November 25, 2011

God’s Remedy: The Shining of the Light of Life

by Mike Riccardi

Over the last few Fridays, I’ve been considering some principles for faithfulness in Gospel ministry that we can glean from 2 Corinthians 4:3–6. So far we’ve gleaned three such principles. We’ve seen from 2Cor 4:3 that our purpose is not to amuse the goats, but call in the sheep, and so we measure our success by faithfulness and not numbers. We’ve seen from 2Cor4:4 that the world’s most fundamental problem is that they cannot see the glory of Christ, and so that is to be the focus of the Church’s mission. Because that’s the case we saw in 2Cor 4:5 that our proclamation must not be anything about ourselves, but must be the Gospel of Christ’s Lordship.  After that, I posted a large portion of an essay by Duane Litfin on the foolishness of preaching, and how much of the methodological confusion in Evangelicalism stems from  a failure to perceive that the Christian preacher is a herald, and not an orator. Litfin does a great job of examining which is which.

And after all of that, we finally come to the fourth principle in our study of 2 Corinthians 4:3–6. We’ve seen the purpose, problem, and proclamation. Finally, we must know the prescription.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,”
is the One who has shone in our hearts
to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6 –

Remember humanity’s predicament. All have sinned and fall short of God’s standard of righteousness, and are thus incapable of enjoying a relationship with their Creator. And because they can do nothing to save themselves, God sends Christ to live and die on their behalf, so that if they believe in Him He pays for their sin and imputes His righteousness to their account. Being declared righteous before God, man can enjoy a restored relationship with his glorious Creator for which he was made. And yet the tragedy is, their minds have been blinded so that when they hear that wonderful news, they can’t see it for what it is. They see no glory in it. It’s simply foolishness, and so they continue to disbelieve and resist it.

But now, Paul says, in magnificent love, God Himself—the same God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness”—shines in the hearts of His elect to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. God overcomes our resistance to the Gospel by giving us the light needed to see things as they actually are. The prescription, or the remedy, for man’s spiritual blindness is God’s sovereign work of regeneration.

Three Levels of Redemptive Depth

Now, there is a parallelism going on between verses 4 and 6, and comparing them sheds light on some precious realities.

In verse 4 we have: The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

And in verse 6: The Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

In these verses, Paul outlines three levels of God’s redemptive work, and as we progress through each level we penetrate to further depth and ultimacy. Examining these three levels of increasing depth of God’s redemptive work and understanding their implications will help us understand the fullness of the Good News, and will keep us from preaching a truncated Gospel.

Level 1: Light

The first level is the one that I just briefly mentioned: the level of “light.” This is the miracle of regeneration whereby God sovereignly imparts spiritual light to the blinded mind, or, to use the other metaphor, whereby He sovereignly imparts spiritual life to the dead heart. Paul compares this act of God to the creation of the world. He says, “the God who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’” is the One who has shone in our hearts. In the beginning, God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

Just as God created the world out of nothing, so He created spiritual life in us out of nothing (cf. Rom 4:17). There was nothing within us to work with—no potential, no spark of goodness, no foreseen faith. By likening God’s act of regeneration with the creation of the world, Paul is teaching that the new birth is just as much a sovereign act of God as was the original creation of the universe. And if there’s any doubt, let me ask you: How active or cooperative was the creation in its creation?

It wasn’t. It didn’t exist, and then it did. That’s why the metaphor of being born again is so apt: just as a baby contributes nothing to his first birth, so also those who are born again from above are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13).

And so the first level of God’s redemptive work is regeneration. God shines Light where there was once darkness.

Level 2: Knowledge of the Gospel

But notice the second level: God shines the light of the knowledge, or, as verse 4 says, the light of the gospel.

Again, these are parallel. We can understand the second level as: “the knowledge of the Gospel.” What this means is that it is the Light of regeneration that causes the sinner—who once was blind and saw no glory and no beauty in the gospel—to look upon the message of what Christ has done in history to provide salvation for guilty sinners, and to see it as the greatest news they could ever imagine.

Before this light shines, the story of the angelic announcements, the virgin birth, the perfect life, the miracles, the betrayal, the unjust trial, the horrific crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of Jesus—all of it is just a story, like a fairy tale. But now the light has shone, and the eyes of their hearts are opened, and they look upon the old, old story, and it. is. beautiful!

Level two is the knowledge of the Gospel.

And this is where many Christians—even many orthodox, conservative evangelicals—just stop. They don’t go beyond this. But there is a third level of God’s redemptive work that we will delve into next time. Don’t miss that.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • pam

    Oh, my! Excellent article. Haven’t read the other parts yet but this is…..beautiful!

    • Thanks for reading and for your encouragement, Pam. I’m glad it was a benefit to you.

  • MB

    I was anticipating for the third level – perhaps the most delightful part! But untill next time…can’t wait!

    • Indeed it is the most delightful part, MB! And that will be the point of the next post. 🙂

      I really wanted to do all three at once, but it would have been a very long post. Thanks so much for reading, and for your enthusiasm.

  • Arob

    Quote: “We’ve seen from 2Cor4:4 that the world’s most fundamental problem is that they cannot see the glory of Christ”

    And many supposed ministers of the gospel do not see it either.

    “The great design of God’s redemption is the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s all about his glory, his glory alone.” Jonathan Edwards

    • Unfortunately there are many cases that would prove you right, Arob. Let us continue to be in prayer for the health of Christ’s Church and the salvation of the self-deceived.

      And hey, do you have a source for that Edwards quote? I’d like to archive it.

  • pam

    I went back and read the rest of the articles and loved them all. The words of Spurgeon kept echoing in my head, “Are we feeding sheep or amusing goats”. And that should determine how church is done. I think in 1Cor.14:24, a clue to that is given. The church should be mainly a gathering for believers being fed(sheep) and if an unbeliever stumbles in the message will prove whether he is a goat or a sheep by his acceptance or rejection. A lot of churches today operate exactly the opposite. That’s just my two cents on that, though.
    One of the articles made me think of the Apostle Paul in Romans11:13-14 and 11:25-26 and how he preached as furiously as he could because he knew that when the times of the Gentiles had come in, it would be time for the salvation of Israel! Another example of predestination and election. What a glorious truth that is! God chose His people from before the foundation of the world and wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. His plan never fails. He saves those He purposed to save.
    Your writing is a blessing!!!

  • Great article! What a cliffhanger!