“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1–3).
There’s an old children’s song you probably know called “This Little Light of Mine.” It was written by Harry Dixon Loes after he heard a sermon about Christ’s atonement for sin at Moody Church. Inspired by Christ’s work for sinners, Loes set out to write a song of joy that would inspire others to live confidently in what Jesus has done for them. And this theme is easy to see in the lyrics. The singer repeats about letting the light of Christ shine, all around the neighborhood, and about how they will not hide the light under a bushel (Oh no!) or let it be snuffed out by Satan. The last verse has children even acting out what the enemy strives to do: “Don’t let Satan [blow] it out/I’m gonna let it shine!”
We’ve sung this song with our preschool children, and every time they sing proudly, their index fingers stretched out like a candle symbolizing the light of the Gospel in Jesus Christ. It’s a wonder as a pastor to witness young children singing about sharing Jesus with others, and to hear them do so as loudly and boldly as possible. But, as I wonder at the wonder, perhaps this is so because it is hard to possess such boldness as an adult dealing with the tensions of living in a world in which sin’s grip seems to grow tighter and tighter. Perhaps the thought of letting the Gospel light of Jesus shine so bright that the whole neighborhood can see is a frightening thought, for if we make ourselves a beacon like that, we will likely attract praise and scorn in equal measure.
I believe the current obstacle is a growing feeling of helplessness. As Christians watch individuals, communities, and even our governments accept and even promote immoral agendas to the praise of the populace, the question on most Christians’ minds is, “What can I do?” Can I really effect change? Can I make an impact to stem the tide of sin and immorality I see growing around me? Engaging with a culture that continues to stray further from God’s Word leaves us wondering what our work should really look like.
Perhaps the best place to begin is to come to grips with what our expectations should be. Though we desire it, we should not expect that our culture will ever look like the kingdom of God. As James Hunter writes in To Change the Word, “the establishment of [God’s] kingdom in eternity is an act of divine sovereignty alone and it will only be set in place at the final consummation at the end of time” (233). If we focus too much on “culture-making,” we will find ourselves led into triumphalism or despair, depending on the success or failure we find in shaping public policy. This is not to say that we should not make such efforts, just that we should be realistic about what to expect from such efforts. After all, these works in themselves do not lead the sinner to salvation.
So what should our work be? To put it simply: to let the Light shine! Arise, shine, for your light has come! Isaiah said it long ago: darkness has covered and will continue to cover the earth, and thick darkness will enshroud the people. But the Lord has arisen upon you, His people, and His glory will be seen upon you. God makes His people into beacons, bearers of His glory to the world. Our primary work is not to affect change or stem the tide of sin around us; rather, our primary work is to establish the rule of God in our hearts, minds, and souls, and allow this rule to affect our daily lives. For when we do this, God is present and He is glorified.
It is easy to become overwhelmed trying to effect change in the world around us, perhaps because our task is beyond our power. But God has given us something of tremendous power—His Word, His Glory, the Light of His Gospel. Our engagement with the world should proclaim the peace that God gives through these wondrous gifts, as well as the peace which is to come. These things provide the antithesis to our modern world, a subversion of those parts of life which are at odds with that proclamation of peace. They resist the ways of our world. And if we seek to live this out in our own lives, as well as encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ in doing the same, then perhaps we will reclaim the boldness we once had as children. Dear friends in Christ, you possess the light which scatters the darkness of sin in this world. Let it shine in all you say and do!
Photo © bzzup/iStock