by Bob Burridge ©2011
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16,
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Notice Jesus didn’t say that his listeners should become light for the world. He told them that they, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, are in fact already the light of the world.
Light has many meanings in Scripture. It is used to symbolize God’s true knowledge, goodness, truth, righteousness, joy, gladness, blessing, and so on. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” Jn 8:12. John called Jesus “the true light … coming into the world” (Jn 1:9)
In this verse Jesus calls his followers the light of the world. We are not light all by ourselves. Our light comes from Jesus Christ. We have often been compared with the moon. The moon gives off a lot of light, but it is only reflecting the sun’s light. All by itself the moon would be very dark.
God made light and all the things that produce it in our universe. In recent history we have started to realize something of the amazingly mysterious mechanisms that cause light to be given off. For example, atoms can give off light when they are heated. According to the model we use to study this, the electrons absorb energy and “jump up” away from the nucleus into higher energy levels away from the nucleus. When they are in this “energized” state we say they are “excited”. Eventually an electron will drop back to its ground state and give up that extra energy by emitting a packet of light.
When we become energized by the power of the gospel at work in us, we become in a sense “excited” about what God by grace has done for us. Just as an excited electron must emit light, so must the citizens of God’s Kingdom emit the light that energizes his life. When we are truly his, and believe without reservation every promise God has given us, how can we not be excited to radiance by God’s indwelling grace? God put us here to promote his glory in the world. We do it by living the way he created us to live.
Lights are lit to be seen. We who are redeemed by Christ are like a city set on a hill. It will be clearly visible to everyone. God doesn’t save us to hide us away to live under-cover lives. He places us on a hill for all to see. We are redeemed to shine for Christ. The Bible says so. To refuse this calling is moral rebellion against the Lord.
Lamps are not lit to be hidden under a basket. That would not make sense. Lamps were put on a lampstand, a high pillar, beam, or shelf where they could light up a room at night.
We are to shine before men. They should see the good works God produces in us, and give him the glory for it. The fruits of Christ at work in us should be made visible.
For example: the characteristics of the beatitudes which Jesus had just finished listing (verses 3-12) should show our redeemed condition to all those observing our lives.
- Those transformed by grace by the work of the Savior …
- are poor in spirit. They understand their spiritual need and dependence upon God.
- mourn over their sin – for its offense against God.
- have a gentle spirit.
- hunger and thirst for righteousness above everything else in life.
- are merciful – reflecting God’s mercy to others.
- have purity of heart before God.
- make peace among God’s people.
- are willing to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
These characteristics demonstrate God at work in us. This is light that ought to shine from lives touched by grace. Romans 2:19 says that Christians are “a light to those who are in darkness.”
The light that shines from our lives should not direct people to our own abilities and accomplishments, but to our Creator and Redeemer. Our works are not for our own honor and glory. It would be the worst kind of thievery to take credit for God’s work.
We should shine our light to improve the world we live in. However we need to keep in mind that it’s not the behaviors that change the world. It’s what causes those behaviors, the work of our powerful God.
The darkness of sin has infected the world’s politics, economics, education, law enforcement, security and morality. These will only be improved when the hearts of individuals are changed by the gospel of grace.
Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “the great hope for society today is in an increasing number of individual Christians.”
One of the main themes of Scripture is the presence of God’s Kingdom. The presence of the Kingdom can make a difference in our world. Even imperfect Christians, when their faith is acted upon, can have a positive influence upon this corrupt world.
We are to work to maintain the world, and to use its resources to provide for our daily needs. We are to worship, honor, and obey God in all our thoughts, words, and works. We are to trust in him as our Creator, Redeemer, Provider, Father, and King. God also calls those redeemed by grace to represent him to others.
Our problem isn’t going to be solved by passing more laws. Things will only improve by changing the hearts of those who crave to do what is wrong. Our problem isn’t the abundance of guns, drugs, TV’s, video games, or rock stars. It’s too little hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and too much trying to satisfy our needs in ways God forbids.
The pessimism we see so prevalent today, both outside the church and within it, comes from a tragic failure to believe God’s promises. The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16). Our Savior can take a heart of stone and replace it with a new heart. The gospel can take haters of God, and transform them into his children.
The solution for dispelling the darkness in our world is not found by cursing the darkness, or by trying to push it out, or by passing laws against it. It is not found by setting out on a hopeless quest for the perfect leader, political party, or budget. It is found in letting the light of Christ show brightly in your life. We must be emitters of God’s light to the world in which we live.
The light that should be shining in us is more than just the words of the gospel message. It includes our actions, God-honoring lives that people can see.
Many of the good things we do are done privately, but others should see the evidence of our Christian faith in our lives. They should see a different attitude than the world has, different standards and goals. We should not measure success by how popular, good looking, smart, or rich we can be, but by how faithfully we value God and his ways.
Our friends aren’t chosen by how much fun we have with them, or by how they can benefit us, but by our concern for them in the Lord, and how we can together grow to be like Christ.
The purpose of godliness isn’t to make people envy you, or look up to you. It’s to direct them to the glory of God, your Heavenly Father. This means that good deeds done very humbly should be connected with a clear testimony to God’s love and power in your life. They should know by your conversation and obedience that the Lord is your strength, enabler, and hope.
In Matthew 6 we see the danger and hypocrisy of fasting done for personal glory. Our light that shines is not supposed to be a show of piety that exalts us, but a humility and dedication to our responsibilities that proves the power that Christ can have in the redeemed heart of a sinner.
When we behave in a way that is self-absorbed, rude, or greedy we are showing that our Christianity is just a set of beliefs which have no connection with a power able to transform us. We need to be thinking all through every day about how we might let our light direct people to Christ.
When we humbly serve God, take care of our responsibilities well, worship faithfully, do our best to show love and kindness to others, and give God all the glory, that’s when we shine with the gospel light and others will be shown the goodness of our Heavenly Father.
Proverbs 4:18, “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.”
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)