Summary: Written and published November, 2016. This article is very direct in challenging certain long-held religious ideas which just aren’t true or verifiable by Scripture. What is the Christian believer to this world? What kind of response can we realistically expect to receive when we have to deal with the world? As lights to this world, what results and consequences will we get? Let’s see what Scripture has to say on this topic…
Jesus Christ was God in human flesh come into the world (John 1:14). His coming was into the world which He had created (John 1:1-3). There are many different titles associated with Him, all of which reflect a certain glory upon His person – Son of God (John), Son of Man (Luke), Messiah for Israel (Matthew), and the Servant/Prophet (Mark). The different gospel writers were inspired separately by the Holy Spirit to characterize their writings to bring out these specific titles and the incumbent glory of each. But there is more: Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” and “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness…” (John 9:5, 8:12) John also testifies by the Spirit that Jesus was the true Light (John 1:6-9).
God is light. God is love. God is both love and light intrinsically in His person. These are God’s two intrinsic attributes. All His other attributes are relative – they are defined by some type of association or relationship with something else apart from Himself. But here I speak of light as that which God is intrinsically, “…that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5)
And Jesus was the Light of God sent by God into the world. We know this to be true. But what I want to consider is the actual effect that the true Light of God had on the world when He came. What was the result? What was the outcome? How did darkness, how did this dark world, react to seeing the Light when He came? I believe there is an important understanding which should be embraced by all believers in looking at the results as they are viewed, not as man sees them, but as God sees them in truth. I say this because man’s testimony of the results and accomplishments is so often very different from what God sees and testifies to. It is an important understanding to have as it may then be applied to us, the sons of God in Christ Jesus, the sons of light (Luke 16:8, John 12:36, II Thess. 5:5, Eph. 5:8), and Jesus then implying that in Him, believers are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14).
The simplest way of answering these questions is to ask how did the world treat Jesus when He came as God in the flesh, the Son of God, and the true Light? John answers this early in his gospel:
John 1:10-11 (NKJV)
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
The world not only reacted with indifference when He came, but it showed an amazing non-recognition of the One who was its own Creator. God came into the world He created and showed nothing but compassion, mercy, and grace (John 1:16-17). Yet they chased Him out. The Jews were more sinful than this. Jesus specifically came to them as their Messiah, according to their own promises and prophecies, but they rejected and killed Him (Matt. 21:39). The true Light of God was physically in the world, but what difference did it make?
John 3:19-20 (NKJV)
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
And here we begin to see what the results would be. Although the Light of God comes into the world, men love darkness instead. Darkness suits fallen man because it hides him and the things he does. The Light would expose him for what he is – fallen, lost, and depraved. The Light would expose his deeds, and even reveal his thoughts. Nothing is hidden in the light of God; everything is naked and open. So we see that man in Adam, fallen mankind, hates the light, and he will not come to it. Even the religious Jews and their leaders, those privileged by God far more than any other people, would not come to Him (John 5:38-40).
The Christian believer is no longer a child of Adam. He is a new creation in Christ, the second Adam (II Cor. 5:17). He is born of God (John 1:13) and He stands in an entirely new existence and state. He is “in Christ” and Christ is “in him” (John 14:20, Rom. 8:1, 10). But as believers, we often have some silly thoughts and presumptive conclusions on different bible topics. This is one example: We assume that light does nothing other than attract the unbelieving world. However, the word of God shows us that this is only a foolish presumption. The world hates the light because of its fallen nature, and that its deeds are evil. God’s testimony of the world’s reaction to Jesus as the Light of God is clear in scripture:
John 7:5-7 (NKJV)
For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.”
John 15:22-24 (NKJV)
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.”
Was this an irresistible attraction felt by the world to this One who was titled as “the light of the world”? (John 8:12) The truth of God’s testimony is that when Jesus was in the world, and here showing compassion and grace in the midst of all its misery and suffering, the world hated and rejected Him. They could not tolerate God in their midst. The God who created the world was the same God driven out by the world when He came to visit it. The world wasn’t attracted to the Light. The world does everything it can to avoid the light.
And another broad truth in relation to this comes in here. When Jesus was in the world He did not change it, He did not improve it. When He left and returned to heaven the world remained the same. The god of the world was the same. This world followed its same evil course under its same evil prince (Eph. 2:2-3, Gal. 1:4, II Cor. 4:4). I understand that Jesus will return with great power and authority, and He will change the world by judging it. But His first coming was in humiliation, and not for judging and changing the world (John 12:47). God was here as Light, but the actual result was not what we would have thought.
This is where people are so deceiving themselves, and even Christians, too; they are seeking to improve man and the world. Yet when Christ was in the world He could not improve it! But Christians are attempting to do so, and that shows the folly of even real Christians – that when Christ has been rejected by the world, they will try to do better than He did and make it all right! But Jesus was a much greater light to the world than any believer can possibly think of being. The world outright rejected Him; will we, as the sons of light, experience something different from that of our Master? (John 15:18-21)
The world doesn’t want to change. When Jesus was in the world it did not like Him. The world persecuted Christ and put Him to death, in order to get rid of Him. We live in the very same world that crucified Christ. As believers, our portion now, in the Christian dispensation, is to suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17-18). This means we suffer as He did – not atoning for sins as a sacrifice to God, but the persecution and rejection He suffered from this world. We are His brethren. We suffer with Him, being in the same world that hated Him, if we follow in His footsteps, walking as He walked in this world (I John 2:6).
II Tim. 3:12 (NKJV)
“Yes, and all those desiring to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
This verse hits close to the quick because there is only one possible way of understanding it. If you live godly in Christ Jesus, and I am sure this is only done by walking close with Him and depending on Him for everything, then you will suffer persecution from the world. If you never receive persecution, then how are you living godly in Christ Jesus? There must be something terribly wrong with your Christian life. Mostly it is that we look to much like the world, and not anything like Christ.
Also, Jesus said that His presence in the world testified to the world that its works were evil (John 7:7). Light exposes the real state and condition of anything under its illumination. Mankind was fallen, lost, and utterly depraved. The results of sin coming into the world through the disobedience of the first Adam brought condemnation upon all men (Rom. 5:16, 18). Jesus as the Light of the world exposed this reality. The light shines and it is a testimony from God concerning the condition of man and the state of the world. This is what the light shining to a dark world does, whether it is Jesus or the sons of light.
In some respects, light coming into the world does have an effect – men are ashamed to do in the light what they do in the darkness; but that is it, they are themselves the same, no better. The world improves a little because there is simply more light.
The Christian dispensation is the time for the Spirit of God to gather out of this world those who are to be Christ’s companions and co-heirs (John 15:16, 19, Rom. 8:16-17). It is not the time for saving the world or improving it. The gospel preached and the instrumental work of the Spirit are the means God commonly uses to save individuals, giving them eternal life, and then baptizing them by the same Spirit into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13). As individual believers in Christ we are the light to this world, the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13-16) – but understand that these verses follow on the heels of the Lord’s statement here:
Matt. 5:11-12 (NKJV)
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The real purpose for being a light is the peculiar testimony it is to a dark world. As a believer, we are to walk separated from the world. Christians are pilgrims and strangers here, traveling through, and if we are like Jesus, we find nowhere in this world to rest (Matt. 8:19-20). Our flesh craves rest in this world; but the believer is never to seek it here; the bible always depicts the world as a wilderness, a spiritually dry place with no life. There was no destination in this world for the Son of Man – He was the heavenly Man. The believer has been given a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). Entering God’s rest is the appropriate hope, desire and destination of every true Christian believer (Heb. 4:1, 9-11), and His rest will not be found anywhere in this world. Being a light in this world means we have a separated lifestyle (walk) that attracts the persecution of the world. The rewards for suffering with Christ, as well as God’s rest which we seek to enter in, are in heaven.
The more we become like the world, the more our light to the world is compromised and diminished. If we are cozy with the world, fitting in with it, looking a lot like it, then the world will think we are one of its own (John 15:19). The world will treat us as one of theirs. This is not having a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him (Col. 1:10). It is a life filled with spiritual compromises, worldly cares and interests, and failure. If this type of life goes on for a true believer, and he fails to properly judge himself, then the Father will chastise every son that He loves – if you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons (Heb. 12:5-11). But certainly, it is better to walk in the light, having fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 14:21-23), then it is to walk carelessly and in darkness, needing the chastening of the Lord (I John 1:3-7).
The key to having a walk pleasing to the Lord is to walk close to Him. Christ lives in every true believer. The object of our faith must be Christ. The object of our affections must be Him. The life that we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20). The love of Christ must be that which constrains us – He showed His love by dying for us, and so, we who live should live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again (II Cor. 5:14-15). “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (II Cor. 4:11) How are we doing manifesting the life of Jesus in our walks?
The key to walking close to the Lord is understanding our nothingness, and being able to develop complete dependence and confidence of faith in Him. This dependence is the means by which His grace is available for us to stand and to walk as sons of light in this world (Rom. 5:1-2, II Cor. 12:9-10). It may sound strange, but the Christian maturing spiritually is not by growing more independent of God – that is the pathway of self and sin. Maturing, or as we say sanctification, comes by being more and more dependent on Him, and your mind more occupied with Him. But we, in ourselves, are truly nothing, and Christ is everything. If we can walk this way, then our light shines in this world.
Philippians 2:12-15 (NKJV)
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”