Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.. . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name. . . . And the nations will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 36:22-23; 32)
If God's glory is His grace (and it is), then what does it mean for God to act for the sake of His own name or glory. Obviously we're not talking here of the self-absorbed omni-god of philosophy. We're talking about the Father who has always found His life and identity in pouring out His very Spirit to His Son. We're talking about the God who, in eternity, has determined to be the adopting-by-grace-God. What does it mean for this God to act for His own sake, His own name, His own glory?
I've used this illustration often, but I think it's instructive... A friend of mine was approaching a set of doors and heard high-heels behind him. He stopped to open the door for the woman behind him. As she passed through she shot him a glare: "I hope you're not opening the door because I'm a lady." With enviable quick thinking he replied, "No, I'm opening the door because I'm a gentleman." Boom!
Not for your sake, not for your sake am I acting, but for the sake of my holy name. Not because you are a Damsel in distress, but because I am a Gentleman. I do not act because you have forced my hand, twisted my arm, or tugged at my heart strings. I act from my own determination to be chivalrous.
That's what it means for God to act for His own sake. Not at all that God is self-centred. On the contrary God is so gloriously self-giving that He refuses to have His gracious salvation construed as merely a response to our plight. It's not that He's a sucker for a sinner. It's not that He can't help Himself when He sees our need and so sighs and embarks on a saving mission. It's not because we're a lady, it's cos He's a Gentleman.
God acts from fullness. That's pretty much the heart of what it means that God acts for His own sake. He is a Fountain brimming over, not a Water Tank to be drawn down.
Therefore what is godliness? It is all about acting from fullness. Before God we are empty (cf the first 4 beatitudes - poor, mourning, meek, hungry). Before the world we are poured out (cf the last 4 beatitudes - showing mercy, purity, peace and righteousness). From fullness we flow out to the world.
When I get the time I'll write about how this dynamic plays out in church life, in family life, in loving our neighbours, in reaching the world. But for now I hope it's obvious that 'God acting for His own sake' is not a special dispensation to be selfish which God reserves for Himself. It's not about His own self-regard which is ok for Him but not ok for us. Actually, we should follow God in acting for the sake of our holy name because such actions are not demonstrations of self-regard but of the kind of self-giving that comes from fullness.