In the Gospel of John we read this declaration: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:19-21; ESV)”
Some things you don’t do when you know people are watching. Certain crimes are more likely to be carried out under cover of darkness. Illicit affairs are hidden away. Guilt and fear of being caught motivates us to conceal such activities. Likewise, some behaviors are altered because of who is watching. Children behave better when they think their parents or teachers are looking their way. Drivers slow down if they notice that there is a police car up ahead. For one reason or another, when a preacher enters a conversation, there is a tendency by some to try to clean up their language. Being aware of being watched becomes a motivation to try and impress the one watching.
How would we behave if there was always someone watching?
Imagine for a moment that your mother or your father were able to always see what you were doing. Would it alter your behavior at work? At play? At home? Does your work ethic on the job change when your boss is walking behind you taking notes?
Sometimes knowing we are being watched provides an incentive to try to do better. Sometimes it motivates us to hide the things we are doing. How we respond to being watched has more than a little to do with how guilty we feel about our behavior.
David, in the Psalms, observes, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man (Psalm 11:4; ESV).” Likewise, we read, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13; ESV).”
Both passages teach the same principle. There is always someone watching you. You can’t escape His observational skills, and not only is He watching you, but He is taking notes on your behavior.
For David and the writer of Hebrews alike, this was motivation to do good, resist temptation, and try as hard as possible to be pleasing to God. For those inclined to misbehave, God’s all-seeing eye is an irritant and something to be ignored or dismissed. Some men do not want others peering over their shoulder, judging the merits of their behavior. In the words of John, they hate the light and prefer the comfort of darkness, so what they are doing can’t be seen. How you feel about the idea of God watching you speaks to both your guilt over the things you are doing and your desire to keep doing those things.
The inspired writers seem to be assuming that the righteous man is going to want to cast off the things he is ashamed of and try as hard as possible to live right. The writer of Hebrews, for instance, not content with just reminding us that God is watching, conjures forth the image of a great crowd of spectators made comprised of all the righteous men and women of the Old Testament, with Jesus most prominent in the crowd, and says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2; ESV)”
Moses, Abraham, Noah, Enoch, Able, Isaiah, David, and all the rest of the great men and women of faith… they chose to do their best, living by faith, trusting in God, seeking after righteousness and a heavenly home and now they are looking to see if we are going to make the same sort of choice. Jesus knew that God was watching Him, and He always did His best to do those things that would make God happy (cf. John 8:29). Now Jesus is enthroned in heaven and He is observing us, hoping we will do our best to be pleasing to the Father.
God especially, as David says, is watching. His eye sees what we do, and He is testing the lives of men, observing whether their deeds are good or bad. For those who understand this, the lesson is simple: always behave as if God was standing right next to you, taking notes, because He is. Don’t do those things that you feel a need to hide, because ultimately, you can’t. Bring your deeds to the light and walk in the light, even as He is in the light, because that is where you will find salvation (cf. 1 John 1:7).
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.