“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Verses like this one lead to statements like these:
“Your lifestyle is as much a part of evangelism as your words.”
“Let your marriage be a light to the watching world.”
“You’re an ambassador for Christ at your workplace.”
Have you heard similar statements, or made them? They’re true – a godly life, loving marriage, and honorable conduct in the office really can be examples to non-Christians. And it’s also true that religious hypocrites can do damage to the gospel: pastors who commit adultery, hucksters who defraud with Bible verses, or Sunday afternoon restaurant patrons who stiff their waitress a tip and leave tracts on the table instead.
But for most Christians, trying their best to be faithful but aware of their failings, statements or verses that call us to live our lives as examples to non-Christians can feel like an impossible burden. I know I’m a poor excuse for a Christian parent – now you’re telling me I’m damaging the cause of the gospel as well as my kids. Thanks!
If exhortations to “be an example” have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There’s a way out from under the burden. Here’s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means? You don’t have to be perfect!
When the call to let your light shine comes as a burden, we have a basic confusion about our message. Instead of the good news that Jesus came to save and transform sinners, we are believing some other “good news” (that really isn’t so good after all!). The false message might take different forms: if you use biblical parenting techniques, your kids will always obey and never try to strip naked and run screaming through the grocery store. If you put God first in your marriage, you’ll never have a conflict or ever see things differently than your spouse. If you love God more than money, you’ll always be the perfect employee. I’m exaggerating, of course, but do you see the common thread in all these message? “If you…” But the message we witness to as Christians begins with God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” (Eph. 2:4).
The gospel is not simply the best self-help news out there, nor the hottest parenting or marriage techniques to transform your kids and your communication. It is the message that God, through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and transformed. We have been and being redeemed, day by day, situation by situation. Even our failures and ongoing battles with sin testify to this message. Asking forgiveness, admitting failure, honestly facing our weaknesses and temptations – these do not deny our message. Instead, they can testify to its truth. Jesus saved, is saving, and will save us – sinners though we remain!
Don’t confuse the message. You’re not living a life of perfection so others can learn from you the secrets of self-mastery. You’re living a life of redemption, so that others can meet the Redeemer who is at work in you. And that message is truly good news.
Photo by Patrick Denker