To Those Who Are Perishing

January 25th 2024



To Those Who Are Perishing

Among the most sobering passages in the New Testament, in my opinion, is 2 Corinthians 4:3–4, which reads, “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.”

A Heartfelt Concern

Needless to say, there is infinitely more to unpack in that doctrinally weighty passage than I am able to address in this brief blog post. Nevertheless, my intent with this article is not so much to exposit the aforementioned text, as to highlight why, in my opinion, it warrants our thoughtful and serious contemplation.

As those who, by God’s grace (Eph 2:8–9), have been saved from his wrath by the blood of Christ (John 3:36; 1 John 1:7), it can be uncomfortable for us to confront unbelievers with the biblical truth, regarding the eternal consequences of their remaining in a state of unbelief (2 Thess 1:8–9; Rev 20:15).

Yet, only the most ungrateful of professing believers would have no concern or regard for the salvation of unbelievers (2 Pet 3:9). As the 19th century evangelist, John Newton (1725–1807), once said, “…when we look at transgressors, we are not to hate, but to pity them, mourn over them, and pray for them; nor have we any right to boast over them, for by nature, and of ourselves we are no better than they.”[1]

Newton’s exhortation is relevant to our consideration of 2 Cor 4:3–4, in that Paul describes unbelievers as “those who are perishing.” The word perishing denotes a state of spiritual destitution (condition) and alienation from God (position). Ponder that reality for a moment. Have you ever considered unbelievers in the way Paul describes, as “those who are perishing”?

Perishing is precisely the spiritual state that you and I were in at one time.

A Heavy Reality

Prior to God mercifully removing the veil of unbelief from our hearts, by faith in Christ (2 Cor 3:16), you and I were in a state of hopeless alienation from him (Eph 2:12). The 17th century Puritan minister, Richard Baxter (1615–1691), explains the significance of such spiritual estrangement, saying,

Now, the Scripture tells us that the state of an unconverted man is this: he sees no great felicity in the love and communion of God in the life to come, which may draw his heart thither from this present world, but he lives to his carnal self, or to the flesh; and the main bent of his life is, that it may go well with him on earth; and that religion which he has is but a little by the by, lest he should be damned when he can keep the world no longer; so that the world and the flesh are highest in his esteem, and nearest to his heart, and God and glory stand below them, and all their service of God is but a giving him that which the world and flesh can spare. This is the case of every unconverted man; and all who are in this case are in a state of misery.[2]

That unbelievers are perishing should weigh heavily upon the hearts and minds of every follower of Jesus Christ. Why? Because, as Paul makes clear in 2 Cor 4:4b, the god of this world has blinded them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory Christ. Such darkness is the malady of all human conditions for, unlike bodily disorders, it is a spiritual affliction that only God himself can remedy (Ezek 36:26; John 3:16, 4:10, 6:44a).

A Humble Posture

Reflect, if you will, on the spiritual darkness in which you walked prior to God bringing you to faith in Christ (1 Cor 1:30). In what ways were you prevented by the god of this world from seeing the light of the gospel? In 1 Pet 4:3, the apostle Peter provides us with a rather stark reminder of what our old life was like, prior to God mercifully unveiling the gospel of the glory of Christ within our hearts, saying, “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”

Now, lest you be tempted to read Peter’s words and feel a sense of pride rising up within you because you no longer “carry out” such fleshly desires, as are mentioned in that text, my counsel to you is to guard your heart against such an attitude (Prov 4:23). Knowing that it is only by the unmerited grace of a merciful heavenly Father, that you and I are no longer perishing, should humble us, not make us proud (Ps 75:4–5; Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:23).

Consider that sobering truth against this exhortation from the 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892), who said, “Always fight for the lowest place. If you aspire to be last and least, you will not have many competitors; there will be no need to demand a poll, for the lowest seat is undisputed.”[3]

A Heavenly Charge

Though, as followers of Jesus Christ, you and I no longer live to carry out the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19–21; 1 Pet 4:2; 1 John 3:9), we nevertheless struggle with the remaining sin that indwells us (1 John 1:8), and will continue to struggle with it for as long as we are in this sinful world. Humility, not pride, should be what motivates us to share the gospel with unbelievers (Ps 25:9; Matt 28:19–20; Eph 4:2). For in sharing the gospel with those who are perishing, we are reminded that we were once perishing ourselves (1 Cor 6:9–11).

[1] John Newton, Forty-one Letters on Religious Subjects (United Kingdom: Religious Tract Society, 1831), 286. [2] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (United Kingdom: Religious Tract Society, 1862), 342. [3] Charles Spurgeon, “Conversion and Character,” Answers in Genesis, November 17, 2021, sermon originally published on September 18, 1913, https://answersingenesis.org/education/spurgeon-sermons/3372-conversion-and-character/.

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Author: Darrell Harrison