God is Light
Published April 20, 2023
Since the inception of the church during the Apostolic age, various competing versions of “Christianity” have led many people understandably to ask, “What does a genuine Christian look like?” Two thousand years of theological reflection and biblical exegesis has not eliminated controversy within the church over this probing query: what makes someone’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ genuine?
While there are several tests Scripture gives to discern true Christianity from its false imitations, one crucial mark of genuine Christianity is the relationship a person or a church has to God’s authoritative standard of truth and righteousness, which is found in His Word. Do those individuals or churches maintain God’s standard of righteousness, or are they more like the description offered by Puritan William Gurnall: “[He] sets his watch, not by the sun, that is, the Bible, but by the town clock; what most do, that he will do. [The voice of the people] is his [voice of God]?” The latter exchange God’s authority and truth for their own standards of whatever is popular and acceptable and thereby completely reverse what is good, holy, and true. By this test, we discern genuine Christianity.
This phenomenon of exchanging God’s standard is rampant in the church today, especially where so-called Christians and Christian churches embrace what God calls sin (like homosexuality or other sexual perversions, among others) and call them good. We observed this occurrence all over the United States in 2020 as churches embraced an ungodly and unbiblical vision of social justice – even churches that perhaps seemed faithful to God’s Word up until that time. Some of these churches were not meeting on Sunday mornings due to COVID-19 fears, but they set aside time for their leaders and members to participate in rallies, marches, or other actions in a clear capitulation of God’s righteous standard and expectation of justice.
Apart from a true revival that only the Holy Spirit can produce, we will see God’s truth and righteousness increasingly reversed in the visible church. This moral reversal will accelerate because the trend with the most momentum in our culture is to re-label and re-define sin as virtue. Many Christians and churches today are simply flowing down the same stream as the culture instead of standing firm in the truth of who our God is. What many tragically have forgotten or abandoned today is that God is the one who defines what is right and wrong and what is true and false – not our culture.
When people re-label sin as righteousness, they are calling God a liar because they reject the clear standards set forth in His Word. If someone says that sexual perversion is an admirable expression of love rather than abominable in the sight of God, or that stealing is virtuous as long as they are stealing from the right people, or that lying is acceptable to avoid trouble – then they are saying that God is a liar. And if people say that God is a liar, that means the Truth is not in them.
John addressed this issue of genuine Christianity and the source of truth and righteousness in 1 John 1, proclaiming that God is light. God is truth; He is righteous, and He is not tainted by darkness at all. Furthermore, and more importantly, God defines truth and righteousness. God defines the moral standard for His creatures based on His nature as light.
How do we know what is true? We know what is true because God defines what is true in His Word. Without God there could be no truth at all. Everything would be merely subjective opinion because there would be no authoritative light to reveal truth, reducing existence to an inexpressible and impossible absurdity.
Additionally, how do we know what is right and wrong? We know what is right and wrong because God defines what is right and wrong by His nature, revealed in His Word. Popular opinion today says that what defines something as right or wrong is the effect it might or might not have on others; to the contrary, what makes something right or wrong is whether it conforms to the holy character of God.
In a world where the term “Christianity” is used loosely, John gives us a crystal-clear test to find out whether people are genuine in their faith, including ourselves. We can recognize genuine Christians as those who walk in the light as God is in the light, allowing His Word to define truth and righteousness. John’s test of real Christianity is counter-cultural in the society we find ourselves in today. However, his argument is fundamental to a right and true understanding of who God is, who we are not, and most importantly, whether we and those around us have a saving faith in His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.