This series was first published in January 2019. -ed.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16)
One of the deadliest heresies the church has ever faced is the lie that unrepentant sinful behavior is compatible with faith in Christ. The apostle John wrote his first epistle in response to that teaching, forwarded by the gnostic docetists who had infiltrated churches in Asia minor.
The gnostics were determined to sever all ties between high spirituality and holy living in order to justify their grossly immoral lifestyles. Their denial that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2) was central to their argument that sins committed in the physical body did not matter. Their devious doctrine gave them a façade of spirituality as they persisted in unrestrained sin. Moreover, their heresy has enjoyed an ugly resurgence in recent decades through the widespread preaching of a cheap gospel—one that places no demand on sinners to repent.
Modern evangelicalism is now awash with people who profess faith in Christ but continue to live in their old sinful patterns. They are indistinguishable from the surrounding pagan culture, and their lives bear no resemblance to the righteousness of Christ. They desperately need to see the risen Christ in His holiness—a sight the apostle John literally experienced and recorded for our benefit.
When John encountered the glorified Christ in Revelation 1:16, “His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” Looking at the Lord’s face was like staring directly into the sun’s fiery core. What was this blazing light? It’s the shekinah—the brilliant, holy glory of God, radiating in the face of His Son.
It appears John borrowed this expression from Judges 5:31, which says, “Let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” Matthew 13:43 echoes the idea: “The righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The glory of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, shines through the church; thus the people of God reflect His glory to a watching world. Paul makes that very point in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Through the transformed lives of His people, the Lord is making the gospel attractive to the unrepentant world. He is drawing men and women to Himself through the godly character of His church. Christ Himself established that very pattern in Matthew’s gospel: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Letting our light shine before men allows them to see our good works, the beauty the Lord has worked in us. To see good works by us is to see Christ in us. That is why Jesus says, “Let your light shine.” It is not something we create or make up, but light that God shines through us.
The purpose of letting our light shine and revealing our good works is not to bring attention or praise to ourselves but to God. When our actions cause people to be attracted to us rather than to God, to see our human character rather than His divine character, we can be sure that what they see is not His light. Our intent should be that, in what we are and in what we do, others may see God and “glorify [our] Father who is in heaven.”
Our good works are to magnify God, and thus fulfill the supreme calling of life: glorifying God. Everything we do ought to cause others to praise the God who is the source of all that is good. Our manner of living should draw those around us to glorify the heavenly Father.
This is the climactic reality of the church: God redeems sinners to build His church and uses their transformed lives to reflect the majesty of His glory, whereby He draws more sinners to Himself. The awesome, blazing glory of the Lord shines through the church, a beacon in a lost and dark world.
Used with permission from John MacArthur.