Sometimes Christianity feels like a lot of pressure. Sometimes it feels like we have to do a lot of good things in order for people to know who Jesus is. It seems like our behavior has severe consequences on whether or not God is glorified in the world. When I fall victim to this mentality, I’m convicted that I’m thinking more highly of myself than I should. I forget that I’m simply a sinner saved by grace. The truth is I’m not responsible for making sure the world sees the glory of God. I am responsible for glorifying Him in my own personal life. God will see to the rest.
I was reading Matthew 5, The Sermon on the Mount. It flows from “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” to statements about salt and light. Verses 15 and 16 state, “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.”
So one question before me now is, “What are my good works?” If I am called to repentance, to meekness, to being poor in spirit, how does this reconcile with me plastering my good works of service, selflessness, and sacrifice about so others can see how good I am (of course though, in order to glorify God)?
To be clear, the light we are called to shine and the good works people see are not the same thing. My good works are not my light. Rather, the light illuminates the good works. And what is the light that illuminates? Jesus proclaims He is the light when He tells us in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The light Christians are called to shine forth into the world is Christ.
Don’t hide Jesus. This little light of mine is Jesus.
And so, according to the Matthew 5:16, the light of Christ exposes the good works in our life. How does this work? Does Jesus work to help the world see how good I’ve been and all the wonderful things I’ve done? I’ve not noticed others giving glory to God when they hear me rattle on about all the accolades I’ve earned. The more I reflect on this passage, the stronger sense I get that this call to exposing our good works is synonymous with the call to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to be persecuted for standing up for righteousness. God’s light exposes the truth, and the truth is that I am a sinner in need of a savior. If anyone sees good in me, it’s by the grace of God because I know how prone I am to sin. When people see God’s capacity to graciously save me, they might believe He can save them, too. To God be the glory.
When I tell people about Jesus and allow His light to show the truth of who I really am, people see how kind, loving, and faithful Jesus is to save. They see how constant and forgiving He is even when the world rejects him. My good work is recognizing and proclaiming Christ’s good work on the cross. The best work I can muster is submitting to the work that Jesus Christ is doing in me through the power of His gracious Holy Spirit. My good works live in meekness and daily death to my own agenda that Christ might live and shine through me. My good works actually deflect attention away from me toward the Savior.
To put my good works on a display like a lit candle on a stand is to put something good and holy in the middle of the dark. This is not an easy calling; this is not a blithe request. It requires courage.
But when my list of good works is dependent on the goodness of God instead of the goodness of my own heart, it also relieves me of the pressure to be the perfect Christian with the longest possible list of good deeds. I am not standing on the pedestal, or the hill, or the lamp stand. I am putting Jesus Christ there.
Light illuminates darkness.
God’s light in the world exposes sin.
If I am alive with light, I cannot hide the truth of who I really am, which is a sinner saved by grace.
My humility, my repentance, my need of God—these are the good works I am to put before others. I must allow my sin to be exposed, my hypocrisy to be illuminated by the truth. I must proclaim the truth of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of unrighteousness and sin, in the face of my own unloveliness.
Why would the world glorify God because I chose to do a good turn? But it is precious to glorify God when I expose how close and loving and sanctifying He was to me in my depravity. This is what gives glory to God in heaven—this good news that God forgives, restores, heals, and redeems the most broken and unrighteous among us. The world needs to see my need for Jesus and His great ability to meet all of that need.
If someone does see me do something really and truly good or honest or selfless or kind, if anyone sees the fruit of the Spirit in me, they will know the truth. They will know that any goodness in me comes from God because the light exposes all.
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”