“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Well, there it is. We are called to be “the light of the world”. We must fundamentally change the world we live in. Doesn’t sound like an easy job does it? Before we agonize at the difficulty of the job that we have as believers though, we must first understand how we are to change the world. How can we be the light in the world, especially when it seems so intent on doing its own thing? This question gains new traction in our present time when the nation is in what seems like a very ridiculous upheaval over RAFRA in Indiana. It has always been a fundamental goal of Christians in the US to be heavily involved in politicking for public conscience and biblical morals. The problem is that, while we may have an obligation to be involved in the public square as citizens in this country, this has nothing to do with being the light of the world. In fact, most Christians don’t even have the opportunity to be involved in these things around the world, but they are given the same mission that we are here in the US. As Christians we are to be in the world, but separate from it. 2 Cor. 6:14 says that we should have no fellowship with darkness. James says that pure religion is to remain “unstained” by the world. In 1st John 2:15, John says that we should not love the world or the things in it. On and on the story goes. As Christians we are to maintain a measure of uniqueness which should distinguish us from the world.
Some Christians take the call to distinction to mean that we are to build walls all around us so that we don’t know or interact with any non-Christians at all. We remain in our Christian clicks and ignore the rest of the world. The problem is that this runs up against another command of the Christian life where Jesus Himself says that we are to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). Or, what He says during His ministry when He tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). If we are busy building walls to keep us from the world around us we have to sacrifice one of the charges Jesus gives us in favor of the other, and if we are hiding from the world people will never recognize Christ in us.
Another approach which Christians take is to try and change society through politics, process, and petition. This affects our mission that Christ gave us as well. It does so firstly in that it can often change us. It can make us angry, arrogant, and cause us to resort to the same processes of coercion that are common in the world. This doesn’t sound like remaining unstained by the world. We are not as Christians called to create a kingdom on earth in which everyone believes and behaves like us. We are actually called to the opposite in John 15:18-19 where he writes the words of Jesus saying, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” We are not called to change the world we live in to conform to our image. This is an impossible task. The world has different values, it has different goals, and it wants nothing to do with God or His standards of righteousness. The world hates God. We can’t pass a law to change this hatred because it is part of the sin nature that we are borne with. We should expect the world to live in a way that contradicts God’s word. We should expect the government to be unjust, corrupt, and immoral. We cannot stop that, and frankly, it has never been our job to do so. I know that part of living in a democratic system is adding your voice to government, but, in a way, we should always expect to be lonely as we desire to live in the midst of a world that hates God.
So what does it mean to be a light in the world that remains distinctly Christian in the midst of people and places that are distinctly not Christian? The way that we become a light in the world we live in, the way we change the world is through the gospel. Jesus tells us to go into the world, not with a social message, not with a political message, not even with a moral message. Jesus tells us to go into the world with the gospel message. First we live the gospel message so that people recognize Christ, and then we share the gospel message. We don’t change the world, the gospel changes the world through the power of the holy spirit. As Christ changes people’s lives through the gospel, then God will change their moral, social, and spiritual outlooks. God does this because He can and we can’t. As Christians, sometimes we think that it is our job to change people’s behavior. This is not the task that Christ gave us and frankly this is a relief because it is impossible for us to change people. We only need to be faithful in living and proclaiming the gospel. What does this mean for our daily lives? It means that we shouldn’t be too concerned with everything that is going on in the political or social arenas. The world will do what it always has done, and will give an account for those things. We simply need to be concerned with the gospel. This is our singular mission. Live it out, be unique, and share it at every opportunity. This is what we need to be more concerned about than anything else.