The Difference between Shining & Performing – Brad Jersak


In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers the Beatitudes (Blessed are you) as a summary of what the character of Christ looks like as he shines through the lives of his disciples. He then offers two analogies to encourage them to be faithful Christ-bearers in this world.

“You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world… like a city on a hill and like a lamp on a lampstand.” He urges his disciples not to lose the taste of salt or the radiance of light. And he concludes, “Let your light so shine [i.e., shine in this way]: that people may see your good deeds and [thereby] glorify your heavenly Father.”

Now, this might sound like Jesus is encouraging us to show off. But as we’ll see later in the sermon, that is not his intention at all. This isn’t about finding ways to market our own goodness. It helps to notice that he doesn’t say, “Try to be light, manufacture light, or even shine a light on yourself.” Nothing like that. He says directly, “You ARE light. In fact, you are the light of the world.” And all of that light radiates from the inside out from Jesus, the Light of the world whose indwelling and empowering presence is meant to show up as empathy, humility, justice, mercy, repentance, peacemaking, and patient endurance (the character of Christ corresponding to each beatitude).

And this light (1) cannot be hidden, and (2) should not be hidden. Jesus wants his life to show through us: by how we love others, how we serve in our community, and how we communicate in this world. In effect, he’s saying, live as those whose inner experience of Christ shines outwardly on everyone around you. Freely, you have been shown grace; freely, be gracious.


In recent years, the combination of activism and social media has done some good by publicizing global needs quickly and broadly. But there is a serious shadow side to that. A new word that has “gone viral” in the age of social media and its platforms is “performative.” Performative is when people appear to do good deeds as a way to enhance their public image. It happens, for example, when the “branding manager” or “PR team” makes sure their celebrity client is doing “righteous acts” to be seen. It’s a part of their branding strategy, performed to broaden their market.

“Image makers” rely on this, but eventually, the celebrity may get “called out” for being performative. Even back in the days of Live-Aid festival in 1985, when rockstars from around the globe performed acts for free as part of a fundraising effort, their motives were questioned. Sure, you played “for free,” but the scramble to be part of the show was certainly self-serving when it came to branding. Maybe. That’s the thing about motives. They are impossible to judge fairly.

That said, Jesus had something to say about it in the very same sermon where he had encouraged “shining.” He says,

  • Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

So our lives should radiate such self-giving love that the heavenly Father gets the credit, but our good deeds should never be self-congratulating performances. And Jesus gives us a little exercise to practice obedience in this regard: try giving something (a gift, a donation, a kind deed) and keep it a secret. See if you can be so quiet about it that no one notices you and, in fact, might believe that God still sends his angels or ravens or that God shows up personally invisibly or in disguise.

And if that’s just too difficult, start by not taking a selfie of your righteous deed… and refrain from posting it online. Let Christ, who is your Light, be the one who shines.

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Speaking of secret gifts, we’re willing to use your gift to let Christ’s light shine, and we’ll even give you a tax receipt without posting your name! But seriously, we are so grateful for the many secret gifts that help us help others. Your partnership is much appreciated.

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