The Christian life of faith is very comparable to a new relationship. This new life in Christ is exciting and freeing. It is different than anything you have ever experienced. There is so much to learn about God, his word, and even this new quirky family we call the Church. However, much like natural relationships, there is a spiritual “honeymoon” phase which inevitably ends at some point. Your old life begins to creep back in, sins that you thought you had left behind begin to come alive, and old fears consume your mind.
“Why am I struggling with this?”
“Why do I keep failing in this particular area?”
“I thought I was a different person, so why do I look like my old self?”
Perhaps these are your thoughts too. In these thoughts, we feel guilt and shame because we know that the Christian life is supposed to look different. We feel that there is something wrong with us—certainly no one else feels this way! We respond to the guilt and the shame that we feel by hiding or covering. We do not like the way we look, so we hide ourselves from others and from God himself.
We can hide and cover our true selves—selves that still struggle with sin and living our new Christian life—in many different ways. Sometimes, our attempts at hiding look like running away, keeping our heads down, and well, hiding. Other times, our attempts at hiding look like doing a lot of good things, which may even include reading our Bibles, praying, serving at church, or even joining a small group. In our efforts to relieve the burden of guilt and shame, we can be tempted to believe that it is our works, or being “good Christians,” that make us presentable to one another, and even to God. However, this isn’t the type of relationship God wants with us.
SIN AS HIDING IN THE DARK
In the beginning of God’s story, we find that sin destroys relationships. Adam and Eve, our first parents, were tempted, and, unfortunately for us, they sinned. Then:
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:8-10, NASB)
What we see here is the pattern for our own sin. There is a broken relationship horizontally between people–evidenced by Adam’s covering himself from Eve and the blaming for sin (Genesis 3:12). There is also a broken relationship vertically between people and God. When Adam sinned, he hid himself from his Maker because he was afraid. God had only shown him love and grace, and yet, when Adam sinned, he felt the need to hide.
Throughout scripture, sinning is described as being, walking, or living in darkness. In Psalm 107:10-12, people who had rebelled against God are described as those who are dwelling in darkness. In Psalm 119:105, God’s Word is described as a light that guides us. In the Psalmist’s mind, “no Word” equals “no light.” Without the Word of God, we live in darkness.
LIGHT AS RESCUE FROM DARKNESS
God’s plan of salvation is described as light breaking into the darkness. As Jesus begins his ministry, Matthew, citing Isaiah 9:1-2, describes Jesus’ work: “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16, ESV). Furthermore, the gospel of John describes Jesus in this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, ESV)
Like the Psalmist, John describes Jesus as God’s Word who brings light and life to the darkness. Jesus is God’s Word that comes to us, to those who are dwelling in darkness. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus declares his mission to be in John 12:46: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” This Light and Darkness imagery pervades the gospel of John. People love darkness because they don’t want their actions, thoughts, motives to be exposed by the light. But the truth is that deep down we need (and want) to be seen. We want to be loved despite our dirtiest deeds and foulest feelings. We need to restore the relationship that Adam and Eve once had with God–complete openness, and deep love–but we can’t do it on our own. Only God can (and did through Jesus) bring that relationship back.
LIGHT AS OUR NEW IDENTITY
Due to the work of Jesus on the cross, we no longer have to be identified as people who dwell in darkness. The rest of the New Testament describes our new identity as children of light (1 Thessalonians 5:5) and as those who have been rescued from darkness (Colossians 1:13, Ephesians 5:8). We now are characterized by the light instead of the darkness due to God’s saving work through, and our restored relationship with, Jesus.
However, as mentioned above, the Christian life is often plagued with sin and temptation. So much of our old identity, what the apostle Paul calls the flesh, begs us to live in the darkness again. Our old habits, our old sins, encroach upon our new identity and threaten to extinguish this new light. We are tempted to cover and hide ourselves either by running or trying to be our own measure of good. But we know that this won’t work. So what are we to do?
WALKING IN THE LIGHT
The author of 1 John reminds his readers of what they experienced in Jesus. He proclaims that God is light and that there is no darkness whatsoever in God.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we are walking in the light, as he is in the light, we are having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son is cleansing us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7, ESV)
These two verses explain how we are to act in our new identity. Instead of walking in darkness as we had previously done, John exhorts us to be “walking in the light.” This is a reminder of our new identity: walk with God who is in the light. John does not leave us wondering what this looks like, for he provides an example in Jesus. We are to walk in the light as Jesus did. This can mean variety of things, but a clear example for us is how Jesus talks to his Father the night he is betrayed. In Matthew 26:36-46, we see the tense emotional agony of Jesus as he is crying out for another way. He does not hide his feelings from God nor from his friends. Instead, he confesses them, and “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
Looking back at 1 John, what is more amazing is that he details the result of walking in the light. First, we are having fellowship with one another. The result of walking in the light is a reparation of the broken horizontal relationships. Just as sin makes us hide from one another, walking in the light allows us to have real, genuine relationships where we can be transparent, vulnerable, and loved. Second, the blood of Jesus is cleansing us from all sin. The result of walking in the light is a reparation of the broken vertical relationship with God. No longer do we have to be afraid of God, for Jesus’ blood spiritually cleanses us, making us presentable before the Father. Furthermore, when we live a life characterized by “walking in the light” then Jesus will begin to wash us clean from the sins we have been struggling with.
LEARNING TO WALK IN THE LIGHT
There is no comprehensive list on how to do this or a book entitled, “7 Easy Steps to Walk in the Light Today.” However, I will share a few ways in which we can practically live these truths out.
Believe Your Identity
Walking in the Light means walking in the truth of who you are as a child of light. Practically it looks like praying to your Father in heaven as someone who knows that they are loved. It means that you don’t have to be afraid of God when you fail. You don’t have to hide from him, and there is no more need to be afraid of the dark or the light. God has broken into your darkness and saved you, bringing you into his marvelous light. When we struggle with sin, and when we struggle with our guilt and shame, we can remind ourselves and each other of our new identity. We are loved immensely by our Father, and his perfect love is casting out our fear. (1 John 4:18).
Come Out of Hiding
Walking in the Light means that because of your identity in Christ you can confess your sins and your failures to your Father. Knowing that God loves you unconditionally means that you can bring everything before him. You can do this simply by crying out and talking to him. He already knows where you struggle, he already knows how you have failed, but he wants to talk to you about it. There is no condemnation any longer for us (Romans 8:1). He lovingly wants to remind you that you are his son or daughter, and that he is here for you. You don’t have to cover yourself with good deeds so that you are made presentable to God — he has already done that in Jesus. Instead, we can be honest about where we are at with God.
Confess Your Sins Boldly
Walking in the Light also means that because of your identity you can confess your sins and your failures to to his people. This doesn’t necessarily mean a long post on social media, but conversations with people in your church who love Jesus. This isn’t something that makes you more presentable to God, but confident in the love that God has for you, you can boldly confess your sins to others. When you are honest with where you are at with others, your relationships will deepen, and you will see how much people care about you. We were never intended to go through this life alone. In his grace, God has provided you his Spirit to empower you, his Son to sanctify you, and his people to care for you. Living in that knowledge and in light of it, is a way in which you can “Walk in the Light.”
Walking in Grace
Walking in the Light is a step by step, moment by moment, conscious and unconscious journey to the fulness of the Christian life. It takes faith in who God is and who he says you are, but it also takes obedience. This obedience is not perfect either, for it is a long journey of learning how to walk and stumble as a new creation. It is both conscious effort, but also walking in the light can become part of your unconscious mode of being. Like any walk or hike, we focus on our first few steps, but then gradually we focus less on how we are walking and more on where we are walking to. It is the same with our spiritual life. As our relationship with God grows, we grow too, in humility, thankfulness, confidence, faithfulness and other innumerable ways.