“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
The Contrasts of God
Good and evil (Rom. 12:21). The righteous and the wicked (Ps. 1). The wise and the foolish (Prov. 1:7). The saved and the lost (Luke 19:10). The elect and the non-elect (Rom. 9). Believers and unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:6). Sheep and goats (Matt. 25:33). The wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:21). The narrow path and the wide path (Matt. 7:13.) Eternal life and eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).
Scripture repeatedly presents to us God’s truth in terms of contrast, of thesis and antithesis. Polar extremes are presented to us in the Word because, in God’s mind, there are ever and only two options: His and not-His. What may often appear to us as shadowy or unclear is due to our finite apprehension and temporal perspective. Yet with God, as the half-brother of our Lord tells us, “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
We understand that though God’s thesis may seem to change according to our perspective, it never does in His. For example, we understand that goats never become sheep. The as-yet unsaved sheep has, in fact, been a sheep from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The sheep who doesn’t yet know they’re a sheep will, according to the good and perfect timing of God, be saved in time by the power of God in His gospel (Rom. 1:16, Jn. 10:28). What may appear to us as a sin-bound, condemned-already goat may actually be a sheep awaiting God’s glorious redemption. While we don’t know who those are, God does, and He has commanded us to proclaim His truth through which His Spirit will extend grace, grant faith, and redeem. His thesis stands though our view is limited.
“Someone came to Spurgeon one time and said, ‘Mr. Spurgeon, if I believed as you do, I would not preach like you do. You say you believe that there are the elect, and yet you preach as if everybody can be saved.' Spurgeon's answer was, ‘They can all be saved. If God had put a yellow streak up and down the backs of the elect, I'd go up and down the streets lifting up shirt tails to find out who had the yellow streak up and down his back. Then I'd give that person the gospel. But God didn't do that. He told me to preach the gospel to every creature and that whosoever will may come.' That is our marching order, and as far as I am concerned, until God gives me the roll call of the elect, I am going to preach the ‘whosoever will' gospel.” J. Vernon McGee
Though the “yellow stripe” story attributed to Spurgeon has been deemed spurious, McGee's attribution provides a valuable principle: God commands us to obey His Word despite our lack of complete knowledge. But often, though the mind of God in Scripture is black and white, we create gray. Where the Word presents the two perspectives of thesis and antithesis, we dangerously create synthesis. At best, our shadowing efforts are a failure to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). At worst, they are the fruit of selfish motives seeking to accommodate our sin with a reworked reading of God’s Word. As old an endeavor as Eden, such compromise of God's Word is rampant in the contemporary church. In such current matters as the feminist and homosexual agendas, evangelicals are seeking to synthesize the perspicuous teaching of Scripture with the popular demands of culture.
Thesis and Antithesis, Not Synthesis
Yet to create such a Scripturally untenable, not to mention forbidden (Deut. 4:2, Prov. 30:5-6, Rev. 22:18-19), synthesis is to disregard one of the most prevalent contrasts presented to us in the Word … Light and Darkness. The Scripture tells us that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is a feature of divine creation, but it is also a description of God Himself. The antithesis of light, darkness, is not merely the absence of light, but the absence of God’s presence, truth, and salvation. Light means spiritual understanding, darkness means spiritual ignorance. The believer has been given light while the unbeliever suppresses the light of God's truth (Rom. 1:18). Believers have no cause for confusion from the darkness, nor any right to compromise with it, for “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
Merely three verses into Scripture, light and darkness are featured. “Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from darkness” (Gen. 1:3-4). God opens His holy revelation to us with thesis and antithesis. Two things are presented to us – light and darkness. Light is created by God, declared by God as “good,” and is then is divinely separated from the darkness.
This act of divine division is a pattern consistent of God throughout the Word. He sovereignly chose Israel to be a people of His own possession and separated them “out of all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6-8). Paul reminds the Gentile saints in Ephesus that they had been “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” and “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), and so they would have remained except for the sovereign “But God” act of their salvation (Eph. 2:4). Difficult though it is for contemporary evangelicals to reconcile with their culture compromising endeavors, we are told that Christ, too, came not to unify the world in peace, but to divide it according to truth: “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
The Word Is Light, Christ Is Light, God Is Light
The Word of God refers to itself as light. In his epic, Word-exalting Psalm, David says that “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105) and that “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130). Solomon echoes this in Proverbs, saying, “the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light” (Prov. 6:23).
“The Bible is not the light of the world, it is the light of the Church. But the world does not read the Bible, the world reads Christians! ‘You are the light of the world’.” Charles Spurgeon
As the inscripturated Word is light, so too is the incarnate Word. In one of His seven “I AM” statements recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus states the matter plainly, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:32). Believers will readily affirm, with Jonathan Edwards, that “Christ is the true light of the world; it is through Him alone that true wisdom is imparted to the mind.”
Because “God is light” (1 Jn. 1:5), so too must the perfect and complete Word of God be nothing less than divine light, with the gospel of our Lord sparkling as the brightest gem in its kaleidoscope of truth. As John Calvin noted, “The Lord does not shine upon us, except when we take His Word as our light.” Believers know that it is the light of the gospel, graciously applied by the Spirit of God, that causes us to be born again (John 3:7). As Jesus opened the eyes of the physically blind during His incarnate ministry, so too does His Spirit open dead, sin-darkened eyes, calling us to His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Cor. 4:3-4
James says, “He has brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Likewise Paul, in his second letter to the saints at Corinth, refers to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The apostle says this “light” has not been revealed to the perishing, but “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:1-6). Perishing goats may hear a sermon, but, as Christ says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). The condemned-already (John 3:18) goats face a divine, and unfavorable, eternal division by the judgment of our Lord (Matt. 25:33).
Holiness, An Effect Of The Light
As our salvation is Spirit-produced by the “light of the gospel,” so too is our growth in holiness and understanding of the Word an effect produced by God’s Spirit-attended Word. The Psalmist points out that “the unfolding of Your words give light” (Ps. 119:130) which refers to the Spirit’s continuing illumination of the meaning of Scripture to the believer in whom the word of Christ is to richly dwell (Col. 3:16). Our ongoing sanctification is an assurance of our apprehension of the light of the gospel, as well as an effect of it. As Puritan John Owen has said, “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and living out of the gospel in our souls (Eph. 4:24).”
The temporal effect of the gospel light in our hearts graciously causes us to love holiness and increasingly hate the sin with which we must continually contend and for which our beloved Savior was crucified. Our love for Christ produces the antithesis in a holy hatred for sin. Consider Thomas Manton’s observation about the effect of “true light” in the believer:
“Foundations totter that are not laid deep enough. The more true light a man hath, the more cause of self-abasement he will find in himself. You can never magnify Christ enough; and you can never debase self enough; and certainly Christ is most exalted when you are most abased, Isa. 2:19. Dagon must fall upon his face if you mean to set up the ark; and if Christ be precious to you, you must be vile in your own eyes; none have such revivings as the humble, Isa. 57:15-16.”
Manton’s words are, no doubt, to be met with frigid frowns in the current climate of evangelicalism in which self, rather than Christ’s glory, is exalted. But the gospel, rightly understood, is, far and above, about Christ and not us. The Lord’s own gospel call is to deny self, take up a cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). The glory of the gospel is a paradox of thesis and antithesis. By the power of God, the gospel makes the sinner a new creation, grants forgiveness of sin, and gives the knowledge of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, which is eternal life. The gospel saves, sanctifies, and glorifies the sinner (Rom. 8:29-30). But in showering these extravagant blessings on the sinner, the gospel yet exalts Christ and diminishes the believer. In the face of the gospel of grace, we respond as John The Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). As Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
The Marvelous Light Of Worship
As we come to worship, let us understand that we have been the undeserving recipients of the greatest gift in all of God’s creation. We have, by grace, been given “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4) Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the “Light of the world,” has given us eternal life (Jn. 10:28), which is knowing God and His Son (Jn. 17:3). He has sovereignly, graciously, divided us out of the darkness giving us the “light of life” (Jn. 8:12) The light of Christ's gospel has, by the Spirit’s power, made us a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). We have the light of God's unimpeachable Word through which He divinely guides our path in this world of God-defying darkness (Ps. 119:105) and by which we are steadily being conformed by His Spirit to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29, 1 Jn. 3:2-3).
As God’s Book opens with the introduction of light so too does His book close with an incomprehensible description of light in the eternal state. “I saw no temple in it, for the LORD GOD the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22-23). Our worship is to Him whose glory is indescribable light and who has prayed (John 17:24) and promised (John 14:3) that where He is, so too shall we be.
Though we sojourn in this world of spiritual darkness, let us walk and worship in the marvelous light of our Lord. Let us keep our minds dwelling richly on the light of His Word so that we will not be as those who, as John Newton said, stumble not for “want of light but for want of eyes.” Let us praise Him for the amazing grace of our God who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16). Let us gather to worship the Lord who is the Light of the world, and let us scatter to proclaim His brilliant glory to the darkness, for “from Him and through Him and to Him” (Rom. 11:36), He says, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).