As we gather in the church sanctuary to worship God, we know one purpose is to give glory to him. The minister may even call us to worship this way from the Psalms, such as “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (Ps. 29:2). We may ask the Lord to glorify himself as we praise him. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Ps. 108:5).
Further, Jesus said our Christian testimony can bring glory to God when he instructed his disciples, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Giving glory to God is our chief of duties as the answer to the first question in the catechism states: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
Yet we need to be clear what giving glory to God really is. More precisely, we should realize what giving glory to God is not.
It is easy for us to conclude that giving glory to God means we are adding something to him. We can come to worship and think that by glorifying the Lord we are making him greater, grander, and more glorious than he was before. We think we are increasing the glory of God by worshiping him. Yet this is not true. Simply put, when we give glory to God we must understand that we are not adding anything to God.
One of the doctrines that many modern evangelicals either forget or obscure is the doctrine of God’s immutability. In other words, God does not and never can change. He is the “same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). God is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). If he cannot give his glory to another as he says in Isaiah (42:8), then neither can another give his glory to God to make him more glorious. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says,
There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory…” (2.1)
In his book All That Is in God, James Dolezal reminds us that we cannot add or subtract anything from God’s being. We cannot change God’s state. He is who he is, for as he identifies himself, “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). If giving glory to God meant somehow we added something to him, then it would mean he existed as something less than before . As Dolezal quotes from the Puritan writer Stephen Charnock,
If God doth change it must be either to a greater perfection than he had before, or to a less…If to the better, he was not perfect, and so was not God; if to the worse, he will not be perfect, and so be no longer God after that change” (p. 19).
In that logical light, glorifying God does not mean in any sense we change him.
So what are we doing when we glorify him? We are simply recognizing more fully the glory God already has and calling others to that awareness. Just because God cannot change does not mean that we cannot. An illustration or two will help.
In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, making it unique among attempts to peer into the universe. As Hubble orbits the Earth, it does so above the atmosphere, which distorts and even blocks the light that reaches our planet and is what makes the stars seem to twinkle. Earthbound telescopes allow us a measure of beholding the glory of the stars, planets, and galaxies, but they are limited in their power. However, the Hubble Telescope has shown us more exacting details of the heavenly bodies and discovered thousands of galaxies astronomers had never seen before. It is not that these glorious celestial sights were not there before; they have existed all along. It’s just that we have been enabled to discover more of their number, beauty, and detail. In the same way, when we enter worship the Spirit of God through his Word removes more and more of our earthly distortions. We are further enabled to behold the glories of our God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ that have existed all along.
So when we see the glories of our Creator and Redeemer, and then in turn glorify him by praise, faith, and obedience, again we are not adding anything to him. As the confession says above, this is just the outworking of “his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory.” For when the sun in the spring warms the earth, causing the flower to sprout, grow, and bloom, the flower glorifies the sun by showing the sun’s power to bring forth life and beauty. But clearly the flower does not change the sun. Similarly, a Christian growing and bearing fruit glorifies God but does not add glory to him. The Christian experiences God’s glory and in the beauty of redemption points others to do the same.