Does God save us for his sake or for our sake? Struggling with Ezekiel vs the New Testament


My understanding is that God saves us because he loves us.

John 3:16 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Whereas when I read Ezekiel God seems to come across as an ego-centric wanker who doesn’t actually care about Israel and only saves them from their sins in order to show off his power and glorify himself.

One example in particular jumped out at me when I was at a protestant bible study last night. It made me very uncomfortable. Forgive the long quote but it’s worth reading the entire passage.

Ezekiel 36 The Renewal of Israel

16 The word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their doings; their conduct before me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. 18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood which they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; in accordance with their conduct and their deeds I judged them. 20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel caused to be profaned among the nations to which they came.

**22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, 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, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. **23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses; and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now inhabited and fortified.’ 36 Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it.

37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their men like a flock. 38 Like the flock for sacrifices,** like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”**

I don’t mind that he gets glorified by saving Israel (us), but surely that is a secondary issue and the main reason he saves us is because he loves us. If his primary motivation is to glorify his holy name… I just don’t see how that is love: it is self-centred rather than other-serving. Ezekiel seems to lend a lot of support to the Calvinist position that the purpose of everything is to glorify God.

I was talking to my fiancee about this, and she had no problem with this passage whatsoever (she is a fundamentalist/Calvinist. We are a strange match). She seems to find it absolutely natural and perfectly acceptable that the main reason God saves us is to glorify himself, and that he doesn’t do it because he loves us. She maintains that God is allowed to be selfish because he is God - he is all-powerful, completely sovereign and can therefore do whatever he wants. When we are selfish it is a sin but when God is selfish it is perfectly acceptable.

I refuse to worship such a God and I don’t believe that this is truly how God regards us, yet I’m finding it hard to square my opinion with what I’m reading in Ezekiel. Does anyone with some insight have an apologetic/explanation for how God is presented in Ezekiel? I’m particularly troubled by the highlighted parts of the passage above. Is God really so ego-centric?


I don’t mind that he gets glorified by saving Israel (us), but surely that is a secondary issue and the main reason he saves us is because he loves us. If his primary motivation is to glorify his holy name… I just don’t see how that is love: it is self-centred rather than other-serving. Ezekiel seems to lend a lot of support to the Calvinist position that the purpose of everything is to glorify God.

You have waded into very deep waters here. :wink:

Both you and your fiancee are right in certain ways.

God does love us, and wishes all of us to be saved for that reason.

But your fiancee is right, as that passage in Ezekiel, which is echoed throughout the Psalms and OT, is True.

As sinners, we pray for God’s mercy, NOT because we deserve any (even though God loves us, this does not mean we have some sort of right to His mercy no matter what.) But as the Bible says in MANY places, “for Your Name’s sake.” IOW, we beg God for mercy because we KNOW he is All Good, and Abundant in Mercy, and we plead for mercy on this account because it is True.

God has no need of us, nor any of creation. His love for us is unconditional and actually due to His infinitely lovable and loving nature. So that is no wrong headed reason to use when pleading with God for forgiveness and mercy.

However, do NOT twist that meaning as you have done, by supposing that God NEEDS to glorify Himself by being merciful. That would be totally misunderstanding those Biblical texts. God does not need ANYTHING from us to “increase” his Glory. :wink:


G-d is showing His mercy toward us despite our iniquities. This act reveals just how strong G-d’s love is for us. We do not deserve His love but G-d freely provides it anyhow. It is easier for a parent to love their children when the children are loving in return and do good deeds, while it is more challenging for a parent to love their children when they are not loving and commit wrongdoings. Just as a parent loves their children unconditionally, G-d loves His children, and much more, even though they have done evil and even if they have not repented their sins.


I don’t see the issue. Maybe you’d have to go back to the original language to understand better, but from the translation, God is saying that the Israelites slid back into their idolatrous ways, then they went around bad-mouthing God to other nations when bad things happened to them. So God is going to fix that by doing all sorts of good things for the Israelites–so they would stop bad mouthing him and so that other nations would see that God favors the Israelites. But he’s not doing it “for their sakes” but to defend his own name. Sounds fair enough to me.

I suppose you could make the argument that God is showing love for the other nations by giving them an example. You could also make the argument that God is saying he’s going to fix things not because the Israelites deserve it, but just because God wants to. I don’t see anything in there that says God doesn’t love them. Does that need to be explicitly mentioned every time God does something?

As a secondary issue, I would caution against trying to figure out the motivation of anyone. It’s hard enough for people, but you seem to be going to another level, trying to figure out the motivation of God. Does anyone–let alone God–have a single motivation for an action? Why do you love your girlfriend? Are you limited to one reason? It seems to me that by insisting on a single reason, or even prioritizing several reasons, you’re just looking for trouble!


Here’s a possible insight: not only are these two reasons not opposed, but they are basically the same motivation.

Just look at how our Lord phrases the second greatest commandment: you will love your neighbor as yourself. Ultimately, loving your neighbor and loving yourself are deeply interwoven. So be it with God, who is love. Acting for our sake and for His glory are the same to Him.

He is love, and so like a good Shephard joyously searches for the children of Adam hiding in shame for their sins, hoping for their repentance, and by doing this He reveals His Glory. But I think that this explanation is just an attempt to explain the sacred mystery I outlined above.

Christi pax,



Our sake is for His sake, and His sake is for our sake…its the perfect and most holy of relationships created and formed by Him.

If we follow salvation history for Genesis, we find the garden was not created for man, but that man was to guard or tend the garden for God…so both man and God were benefactors of His creation.


Yes, I like that explanation. It’s a complementary relationship, like marriage, which of course is an analogy used all the time for God and the Church. It’s not an exclusive “this” or “that.”


…I think that you take too much liberty when addressing God… perhaps that’s where your issue emanates from.

Maran atha!



Just because one motive for God saving the Jews is mentioned in Ezekiel, namely, for his sake, that does not mean God didn’t have other unmentioned motives, such as his love for them. I think, when Ezekiel says God wasn’t saving the Jews for their sake, it means God was not saving the Jews because of anything they had done to merit being saved.


Thank you all for your answers, they’ve been helpful in getting me thinking about this.

Just because one motive for God saving the Jews is mentioned in Ezekiel, namely, for his sake, that does not mean God didn’t have other unmentioned motives, such as his love for them. I think, when Ezekiel says God wasn’t saving the Jews for their sake, it means God was not saving the Jews because of anything they had done to merit being saved.

I think this is most likely the best way of looking at it.

But I do still find the verses forceful and disturbing. When God says “It is not for your sake that I am saving you, but for the sake of my holy name” It honestly comes across to me as if God is saying “I don’t actually care about you at all. I’m only going to help you in order to boost my own reputation”.

If God had simply left out the part about “I’m not doing this for your sake” things would be much easier, because I honestly have no problem with him glorifying his name. He can glorify his name and lovingly save us from our sins simultaneously. But the way the passage is written now it seems to say that saving us because he loves us (“for our sake”) and saving us to glorify his name are incompatible/opposed to each other.

I remember one time when I was living with my granddad and I was really sick, and coughing like crazy. When it came to the evening time and he wanted to go to bed he was giving me medicine and being all nice to me, trying to think of every way to help me get better. But then he said to me “You know the main reason I’m doing this is just so that I wont have to hear your coughing while I’m trying to sleep and I won’t get sick myself”. He might have actually cared about me but it certainly wasn’t his primary motivation for helping me and he made that clear. That stung at the time. It seems to be the same situation in this passage. God is not primarily being self-less when he helps the Israelites, he is mainly being selfish. This seems to contradict with Christ giving up his life on the cross in order to save us, which demonstrates a total act of self-giving. In the case of Christ it seems much more obvious that primary motivation is love for us, and this is equal with God getting glory

Maybe I’m reading too far into it. Right now I’m going to take the “it’s not for your sake” part as an indirect comment on the fact that salvation is entirely by Grace, and we don’t deserve it/have a right to it or do anything to earn it, as Todd977 suggests, and I will dismiss any implications that God doesn’t care about us. And I’m going to take the “But for the sake of my Holy name part” as an indirect way of saying that God saves us because he loves us, because God gets glory by saving us/loving us as Lucretius suggests


Why would God need to prove Himself egotistically, what glory could we give Him. “Father glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world was made” He did promise Israel that if they changed their ways He would again establish their kingdom. God has to get through the hard heads of the Israelites that they were the chosen people, they turned to false idols, and God nursed them to become His chosen. They were ungrateful. By glorifying His own name He was nursing them again to keep them straight, they were a stiff necked people we needed to be reminded often God by glorifying His Name, in effect, was loving them , why would He bother with them if He didn’t love them. He is God and worthy of glorification, first and foremost by the Holy Spirit


Let’s back up a bit.

What is God’s Name?

YHWH, right?

What does that mean?

I Am Who Am, or I Am, for short.

So when God talks about His Name, He’s talking about Who “I Am.” It’s Himself, not His reputation.

So “For the sake of My holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations,” means:
“You have said profane things about Me, and I am going to defend Myself by doing good things to you! You have broken the Covenant, but I’m going to keep it!”

God is Love. I Am is His Name, and I Am is Love. He is doing these things for Love’s sake. He can’t do things any other way but lovingly, because He is Love.

God did not make the Covenant because Israel was so speshul and powerful. He made the Covenant, and that made Israel special. He didn’t love Israel because Israel was so loveable; He loved Israel because He loves.

(Although Abraham being righteous certainly helped, we heard from Jesus in the Gospels that He could have made Abraham a bunch of children out of rocks, if He had wanted to.)

So let me paraphrase Ezekiel a bit.

“You messed up the country I gave you, and then you messed up in other countries, but I’m going to give you your country back anyway. In fact, I’m going to make you worthy of that gift by taking away your hardheartedness. I’m doing this because I love your enemies enough to give them good information about Me, despite your badmouthing and belittling, and your setting them a bad example when you lived in their countries. I’m doing this because My love and My keeping the covenant are unconditional.”

Yeah, God is just so cold and hard in Ezekiel. Just as mean as the prodigal son’s dad, forcing him to eat the fatted calf and wear nice clothes.


Re: the grandfather story –

You do realize that if he’d really been worried about you making him sick, he’d have stayed away from you entirely? I mean, standing over somebody who’s coughing right into your face is not the way to avoid getting sick! Just the opposite!

It sounds like he had a pretty dry sense of humor, and you were a little too sick and too tired to appreciate it. Of course, I don’t know the man, but that’s what it sounds like.

(My dad was fond of warning us that dessert had arsenic in it, and therefore we shouldn’t have any. He didn’t mean us to believe it!)


Thanks Mintaka, for an insightful post.

I was curious about learning more about Gods glory and I found this on the wikipedia page for “Glory”:

In Catholicism

Catholic doctrine asserts that the world was created as an act of God’s free will for his own glory.[8] Catholic doctrine teaches, however, that God does not seek to be glorified for his own sake, but for the sake of mankind that they may know Him.[9]

It’s wikipedia, so it doesn’t carry the full weight of the magisterium behind it and there’s no certainty that it can be trusted, but I find it interesting and plan to check the source


The source links to the summa,
article 1 objection 1 and reply 1 are where st thomas works it through:

Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says on John 13:13, “You call Me Master and Lord; and you say well” (Tract. lviii in Joan.): “Self-complacency is fraught with danger of one who has to beware of pride. But He Who is above all, however much He may praise Himself, does not uplift Himself. For knowledge of God is our need, not His: nor does any man know Him unless he be taught of Him Who knows.” **It is therefore evident that God seeks glory, not for His own sake, but for ours. **On like manner a man may rightly seek his own glory for the good of others, according to Matthew 5:16, “That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.”

I don’t fully follow St Thomas’ logic (I haven’t sat down and worked through it at length), but he does definitely say God seeks his own glory for our sake. St Thomas’ opinions seems to have a lot of authority/respect in catholic circles, so I’ll subscribe to his opinion until I have time to think about it more.


The Jews sinned against their God and he allowed their enemies to conquer them and carry them off into exile and the Jews continued to sin against their God in exile. In Ezekiel, God says he will cause the exiled Jews to return to Israel. Why? For their sake because their behavior merited it? No. Why then? For the sake of his own glory; so that their enemies will understand the Jews were conquered and were carried off into exile because the Jews had sinned against their God and not because the gods of their enemies were more powerful than the God of Israel, which their enemies might understandably but wrongly conclude if the Jews remained in exile.


Hey TIK. He says that he seeks glory for the sake of his holy name, which is to say that he seeks glory for glory. Why does he seek glory at all? Aquinas supposes it is for our sake.

Anyway, I think Ezekiel explains himself without the New Testament here.

God says he does not retrieve Israel from exile for the sake of the "house of Israel,"or for all the immediate reasons we want Israel and our national homeland back, but for his glory’s sake, “among the nations.”

Very clearly, even here, his glory is for someone elses sake, namely here the “nations” or the “Gentiles,” alternatively translated.

He is not saying he does not care about individuals in and of themselves. He says he does not care about the “house of Israel,” the institution, unless it glorifies him TO the world.

Ezekiel’s God does care about the individual Jew, just look at Ez 18: 25 to 32.

Here he makes a very clear distinction between the House of Israel and the individual, and makes it clear that he loves the individual, even the sinner.


And I think here, “for your sake“ it fairly clearly means, “for your merit.“

The Hebrew says more or less, “for you“ or “because of you.“ Which is kinda vague.

The idea that all that stuff about living hearts, and you will be mine and I will be your God, that kinda implies some kinda love.


God loves because It is His nature.


God saves us for the same reasons he made us: BOTH to love him and to be loved by him.

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