The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 1 Corinthians 4:4-6, NIV
Last Monday marked the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon. What an amazing achievement that was! I was listening to an interview on the BBC with the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and they were playing sound archives from NASA’s mission control, including the marvelous words of Neil Armstrong: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
There was also a man speaking on behalf of a small but vocal group who, 40 years later, do not believe that the moon landing actually happened. This man was very articulate. “Where is the evidence for the moon landings?” the skeptic asked. He believed that the pictures were doctored. As far as he was concerned, the whole thing was the massive conspiracy of a few thousand people to deceive the public.
When I googled it, I found out that a Gallup poll in 1989 said that 6% of Americans do not believe that the moon landings took place, and that 5% were undecided.
Radical skepticism and the gospel
What produces that kind of radical skepticism? I don’t know. That would be a great subject for some psychologist to explore. I don’t know what disposes some people to disbelieve in the moon landings, but the Bible does tell us what lies behind unbelief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not a theoretical issue. It is deeply personal. Think about people in your life who are deeply resistant to the Gospel. Do you have family, friends or colleagues who do not believe? Is there someone you love who is a skeptic? They have heard the Gospel many times but it makes no difference—it does not make an impression, it does not move them in any way. What’s going on with them?
We’re going to take a trip inside the mind of an unbeliever today. You may say, “How can you possibly do that? Isn’t it arrogant to think that you know what’s going on in another person’s mind?” God knows what is going on in the mind of every person—those who believe in him and those who do not. This is his Word, and he is telling us what is going on inside the mind of an unbeliever.
Inside the Mind of an Unbeliever
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4)
Paul is talking about unbelievers—people who do not believe the Gospel—and he says, “The god of this world (that’s Satan) has blinded their minds!” If you are blind, it means that you cannot see what is there. These folks have heard the Gospel, but they don’t actually see it; they don’t get it. It makes no impression on them. What exactly is it that the unbeliever does not see?
The unbeliever cannot see the glory of Christ
They cannot see… the glory of Christ. (v4)
The unbeliever hears about Jesus, but does not see much in him. If this person comes to church, he or she may be impressed by the building, impressed with the music, or impressed with the warmth of the people. They may even say, nice things about the preacher, but they will not be impressed with Jesus Christ, because the unbelieving mind is not capable of seeing the glory of Christ.
You can discuss and debate all kinds of issues with someone who does not believe, but at the end of the day the fundamental difference boils down to this: You see the glory of Christ and they do not. The unbelieving mind cannot grasp the glory of Jesus. They can’t see it!
Have you noticed that the world’s religions do not see much in Jesus? They offer moral teaching, a way of life, a code of behavior, a social hub, rituals for worship, but they do not see much in Jesus.
The religions of the world acknowledge Jesus as a prophet (one of many) or even as a deity (one of many) or a teacher, an inspiration or an example, but for the religions of the world the face of Jesus Christ is always one among many. As far as the unbeliever is concerned, his portrait hangs with all the others on the same wall. The unbelieving mind cannot see the glory of Christ.
The Gospels tell about a man who came to Jesus with a question. He said, “Good teacher…” Jesus stopped him right there, “Why do you call me good when there is only one who is good, and that is God? If all you see in me is that I am a good teacher, you haven’t even begun to see who I am.”
The unbeliever cannot see the light of the gospel
The gospel of the glory of Christ. (v4).
What is the gospel? What is the “good news?” It is the gospel of the glory of Christ. Everything we have to say to the world is about Jesus Christ and about his glory—the good news of his incarnation, his perfect life, his atoning death, his wonderful resurrection, his reigning at the right hand of the Father, and the promise of his coming in glory—the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ. It is all about him.
If you don’t see much in Jesus, you won’t see much in the gospel. You will hear the gospel, but it won’t sound like something that could change your life, so you will always be looking for something else. The gospel never sounds like the answer to the unbeliever. He hears the gospel, but he cannot see its light. He does not find hope or joy or comfort or peace in Jesus Christ. He remains in darkness.
Paul says this is Satan’s work, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” This is the wretched condition into which all human beings are born and from which we need to be redeemed.
If the sole problem of our fallenness was ignorance, all we would have to do is tell people the gospel. Then every time you told someone the gospel they would say, “Oh, now I know it!” And they would be saved. But that doesn’t happen. Why? Because the problem is deeper than ignorance, the problem is blindness. When you tell the unbeliever, he doesn’t see it, he doesn’t get it!
From anger to compassion
I want us to see how understanding our wretched condition apart from Christ is profoundly helpful for us as we pray for and long for unbelieving friends and relatives to come to Christ.
When I read this verse I think about a friend in London who grieved for many years for his daughter, who went into a deep rebellion in her early teens. She made life at home extremely difficult for both her parents, and when she left home she broke their hearts.
We had many conversations about this. He spoke to me about his exasperation, and he said, “Not only am I exasperated by her, but there are times when I am furious with her.” Do you know what that’s like? You are so frustrated by the stubbornness of someone you love, and who you’ve prayed for for years. And he knew that wasn’t getting him anywhere.
One day he told me how God had helped him, and he quoted this verse: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” He said, “If the blindness is real, she really can’t see what I see in Christ. It’s not just that she doesn’t want to see. She really can’t see! That helps me. If you know that a person is blind, you don’t get angry with them, you have compassion for them.”
Being angry with the unbelieving world doesn’t get you anywhere. You may say, “Didn’t Jesus drive out the money changers?” Yes, but he is the sinless Son of God. To us he says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” James says, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God requires” (James 1:20).
Now I want you to see the transformation that regeneration brings to an unbelieving mind. I want us to look inside a Christian mind, and then for us to see how God brings this about.
Inside A Christian Mind
For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
Paul is speaking here about Christian believers. God made his light to shine into our hearts. What do Christians see in Jesus?
We see God in Jesus
… Christ who is the image of God. (v4)
The glory of God in the face of Christ. (v6)
In the light of the Gospel, we have come to see God in Jesus Christ. He is God with us, the Bible says. He is God in the flesh. He is the image of God.
God is invisible. So how in the world could anyone ever come to know him? And the answer is “No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only who is at the Father’s side has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus is God in human form, God with a face. You cannot know God apart from Jesus Christ.
We see glory in Jesus
… the glory of Christ who is the image of God. (v4)
The glory of God in the face of Christ. (v6)
We see glory in Jesus because he is God with us. That’s why Christian faith can never be purely intellectual. To become a believer—by definition—is to become a worshipper. Why? If you see the glory of God in the face of Christ—that’s what faith is; that’s what it means to be a believer—you won’t just say, “I believe.” You will worship!
Your mind and your heart will be gripped by the wonder of his incarnation, the beauty of his perfect life, the power of his amazing words, the glory of his miracles, the love that the perfect Son of God should take my sin on him and become the atoning sacrifice for me, the glory of his life-giving resurrection, the glory of the day of his coming that still lies ahead. We see glory in Jesus. That’s why we’re not just believers, we’re worshippers!
We have knowledge through Jesus
…the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (v6)
here is a sense in which every Christian will always be saying with Paul, “I want to know Christ.” But it is also true that we already know him: “God made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (John 17:3). None of us knows him fully, but if you are a Christian you know him truly. He is our Father. You are in relationship with him.
That is important in a culture that values doubt more than confidence. Uncertainty is cool; “We’re all on a journey.” Earlier generations took a journey to get some place, and the whole point was that you should arrive there. Today, we live in a world where people talk about being “on a journey,” so that the traveling itself is more important than where you are going.
We have the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and that knowledge is light for us. How does this transformation happen? How did these Corinthians—all of whom were at one time unbelievers, blinded by Satan so that they could not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ—how did they come to have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus?”
Paul was writing to the Corinthians, the Las Vegas of the ancient world. Just a few years before his letter was written, there wasn’t anyone who’d ever heard of Jesus. How did these people, and how did you or I, ever come to the knowledge of God in the face of Christ?
Inside God’s Miracle of Regeneration
We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5-6)
Two things are happening here: We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord; God makes his light shine into human hearts.
Regeneration happens through our work of preaching of Jesus Christ as Lord and God’s work of shining his light into human hearts. Regeneration is a work of the Word and of the Spirit. In the New Testament, we are told that we are born of the Spirit of God (John 3:8) and that we are born of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
Our work: Proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord
We do not preach ourselves… (v5)
The reason we don’t preach ourselves is very simple: I can’t change a single life and neither can you. Think of an unbelieving person that you have been praying for. Are you able to change their life? No. So what do we do? We do not give them generic statements about God, or about how to do life. We preach Jesus as Lord.
I get anxious when I hear professing Christians talking much about God, but hardly ever about Jesus. I picked up a book of Christian testimonies in England, and browsed through it. It gave ten remarkable personal stories of lives that had been transformed from radical dysfunction to order in life.
As I skimmed the pages, I kept seeing “I felt God’s presence,” “I asked God into my life.” I could not find a single reference to Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that the change in these folk’s lives was real. But was it Christian?
It is a great tragedy of our time that it is possible to attend a Christian church and hear little or nothing in the preaching about Jesus Christ; to attend Sunday school and learn Bible stories, but not to know that they are all there to teach us about Jesus Christ.
Satan is comfortable when churches talk generally about “having God in your life.” That plays right into his strategy of saying that all religions get you to the same place, and it keeps people blind to the unique glory of Jesus Christ—which is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Paul says, “Our ministry is to exalt Jesus Christ, to lift him up as Savior, Lord and God.” In our mission statement we say that we want to multiply “God centered, Christ exalting and world transforming believes through the Gospel…” “Christ exalting” comes before “world transforming,” because we can’t change the world. Only Christ can do that. That is why we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.
How we pursue this ministry
…and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (v5)
The way we live does not affect the truth of the Gospel. A Christian living well does not make the Gospel more true, and a Christian living badly does not make the Gospel less true. But a Christian living well makes the Gospel plausible.
We live in a self-loving, self-serving, me-first world; and where people see a community of people who love Christ and humbly serve others for his sake, the gospel will get some attention.
Some of you know how much I have appreciated and benefited from the ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. His grandson now lives in the States, and I wrote to him a few weeks back to express my appreciation for his grandfather’s ministry. He wrote back with these personal comments on his grandfather:
I like to think that the reason his sermons caught hold was because his focus was always on the cross. He believed that if you can turn people’s focus squarely onto Calvary and the wonder of God’s forgiveness, then the changes in their lives will inevitably follow.
Or, to put it in awful English that would make my grandfather shudder… You can rarely convince someone that they’re wrong by telling them that you’re right. In fact, we’re ALL wrong, and there is only One who is right. In his family, he was an immensely humble man, and I think that drew people to him.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)
God’s work: Shining the light into human hearts
“But,” you say, “what is the point of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord to people who we just said “cannot see the light of the Gospel?” Isn’t this the ultimate formula for frustration?
This question is so compelling that the church is always under pressure to talk about everything else except Jesus Christ. We must talk about the family. We must talk about money. We must talk about purpose. We must talk about the things that the unbeliever gets, everything except Jesus Christ as Lord.
The great mystery of God’s grace is that, through the humble proclamation of the Gospel, God shines his light into human heart. Here is the great paradox of ministry: If we preach what the unbeliever can see, he won’t see. We must preach what the unbeliever can’t see, so that he will see. Jesus said, “As I am lifted up, I will draw people to myself.” (John 12:32)
Not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved. Some remain in darkness. But God shines his light into human hearts through the Gospel, and it is in this way that people come to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This is what it means to be a gospel-centered church; a church where the unique glory of Jesus Christ is held up. I can’t imagine a greater motivation for giving my life to than the work of proclaiming the glory of Jesus Christ; can you? Let’s give our lives to the work of the Gospel—to live it, to breathe it, and to speak about it.
Thank God for shining his light into your life. Pray that he will do it for others. Let’s give our lives to a humble Gospel ministry.
 British Broadcasting Corporation…
 Personal correspondence from Jonathan Catherwood, May 01, 2009