The following is a lightly edited transcript.
The text answers four questions that are important to me and that I believe should be important to you. They are questions about who you are and how you might be of use to the people around you. Here are the questions we’re going to try to answer from the text:
What is the highest and the sweetest and the best and the final good of the gospel — or of the good news which makes the gospel good — that without which, all the other goods of the gospel would not be good? In other words, what is the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel?
What kept you from enjoying it? What hindered you from knowing it, receiving it, seeing it, savoring it, and what keeps the people around you who don’t have it from having it?
What did God do to turn that around? What did God do to change that? How did you come to have the highest, sweetest, best, and final good of the good news?
Is there anything you can do that would help anyone to have it — the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel?
Let’s take these questions one at a time.
What Is the Ultimate Good of the Gospel?
What’s the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the good news that makes all the other aspects of it good, without which all the other aspects would not be good? Here are a few possible answers:
- Is it justification by faith?
- Is it the forgiveness of sins?
- Is it the removable of the wrath of God?
- Is it redemption from guilt?
- Is it liberation from slavery to sin?
- Is it salvation from hell?
- Is it entrance into heaven?
- Is it eternal life?
- Is it deliverance from pain and sickness and depression and conflict?
- Is it the new heavens and the new earth?
You have to feel the weight of these questions, because each one is infinitely valuable. But I’m going to say no — none of these are the answer. None of these infinitely precious gifts are the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel. But, if you have the highest and sweetest and best and final good of the gospel, each one is precious.
Blind to the Light
What is it? I think the answer is given in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 2 Corinthians 4:6. The depth of the answer, the real beauty of the answer, is found when you lay the first on top of the second, noticing the way that 2 Corinthians 4:6 illumines 2 Corinthians 4:4.
Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 4:4 first. “In their case” — that is, the case of the perishing, the lost, the unsaved — “the god of this world” — that’s Satan — “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing . . .” From seeing what? Here comes my answer, which I believe to be the biblical answer to our first question: “The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
“The glory of Christ is the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel.”
Now look at 2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to — and here it comes again — “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Gospel Spells Glory
Now lay the verses on top of each other. Compare the phrase the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God from 2 Corinthians 4:4 with the phrase the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ from 2 Corinthians 4:6. Both of them start with the light, so that’s the same, but 2 Corinthians 4:4 continues with of the gospel while 2 Corinthians 4:6 goes on with of the knowledge.
Gospel is replaced by the word knowledge. Second Corinthians 4:4 continues with of the glory of Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:6 with of the glory of God. To explain the nature of Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:4 uses the phrase who is the image of God. To explain the glory of God, 2 Corinthians 4:6 says that it is revealed in the face of Christ.
Here’s what seems plain to me: the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ. My answer is that the glory of Christ is the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel — because it’s called the gospel of the glory of Christ in these verses. When I ask myself, “Okay, what’s better than that?” I have no answer. The gospel of the glory of Christ is the best.
Two Persons, One Radiance
There seem to be two glories — or are there? There is the glory of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and the glory of God in 2 Corinthians 4:6. Whose glory is it?
Notice that Paul, as soon as he brings up the glory of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4, qualifies the phrase with who is the image of God: “The glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Notice also that Paul, as soon as he brings up the glory of God in 2 Corinthians 4:6, says that it shines most brightly “in the face of Christ.”
So it’s one glory, not two glories. The highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel is the glory of God in the face of Christ or the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, shining forth in the gospel. When I say gospel, I mean the facts, the narratives.
We all know the message of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He rose again from the dead, triumphant over hell and sin and Satan. If there is no glory of Christ, no glory of God, shining from that event into your heart, being savored once there, you don’t have it. The highest good of the gospel that makes the facts of the gospel glorious is glory.
My answer to the first question is that the glory of God in the face of Christ is the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel. The glory of Christ, who is the image of God — that’s the answer. Beauty is best. Greatness is best. Christ is shining the most.
Uninhibited Savoring of Christ
Looking back at the list of other possible answers, we can say that justification by faith is good news. Why? Because it enables us to stand accepted by that beauty, loved by that greatness. It allows us to see that brightness without being incinerated.
That is why justification by faith is great — because it is a good that allows us access to the ultimate good, which is the glory of God in the face of Christ. There is no other reason that it is great. If there’s another reason for you, it may not be yours.
“He lifted the veil. He took away the blindness. He spoke light into your life.”
Take also the forgiveness of sins. Why is forgiveness so precious? Because it removes everything that is an obstacle between me and him, me and the glory, me and the fellowship, me and the beatific vision. It just gets it all out of the way, and I have him.
Or why is eternal life great? Because this is eternal life: “That they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). That’s what Jesus said eternal life is.
What about freedom from pain and sickness and conflict? Isn’t that good? It is very good. It’s hard for me to think about Jesus when I have a headache. It’s hard for me to savor beauty with annoying cancer inside. But that’s going to be taken away. There won’t be any obstacles anymore to seeing and savoring and knowing and cherishing him.
Therefore, I conclude that of all the ten wonderfully glorious and infinitely valuable goods that I listed, none of them are good — except insofar as they are a means of helping me know him, taste him, savor him, treasure him, enjoy him, be engulfed by him, transformed by him.
What Good Is Forgiveness?
Let me give you an illustration, one which made me begin to ask this question years ago. Suppose I get up in the morning and trip over something which I had asked my wife, Noël, to put away last night. I snap at her, who is still lying in bed, “I asked you to put that away. I could’ve broken my neck.”
I go to the kitchen. She goes to the kitchen later, and there’s ice in the air. She has her back to me at the sink, and I know what I need: I need forgiveness.
I want forgiveness. Why do I want it? Why would you want it? Here are some bad answers to that question: I hate going to work with a guilty conscience, or she might not fix supper if she doesn’t forgive me. Forgiveness is worthless in and of itself.
Why do you want forgiveness? You want forgiveness because you want her back. You want her to turn around, her face to soften, words of forgiveness to be spoken, and you want to embrace and to have a clear, sweet, unhindered relationship: “I want you.”
Get God Back
My question for you is, Why do you want to be forgiven by God? Is it just escape from hell? If that’s your answer, then you don’t know him. Is it just to clear your conscience?
Forgiveness is precious for one reason — one ultimate, sweet, high, good reason. We get God back. Everything is out of the way. I have him and no fear. That’s sweet.
Let me restate it for the kids. When I was about thirteen, the same thing happened, just in a different way. I was mad at Ronnie Jordan. I can’t even remember why. We were wrestling and I was getting madder and madder. I finally decided that I was going to squeeze him, so I squeezed him. Then I picked him up off his feet and dropped him. Then I just stormed home.
Now, Ronnie Jordan is my friend. I liked to play with Ronnie Jordan. So what am I going to do? I’ve just wrecked it. I’ve ruined the relationship, and so you know what I need to do. I need to call him up or to walk down to his house and say, “Ronnie, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Would you forgive me so that we can play again? Let’s go play.”
If he says yes, and we go and play, it makes my day. Why is forgiveness precious? It’s precious for Ronnie. It’s precious for Noël. It’s precious for God. I want God. That’s why I want to be forgiven. I can’t have God if I’m not forgiven. My sins have dug a huge chasm between me and him, and I need forgiveness because he’s on the other side. And I want him on this side.
What Keeps Us from Enjoying the Ultimate Good of the Gospel?
Now, the second question. What stood in the way of your experience, or maybe still stands in the way, of the highest, sweetest, best, final good — namely, God himself? What kept you from having that good?
The answer is in 2 Corinthians 4:4. “In their case” — that is, those who are lost, those who are perishing, those who don’t have this good — “the god of this world” — Satan — “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.”
If You Are Bored, You Are Lost
Here is what it means to be lost. To be lost is when you’re presented with the gospel, and it’s really, really boring. You don’t see glory. You don’t see beauty. You don’t see greatness. Paul talks about how the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit, which makes the gospel a stumbling block to them (1 Corinthians 1:23). This text says that they’re blind.
Once upon a time, when I was blind to divine glory, this is how I would have defined myself. To be lost is to be blind to divine glory shining forth from the story of the gospel, shining forth in the face of the Christ portrayed in the gospels. You see the facts, and the facts are not nearly as interesting as the ballgame or sex or food or sunshine or whatever is your superior treasure. He’s not it because you’re blind to his supreme glory.
That’s what it is to be lost. That’s what kept you from coming to him.
Though Christ Be Scorned, We Do Not Scoff
We should not scoff at people like that, because we all were once like that, and you would be like that tomorrow morning without the sovereign keeping of God.
We should weep if you meet somebody like that. You all know somebody like that, and some of them are in your families. Nothing is more terrifying than to sit across the table at a Pizza Hut or anywhere else and to pour out your heart, commending Christ in his glory: “He’s beautiful. He’s beautiful. Don’t you see there’s perfection here? How patient he is, how kind he is, how good he is, how loving he is, how just he is, how humble he is, how sacrificial he was to go to the cross and to die for us. Don’t you see that?”
Nothing. They don’t respond. And that’s terrifying. But we don’t scoff. We weep. We plead. We pray.
What Allows Us to Enjoy the Ultimate Good of the Gospel?
Now, the third question. What happened that enabled you to have the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the gospel? The answer to that question is in 2 Corinthians 4:6. “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.”
We See When God Grants Sight
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s saying that blindness is the problem. There’s no light in this heart. There’s no light of glory. No light of beauty. They’re not seeing beauty. They’re not seeing greatness. They’re seeing a stumbling block and foolishness and emptiness and boredom, and they’re not seeing him for who he is. Even though he has spoken to them in the gospel, they are not seeing what needs to happen.
“No seed comes up without sowing and watering.”
Creation needs to happen. He’s making the analogy between the beginning — when there was no light, and God said, “Let there be light” — and the wayward heart — where there is no light, and God is saying, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6). That’s the analogy here. For God, who said once upon a time, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has done it again and by shining into our hearts.
How did you get saved? How did you come to see the good of the glory of God? The answer is that he lifted the veil. He took away the blindness. He spoke light into your life. He said, “Let there be light.” Before that, it was boring to you. You just were going through motions with this religious thing, and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, it tastes good. It was precious. It was valuable. You stumbled upon a treasure hidden in a field, and you began looking for something to sell to buy that field because this treasure is better than anything (Matthew 13:44).
That’s what it means to be saved: to discover the treasure, the glory of Christ in the gospel. That’s what happened to us. God spoke into our lives.
Resurrections Always Wow
It is a wonderful thing to have a testimony that you can’t remember. I do not remember ever being an unbeliever. My guess is that many of you are in that category, and many of the children growing up in this church are going to be in that category.
Do they have a testimony? They have a massive testimony. It goes something like this. “I was born a dead and blind man or woman, and 2 Corinthians 4:6 happened to me. God said into my little heart, ‘Live. See.’ That’s why I love Jesus.” That’s what they need to be taught.
Adults in many churches need to be taught how they were saved as well, because they don’t know how they were saved. They haven’t been taught, and therefore they’re not giving God the glory that God ought to have. We have a youth minister at our church who spoke to our young people last spring to help them to come to terms with how to give testimony of their own experience.
Now, I think that when you share the gospel, you’re not sharing your experience. Your experience is a good thing to share now and then. The youth minister said, “Every one of you has an amazing testimony because resurrection from the dead is never boring.” I just think that’s awesome. It’s awesome to say to every young person, “You were dead, and now you are alive, and you can say that with the authority that comes not from your memory — but from the Bible.”
That’s what makes a testimony so powerful.
Eyes Opened Wide
I was dead like Lazarus. God said to me, “Johnny, live.” I was six. At least, my mother tells me that’s when it happened. I have no idea when it really was. What I know is that I can see. I can taste. When I read the gospel, I am blown away by Jesus.
I know people just like me who couldn’t care less. Why is that? We love to hear stories, and here’s one from an email. This is a Jewish person, a man in the Netherlands who listened to a sermon I preached when we were constructing an education building. It was going to cost four million dollars, so I was preaching ten sermons on education for exultation. Build a building for the building of lives. We didn’t make that one up. We borrowed that one.
Here’s a guy in the Netherlands who is Jewish and is listening to a building program sermon. Here’s what he wrote about Desiring God:
God bless everyone who reads this. I can’t believe it took two whole years to understand what is said in this audio sermon. I am a Jew, a Christian Jew as of two minutes ago. I believe that Jesus is God. Jesus is Elohim. He who has the Son has life. My eyes went open.
That’s the phrase I underlined when I read this email: “My eyes went open.”
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 is said in Jewish culture. It is not common to pronounce the Father’s name since we don’t know how it is pronounced.
Just today I was angry with God. I said to him, “Why are you letting me search without finding answers?” Well, now I found it. Jesus is Elohim. I will make sure this message will get spread out here in Europe. I’m from the Netherlands. I can’t believe it. Well, actually, I do believe it. Jesus is Elohim. Praise Jesus. Praise Elohim. Two years, nothing, and then two minutes ago, my eyes went open.
That’s how it happens.
Can We Do Anything to Help Others See?
Last question. Is there anything you can do to help that happen for your friends, family, colleagues? Some people might say, “Okay. Well, if God is that sovereign, and hearts are always dark like it was at the beginning, and there was nobody there to help light come into being, and there was only God to do it, no one can help light to come into being in people. God’s going to do it. We just have to wait.” One of the differences I make between churches and theologians and friends is, Are they governed by their perceived logic, or are they governed by the Bible? You can smell it pretty quick. We deal with a Bible person here or a logic person there, who thinks that he can weasel around and contradict Bible things because of logic.
I don’t like that kind of person. I don’t like to hang out with them either, but the answer to his question is given in 2 Corinthians 4:5.
Where the Lord Is, His Servants Are
Between 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 2 Corinthians 4:6, between blindness and sight, something was done by a man, Paul, and his sidekicks: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Between blindness and sight, we are proclaiming Jesus as Lord, “with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”
Whenever you have words about the lordship of Jesus coming out of Paul’s mouth, you have a demeanor of servanthood. He gets under people to lift them up, not to lord anything over them. Those two things are very powerful. You leave either of them out, it weakens everything.
“Worship is not a means to anything. It's the end of everything.”
You have the truth of the Lord Jesus being spoken, and you have a person who’s a servant, ready to die for the person he’s talking to. Now that’s powerful. My answer to the question, Is there anything you can do that God might be pleased to use to bring about light in a dark, dead heart? is yes. Indeed there is: you can speak the lordship of Christ into their lives, and you can be a servant to them.
I’m going to give you two passages of Scripture to undergird that. These passages have been determinative for me. They have governed my understanding of how to be a human agent in service of a sovereign God. How do blessings get mediated to people from a sovereign God? What are the intervening means that God has? That’s huge for a church to understand and for you to understand.
Removing Blindfolds Is a Family Business
Look at Acts 26:17–18. Paul has just been knocked off his horse on the Damascus road. He’s seeing glory, and Jesus has something to commission him to do. What he says is mind-boggling because now we know, according to 2 Corinthians 4:6, that God must open the eyes of the blind. Here’s what he tells Paul to go and to do: “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light” (Acts 26:17¬–18).
Doing What God Has Done
That’s what today’s texts in 2 Corinthians have been about, from the power of Satan, who’s blinding them, to God. Both issues, light and Satan, are in this text. Only here, God says, “Paul, you go do it. You do what only I can do.” Isn’t that amazing? The Bible is a risky book. It’s willing to say things that are really risky: “I raised the dead. I opened. I save. Now, you go and do that.”
Of course, the implication would be that God is also saying to Paul, “Go and do that in my power, by my strength, totally dependent on me to do it through you.” That’s what he means. “Go. Open their eyes. Go do that, Paul. Go. Pray like that and preach like that and serve like that, and I’ll use you. I will use you to do that for dead people and blind people.”
Getting the Gospel Out
Now, I read 2 Corinthians 4:7, which is in the next paragraph, because right at this moment, we should really feel like helpless clay pots. Shouldn’t we? “God is sovereign, and God gives light to the blind. I’m just a nothing here.”
No. This glory rides in clay pots, or he doesn’t ride. God has brought you into this process as a clay pot, and he means for the clay pot to do the evangelism and to do the praying, and he’s going to use the clay pot to make sure he gets the power. But, he will not do it without the clay pot. There’s no point in you praying for somebody in a darkened tribe in Papua New Guinea, who has never heard the gospel, to believe in Jesus at the moment you pray, “Get them the gospel.”
Send the gospel and get them ready to hear the gospel. When the gospel is met, life can happen because the Holy Spirit is poured out, according to John 16:14, to glorify Jesus. If there’s no Jesus in the head, and no Jesus in the eyes, why would God open the eyes? There’s no Jesus to believe in. You put him there, and the Holy Spirit may open their eyes.
####Know How to Deal with the Devil
This brings me to my second text, 2 Timothy 2:24–26. It has been one of the most important passages of Scripture in all my ministry for how to understand my counseling, my preaching, my exorcisms.
What do you do with the devil? How do you deal with the devil? I have had one very unmistakable exorcism in my experience, where there was a demon-possessed person in another wild and dangerous personality, and God delivered her. That’s very scary. I wouldn’t want to be in too many of those, but you should be ready for it with the word of God. You don’t have to be an expert in this. You just need to know a lot of Bible because the devil hates the Bible.
Words and Servant-Hearted Works
Ordinarily, the devil is knocked out this way, which comes from 2 Timothy 2:24–26. Here’s how it begins: “The Lord’s servant . . .” Servant is an important word because Paul said, “I came as your servant,” proclaiming that he was a precursor to the light going on in the person’s life (Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 3:7).
“Sovereignty speaks, ‘Let there be light.’”
Paul continues, saying, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone” — now you have moral character traits that are important for the ministry here — “able to teach” — now you have words coming out of the mouth — “patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” — back to moral traits.
You can see that teaching is embedded in a particular kind of person: not quarrelsome, kind, patient, gentle, and always teaching, teaching, teaching. Word and servanthood. Word and love.
Colors Sweetened, Facts Affected
Now, look at the second half of 2 Timothy 2:25. “God” — in that context, counseling session, sermon, witnessing at Pizza Hut — “may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Now, that means spiritual truth. That means the kind of light that’s going on in the heart in 2 Corinthians 4:6. Unbelievers already have knowledge, but not this kind. Because only repentance gets a person this kind of knowledge.
Something needs to change inside for this knowledge to come in. I’m thinking about Jonathan Edwards here: This is the knowledge of honey that doesn’t say, “It’s brown, and it’s sticky, so it must be honey.” That’s one kind of knowledge. Here’s another kind of knowledge: “I don’t care what color it is, and it doesn’t matter if it’s sticky, because I know that’s honey.” That’s another kind of knowledge that comes through repentance, through the miracle of the taste buds being cut free from their dead, callused condition that enables the world to taste good and Jesus to taste bad.
Repentance Brings Freedom
Then comes the demonic part, in 2 Timothy 2:26: “And they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” You can see by the logic here. Now that they have experienced the freedom that comes from light and truth and sovereign repentance, they may escape from the snare of the devil.
And So We Sow
In both Acts 26: 17–18 and 2 Timothy 2:24–26, you have two issues. You have a demonic issue, which ties into 2 Corinthians 4:4. Then you have a light issue. They’re blind. And the solution in all those texts is twofold. First, God has to do it. Second, he does it through people who are teaching and who are not quarrelsome but are kind, patiently enduring evil, and gentle.
So you better believe that there is something you can do to bring about this miracle. You don’t do the miracle: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7).
We’ll get our reward for faithfully planting, faithfully watering. No seed comes up without sowing and watering. You are massively important in your city, in your family, in your relationships. God does his miracle through you. He does his miracle in tandem with your word. God may grant repentance when you are teaching the gospel to your friend with a humble, servant-like, ready-to-die-for-them spirit.
Dead People Leap When Sovereignty Speaks
Let me sum up what we’ve seen. First, the highest, sweetest, best, final good of the good news is the glory of God and the face of Christ standing forth from the gospel story and the gospel events in the face of Jesus Christ supernaturally perceived, tasted, savored, embraced, treasured. This is the end of the line. It’s not a means to anything. Worship is not a means to anything. It’s the end of everything. Savoring Jesus with fullness of joy, at God’s right hand, with pleasures forevermore, is the end of the quest (Psalm 16:11).
Second, what kept you from enjoying that was that you were blind, and the devil had a big hand in that.
Third, the solution to that problem was that, just like God created life at the beginning, he created light in your heart. Sovereignty speaks, “Let there be light.” You can’t explain it any further than you can explain what is happening when you turn on a light switch. Sure, you can use language for it, like electrons, but what in the world are those?
Fourth, you can walk through your city and can see miracles happen in people’s lives. You can speak the gospel, and you can love people.