"Our Christian mind-set is so skewed by natural and secular
man-centeredness that we can barely comprehend or love the
God-centeredness of the cross of Christ," John Piper has said. It can
revolutionize our lives to catch a view of the God-centeredness of the
cross. To do so, let us investigate this question: Did Christ die for us
or for His Father?
Christ died for His Father
To understand the glory of God in the cross of Christ, we must go
all the way back to creation. Isaiah 43:6-7 says that God created us for
His glory (see also Colossians 1:16). From this it is follows that we
should all live for God's glory (1 Cor. 10:31). The glory of God is the
majesty and splendor and supreme value of the perfections of God's
character. Glorifying God means calling attention to His greatness and
showing His supreme value by delighting in Him and cherishing Him. The
failure to live for God's glory, which we are all guilty of, is the
essence of what the Bible calls sin. "All have sinned and fallen short
of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Piper elaborates on this:
short of God's glory means exchanging it for something of lesser value.
All sin comes from not putting supreme value on the glory of God...All
sin is a despising of God, before it is a damage to man. All sin is a
preference for the fleeting pleasures of the world over the everlasting
joy of God's fellowship." Romans 1:23 says that humanity "exchanged the
glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible
Because of our sin, we all deserve eternal punishment under the
wrath of God (Romans 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:9). God would be denying the
infinite worth of His glory if He did not adequately deal with the fact that
all of us, by our refusal to live for and value and love His glory, have
dishonored and rejected the infinite and awesome worth of His glory.
Therefore God must punish sin to preserve and vindicate the worth of His
glory which we have attacked through our sin. Hell is therefore an
eternal demonstration of the infinite worth of God's glory. For the
infinite severity of the penalty for attacking God's glory reveals the
infinite value of the glory that was attacked.
The good news is that God is love and therefore forgives the sins
of those who repent and turn to His Son in faith. But this leads to a
startling dilemma: How is God able to forgive sins without compromising
His glory? The answer is given in Romans 3:23-26: "...for all have
sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by
His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God
displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This
was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God
He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I
say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and
the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
According to this verse, God crucified Jesus in order to
demonstrate His righteousness. It was necessary for God's righteousness
to be displayed because God has forgiven people who have sinned against
Him--that is, attacked and refused to value His glory. Since God's
righteousness had to be displayed in order for Him to justly forgive
people who have attacked the worth of His glory, we can define God's
righteousness as His unfailing commitment to preserve and uphold and
display the worth of His glory.
In other words, since God's glory has been attacked and
dishonored by us when we sin, He must do something to vindicate--show His
commitment to the worth of--His glory before He can forgive our sins. If
God did not do this, He would not be valuing what is supremely
valuable--His glory--and thus would not be righteous. In the
crucifixion, God showed His commitment to the worth of His glory
("demonstrated His righteousness") by punishing Christ for our sins, thus
enabling Him to forgive those who have not been committed to the worth of
This verse uses the world propitiation, which is simply a
sacrifice that satisfies, or absorbs, the wrath of God against sinners
and thus makes God favorable to them. On the cross, Christ paid the
penalty for sin (and thus vindicated God's righteousness) by enduring the
punishment we deserve for our sins. The punishment of sin has two
aspects: the pain of loss and the pain of sense. The pain of
being shut out from experiencing fellowship with God and enjoying His
glory (see 2 Thessalonians 1:9). It means being cut off from God. The
pain of sense is the addition of torment and suffering by the wrath of
God against sin (see John 3:36; Luke 16: 23, 28).
On the cross, Christ experienced both aspects of this
punishment. He was temporarily abandoned by God the Father (Matthew
27:46; Galatians 3:13) and He experienced the wrath of God the Father
against sin (Romans 5:9; John 18:11). Biblical statements on God's wrath
are terrifying. Revelation 14:10 says that those who reject God will
"drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full
in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and
in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." On
the cross, Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath for those who would come to
believe in Him. "The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not
drink it?", He said on His way to the cross (John 18:11). The Old
Testament background behind this cup is revealing: "For thus the Lord,
the God of Israel, says to me, `Take this cup of the wine of wrath
hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it'"
(Jeremiah 25:15). By drinking the "cup of God's wrath" Jesus propitiated
God's wrath against His elect and thus made it possible for God to show
mercy to us.
When this was finished, Jesus died and completed His work of
paying the penalty for sins, for "without the shedding of blood there is
no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). He did this all in the place of those
who would come to believe in Him (1 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). If you
believe in Christ, Christ experienced the wrath that God had for you so
that He could give you mercy instead. Those who do not come to
Christ will have to pay the penalty for their own sins by being eternally
cut off from the glory of God and eternally punished by the wrath of God
in hell (Matthew 25:49; Revelation 14:10-11).
John Piper summarizes the wonder of the cross very well: "The
death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves
sinners from the wrath of God, and all the while upholds and demonstrates
the righteousness of God."
Having seen the horrors Christ went through on the cross, it is
now very significant to know that Christ went to the cross in order to
preserve and uphold His Father's glory. In light of this, what do you
conclude that God was saying about His glory when He sent His Son to the
cross? What was Jesus saying about His Father's glory when He willingly
endured the cross for His glory?
I conclude that the cross demonstrates the infinite worth of
God's glory since Christ was willing to go to such great lengths to
uphold the value of His Father's holy name. It shows that God the Father
is an all glorious God who refuses to settle for anything less that being
all glorious, and that God the Son loves His Father infinitely and
therefore places infinite worth on His glory.
Christ died for us
Now we are in a position to understand, in a God-centered way,
that Christ died for us as well as His Father. Christ's death not only
shows the infinite worth of God's glory, but the greatness of His love
for us. But it must be understood that we are not at the center. Christ
did not die for us because we are of infinite value, but because God's
glory (which we have attacked) is of infinite value. God loves us
because that is the kind of God He is--it is His nature to be loving.
And the goal of His saving love is "that we should be to the praise of
the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6).
Perhaps it can be explained this way. Because God places
superior worth on Himself, He delights in Himself above all things. And
since He delights in Himself above all things, He delights in making His
name known and honored so that He can spread and share His delight that
He has in Himself. This overflow of God's delight in being God is
manifest as His love for us--He acts to save us from the penalty of our
sins so that we can share with Him the joy He has in Himself. And in
going to the amazing extent that He did (the horrors of the cross) in
order to bring His elect into the enjoyment of Himself, the greatness of
His glory and love is made crystal clear. His glory is shown to be so
wonderful that even the sacrifice of the cross cannot stop His loving
pursuit to make His greatness known and enjoyed forever by His people.
Do you see how everything God does is first and foremost rooted
in His own superior worth? Do you see how God's passion and commitment
to exalt and display the superior worth of Himself is the ground of our
salvation and His love for us?
This forces us to ask some very relevant questions: In light of
the fact that God's love for His elect is grounded in Himself and His
character, not us, how does that give us security? I would answer that
since God's love for us is grounded in Himself, His love cannot fail or
stop any easier than God's commitment to upholding and preserving His
glory could fail. The cross demonstrates that God's commitment to
preserving His worth will never fail, and therefore His love for those He
has chosen will never cease or fail. Further application of this
knowledge is that we should glorify God by acknowledging His superior
worth as the ground of all that He does.
In light of the fact that our forgiveness and salvation is also
grounded in God's commitment to His glory, as the cross reveals, how does
that give us security? It seems to me that this gives us the confidence
that our salvation cannot fail because God's commitment to preserving His
worth cannot fail. First Samuel 12:22 says "For the Lord will not
abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has
been pleased to make you a people for Himself." God has made it
so that our salvation is tied up
with the glory of His name. First John 2:12 says that "your sins are
forgiven you for His [Christ's] name's sake." God forgives our sins so
that His name may be magnified and exalted. Whenever someone turns to
the cross of Christ for forgiveness, the saving grace of God in the work
of Christ is magnified and exalted. Since God will not deny Himself the
pleasure of magnifying His saving grace or the pleasure of making a people
for Himself through the work of
His Son (1 Samuel 12:22 and 1 John 2:12), we can be confident that God
will most definitely grant us forgiveness if we repentantly turn to
the cross of Christ for forgiveness. And He will not forgive us
angrily or begrudgingly, but joyfully because God delights to honor the
work of His Son which was done for His glory. And how does God honor the
work of his Son? By giving the forgiveness that His death has provided
for His elect.
The full picture
The great news of this all is that there is no necessary conflict between
God's commitment to Himself above all things and His love for us. The
cross shows that the most loving thing God can do is be first and
foremost committed to displaying His glory and exalting Himself. If God
Himself takes infinite delight in His own glory, how wonderful and
splendid that glory must be! This makes one look forward eagerly to the
fulfillment of Christ's prayer for us: "Father, I desire that they also,
whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may
behold My glory, which thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before
the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). It is a wonderful truth that
the most loving thing for God to do is seek His own glory. The cross of
Christ makes this crystal clear because it preserves, displays, and
magnifies the infinite worth of God's glory while also being the most
loving thing He could do for us! Christ died for us precisely because He
died for God!
In conclusion, let us ask: If God takes His glory so seriously,
shouldn't we? Shouldn't we stop unwittingly belittling God by ignoring
the fact that He values Himself above all things? Shouldn't we stop
ignoring that God's goal in everything He does is to exalt and proclaim
the superior worth of His glory? How can we acknowledge the greatness of
our God (and thus honor Him) if we deny that He is at the center of
everything He does? Let us start living for and proclaiming the supremacy
of God in all things.
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.
1. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the article by John
Piper, "Did Christ Die for us or for God?"
2. This definition is from Piper. For an in-depth defense of this
definition of the righteousness of God, see his book The Justification of
God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23.
3. John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist,
Appendix: Summary of why God must judge sin to be
1. Sin is an attack on the infinite worth of God's glory.
2. Therefore, if sin is treated as inconsequential and its attack on
God's glory is not repaired, God's glory is treated as inconsequential.
3. This means that if God did not judge sin, He would not be valuing His
glory. He would be treated Himself as cheap.
4. God's righteousness is His unfailing commitment to uphold the
superior worth of His glory and not treat Himself as cheap. For God to
be righteous, He must place superior value on what is supremely
5. Therefore if God did not judge sin, He would be unrighteous. For Him
not to judge sin would be to join the sinners of Romans 1:23 and exchange
the infinite glory of the immortal God for a creature. He would be
treating humans and their sin as more valuable than Himself. This would