My wife was talking with one of our sons about an e-mail that she had received, and remarked that the sender had apparently been hired into a certain role at church, since her signature block in the e-mail reflected a new title. I pointed out that, in general, a signature block didn’t necessarily mean that someone had a particular role. After all, people can theoretically design any signature block that they want, adding degrees, titles, or other certifications that were never bestowed upon them. (And, if you’re wondering, I have earned none of the citations listed above in the name of this article!)
Of course, we didn’t actually think that this was the case. Not only do we trust our congregation’s leadership, but we also knew the sender. We were confident that her new title was correct and that she was also qualified for the promotion.
The book of 1 John talks about the idea of people giving themselves a title that really isn’t accurate, though:
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:5-7 NASB
It is somewhat pointless for anyone to claim to be a Christian when they don’t actually follow or love Jesus. Maybe there are temporary benefits in this world in certain circles when one falsely makes this claim. However, following Jesus is about walking in His footsteps (in principle, not physically), and living like He did, while Jesus made it clear that those who loved Him would keep His commandments (John 14:21).
Worse than that, though, claiming that we love Jesus when we don’t is – by definition – a lie. Furthermore, it’s a harmful lie (not that there are any harmless lies), because it associates the name of Jesus Christ with a path of darkness, quite the opposite of who Jesus is (and what He taught). It’s also harmful to the person who makes this claim, who gives the appearance of having given their lives over to Jesus, but who is still not in proper fellowship with God.
Now, even true followers of Jesus Christ, who love Him and have allowed Him to be the Lord of their lives, still make mistakes. While even these genuine disciples still have to live with short-term consequences of sins (both their own, and those of others), the eternal penalty for their sins has already been paid for.
Rather than the occasional slip-up, though, this passage talks about walking in the darkness. If our path is not illuminated by Jesus (the light of the world), and we don’t regularly seek out His light, then our way will be dim, indeed.
While there is a time and a place for loving correction within the church, as well as applying spiritual discernment to the messages of others, I think that this passage is well-suited to personal examination. If you claim to be right with God, is your path lit up by Jesus Christ? For instance, are your decisions guided by God’s teachings in the Bible, and are you regularly asking for direction from the Holy Spirit? Or, do you figure that you can find your way through in the dark, with your own spiritual eyesight straining to find a safe place to take even one more step?
Do you see the world as lit up by Him like a lighthouse or spotlight, clearly defining and explaining why things are the way they are, why we are here, and what our purpose is? Or, are you trying to interpret what you see around you through the feeble light of smartphone screens, dimly illustrating the truth as you and others sweep them over a dark landscape, trying to make sense of life but only coming up with outlandish interpretations of the murky shadows.
As I said above, these are questions about introspection. After all, I’m not in a position to judge the heart of another (although our hearts do produce our actions, and those can be seen and evaluated). However, there may be an even simpler check to see if you are walking in the light of Jesus, or in darkness away from God: Is your life reflecting the light of Christ?
Looks like I have some thinking to do today, as well.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.