This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)
First, let’s define our terms so the rest will make sense. In this sermon, when I say ‘darkness’ I mean evil and wickedness. When I say ‘light’ I mean goodness and righteousness.
Church darkness is different from world darkness in that it looks similar to the light of Christianity. For example, we Christians can easily identify ISIS as darkness, but we often mistake religious hypocrisy for light.
The following is a threefold invitation for those among us who are lost in church darkness, thinking they’re walking in the light.
From Hiding to Exposure
19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
What do you suppose Jesus meant by ‘evil works’ and ‘wicked things’? He was talking to “a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1). Pharisees were the religious elite of God’s people. Jesus described their brand of wickedness in Matthew 23:
2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:2-7)
Based on this passage, Nicodemus and his colleagues did evil works such as:
- Preaching without practicing
- Holding others to higher expectations than themselves
- Religious showiness
- Improperly motivated good deeds
- Cravings for honor, station and esteem
This soft evil, this pleasant wickedness kills church folks. Hypocrisy clothed in knock-off holiness; selfishness covered with religious discipline; greed beneath a veneer of good deeds. Once nestled in such a cozy reputation, we are temped to love the darkness rather than the light, lest our works be exposed. With each preachy rant, each condescending word, each bragging Facebook post, each public good deed, we build our own coffins. We polish our outward appearance, forgetting the reality beneath.
25“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:25-28)
Christian, in Jesus we can embrace exposure. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). We can admit that we sin. We can confess our sin to God, those against whom we’ve sinned and trusted Christian counselors and friends who can help us repent. Our security is not based on looking awesome. It’s based on looking to the Awesome One, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and offers forgiveness and cleansing.
From Lies to Truth
The alternative to evil works and wicked things in John 3:21 is not good works and righteous things. It’s truth.
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:21)
The problem isn’t that we’re not good enough or righteous enough. Jesus solved those problems on the cross. The problem is that we deceive ourselves and those around us–and even try to deceive God.
6If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:6, 8)
The invitation into the light is an invitation to quit our jobs as Truth Managers. We can stop trying to manipulate people’s perceptions through hiding, justification, withholding information and careful phrasing. We can instead become Truth Practitioners. Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law and Christians practice truth.
In Jesus we can be honest with ourselves. No more “I can quit any time,” or “It’s not so bad.” We can’t quit and it is so bad. That’s why we need Jesus, and praise God we have him! We can be honest with God. Perhaps our devotions would rekindle if we interacted with God truthfully. We can be honest with people. No more acting like things are okay when they’re not. No more acting like we’re holier than we are. No more acting, period.
We can forsake the butterfly myth, that we can cocoon inside our reputations until we transform into beautiful people and then hatch and open up. No, Christian transformation happens in the light. Exposure and truth are part of the process.
From Isolation to Fellowship
I’m not talking about introversion and extroversion. I’m talking about the lonely isolation of the hiding deceiver and the freedom of true fellowship.
5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
Let’s acknowledge that the hobby we idolize, our secret pornography practice and our harbored bitterness cut us off from fellowship with God and people. But in Jesus, we can enjoy fellowship with God, really hearing from him in his word and speaking with him in prayer. In Jesus, we can enjoy fellowship with our fellow Christians, truly sharing our lives with them.
We do not go to church to become holy enough for God to accept us. God came to us to make us holy and adopt us. Forsake hiding, lies and isolation. Embrace exposure, truth and fellowship. Act now. Admit and confess your sin. Practice the truth. Turn openly to God and your fellow Christians. In Jesus, you will find forgiveness and cleansing.
- In practical terms, what would it look like for us as individuals and as a body to move into exposure, truth, and fellowship?
- How can we find safe ways to do that when 1) not all in the gathering may be believers, 2) some may be prone to gather ammunition rather than extend grace, and 3) we’re all inclined to judge others whether we admit it or not. (If someone confesses to gossiping, that would pretty well kill future sharing!)
- How do we discern the line between living in the light vs. risky vulnerability? Or to put it another way, what are acceptable levels of secrecy in the various settings we encounter–in individual relationships, small groups, larger groups, mixed faith, etc.
- Are there Scriptures that differentiate how we are to interact with outsiders as compared to fellow believers?