Last week, we took a look at the prohibition Paul issues to the church of God in 2 Corinthians 6:14. He uses the agricultural image of animals being yoked together to pull a plow in order to illustrate the fundamental incompatibility between believers and unbelievers. His point, particularly, is that just as yoking together two fundamentally different kinds of animals will result in incongruity and discord, so also are believers and unbelievers two fundamentally different “breeds.” And any intimate association or spiritual partnership between them will eventually only result in dissonance and difficulty. To partner them together and expect them to plow in the same direction is foolish, and will only end in spiritual disaster.
After laying out this principled prohibition, Paul further illustrates the diametrical opposition and essential incongruity between genuine believers and unbelievers by means of five rhetorical questions—each of which inquire of compatibility between a pair of things that are the absolute antithesis of one another. These questions outline five fundamental differences between believers and unbelievers that illustrate the absurdity of their being yoked together in common spiritual cause.
Governed by Different Rules of Life
First, believers and unbelievers are governed by different rules of life. Paul asks, “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?” (2 Cor 6:14). Righteousness speaks of obedience to the law of God, whereas lawlessness speaks of rebellion to the law of God. Paul is asking what partnership obedience and rebellion to the same law could have with one another. They are diametrically opposed.
So too, then, are believers and unbelievers, because the rule of life that governs the unbeliever is the rule of lawlessness—the rule of rebellion to the law of God (1 John 3:4). You may say, “But I know plenty of unbelievers and they don’t seem lawless to me. They actually seem like nice people!” But what is the greatest commandment in the law of God? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Well that is impossible to do apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, because “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father” (1 John 2:23) and, “The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son” (1 John 5:10). However outwardly moral and polite they may seem, those who do not trust in Christ alone for salvation do not love God; they show contempt for God every moment of their lives by calling Him a liar concerning the testimony He’s given concerning His Son, and so their lives are characterized by rebellion, governed by lawlessness.
Titus 2:14 says that Christ has redeemed His people “from all lawlessness,” because that is the rule of our lives before we come to salvation. That’s why, at the end of the age, Jesus will call those whom He will send out of His presence into hell forever, “You who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7:23): because apart from saving faith in Him, it is lawlessness that characterizes our lives.
But as believers, we are no longer governed by lawlessness, but by righteousness. Christ has become our righteousness through faith in the Gospel (1 Cor 1:30). By God’s grace of imputation, we have become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). And that justifying righteousness issues in progressive, practical righteousness: “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Rom 6:19). Those who are genuinely united to Christ in saving faith are governed by righteousness as a rule of life. The true child of God delights in the law of God. We are eager to obey, and to root out all lawlessness from our lives.
How then could there be any partnership—any common spiritual cause—between those who are governed by antithetical rules of life?
Subjects of Different Kingdoms
Paul’s second question is: “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). And I say that these relate to different kingdoms because of Colossians 1:12–13, which says that God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” and thus “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.”
In Scripture, light represents knowledge and truth, holiness of life, and blessedness; whereas darkness represents ignorance and error, sinfulness, and misery (Hodge, 543–44). And so the unbelieving world is under bondage in the domain of darkness. The very essence of unbelief is that though Light has come into the world, men loved the darkness rather than the Light (John 3:19). Unbelief is the darkness of having our minds blinded by the god of this world, so that we might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). And unless God intervenes, the wretched end of all unbelievers is to be cast into hell, which is represented in Scripture as outer darkness (e.g., Matt 8:12).
And yet God Himself is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). And so He has called His people out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). Where there was the blindness of unbelief, God has shone into the hearts of believers the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Therefore, Paul can, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8) and, “You are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness” (1 Thess 5:5).
There is nothing more incompatible and mutually exclusive than light and darkness. Where there is the one there is not the other. So how could we expect there to be any fellowship between light and darkness? To think that the children of light might partner together and have spiritual or ministerial fellowship with the children of darkness is as ludicrous and foolish as to expect it to be both light and dark in the same place at the same time.
Ruled by Different Kings
And believers and unbelievers are subjects of different kingdoms because they are ruled by different kings. In verse 15, Paul asks, “Or what harmony has Christ with Belial?” The Lord Jesus Christ is the very embodiment of righteousness, while Belial (i.e., Satan) is the embodiment of lawlessness. Christ is the ruler of the kingdom of light, while Satan is the ruler of the domain of darkness.
And what harmony exists between Christ and Satan? The word “harmony” is the Greek word sumphonesis, from which we get the word “symphony.” The word has the sense of two parties working together in a coordinated way and on a common task. But do Christ and Satan agree on anything? Do they ever come together to make common cause? No, they are fundamentally opposed to one another! Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), while Satan is the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). His supreme dedication has always been to undermine the purposes of God. Even his name, Satan, means the Enemy, the Adversary.
Every person in the world is ruled by one of these two different kings. Those who belong to the domain of darkness are ruled by the prince of darkness. Those who have been transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son have been made to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. Those who are outside of Christ are children of Satan (John 8:44), but to as many as received Christ, He gave them the right to become children of God (John 1:12). To expect that there can be spiritual or ministerial harmony between the children of God and the children of the devil is as unthinkable and blasphemous as the Holy Son of God linking arms with Satan himself in common spiritual cause.
Possessed of Different Worldviews
In the second part of verse 15, Paul puts it plainly: “Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” There is no more basic a statement you can make than to say X can have no partnership with not-X.
Now, a believer in Jesus versus an unbeliever in Jesus are possessed of fundamentally different worldviews, of mutually exclusive ideologies, of radically opposed fundamental convictions. The believer puts all his faith, all his hope, all his trust in the person of Christ and in the promises of Scripture. The unbeliever puts his trust in himself, or in this world, or in the fruitless philosophies of man-made religion, and scoffs at the authority of God’s Word. The believer’s life revolves around Christ, and making much of His glory, magnifying His name throughout the world. The unbeliever’s life revolves around himself, making much of his own glory, and doing everything he can to make a name for himself in the world. The unbeliever craves the praise of man; the believer craves the reward of Christ. The unbeliever’s treasure is laid up on earth where moth and rust destroy; the believer’s treasure is reserved in heaven where it can never perish or fade.
And while it’s true that we share a common human nature, that we’re both made in the image of God, and we live in the same world, in everything that truly matters in life—our hope, our trust, our passions, our convictions—believers and unbelievers share nothing in common.
To Be Continued
And the fifth fundamental difference that Paul outlines here we’ll save for next week, as that launches us into a whole study of how we as believers are the very temple of God itself, where the infinite and eternal God makes His dwelling place.