The following is a lightly edited transcript
You’ve heard that my mission statement is that I exist, and Bethlehem Baptist Church exists, to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And therefore, it’s a high and sacred privilege for me to be among so many spreaders, people who are on the cutting edge of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God. So know that this is a very significant thing for me to be with you, and I thank you for the trust that you’ve given me to be here. The theme is: People of the Mission, Captivated by God and Called to the World. In my first message I gave the title Captivated by God through the Gospel. I want to probe with you the question of how God captivates people.
I have in mind two groups of people, the lost and the saved, because God captivates the one to get them saved, and God goes on captivating the other to keep them saved. Being saved is not an automatic thing. I believe mightily in the perseverance of the saints, but it’s not automatic. God keeps us day in and day out by opening our eyes and keeping us captivated by him over all other captivating forces. So I want to talk about how that happens.
It happens through the gospel — that’s the title — and then I have five questions and here they go. This is my outline: First, What is the gospel? Or more particularly, what is ultimately the most final, decisive, highest, best good in the gospel that makes the gospel good news? Second, What is lostness? Third, What is conversion? Fourth, What is your function in that? What’s the role of people and mouths and lives in conversion? And fifth, What’s the role of teaching — what comes out of your mouth in bringing people to be captivated by God? That’s my outline. You could use the words Gospel, Lostness, Conversion, People, and Teaching if you want to take notes.
The Light of the Gospel
There’s a text, if you have a Bible and you can see it in the dim light, go with me to 2 Corinthians 4. This text has become more huge to me than ever in the last three months because I have written a book called God Is the Gospel based on a meditation on these verses. It’s just a couple of verses for a book that’s about 180 pages. I would like to read with you as you follow along 2 Corinthians 4:3–7, and then we’ll tackle the question: What is the gospel?
Listen for the answer. I think it’s plain from the text, but we’ll unpack it for a few minutes. Second Corinthians 4:3–7 says:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case 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. 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. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
What Is the Gospel?
That is a great passage of Scripture. So what’s the gospel according to that text? Let’s ask it this way: What in the gospel is the best, highest, final good that makes the gospel good news? I’ve walked through all the things that we usually think of as the gospel, asking, Is that it? For example, is it justification by faith? Is it the forgiveness of sins, which Paul calls redemption? Is it the removal of the wrath of God, which Paul calls propitiation? Is it liberation from the bondage of sin? Is it escape or rescue from hell? Is it entrance into heaven? Is it eternal life? Is it deliverance from pain and sickness and conflict? Now, the last thing I want to be heard as saying is that the magnificent, glorious, awesome list I just named is in any way minimized — but that’s not the highest, best, final good that makes the gospel good news.
In fact, I would say if all of those glorious things that I just listed don’t lead to something else, they’re not good news. It is possible to believe all those things and never embrace that for which they are intended for you to embrace. All of those things are taking you somewhere and if you don’t get there, you’re not saved. Where are they taking us? Where are justification, forgiveness, redemption, propitiation, rescue from hell, entrance into heaven, eternal life, and deliverance from pain and sickness and conflict taking us? This verse is very clear, so let’s read it again. I want you to see a parallel between verse four and verse six:
In their case (the perishing) the god of this world (Satan), has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Now drop to verse six to see the parallel. Paul says that this God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts to give — now watch the parallel — “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In verse four, you have “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” and in verse six you have “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So then light parallels light, gospel parallels knowledge, glory of Christ parallels glory of God, and image of God parallels face of Christ. That’s an amazing parallel. The illuminating effect of seeing those things on top of each other is mind boggling. It has blown me away in these recent months as the implications of the parallels between verse four and verse six have opened themselves to me.
Now, if I were to ask: What is the essence of the gospel? Most of you, I hope, would be like me and you would go to 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, which says:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
That’s the event of the gospel. But events in history are not good news in the 21st century, or in eternity, unless they have an effect. Therefore, it doesn’t work to say the death of Christ for sin and the burial and the resurrection are the heart of the good of the good news. They are the purchase of the good of the good news. The good of the good news (I’ll say it now from verse 4) is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Or to say it in the words of verse 6, it is the glory of God in the face of Christ — seen, savored, embraced, treasured, and increasingly satisfying your soul forever. That’s the heart of the gospel.
If that doesn’t happen through the death of Christ, justification, and eternal life after hell is escaped, you’re not saved. Christ is the gospel, God in Christ shining with satisfying glory is the heart of the gospel. If we don’t get people there, we don’t get them saved. Now just make sure you see the word gospel. I want you to see this for yourself in the text so that you can go back to your campuses, and with the three texts that I’m going to look at with you, unpack in a wonderful way what you have seen here. Second Corinthians 4:4 says it is “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So what is the gospel about? It is the gospel of the glory of Christ. That’s what the gospel is about. So the highest, best, final good is not justification.
Necessary, Not Ultimate
I wrote a book on justification. I love justification. Few things make me soar like the thought that another righteousness is imputed to me; but so what? The point is that in my new acceptability to God I get God. Standing righteous is of no significance to me if it doesn’t gain me admittance to my treasure. Do you see the difference? So when we’re celebrating all these things — and we should sing hymns and songs and spiritual songs about justification — it’s all because it gets obstacles out of the way to Jesus. So justification is not the heart of it.
To give an example, why do I want to be forgiven when I mistreated my wife? I want her back. I don’t want just good feelings in my conscience. I don’t like her back turned to me at the kitchen sink. There’s ice in the air. I want her to turn around so I can see her face to face and have all be clear and get her back. That’s what forgiveness is about. It’s not mainly about the removal of bad feelings of guilt.
What about eternal life? Jesus said this is eternal life that they know me and him who sent me (John 17:3). What about the removal of wrath? I’m glad when wrath is lifted off of me, but into what? Nothing? No — into pleasures forever more in his presence (Psalm 16:11), beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ. What about freedom from pain and sickness and conflict? What about restoration with your loved ones in heaven? All those things are secondary and are means to enjoying Christ.
This first of the five questions is obviously the longest. If we ask, What is the highest, best, final good that makes all the other parts of the gospel good news? the answer is: Seeing, savoring, enjoying, being satisfied by, and treasuring the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. That’s the gospel.
What is Lostness?
Second Corinthians 4:4 tells us very plainly what lostness is:
In their case 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.
To be lost, that is, to be perishing and hell-bound forever, is to be blind to glory. Every student you want to win to Jesus has a fundamental problem of blindness to glory. Lostness is blindness to spiritual light. Light is really shining out of the gospel. As you unpack the gospel to people and do it faithfully, biblically, and under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, light shines. The fact that people don’t see it is irrelevant to the reality of the light. Their problem is blindness.
It’s not the problem of the light. Spiritual light is shining out of the Bible and shining out of your mouth, your face, and your life, when you are radiating the love of the gospel and displaying the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Oh, how we long to see that lostness turned around.
What is Conversion?
Second Corinthians 4:6 describes it very plainly:
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.
My prayer as I come to Campus Crusade, among other prayers, is that God may grant to Campus Crusade a united vision of the gospel as the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; to have a united view of lostness as blindness to glory; and to have a united view of conversion as the opening of eyes to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Paul looked into faces like the ones we’ve all looked into on every campus, even within our families and our churches. We’ve looked into the faces of people whom we’ve opened the gospel to. We’ve described Christ in his justice, wisdom, love, truth, patience, mercy, and goodness, and described his death and all its sufficiency to cover all the sins of all who believe in him, and described the resurrection and his triumph over the devil, hell, sin, and guilt, and then we’ve looked and seen their faces totally blank, hard as a rock, and blind as a bat. Our hearts ache and break for the blindness in the natural mind and the natural heart.
I’m saying conversion is a miracle. We just sang it in one of those songs. It said, “You came down from heaven and opened my eyes that I might see.” God has to do for everyone what he did for Paul on the Damascus road, not as dramatic, but just as miraculous. We’ve all experienced it, at least, if you’re saved, you have. I hope this is the way you would describe what happened to you. Once Christ wasn’t beautiful to you. There was nothing compelling in the gospel. The cross was foolishness and a stumbling block. It was boring. You would rather watch television, go to the football game, or hang out with friends. This religion stuff was absolutely uninteresting.
But then late one night, someone shared with you and you can’t explain it — a veil was lifted and your eyes were opened. The same page that once was absolutely blank and boring became radiant with life, beauty, and hope, and you were saved. God opened your heart and you suddenly were captivated and compellingly taken. You could no longer turn away. It was the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. And when you looked at what you had before, it was husks and ashes. That’s conversion. That’s the way people get saved. That’s the way we all came to Jesus.
Eyes Wide Open
Let me read you one description. I got an email from a man in the Netherlands who was Jewish. He wanted to describe to me how a message that he had heard online converted him. Listen to the amazing event of conversion, as this man listened to the word of God 3,000 miles away from where it was recorded.
Monday, April 4, 2005, 6:09 PM — God bless everyone who reads this. I can’t believe it took two whole years to understand what is said in the audio sermon Education for Exaltation in Christ. I am a Jew, and a Christian Jew since two minutes ago. I believe that Jesus is God. Jesus is Elohim. He who has the Son has life.
God used that audio sermon to crush the mind of this stubborn Jew. I must say that I had troubles with the Father’s name being pronounced, as in Jewish culture it is not common to pronounce the Father’s name since we don’t know how it is pronounced, but I decided to go on and listen. My eyes went open. Just today, I was angry with God, and I said to him, “Why are you letting me search without finding answers?” Well, I found it now — Jesus is Elohim. I will make sure that this message will get spread out here in Europe. I am from the Netherlands. I can’t believe it. Well, I do believe it. Jesus is Elohim. Praise Jesus. Praise Elohim.
What an eloquent statement of conversion — “My eyes went open.”
Now here’s the practical, and I hope for you, massively encouraging part. The next question is: What do messengers have to do with this miracle? Up until now, you haven’t even been in the process. But now the Bible is really clear and massively encouraging to Campus Crusade. So here’s question four, how do people get involved?
What Do Messengers Have to Do with This Miracle?
Now I want you to go to a separate text. All my three answers so far came from 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, but now my fourth answer regarding messengers comes from Acts chapter 26:17–18. The reason I go to Acts 26 is not because I flip a coin, but because I want to hear the word of God address the issue of blindness and satanic involvement in the lives of students in relation to my ministry to them. That’s what this text is about. You’ll hear the parallels between this text and 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, which is what makes this text so helpful as you go home and unpack what you heard to your band of students someday.
This is Paul hearing the word of the Lord commissioning him. We’ll start in the middle of Acts 26:17. It says:
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 you hear all the parallels with 2 Corinthians 4:4? Eyes need to be opened, and you will open their eyes. Darkness needs to be escaped into light, and you will be the instrument of them seeing light out of darkness. Satan needs to be broken and conquered in their lives because he’s the great deceiver and blinder, and you will be the one, Paul, who defeats the devil in their lives.
Now, if I had started with this text, frankly, at this moment, I would be devastated. Am I going to open blind eyes? Am I going to make divine light visible? I am going to defeat Satan? He’s 10 million times stronger than I am! But I did not start with this text because that would be a mistake.
So let me put the two together; this is what is so massively encouraging to all of us clay pots: God sends Campus Crusade to do what he alone can do. That’s your mission. God sends you to do what he alone can do because he will not do it without you. God is not into moving through unreached peoples and unreached campuses and just vertically dropping on people with regeneration.
He does not do it that way. He always drops on people through the gospel, spoken by human beings, which is why this organization is so massively fruitful and used so significantly by God. It’s because it has been so riveted into your minds for the last 60 years or so that people get saved by the preaching of the gospel, even though only God can open eyes, only God can defeat Satan, and only God can shed light abroad in the heart, just like only God at the beginning could say, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
The Bitterness of Blindness
I hope the way you feel that land on you is like a great relief. Jesus is saying, “My burden is light and my yoke is easy, go save the world.” You can’t do it. You can’t perform the miracle you want to happen, and so you cry, you weep, you stay up all night, and you meet for five meals while their face is looking at you like what you’re saying is a totally foreign language. Every evangelist has tasted that pain.
Do you quit? Do you say, “I guess I don’t have the ability.” It isn’t you. You must be faithful. You must tell the truth. I’m going to say more about that tomorrow — the fullness of the truth that needs to be spoken. But what relief that comes from hearing a text like 1 Peter 4:11, which says:
whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
And that’s just talking about what is going on here in the church, not to mention what’s going on out there where he must open eyes. So my answer to question number four as to how people are involved is that you must go and you must speak the gospel with your mouth and you must display the gospel with your lives.
Remember Paul said, “I complete in my afflictions what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1:24). That’s almost a heretical verse, because nothing is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by way of atonement. But what about by way of offer and display? Jesus died so that his afflictions and his sufferings would be offered and displayed to every student you know. Where are they going to see it? I’ll tell you where — in your suffering. Paul says, “I complete in my sufferings what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” that is, “I stay up late, I get up early, I make the hard phone calls. I will do anything to display the love of Christ to people.” And that’s part of the gospel as well.
What is the Role of Teaching in Conversion?
I’ve made you essential. Jesus said, “I am sending you to open their eyes, that they may pass from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” That’s Jesus talking to you. What are you going to say and what are you going to do, since you have become essential? My last text, and I invite you to go there with me, is 2 Timothy 2:24–26. I’m going here because I hear again in this text the miracle of illumination, deliverance from Satan, you as essential in conversion, and you as inadequate in conversion. It’s all here. So now let’s be encouraged by our role in the impossible. We’ll start at verse 24, listen to yourself being described here:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
And what have you done in all of that? You have patiently taught, you have endured evil, you have corrected with gentleness, you have been kind, and your mouth has been teaching again and again and one night, God let it happen. One night God says, “Let there be light” in that person you love and have been wrestling with for three of their university years. And they are broken. The light goes on, the devil flees, and they are free to see the captivating glory of Christ and freely embrace him. Freedom means doing what you want to do, and conversion means opening the heart so that people can see Christ as irresistibly desirable and therefore freely embrace him. And you feel like the three years of struggle, tears, prayer, witness, and pizza were worth it.
Treasure in Jars of Clay
Let me sum up these five answers and then pray with you. First, may God grant to Campus Crusade, as a movement corporately and as individual leaders in all the ministries, to have a unified, deep sovereign grasp of the gospel as all those things that I mentioned, but at the core of it the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. What makes it good news is that when you see it, savor it, embrace it, and treasure it, it is all-satisfying forever. That’s what you have to offer students, which is 10,000 times better than all the things they think will satisfy them. So my first prayer is: May Campus Crusade grasp the gospel.
Second, my prayer is that you may have a unified, deep, sobering sight of lostness — a brokenhearted, sobering sight of lostness as blindness to the glory of God.
Third, my prayer is that you may have a fresh, clear, glorious vision of conversion as what God does in saying, “Let there be light,” and there is light. May he make you encouraged and emboldened to reach 2,000 new campuses.
Fourth, I pray that you will have the sense that you are a clay pot, like 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, so that all the surpassing power will be manifested as God’s and not yours. He’s the one who says, “Let there be light.” He opens eyes. He defeats the devil. Let’s go to the campuses because all we do is speak the gospel and love the people, and God saves the sinner.
And finally, I pray that he will make you very eager to teach the whole counsel of the gospel of Christ and thus be taken captive by it and be captivating for others.