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Children of God and Lights of the World

“in order that you may be without blame and pure, children of God, without blemish in a generation that is bent and perverted, in which you might shine as lights in the world,”

(Philippians 2:15)

What does it mean to be without blame and pure? Certainly, as fallen people, we cannot achieve this state here on earth on this side of the eternal veil, can we? Could Paul be speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ here — that righteousness given to us in our salvation by Christ who paid the penalty for our sins? First of all, we will never realize full sanctification here on earth on this side of heaven unless Jesus happens to return swiftly. We will struggle against sin for all of our days; such is the lot for the believer in this world and such is the way that God purifies us for heaven…it was good enough for Jesus to enter heaven through the road of the cross, why do we balk at our own suffering so?

At the same time, in context, this does not seem that Paul is speaking of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to the believer. Why? Because that righteousness is a one-time measure that permits us to stand blameless before the presence of God in judgment and Paul is speaking of the importance of striving and laboring toward this on earth.

Thus what we are seeing, in context, is the goal to which believers are to strive. It is indeed a lofty goal, but it is toward that goal that marks us as children of God. People often comment to me, “Isn’t every human being God’s child?” While such is commonly taught in the society, it is not taught in the Bible. A mark of being God’s child is that it is toward blamelessness and purity that we are to strive. If we are not interested in striving toward such things or if we pursue that which is sin, that is a sign that we are children of the Devil (see 1 John 3:4-10 with emphasis on verse 10). There are two races of people throughout history…the children of God and the children of the Devil…a designation that goes all of the way back to Genesis 3:15 but that Jesus also echoes in his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30).

Our job, then, as believers, is to strive to live in such a way that our lives are unblemished and given entirely to Christ. Does this mean that we will never fall into sin? Of course not. There was a movement in Wesleyanism that was called the “Holiness” movement which argued that with a sort of second conversion experience, you could complete your sanctification on earth and never sin again. Apart from causing many to shipwreck their faith over doubts and a lack of security, it also caused many to shipwreck their faith in pride and arrogance arguing that they had not sinned in “x” number of years (see 1 John 1:8 and 10 for an Apostolic comment on this idea). Thus as believers, we will sin, but when we do (this is 1 John 1:9), and we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, as forgiven Children of God, we are to live as those who are unblemished by this twisted world — like living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) — like unblemished Passover Lambs just as our Master and Lord was the unblemished Passover Lamb.

Why? So we might shine as lights in the world around us. The language that Paul employs is a word picture of the stars in the night sky. Have you ever been out on a very dark night, but the heavens are filled with the light of the stars? That is the idea. We cannot shine like the Sun…that is Jesus’ place and he does through his Word. But as we take that Word of God and apply it to all areas of life, we also shine that light in the darkness…and if the light of the stars is bright enough, you can see a great deal in this world. May we intentionally be such lights.

The Ethic of Authenticity

“You are the light of the world; it is not possible for a city established on a mountaintop to hide.  Nor does one light a lamp and set it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, thus it illuminates the whole house.  In this way, shine your light before mankind so they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”

(Matthew 5:14-16)

When we talk about ethics, usually questions of morality come to mind.  The dictionary defines ethics in terms of moral principles that guide a person’s or a group’s behavior.  It also refers to a study of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any given action.  This rightness or wrongness ultimately is determined by a standard of some sort—for many, it is society (which leads to despotism) or their own preferences (which leads to chaos and anarchy), for the Christian, the standard is the Bible and specifically the Ten Commandments (along with Jesus’ summary of the 10 Commandments, that we are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves).

As Christians, we are pretty used to hearing the language of moral norms and guidelines, though oftentimes, we approach them in practice more as practical suggestions than as absolute laws.  God commands us to make no idols, yet we idolize celebrities; we are called not to use the Lord’s name for vain purposes, yet many use church or their Christian profession simply as a way to generate more business.  We are called to keep the Sabbath holy, yet treat it as we would any other day.  We speak of a high moral calling in every area of life, yet often live it out half-heartedly and the world is watching us the whole time.  When a non-believer watches a Christian whose walk does not match his talk, there is a term that they rightfully use: “hypocrite.”

The English word, “authentic,” comes from two related Greek terms: aujqentiko/ß (authentikos), which means “original” or “genuine,” and aujqentikwvß (authentikos—with a long “o”), which refers to something that can be seen with perfect clarity (no blurry or grayed edges).  While neither word is found within the Biblical texts of either testament, the principle of being authentic is clearly portrayed.  Jesus says that we are to be lights to the world, guiding them through the darkness of this life and guiding them in such a way that the light is neither hidden nor distorted. We are to shine our light before men and in such a way that it clearly points to God and not to those doing the works.  In a very real sense, Jesus is calling us to be authentic in living out our faith.

While some would argue that the unbeliever is the real hypocrite and others would argue that churches really aren’t filled with hypocrisy, taking this tact of argumentation degenerates swiftly into an ad hominem argument and name calling is neither makes for effective evangelism nor is it the foundation for an honest relationship to be built upon.  If we as the church are to genuinely be a light that illuminates everything in the world and to do so with the aim of pointing people to God (the Great Commission), then as a church, we need to be ready to accept the honest criticism of unbelievers in this world and strive to live in an authentic way before watching eyes.  Rather than being defensive, let us strive toward authenticity in our faith, always seeking to live with integrity.  What the world wants to know is not whether our faith is better than the other alternatives this world has to offer; what the world wants to know is whether or not our faith is real and genuine.  They can live with some inconsistency; what they cannot abide with is inauthenticity.  Any Christian ethic that we might articulate will find itself entirely undermined unless it begins with the expectation that Christians live authentic—genuine—lives that are transparent and lived honestly (for good or for ill) before the world around us.  Until we live authentically and have authentic relationships with others in and out of the church, the watching world won’t be interested in what it is that we have to offer.