Live in the Light
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Live in the Light
Text: 1 John 2:3-11
What if I told you I steal. I take things a lot. Nothing big. I haven’t robbed any banks. No armed robbery. But I steal, and I steal a lot. Sometimes it’s a moment of weakness. I can’t help myself. But other times I have good reasons. I have a terrific wife. I have wonderful children. I want them to have nice things. I want them to live the good life. So I’ll take money here and there. I’ll skimp on this and that. I’ll fudge the numbers of falsify information. Yes, I know God says not to steal. But I really love to have that money. I love to provide for my family. I love to have nice things. So I steal.
Don’t worry, that’s not true! But what would you think if I told you that? Or better, what would you think about me if I told you that? “Oh, great pastor we have there! Unbelievable! What kind of pastor is that? What kind of Christian is that? How can you know what God says, and still do the opposite and sin? How can you say you are a Christian but act like an unbeliever? What a phony! What a fake! What a hypocrite! What a liar!”
And you know, that is the exact same thing the apostle John says today. Listen to 1 John 2:3: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
You know those thoughts. You have them. Certainly others do. You see a public figure who is supposedly a Christian slip up—a celebrity, a politician, even a pastor—and everyone thinks, “What a fine Christian that is! Hypocrite!” But John tells us anyone who says, “I know him,”—anyone who claims to be a Christian—but does not do what he commands is a liar.
It would be so awful if I were the greedy, slimy thief I pretended to be a minute ago. But is it any better to say you are a Christian, to come to church and sing God’s praises and then go back into the world and have the filthiest, dirtiest mouth that would make a sailor cringe? How can the lips that praise God say swear words? How can the mouth that sings hymns tell filthy jokes? How can the tongue that whispers prayers also whisper gossip?
Today we once again joined in one of the historic creeds of the Christian faith—the Nicene Creed. Each week we confess our faith in our true God. But how could we confess in front of everyone else that we believe in a God that made everything and gives us everything, and yet not gladly give back to him our first and best offerings? How can we confess our faith in a Savior who gave his life to take away our sins and not in return dedicate every moment of our lives to living for him? How can we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit who gives us a new life of faith and not share that faith with anyone else?
There are many examples of such hypocrisy. John gives another one in verse 9: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” And verse 11, “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” Each week we gather here and greet one another warmly with smiles and handshakes. Then we enter this sanctuary and we join together to speak and sing about how much we love our God. We talk about our mission as a congregation and how we love our family of believers gathered together. We even nod our heads and agree with what we hear God saying—”Yes, that’s right Lord. I am a Christian and I am filled with love for Christ.”
But how could you say that while at the same moment you are thinking, “Oh my is that family over there so annoying! I’m glad I’m not sitting by them!” How could Christians who talk about love say out of the other side of their mouth how much they hate our president or our governor or our mayor or our next door neighbor? How can Christians receive the blessing of the Lord each and every Sunday—”The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace”—and then walk out those doors and do anything but live in God’s peace? Stirring up the pot. Being grumpy and huffy and puffy and angry. Being short with people. Making snide comments and remarks. Talking behind backs. Holding grudges. John says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”
It is very easy for us to look down our noses at other people and think, “Oh, what horrible people! They don’t act like Christians like I do! They are liars!” But the reality is: “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” That means all of us are liars because all of us claim to be Christians yet none of us perfectly obeys what God commands. Worse, that would mean that though we claim to be in the light we are still in the darkness—a darkness that leads to an eternal darkness in hell.
This is why we need Jesus. We are living in darkness. There is sin everywhere in this world. But we ourselves are also filled with darkness because we sin every day. But did you hear what Isaiah prophesied in the first lesson today? “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Did you hear what Matthew said in the Gospel today? Jesus came teaching, preaching, and healing every disease and he fulfilled the words of Isaiah. Jesus is the light that shines in sinful darkness.
When you are in a dark room and you light a match, it is very easy to see that light. It stands out. When you get up in the middle of the night and your house is pitch black, you turn on a light and immediately it scatters the darkness. When you are camping in the forest or a national park and you turn on your lantern, you can clearly see the way to go.
This is all true with Jesus. He stands out in the sinful darkness. In a world of sin filled with sinners, Jesus lived a holy and perfect life. While others cursed and swore and lusted, Jesus was pure in thoughts and words and actions. While the world was angry and hated, Jesus was patient and loved. He stands out.
Jesus also scatters the darkness. Like flipping on a light switch in the middle of the night, Jesus erases all our dark sins and immerses us in the light of his love. His forgiveness removes all our dark sins. His mercy makes us shine with a righteousness just like his.
Jesus also shows us the way to go. If you want to know how to be patient, be patient like Jesus. If you want to know how to love, love like Jesus. If you want to know how to live your life, live it just like Jesus.
Jesus completely changes everything about us. He removes our darkness. He forgives our darkness. He places us in his light. He changes us from hypocritical and lying Christians, to radiant children of God that shine like their Savior.
And when Jesus changes who we are, that also changes how we live. Listen to what John says in verse 5 today: “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Christians don’t call themselves Christians and then do whatever they want anyways. When Jesus changes our hearts it makes us want to obey his Word. It makes us not only claim to live like Christ, but it actually does make us live like Christ.
This is not some new concept that John was inventing here. Look at verse 7: “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”
This is not a new command. God has always wanted his people to obey him. But it is a new command in this sense: now we have Jesus who is our light that shines through us and into the world.
Here’s how that works: You hear about Jesus being patient and loving with you and forgiving your sins. Then you are patient and loving and forgiving with other people. You gather here to praise your Savior and thank him for your forgiveness. Then those same lips are filled with wholesome talk and clean language and kind words out in the world. You hear about Jesus giving his life for you to save you from eternal darkness. Then you are moved to support his work and share his message by giving back to him.
This is how we let our lights shine in the world. John gives one example in verse 10: “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” When you obey God’s commands you are living in the light. You are living like Jesus. You are reflecting his light. This is what being God’s child is all about. Knowing your Savior and then living like your Savior.
Many of you know that this last week I spent a few days in New Ulm, MN presenting at Martin Luther College to our future pastors and teachers. It was painfully cold. I left Thursday when the wind chill was 38 degrees below zero! But I do always love this trip, not only because the event is fun, but I also get to see my grandparents. Living so far away, I only see them once a year for this trip.
Sometimes I think how completely bored I would be in a city with a population of about 15,000. My grandparents are in their early 80s. They don’t go out much or travel. They do pretty much the same thing every day. They don’t do Facebook or send text messages. They do a little bit of Email. They rarely watch TV. They don’t read magazines like People or US Weekly. They just go about their simple lives day after day. How boring, right?
On the other hand . . . They don’t inundate themselves with all the garbage on TV. They don’t care about the foolish celebrities. They don’t listen to provocative or vulgar music. Every day they do a little bit of exercise to stay healthy. They do devotions and read the Bible. Maybe they’ll listen to music from the man my grandfather spent a lifetime studying—Johann Sebastian Bach. Every day my grandpa will meet with another retired professor to translate a little German or Latin together. He said recently he has started a renewed study and reading of the first five books of the Bible.
I compare their daily schedule and routine to my life and I wonder—who lives more in the light and who lives more in the darkness? Who surrounds themselves with positive, wholesome things more? Who is devoted to God’s Word more? Who lives a more humble, devoted life of love for the Savior?
I’m always thankful for my visit not only to see my grandparents, but also because I’m reminded of what it means to live in the light and to obey God’s commands. John reminds us today, too. Those who say, “I know him! I’m a Christian!” don’t say that simply to look good or for a status symbol. Being a Christian is much, much more than that.
Christians know and trust in their Savior Jesus Christ. They know the darkness of their sins is forgiven. Then Christians respond to the love of their Savior by walking like Jesus did and obeying his commands. Christians let their lights shine in a world of darkness.
Jesus is Light. So are we. Jesus lived in the light. So do we. That’s who we are. That’s what we do. See your light—Jesus Christ. Live in the light of Jesus Christ.