Maybe this title is overly dramatic, but maybe not. The followers of Christ are called to be light in the world. This is both the example and the instruction he has left us. It is confirmed by the apostles, and unfortunately, contradicted by some common notions in the American church today.
Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
Light makes our environment knowable. With light, we can see. Without light, we are left to grope in darkness. In our modern vernacular, to shed light on something is to explain it, in full or in part. In this sense, Jesus himself was called the light of the world. Jesus makes sense of life. Believing in his life and teaching means we don’t have to grope in darkness searching for the truth. In Christ, we have the light.
In modern life, electric light is so cheap and common that we rarely spend much time in the dark. We instantly reach for the light switch upon entering a room. Modern life isn’t governed by the rising and setting sun anymore, the way it was for millenia. The convenience of electric light has changed the way we live our lives.
Since light is so valuable and life-changing, it is a wonderful thing to have it in abundance. It is my fervent desire that my generation, my neighbors, my countrymen, my fellow man, would have an abundance of spiritual life. I want them to understand their lives, what is good and bad, what makes life worth living. I want them to know who they are, and who the Lord Jesus is. I don’t want them to suffer in darkness, making choices they would not make, if only they had some light.
The followers of Christ are called to be light in the world. It is our job. We have no business leaving it to someone else. The world needs us.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
What do we do with light fixtures? They are frequently mounted high, so that they shed light over a wide area. They are often directed at a work space, so they we can see what we’re doing, and not have to strain. They are commonly found in stairwells, or other places people might tend to stumble if left in darkness.
For all these reasons, light makes a terrific analogy for truth. Truth makes life knowable, understandable. Truth explains why sin hurts. Truth reveals why we must trust in Jesus.
It’s not that we can’t function in dim light or even in darkness. It isn’t that we have no other senses. It is that we struggle, we strain. Everything is harder that it should be. We can’t work accurately. We can’t walk quickly. Some tasks become virtually impossible. Sometimes we just stop and wait for light.
Why is there a light on the stairs? So you don’t break your freaking leg!
Light isn’t always welcome. When a light suddenly goes on in a dark room, it may be uncomfortable if we have become used to the dark. When we want to hide our actions, light is especially unwelcome. Jesus said that men rejected him for this reason, not because he wasn’t a necessary and helpful light, but because he was.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
John 3:20 (ESV)
The light of truth makes known the difference between good works and evil ones. We, Christians, are called to shine this light, and not to hide it.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Ephesians 5:11 (ESV)
It is a shame and a blemish when we claim that it is not our job to expose the realities of sin. Heaven help not so say such things. The idea that we don’t need to talk about sin is contrary to the doctrine of Christ and contrary to God’s purpose for the church. It is explicitly our job to talk about sin.
Let’s get our language straightened out. We’re not here to pass final judgment on sinners. The Lord Jesus himself avoided doing that when he walked on the earth. That is reserved for the great day of judgment and it will be done with a piercing righteousness that no man is capable of achieving apart from the spirit of God.
But we are here to expose sin for what it is. We are here to make it possible for people to understand the hurtfulness of sin, the guiltiness of sin, the pointlessness of sin. We are here to make a sharp distinction between good and evil. You wouldn’t want the lines to be blurred for our unsaved friends, would you?
Exposing the reality of sin gives people the ability to make better choices. If they sin in darkness, shame on them for the sin, but shame on us for the darkness.
Exposing the reality of sin does NOT give people the ability to lead truly transformed lives. Shedding light on sin does show them why they should want transformed lives, however. The transforming requires faith in Christ and the presence of God’s spirit within them. It will not be fully accomplished until every believer is gathered to Christ.
Exposing the reality of sin does NOT give people the ability to justify themselves in the absolute sense. Repentance itself does not justify. Only faith in Christ justifies.
Letting our light shine means talking about sin, just as Jesus talked about sin. Letting our light shine means demonstrating the goodness of God, just as Jesus did. Letting our light shine means drawing a sharp distinction between the good and the evil.