Communities of Light, Part 2 (Practical Implications)
In yesterday’s post, I provided some biblical-theological reflection on the theme of “light” in Scripture. These biblical truths and gospel realities are foundational to our identity as God’s people and instructional to our mission in the world. In particular, I would like to argue that communities of light are (1) counter-cultural, (2) confessional, and (3) compassionate.
The most obvious implication of being a light-embodying community is the qualitative distinctiveness we are called to bear in a world characterized by darkness. We a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). God delivered us out of the domain of darkness that we might put the character of God on display in a world that cannot bear to see the light. As God’s representatives, we are commissioned to reflect God’s holiness and righteousness in a world characterized by ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). As God’s representatives, we are commissioned to hold fast the world of truth as lights in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation” (Philippians 2:14-16).
As a counter-cultural community, followers of Jesus have a responsibility not only to avoid fellowship with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14), but they must expose their unfruitful works as well (Ephesians 5:11). The temptation with this responsibility is to excuse the unnecessary offensiveness of irresponsible and often times foolish behavior of immature Christians. The knee-jerk reaction to wrong-headed approaches to be a counter-cultural community of light tends to downplay the significance of being light. This is rather unfortunate because the illustration of darkness and light could not be more stark in contrasting terms, and the responsibility of believers to be a distinct counter-cutural community more clear in its calling. Time and again, we are commanded to cast off the works of darkness and walk in the light (Luke 11:33-36; John 12:35-36; Romans 13:12-14; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:3-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; 1 John 1:5-7). If we are going to be the people of God, we must faithfully live out our identity as children of light and fulfill our mission of declaring the excellencies of God who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
Before I go on to the next practical implication, we must be careful to avoid one major assumption. The basis of us being counter-cultural is not being moral in our behavior or conservative in our values. What makes us counter-cultural is Jesus. He is the light of the world. We have entered His kingdom and submitted to His reign and rule. He is the one who has made a new humanity and sets the grounds on which we live and move and have our being. To the extent that we embrace the gospel and its implications in all of life and unreservedly submit to His rightful and universal claim as Lord is the degree to which we can legitimately consider ourselves a counter-cultural community of light.
Another practical implication of being a community of light is a confessional people who deal honestly and directly with their sin. It does not matter what we say: if we walk in darkness (a pattern of sin and worldliness), we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6). On the one hand, believers are not defeated by the effects of sin because of the power of the gospel to transform and sanctify. On the other hand, believers do not adopt a superficial or naive approach to sin either, living as though sin is not big deal or even worse that sin is not an issue at all. John says such persons are deceived and the truth is not in them (1 John 1:8-10).
Communities of light are confessional because we want to say the same thing (confess) about our sin that God does. Why? Because we want to walk in the light as He Himself is in the light (1 John 1:5-7). We want to fellowship with God and know Him experientially, profoundly, and personally. Therefore, we welcome the convicting work of the Holy Spirit to mortify sin and magnify Christ. The word of God is living and active in our lives to expose the thoughts and intentions of our hearts and leave us, at our very core, naked and exposed because we have no need to hide (like Adam and Eve in the fig leaves). Instead of worldly sorrow that brings no change, we are sorrowful and yet every rejoicing in an atmosphere of repentance that celebrates the ongoing work of the gospel to conform us into the image of Christ.
Communities of light know that darkness comes with pretending to be better than we really are and performing in ways to make self-atonement for our sins. Because we have been criticized on the cross and had all our sins publicly exposed for all eternity in the death of Jesus, we have nothing to hide. We are so wicked that God had to send His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and yet we are so loved that God would not withhold Him that we might be adopted into His family. Because of that, we confess Christ, acknowledge our sin, and experience waves of renewal as we see with fresh eyes the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
A final implication of communities of light is they are compassionate. Jesus teaches us that, because we are the light of the world, our good works are intended to be seen by others so that they will glorify God (Matthew 5:16). As a gospel community, the primary “good work” of believers is that we love one another as Jesus has loved us. It is by this kingdom ethic that the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35). In other words, the brightest light in the Christian community is the deepest love that extends among all believers toward one another.
Again, it does not matter what you say. You may profess to be in the light, but if you hate your brother, John says you abide in darkness and walk in darkness (1 John 2:9-11). A compassionately caring community will not only love with “word or tongue” but in “deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18). We will not just love the lovable or those who are just like us. The love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) will unite a radically diverse community of people around the gravitating attraction of the King of glory who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20). It is simply impossible to claim to be “light in the Lord” if you have no track record of compassion for others in your life.
Though I’m sure there are other ways we can demonstrate our identity and mission as communities of light, I’ve provided these three as general applications in the practical outworking of who we are and what we are called to be. But not only are we called to be communities of light, we are also called to be communities of love, and I hope to pick that up in my next post in this series.