The short books, written by the Apostle John, give us a glimpse into the infancy struggles of the first century Church. These books of the Bible also give a glance into a timeless teaching in order to help us, the 21st century Church, stand against the strong cultural currents that war against God’s Kingdom. Make no mistake! This IS war! As Christians, we can’t always see the battles that rage around us. Or maybe we can, but choose not to acknowledge them. I don’t want this article to slip into berating modern Christians. I do, however, want to shout a warning from my watchman’s post that the enemy is on the move. The attack is underway!
God is Light, the World is Dark
One of the primary points John makes in his first epistle is that God is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all (cf. 1 Jn. 1:5). From there, John argues the position that we who walk in the Light cannot also walk in darkness. This should seem obvious to followers of Jesus, but an inventory of our current ideologies in the Church would prove different. I can simply go to our entertainment choices to prove that point. Once we leave that closet, let’s look into the closet that contains our time priorities. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can see how these do not line up with the Scriptures.
The Apostle John gives a stern warning to believers of the early Church, and to believers of today. It’s not so much a caution to toe-the-line for the sake of our salvation, rather, it’s an urge for us to be self-reflective. To be introspective enough to identify the darkness in our lives that we still cling to, things that would be the ways of the world.
How should we be when it comes to the ways of the world? The Holy Spirit, speaking through our brother John, explains:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 Jn. 2:15-17 ESV)
John warns the early believers to be careful with their allegiances. This particular verse seems to round out an earlier statement in chapter 1. In that set of verses, John says that being in the light (or being in the presence of God) will give us true fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:5-7). In the verses today, John is giving the other side of the coin. We cannot love darkness and light. We cannot embrace sin and righteousness. We cannot be worldly and spiritual. We cannot be holy (or set apart) and immersed in sin. It’s like saying you can be wet and dry at the same time or hot and cold at the same moment.
Love for the World
There’s a difficult balancing act that must take place in the lives of Christians. We must love. But not love with free, wide open expression, that has no root or boundaries. As Christians we are called to walk in love; to be like our Lord Jesus. We are told that our love is to mimic His divine love for the world and by this love we would be known as His followers (cf. Lk. 9:23-27, Jn. 13:34-35).
Yet, if we take the idea of love too far, we’ll fail to hold at bay the influence of the world. We’ll love the world, rather than the people who inhabit it. We’ll love the product of the world, rather than the broken sinners in need of a Savior. As our love places it’s focus on the darkness (the world), we find that we cool the fiery love of God within us; the very love that sets us free (cf. Matt. 24:12). This happens because our world-focused love will reciprocate only pain and heartache. Our love-filled hearts will then begin to shrink back in pain and refuse to offer a hand of love for fear of more pain, more rejection, more heartbreak.
Patterns and Formulas
I think of my “life verse” (a verse that has shaped my faith-journey). This passage tends to show up a lot in sermons and my other teachings for some reason. Maybe it has something to do with the impact it’s had on my life. This passage teaches some powerful truths that the modern Christian would do well to heed. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church laying down these foundational principles for the Jesus-follower.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 11:36-12:2 ESV)
In this passage we see one of those “Bible-formulas”. When followed, this particular formula will lead us down a path to understanding God’s plan and purpose for our lives. A very powerful thing to harness! As with any good formula, this one starts with laying a firm foundation and builds a powerful monument to faith from there.
First, we have to grasp the idea that everything that exists has its true and fullest purpose and fulfillment in our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Without Him, there is nothing! We cannot continue in anything related to faith, holiness, righteousness, or even love, until we grapple with this idea and allow it to take root in our thinking.
With this understanding in mind, we must take on an attitude that this world and all that it holds is to be placed on our life’s altar. Once we realize that this whole thing we call life is really about Jesus – and not our pleasures – the rest of the passage becomes easier (not easy) to understand and apply to our lives.
The next statement would paralyze us had we not come to terms with this life’s true meaning, which is found only in Christ. Paul pleads with us to cast off this world’s pattern. It’s like Paul and John colluded on this matter (it was, in fact, a collusion of God’s Holy Spirit). John tells us this world is dark and has no business being an attractant in the lives of the Children of the Light. Paul is telling us the reason. The broken pattern of the world is not suitable for those no longer broken because of their relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Paul encourages the very essence of repentance as foundational to this concept. He doesn’t use the specific Greek word for repentance (metaneo), but he clearly explains the exact meaning of that word: to think differently or reconsider. If there is no repentance, we may cast off broken patterns only to embrace other broken patterns. Unless we change the way we adopt those patterns. And the way he’s advocating is through the crucifixion of the flesh and looking unto the Throne of Salvation!
This leads us to placing ourselves in the right position to hear clearly from God. This process of recognition of the divinity of Jesus, coupled with the self-sacrificial lifestyle; topped with the rejecting of the ways of the world and resetting the way we approach God, will give us such clarity. Our spiritual vision and hearing will be fine-tuned to the voice and hand of God in our lives and we won’t be able to help but know God’s awesome plan for us.
Yet, if we continue to play games in the darkness, we’ll not only struggle to understand the things of God, we’ll eventually find ourselves ultimately rejecting God! Look at the congregation James writes to. It would appear James was also part of the collusion mentioned earlier! It’s like there was some sort of doctrine understood among the Apostles (my wife tells me sarcasm doesn’t suit me well but it just seems to get the point across). For a better context I’ll post the larger passage, though the focus is on verse 4.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:1-8 ESV)
The Christians to whom James was writing had some serious issues. The description in this passage is painful to not only read, but to also think that this was a people who believed the Gospel. And make no mistake, James is writing to a people who claimed Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Much like this congregation in the early Church, this passage can be written to us today in the American Church. We are so sold on the idea that we can have the best of both worlds. However, we cannot serve two masters (cf. Matt. 6:24). We can’t have the best of darkness and light. We’ll end up with the worst of both. The sin of darkness and the judgment of the light.
John, Paul, and James paint quite a picture of the Christian faith. We were rescued from the darkness and set free from its strangled hold in our lives. We cannot rightly follow after God while keeping the shackles of the world fastened on our wrists. There is a power working within us from God’s very throne that brings us freedom in Christ. His Spirit sets us free, yet as a people, we have traded that freedom for chains of slavery again. Let us draw near to God, the Light of the World, who will then gladly respond in kind!
Paul’s words to the Romans sums up nicely the point of this article, so he gets the last word:
“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13:11-14 ESV)