In my reading for my theology class, I came across one paragraph which has really stood out:
The essence of sin does not lie in preferring ourselves to others, but in preferring some finite thing to the supreme value, God. Thus, even an unselfish preference of some other person rather than God is wrong. The first great commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Luke 10:27). The second command is to love our neighbor as ourselves. To put the second commandment in the place of the first is wrong and sinful.
Erickson, M. J. Christian Theology (2nd ed.; Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), 314.
This falls in the context of talking about God being righteous and that “his highest goal is apparently his own glory.” John Piper, in his book – Desiring God – writes:
The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.
In essence, God seeks to glorify Himself for there is nothing better than, well, Him. Yet, going back to the first quote, the same does not apply to us, humanity. We cannot hope to seek glory for ourselves – for such a person would be called selfish and egotistical.
As Erickson so eloquently puts it, the basis of sin is an ill-placed preference. When one does not have God as the preferred focus on one’s life, actions and words – one is wrong and has sinned. It gives a clear answer to the question: “Why isn’t it enough just to live a good life?” Do good things, be nice to people, give to charities, etc. Why isn’t it enough? Simply, because one’s preference in life is wrong. Even at the “benefit” of others, the best and most right (righteous) option of all has been missed, that is, God.
Therefore, Piper can easily say that God’s chief purpose is to glorify Himself, for He is the best and most appropriate thing to glorify. He, thus, sets the example for humanity, not in selfish, egotistical example – but in right preference for what is
good, no, perfect! As Paul said to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (NIV; Phil. 4:8) Is God not the most righteous and perfect fulfilment of all such things?
If God is our preference over all earthly, finite comparisons, then it adds a whole new dimension to the practical outworking in our daily lives. When we perform an act of kindness, we do it out of the perfect example of God’s grace and mercy to us. When we show compassion and give to the poor, should it not proceed from the perfect example of God’s love for all people? Such actions, if proceeding from the finite, incomplete heart of humanity will, one day, surely fail.
A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV; John 13:34-35)
A mark of Jesus’ disciples is love. Notice, however, that Jesus clarifies the type of love they are to exhibit, “As I have loved you.” The love of Jesus, the love of God, is the example, a perfect example, by which we are to love one another. To live by such an example, unlike humanity’s frail example, will never fail.