The people I know who are outside of the Christian faith would not respond too well to Bible verses like this:
But you were once darkness — now you are light in the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8)
I see their point. I would rather call my neighbours and colleagues funny, courageous, kind, hospitable, warm-hearted. And so on. Rather than, you know, ‘darkness.’
Of course the Apostle Paul (for it is he) is writing at this point not to outsiders to the faith, but to insiders, and surely he is encouraging them in their self doubt, and reminding them of God’s kindness. He uses a different language when he is stirring people to follow Christ in the first place.
But it raises the question: what are we actually talking about here? Is faith a thing? Or is it just a religious rebranding of an unchanged heart?
I think it’s a bit like re-purposing a good, old, disused building or taking on a neglected allotment (an allotment in the UK is a patch of land that you can rent cheaply to grow vegetables). An old allotment actually may contain all kinds of treasures, fruit trees, brambles, an asparagus patch. But it is overgrown.
A new owner comes. The bindweed and the ground elder don’t vanish overnight. Both before the change and afterwards, the allotment is a mix of good crop and weeds. But after the new owner comes, it has new direction, new planting, new purpose, intentional ground clearing, a new direction and a new destiny. And it’s still easily neglected, plagued with slugs, not necessarily all that fruitful.
What came before wasn’t worthless. It contained real treasure. Yet the upheaval and change is real too. Darkness and light.