From Darkness to Delight

A Fresh Call for Christian Hedonists

Crossway Chapel | Wheaton, Illinois


Fifty years ago in the fall of 1968, I walked into a hermeneutics class at Fuller Seminary taught by Daniel Fuller, the son of the founder, Charles Fuller. That class proved to be the most influential class I’ve ever taken in my life at any age or any school. In it, I was taught a way of reading the Bible that has unlocked more treasures than I could have ever dreamed. And I was shown a relationship between the majesty of God’s glory and the happiness of my soul, which has shaped everything I have written and preached in the last fifty years — and still does today.

The way of reading is called arcing, and the relationship between the glory of God and my happiness is called Christian Hedonism. It is breathtaking to think that one semester and one class and one teacher can so deeply and pervasively and permanently transform the way you see the Bible and the universe — that everything is changed forever. That’s breathtaking. And it happened. So here I am fifty years later, and how I long to be an instrument for that kind of discovery and that kind of transformation for other people — as many other people as I can.

Open Their Eyes

Recently, in my devotions I read again the commission that Jesus gave to Paul, and I felt again burning inside to be used like this. Jesus said:

“I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17–18)

“God has always chosen to use human instruments to do his supernatural work.”

So the whole world is blind in spiritual darkness, unable to see the truth or the brightness or the beauty or the glory of Christ. And the whole world is under the authority of Satan, who exploits our sinfulness to continually deceive us as to what is truly beautiful and truly valuable and truly satisfying. And the whole world is under condemnation for its sins — unforgiven. And the whole world is unholy, impure unsanctified without any faith in Jesus.

And Jesus says to Paul, I am sending you to change all of that.

“I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

Do What Only God Can

Of course, all of that is impossible for a human being to bring about. Open the eyes of the blind. Deliver from satanic bondage. Grant forgiveness of sins. Sanctify what is unholy and make it pure. Awaken saving faith. But Jesus says, “I am sending you to open their eyes.” God has always chosen to use human instruments to do his supernatural work. That’s why Crossway exists. That’s why Desiring God exists. That’s why you exist.

And, thankfully, Paul does not leave us in the dark as to how God does this supernatural work through human instruments. Here’s what he says in 2 Corinthians 4:4:

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

That’s the situation described in Acts 26:18. Then follows the human and the divine act to turn this situation around:

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5–6)

The Creator of the universe, by the mouth of a Christ-exalting spokesman, shines into the darkness of the human soul where Satan, the god of this age, holds a person in bondage to blindness and deception. What does he shine with? He shines with the very thing that Satan and sin have been blinding us to. He describes it in two ways: (1) “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (verse 4) and (2) “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (verse 6).

Five Effects of God’s Work Through Us

Paul describes the miracle as it happens in Acts 26:18. As he preaches, their eyes are opened. And five things happen dramatically.

1. They turn from darkness to the light.

That is, the whole stream of their affections flows out to the brightness and beauty of the light of the glory of Christ, and no longer flows in the other direction. They now hate the darkness and love the light. They cleave to Christ for the light and glory and beauty that he is.

2. They turn from Satan to God.

Their old master, who painted himself with such deceitful colors, is now clearly a monster and their archenemy. They hate what he stands for, including all their sin. And they see in the glory of Jesus the glory of God.

3. They receive the forgiveness of sins.

As God brings them out from under the authority of Satan, and out from under the deception of darkness, into the embrace of the brightness of the glory of Christ, their sins are forgiven for Jesus’s sake.

4. They find their place, their lot, their portion among those who are sanctified.

In other words, their newness is not just legal pardon, but real purity is happening. Sins are canceled, and sins are being conquered.

5. Jesus says to Paul, this is happening “by faith in me.”

In other words, this movement of the soul out of darkness into light, and out of satanic bondage into God’s freedom — this flow of the soul’s longings and desires, embracing and receiving and welcoming and cherishing and treasuring the brightness of the beauty of Christ — that movement, that flow of the soul to Christ that changes everything is called faith.

Let God Use You

So when I said that I long to be an instrument in helping people make the kind of discovery that produces a deep and pervasive and eternal revolution in their lives, that’s what I was referring to. So I am praying, “Lord, apply Acts 26:17–18 to me, to Desiring God, and to Crossway.”

“I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

And I think I have good warrant for believing that you and I may hear a personal commission in these words, because in 1 Peter 2:9, Peter is describing every believer when he says,

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Paul is not the only one who is commissioned to proclaim the beauties and glories and excellencies of the one who brought us out of darkness into the marvels of his light. Everyone who has been given eyes to see God’s glory, everyone who has been released from the bondage of satanic darkness, everyone who is bound to Christ by his supreme beauty and value is commissioned to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

More Than Mere Decision

What I discovered fifty years ago, and now see again in Acts 26:18, was that saving faith is the opening of the eyes of the heart to see and savor the beauty of Christ as our supreme treasure. Or to say it slightly differently: saving faith is beholding and embracing all that God is for us in Christ as supremely satisfying.

Turn to the Light

In other words, when Jesus said to Paul that people are going to turn from darkness to the light, and that they were going to turn from Satan to God, he did not mean that they would turn to the light and find the light boring, or that they would turn to God and find God unsatisfying. If the light is boring and God is unsatisfying, you haven’t turned. The very turning to the light and the very turning to God means turning to the light as what it is: bright and beautiful and compelling and ravishing and satisfying. It means turning to God as who he is: your exceeding joy and your supreme treasure.

And that is what saving faith is. Which, as you can see, means that I have been spending the last fifty years trying to help many Christians become Christians.

Paul was describing the heart of saving faith when he said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Jesus was describing the heart of saving faith when he said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

No Christianity Without Cherishing Christ

In other words, Christian Hedonism, which calls us to pursue this cherishing of Christ as our supreme satisfaction, is not a cute or clever slogan on the margins of Christianity, doing its verbal tricks to get people to look into something more central to the heart of Christianity. Christian Hedonism is at the heart of Christianity. Without it, there is no Christianity. I am not talking about the name but the reality.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Christian Hedonism says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). In other words, the coming of the saving reign of God into a life — the creation of a Christian, the existence of Christianity — is the miracle of the human soul finding the King Jesus to be such a treasure that he is worth more than everything else, and we are willing to part with everything else, not begrudgingly in order to get out of hell into heaven, but in our joy, because the treasure is so beautiful and satisfying. That is the kingdom of God: the reign of God in the hearts of his people. That is Christianity.

Or to say it very straightforwardly, Christian Hedonism teaches that the pursuit of our deepest and longest happiness is an inexorable duty, and that this duty is discharged only when we find that supreme happiness in God through Jesus Christ.

By God, for God

What made this discovery in 1968 so deep and pervasive and permanent was not just that it was taught by God, but that it was taught by God for the glory of God. What lifted this focus on the happiness of man out of the self-centered, self-exalting, self-esteeming egoism of the latter half of the twentieth century (where I lived most of my life), and catapulted it into the heights of the majesty of God, was the discovery that God had commanded our joy in him, because if our hearts are not satisfied in him, he is not glorified in us.

Or to put it positively, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.