Lessons in Christian Excellence
The Light of the World: Justice, Good Works, and Redeeming the Social Order
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14
According to the book of Revelation, the ultimate purpose is a realized city (Rev. 21–22), not a realized church in the institutional sense. For those bent on the establishment of liturgy over the establishment of justice, their conception of John’s apocalypse places emphasis upon incense, prayers, chanting, and angels. I find in this hermeneutic a strange twist on literalism where the practical nature of the Kingdom as proclaimed by Christ is lost in the sea of patristic speculation.
God’s temple is now His people, yet what occupies too many Christian leaders is what transpires within four walls whether they be gothic stone or sheetrock. Some believe that by refining doctrine to its most pure state, or by establishing the most orthodox liturgy, God will then do His work of revival and restoration. There is no other way to describe this than ecclesiastical pietism—it is an undue introversion into the depths of organized church order.
Is this the way we are to be the light of the world? Is the light of the world defined primarily by the rightness of church praxis? You should organize your doctrine, but do not make it your end. Sing the songs of the Lord, but do not rest thinking that you have thereby advanced the Kingdom. You have truly empowered yourself for works of service, but it is when we are extended to the oppressed and hungry that we become an illuminated city:
If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as noonday. Isaiah 58:10
This is the great Sabbath that the Lord seeks. Not a day in which you “labor” over what exactly constitutes labor, but sharing your bread and covering nakedness (Isa. 58:7). Again, when these things are done, the end result is light:
Then your light shall break forth like morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:8
Our calling is to be a city of light, and the light we provide is our good works resulting from faith. Without them, we are dead (James 2:20). Without them, we are as unsavory salt left with only one purpose: to be thrown out as road salt for tyrants and their beast systems (Matt. 5:13).
This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:15–16
Children sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” but it is not clear what that means. Parents send their Christian children into public schools to be “light,” but the kind of light our Lord speaks of is “good works,” and the good works He requires in the Sermon on the Mount can barely be achieved by adults, let alone children. The so-called “light” that is supposed to shine has been reduced to being nice, pious, and well behaved. Again, these are all fine qualities that our children should embody, but they hardly warrant mention in the Sermon on the Mount.
This sort of interpretation is an outgrowth of the antinomianism that continues to ravage the modern church where “What Would Jesus Do?” is the ethical foundation upon which Christians seek to build. Instead of emphasizing the carrying of the law upon our hearts, the Christian ethic is made into a rubber bracelet bearing WWJD.
What would Jesus do? The simple—and correct—answer to that question is Jesus would obey His Father’s law (Matt. 5:17); and without a similar commitment to God’s law on our part, each person will act according to a contrived mental image of who they think Christ is, and how they think He would react. Although it is a mental exercise, it remains a graven image, and therefore a defying of the Second Commandment. The rule of thumb is that any contrivance of your own law to please God usually ends up as a violation of the law He’s given you.
We are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14), and our good works must not be hidden. They must exceed not only the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20); they must exceed the righteousness of unbelieving men also. That’s why we have those unique examples such as going the second mile (v. 41), turning over your coat and cloak (v. 40), and loving your enemies (v. 44). Fallen men may act justly, but they will rarely go beyond the law to acts of greater mercy. This is the lot of the Christian who seeks to do more in order that men may come to repentance.
Men will glorify God when they see our good works, and that means godly justice and righteousness. It means acts of mercy and the restoration of a just social order. Faith without these works is dead, and that’s the nature of Phariseeism and why God hates it. The church will always need to be conscientious about focusing too much upon itself, e.g., its liturgy, its ceremonies, its organization, its religious education, its property, etc. If we neglect the light of good works for men to see, our claim that the glory of God is our chief end could become an empty one.
When men begin to glorify our Father in heaven because of our good works, we are fulfilling the “hallowing of God’s Name” as stated in the Lord’s Prayer. It is the good works of God’s people that constitute the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth, and make us a “city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” This is also the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 4:6–8 where the practice of God’s law humbles unbelieving cultures.
The Lord’s Prayer: What We Ask For Is What We Are to Build
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. Matthew 6:9–13
The Lord’s Prayer is intriguing because of its simplicity. This is why so many have taken various approaches at applying it. We think, “How could perfect prayer be so simple? The Lord must be providing us an example, or outline of something greater.” Certainly, this brief petition once unpacked fills the mind and heart with simple yet vast ideas regarding the basic purpose of God for man and history.
Since it is a prayer, it indicates for us the overall will of God for a Christian society. Why would God command us to pray for something that wasn’t His will? In this sense, the Lord’s Prayer is more than a prayer; it is the basic structure for a just and godly social order. However, we cannot understand it if we continue to recite it, or examine it, apart from the context in which our Lord gave it.
This model prayer followed our Lord’s critique of the pharisaical habit of praying to be seen of men (Matt. 6:5) and using “vain repetitions” thinking “that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (v. 7). What God desires is that we pray in secret (v. 6) and live with the awareness that He knows what we need before we ask Him (v. 8).
So, Why Pray?
We pray because prayer—and the Lord’s Prayer in particular—is the primary means to reinforcing the purpose of God in history and encouraging our faith that He will provide what’s needed to fulfill it. We also cannot discount the personal reinforcement of the Lord’s Prayer as it provides each of us the structure of God’s vision for man and history. The Lord’s Prayer is a simple way in which we can compound our understanding of both the mission and method to advancing the Kingdom of God in history.
God’s name is to be hallowed; His will is to be done on earth; man’s daily bread provided; temptations to evil removed; oppression ended; and forgiveness and restitution (justice) made abundant. In other words, you may have uttered the prayer, but you’ll also be doing the lion’s share of the work to fulfill it—you don’t simply pray for daily bread; you work to provide it for others. We don’t stop at praying for a deliverance from evil; we work to remove the wicked from power.
Lastly, like Moses admonished the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 8:18 to remember that the Lord gave them power to get wealth, so the Lord’s Prayer concludes with “God’s is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Don’t forget that the Kingdom, power, and glory are His alone even though you’re engaged in godly labor.
The Lord’s Prayer is more than a prayer. It is the basic structure for a godly social order, and a great indication that the “miraculous” nature of first century Christian history will not be the determining factor in the real Kingdom building. The issues of daily provision, removing evil and temptation, and the restoration of justice (the concept of forgiveness) are much more effective in restoring a godly order than signs and wonders. This was Israel’s lesson also when the nature of their existence radically shifted from bread falling out of the sky in the wilderness to clearing trees and building houses in Canaan—the overt, miraculous provision gave way to the law-based building of godly civilization.
We are to build that for which we pray. We pray the Lord’s Prayer in secret, but we work for it in public. This means the meager charity of the religious order—as demonstrated by the Pharisees—must give way to the organized provision of bread. The public ostentation of religious prayers and liturgy must give way to the hallowing of God’s name in all things, viz. in every area of life.
If You Forget, It Will Depart
Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess (Heb. “take possession of”) the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. Deuteronomy 4:1
The warning regarding forgetfulness is given again in verse 9: “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (emphasis added).
This again highlights the end of a miraculous era for Israel in the wilderness, and it is a great indicator that their possession of the land would be directly contingent upon daily, unglamorous application of God’s statutes and judgments. This was so the neighboring peoples would see that Israel was a great nation—with a very present God (v. 7)—and with a wise and understanding people (v. 6).
Like Israel, we cannot allow these things (the law) to “depart from our hearts” during the “days of our lives,” because if we do, we’ll resort back to Phariseeism. If we do that, a beast system will govern us, and we shall become a false prophet paying homage to it. This is true today as the Bible-believing church is joined at the hip to the state. Ask the average Christian what the term “government” means and he or she will point to Washington.
Justice and Provision
Our “good works”—i.e., the works that accompany faith (James 2:14–26)—are works of justice and provision that cause God’s name to be hallowed and glorified by men. If the people of God were to comprehensively provide justice and provision, the gospel would be irresistible to a greater number in society. Granted, there will be recalcitrant rebels, but the larger portion of this world is looking for both justice and provision. They desire daily bread, social restitution, and the relief of forgiveness, viz. atonement. This again is the heart of the Lord’s Prayer.
It should be clear by now that the just social order the Bible describes hardly resembles the self-indulgent evangelicalism of today. The prophets do not speak of church planting and doctrinal precision, although both are important and necessary to the health of God’s people. This is because “to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3).
For all the Reformed men drifting into Romanism, the Scriptures speak little of liturgy, priests, incense, or cathedral. The purging of dross and alloy described in Isaiah 1:25 (see below) results in a restoration of judges, not bishops. It brings in counselors, not seminary trained clergy. We have clergyman, but justice remains fallen in the street.
In this sense, the target of redemption lies in the realm of the social order, which is consistently described in terms of care for the widow and orphan (Isa. 1:23). We are in a perpetual pursuit of perfect order, doctrine, and organization, but God calls us to redeem the social order. We are the voice to the rulers of the earth because we have authority over them:
And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth. Revelation 17:18
The Apostle John is here speaking of Mystery Babylon (Rev. 17:5), but the calling of God’s “great city” is the same: to reign over the kings of the earth as the authoritative stewards of the mysteries of the Kingdom. If we can embrace this calling, we can begin the process of redeeming this world from organized wickedness.
Zion Shall Be Redeemed with Justice
The city of God was always divided between “kings, princes, judges” and the religious leadership, and corruption was usually found within the halls of power. We tend to define corruption as infractions such as bribery, but the real criminality is in what the bribes purchase: injustice. This means a turning away from the most oppressed of society on behalf of wicked lobbyists:
How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them. Isaiah 1:21–23 (emphasis added)
What defines a harlot city? The city of God becomes a “harlot” when it sells its services—i.e., establishing justice—to the highest bidder. If the judges and rulers are corrupted by bribery, it’s as if the silver and wine are cheapened because resilience and strength are found in pure judgment and righteousness. The city has been bought up by wickedness and can only be redeemed by a return to justice:
Therefore the Lord says, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, “Ah, I will rid Myself of My adversaries, and take vengeance on My enemies. I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. Isaiah 1:24–27 (emphasis added)
The city of God of old was filled with judges and counselors, and they were to govern in terms of the revealed will of God in Scripture. However, in the New Testament, a more effective means of voicing that righteousness was established by creating a nation of priests in the body of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Now, at every level of society, we can “let our light shine” as a “city set on a hill,” and permeate the social order with “good works” that cause men to “glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We must still have the godly rulers, but the foundations of justice will only be permanent when justice becomes the ruling principle in every heart and mind.
Yes and No, the Foundation of Justice
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:37
When the apostle Paul said that a “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), the meaning is similar to our Lord’s in that anything more than a yes or no also stems from evil. This is because your motive for accomplishing something is not determined by the simple dictates of God’s standards for righteousness—which only require your compliance—but by some other motive for which you appeal by swearing and oath taking.
We are not God. We cannot swear by heaven, earth, or anything else in creation. We are powerless to even change the color of a single strand of our hair (Matt. 5:36), so we cannot swear by ourselves. All we have the power to do—and all that is required of us—is to let our yes be yes and our no be no. All we can do is to do justly in the affairs of this life.
If there is no justice at this fundamental level, then there can be no justice in the social order. If a man’s “yes and no” are not sure, then what hope do we have that justice will ever be established within society? We suffer because the capital of faith and character are depleted and cheapened. We must restore our spiritual capital1 in order to restore justice and righteousness in society.
This was not a New Testament idea. The entire social order in the Old Testament was to be determined by the people of God making judgments in the affairs of life by means of instruction in God’s law. This was the lesson given to Moses by his father-in-law, Jethro: that the entire hierarchy of the Mosaic system was to rest upon a self-governing people.
And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Exodus 18:20 (emphasis added)
Without the people knowing the way to walk and the work to do, the system of delegated authority between them and Moses would be ineffective and would soon become a bureaucratic welfare state.2 Even today, because God’s people are not instructed in God’s law, they’ve substituted a gross spiritualism as the new way to walk, and materialistic gain as the new work to do. This has left a massive vacuum within social government that the state will continue to fill.
To let your yes be yes, and your no be no, is a fundamental building block to creating Christian civilization because it holds back the state from determining your yes and no. Coerce your own heart, and no authority is necessary to coerce it for you. Govern yourself, and the cracks will finally appear at the base of the new Tower of Babel.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9
All of creation is groaning as it waits for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). These are they that usher in the era of the peace of God:
For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12
Sinful man cannot create peace because his starting point is chaos. Yet, the Christian cannot create it either without dispensing with his personal and corporate pietism. The world’s problems must become our problems, but this means stepping out of the institutional church and the prayer closet for the purpose of godly labor. Rushdoony summarizes this nicely:
Fallen man, by seeking to establish the Kingdom of Man, Babel, Babylon the Great, seeks peace, i.e., law, order, health, and prosperity, on his own terms, in defiance of God. He is thus in reality not a peacemaker but a discord-maker, and a lover of death (Prov. 8:26). No man can be a peacemaker in Christ’s sense who is not actively engaged in working for God’s order, His righteousness or justice, and the triumph of His Kingdom. The very word peace prohibits us from limiting its meaning to a spiritual concern. The very fact of the atonement requires us to be the people of God’s total peace. Because God is totally God, and the Creator of all things, His holy order must be established by us over this fallen and rebellious world in every area possible. No man can be a peacemaker and be an antinomian, or a “spiritual” Christian who despises the problems of this world as irrelevant.3
To be the city set on a hill requires that we reveal the light of God’s glory through our good works done by the power of the Spirit and in terms of God’s law-word. The massive overhaul in Christian thinking required to achieve this is beyond daunting, but this is where you and I come in. Although some may desire specific plans to be drawn up, the great need is a universal acceptance of the dominion mandate. We are still in a period of history where teaching and proclaiming the message of the Kingdom of God is our first and greatest work. This is Chalcedon’s purpose, and we leave it to individuals to apply the blueprints to their respective spheres.
Let your light shine.
1. Christopher J. Ortiz, “Restoring Spiritual Capital: Rushdoony’s Solution to World Crisis,” Faith for All of Life, March/April 2009, http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2910
2. Christopher J. Ortiz, “The Leadership Principle,” Faith for All of Life, March/April 2006, http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=261
3. R. J. Rushdoony, The Sermon on the Mount (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 38.
Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.