“Let me state my thesis: Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.
“I believe that it was the religion’s particular doctrines that permitted Christianity to be among the most sweeping and successful revitalization movements in history. And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity” (p. 211).
Stark’s thesis falls right in line with one of my core beliefs: How we live is the best evidence for the truth of Christianity. When the followers of Jesus Christ make the doctrines come alive by the way they live, then much of the talking from Christianity’s critics will be silenced. This is exactly what the apostle Peter wrote; For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15; ESV).
The key here is that we are to live counter-cultural lives. The Church in the United States has been good at speaking against the culture, but we have not been very good at actually living differently. We can say that we oppose gay marriage, but we also have to consider what our marriages say about God’s ideal for marriage. Opposition to recreational drugs is a good thing since they destroy so many lives, but what are we doing to alleviate the pain that drives people to these addictions? Being lights in this dark world is not just about taking the right stands, but more importantly it is about doing the right things.
We are expected to be shine in the darkness, just as the apostle Paul expected the Christians in Philippi to stand out for the good that they did in their wicked culture:
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-16; ESV).
According to Paul we shine by the way we live. You and I will influence people more deeply by how we live than by anything we will say. That is why faithful living is such a powerful testimony to God’s work in the world.
- Being a light in this dark world begins with what we believe. Paul says that we are to hold fast to the word of life. This requires that we keep God’s Word in front of us as much as possible. As Christ Followers we need to be intentional about daily reading the Bible. Yet we also need more than reading. We also need to be committed to studying the Bible. Study needs to take two forms in our lives. We need personal study as we study the Bible on our own through the help of books, podcasts, and different Bible Study methods. We also need group study. Learning in a community of faith, so we can be challenged and encouraged by the thoughts and reflections of other Christians. We need to add meditation to Bible reading and Bible study. Meditation is the act of reflecting, pondering, or thinking about a portion of Scripture. Through meditation God infuses His truth into our hearts, which allows it to influence the way we live.
- Being a light of the world means we won’t demand our rights. A life of faith is not about me first. Paul urged the Philippians to do all things without grumbling or questioning, because they were to live humble lives, which put others ahead of themselves. The way of the world says it is okay to use people for your profit. This just leaves a trail of wounded and broken people in your wake. While the world tells us to “look out for #1”; Paul tells us that the way of Jesus is the way of humility. In verses 5-11 of chapter 2 of Philippians, Paul tells us that we are to follow the example of Jesus, the example of love and humility. Jesus came, not so He could use people for his advantage, but to serve people and save the world. By putting others first and helping those in need the follower of Jesus is set apart from the world.
- Being a light of the worldmeans we will live blameless and innocent lives. That is the choice Paul is urging the Philippians, and by extension us, to make. The reality is that there are other choices that we can make. We can declare Christ as Savior and Lord and live like the world, but that wouldn’t make us lights because we are not standing in contrast to anything. We can declare Christ as Savior and live strange lives, like pulling out of society and living in a bomb shelter; that might make us odd, but it wouldn’t make us lights. We shine brightly in this world when we declare Christ as Lord and then align our lives to his will. It is the act of living according to Jesus’ will that sets us apart and makes us lights in a dark world.
Living differently from the world isn’t going to happen by accident. Without making a decision to be different we will be pulled along by the current of our culture and we will end up being like everyone else. Therefore we need to make the choice to live differently from the world, not the choice to be strange, but the choice to follow the example of Christ in loving and humble service as we take the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness into the world. We are called to be the lights of the world. It is time to flip the switch and start shining.