Monday, May 20, 2019

Out of the Dark and Into the Light

The TV mystery begins, and it’s dark. Dark city street, dark house, dark alley. You think, “Uh-oh, here comes trouble.” Don’t people know bad stuff happens when it’s dark? Especially if they’re alone? 

Apparently while attending perpetrator school, criminals learn the best way not to get caught doing something wrong is to do it in the dark. When no one can see – at least not very well.

I remember as a kid watching the old horror and thriller movies – when they were still in black-and-white. (Those were days before blood, gore and evil got so explicit, depicted in dying color.) Whenever a scene turned dark, you knew something bad was about to happen. Darkness and danger were Siamese twins.

But we don’t have to be a hardened criminals – or movie monsters – to be enticed by the secrecy of the dark. Particularly when doing things we know we shouldn’t be doing. In the light of day, we know how to act like angels. You can almost see our little halos. But in the dark, when no one can see what we’re up to, the insidious human affliction called sin shifts into high gear.

We harbor secrets, sometimes feeling guilty about them. But because no one else knows, they hold us captive. “You call yourself a Christian? What would people think of you if they found out? You hypocrite!”

The Bible calls this being “slaves to sin.” As Romans 6:16 expresses it, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”

I’ll never forget receiving a phone call from an old friend years ago. He and I had met almost weekly for more than a year, working through a Bible study aimed at developing disciples for Christ. Then, because of his work schedule, we stopped meeting.

While we were meeting, it had seemed he was growing spiritually, eagerly discussing the Scriptures and even memorizing some verses. The night he called, however, my friend was wrestling with some deep, dark issues. Answering the phone I instantly could tell he was very upset. “Bob,” he said, with voice trembling, “I need a friend.” That’s all he said, over and over: “I need a friend.” 

I tried to encourage him to explain what was troubling him, but the best I could do was arrange a time and place when we could meet. As we sat down at a restaurant a couple of days later, my friend proceeded to open up about his secrets. He confessed a pattern of sinful behavior I had known nothing about during the months we met. He’d never confided this to anyone. After years of living a double life, the guilt and shame had become more than he could bear.

What I heard surprised me, but didn’t shock me. After years of discipling and mentoring other men, I’d learned you’re likely to hear anything and everything. I also understood the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man….” There’s no sin that any of us is incapable of doing, in thought, word or deed, apart from the saving power of Jesus Christ.

So I didn’t judge him or condemn. What I did was commend him for finally bringing his sins to light. James 5:16 tells us, Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” This is not like confessing to a pastor or priest, seeking absolution. It’s shining the light of God’s grace and mercy into one’s dark, secret world – because once revealed, besetting sins can lose their power.

Another passage from the same book gives a vivid illustration of the power of confession and repentance: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8-10).

This is what my friend had done, finally becoming honest with himself and submitting to the accountability of God – and a brother in Christ. For the first time, he was able to experience the truth of 1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

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