctrine of divine malevolence, who has to live in a world of double-think in order to retain a sense of normalcy and self worth. Father God loves me??…Father God despises me??

  5. Last week, I was leading an early morning discussion about the gospel, asking each person to give their simplest explanation of it. I finally gave mine, stating that I would “cheat”, as my explanation was 1 Cor. 15:1-8. Immediately after I finished my explanation, a person who is a fan of John Piper and also a leader of the church came in and asked about our discussion thus far. I mentioned that we were all in agreement about the essentials, and that my definition was from 1 Cof. 15:1-8. He interjected loudly, “you left out the most important part! Its not about you! Its all about God’s glory!” I wanted to say “I didn’t leave it out–Paul did. Rebuke him, not me.” As I read every description of the gospel, I can’t find a place where God says “its not about you”. I am frankly sick of hearing that God is a self-centered, preening narcissist who would send millions to hell on purpose to make himself look big, “glorious”. Isn’t that exactly the kind of person we can’t stand, the ones that self-aggrandize by subjecting others to belittlement? Isn’t that what we call a bully? Do I really want to serve and worship a self-worshipping bully that could choose to condemn millions simply to make himself bigger in His own eyes? “God so loved the world”, not “God so loved Himself”. This is also espoused in a book entitled “The Explicit Gospel”–“its not about you”. That book was all the rage around here last year. Drove me nuts. Reinterpreted the entire book of Genesis in a new, strange way as well, to make room for evolution…sorry, I just had go vent, there’s been so much of this around me lately. Thanks for keeping me sane. This latest post is exctly what I needed. I’m just fed up with people warping and minimizing the love of God which is so plainly expressed throughout scripture.

    1. Excellent post!! The truth, is, when one examines Calvinist assertions (looking under the hood – so to speak) one finds they are just as man-centered and anthropomorphic as any other theology. Calvinist’s simply wear their theology as a wide phylactery, presenting a facade of putting god first. But it all boils down to the question of who determines Calvin’s presuppositions. When all the eulogizing, high-sounding wizard-of-ozz-booming-rhetoric is blown away as chaff, what we see is a man asserting his **IMAGE** of god.

      Calvin’s way of fending off critical examination, is by hurling vindictive names and epithets at the examiner, and asserting “we must not delve into secret things”. argumentum ad ignorantiam (i.e., Don’t look at the little man behind the curtain).

      Do your own examination of the underlying constituents in Calvin’s thinking and what you will find is a man assuming to tell god what he is and what he must be, and further, co-opting scripture to promote and defend his theological power-base. Calvinism is nothing more than a religious principality and power, having a morphōsin of godliness.

      Blessings and thanks for your good post. :-]

  6. Great post ! I am thankful for soteriology101 Blessings and my prayers are with you!

  7. This reminds me of how Calvinism’s inferences often display what I call, a doctrine of “divine unaccountability”.
    Its one thing to say that man cannot hold God accountable to his own moral standards.
    Its quite another thing to infer (as we see within Calvin’s hypothetical examples of divine activity), that God DOES NOT hold himself accountable to to his own moral standards, in the way a loving father would purposefully exemplify to his children, so that his children may see his example as their standard of morality. Hence Jesus teaches: “Be ye holy as your heavenly father is holey”.

    But we see two standards.
    One set of moral standards, based upon God’s moral laws, which Calvinism (for all intents a purposes) asserts are applicable only to the creature. Often sighted as God’s ‘Prescribed’ will.
    And one for God, which is (for all intents and purposes) arbitrary and inscrutable.

    I think this formulation of divine unaccountability and arbitrary-divine-morality is a natural byproduct, of a cosmology of dualism.
    And this points back to Calvinism’s NeoPlatonist roots.

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