In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. […]
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- John 1:1-5, 9-14
Light and darkness cannot coexist. It is a basic principle of physics (even if the nature of light is poorly understood), and a familiar reality in our experience. As soon as you flick on a light switch, the darkness disappears. Indeed, we could define darkness as the absence of light. Darkness is not a thing in itself. It is a negative state. No light.
John’s prologue links light closely with two concepts: life and truth.
God’s light is truth revealed. Jesus is the Word who existed eternally with God and who is God. In Jesus, God’s truth became incarnate. In him, God’s glory was seen, not visibly (except at the Transfiguration) but in his character, his teaching and his actions. John saw his glory in the grace and truth that filled Jesus and flowed out in every word and each deed. Jesus shone light because he revealed God’s truth in grace.
God’s light is also life. Just as the light of the sun is the basis for all life on earth, so the light of God is the source of all life. Jesus is the life. He is not like us – living recipients of the gift of life – he possesses life in himself and he is the giver of life to everything else that lives. When Jesus encountered people, he offered them the light of life. His miracles of healing and words of forgiveness halted death and reversed decay. Jesus shone light because he restored life to those who trust in Him.
The first post in this series explored the need for us to step out of darkness into light, turning from hidden sins to walk by God’s truth. The light of God shines on us through Christ. He is the light of the world who gives the light of life to all who follow him (John 8:12). But the biblical image of light does not end with the light of Christ shining upon us. Scripture also speaks of this light transforming those who step into it. While Jesus was in the world, he was its light (John 9:5). But he was also forming a new community of people who will walk in his light and so would become the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
According to John 1, the life that was in Jesus is “the light of all mankind” (verse 4). It could not be overcome by the world’s darkness. Many among the Jews to whom he came rejected his light, branding it as darkness and slinking into the shadows of self-righteousness. They even tried to extinguish his light by handing him over to be crucified. Yet, those who received Jesus received his light. The light of life shone upon them and the opposition and condemnation of those who rejected him could not stop that. In Jesus’ resurrection, a new dawn came.
John 1 describes the transformation the light of life brings as a new birth. Those who believe in Jesus’ name are “born of God” (John 1:13). This new birth from above and by the Spirit, as Jesus described it to Nicodemus in John Chapter 3, makes us children of God.
Amazingly, John describes the gift of new birth as a right bestowed upon us by God (John 1:12). Our culture speaks much of human rights. Tragically, it does so in a muddled way. In one breath, people can talk about the ‘right to life’ and the ‘right’ to end the lives of unborn children in the womb. When the ‘rights’ of two people seem to clash, we end up with confusion and conflict.
Scripture does not say much explicitly about human rights. It is true that the very concept of human rights is derived from biblical truths. The right to life is rooted in our creation in God’s image and other rights flow from this God-endowed dignity. Having abandoned these gospel foundations for the sanctity of human life and cast off the equally important gospel concept of responsibility to God, it seems inevitable that we descend into conflict over competing supposed ‘rights’.
Into this darkness shines the light of Christ. Penetrating our confusion about our value and significance is this intense beam – God’s promise that those who believe in Jesus have full authority to be his children. This biblical human right is the ultimate source of human dignity. It is greater even than the truth that we were created in God’s image, for it promises restoration from all that has gone wrong since we rejected God’s good rule. It promises more than personal fulfilment in ourselves as we know them now. If that were possible at all, the incarnation would have been unnecessary. God’s promise is of a whole new life in loving relationship with him. The echoes of Genesis 1 in John 1 are not merely about creation. They are signposting new creation. New birth through Jesus, who is the light shining in the darkness.
Later in John’s gospel, Jesus uses another phrase to describe what it means to be God’s children. He said that those who believe in his light “become children of light” (John 12:36). The apostle Paul picks up this phrase twice in his letters. To the Thessalonians he writes, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Paul has told them that the day of the Lord will come suddenly, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2), but he now reminds them that they are not of the darkness. As children of light, they must be alert. It is not time to sleep, but to “be awake and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). They must put on God’s armour and stand firm in their faith.
To the Ephesians, Paul writes, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). They must not try to mix darkness with light, as if that were possible. Their calling is not to participate in “the fruitless deeds of darkness” but to “expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). In doing so, they shine the light of Christ, which may wake the sleepers. The call is to a radically counter-cultural lifestyle that is provocative in the best possible sense. Christian living stands out and shines the light of Christ on others. This is not only an individual calling, of course, it is a community project, as Paul makes clear in the verses that follow (see Ephesians 5:18-20).
The people you lead are children of light. The light of Christ has shone on them and they have been born of God. The light of Christ is now within them and they are now the light of the world. The New Testament pattern for Christian ethics is always the same. Be what you are. Live out the reality of your salvation. Continue in Christ just as you believed in him. You are light, so let the light shine.
As the light of the world, the light we shine is our good deeds (Matthew 5:16). There is, however, an important caveat. The aim in letting our good deeds be seen is that people may glorify our Father in heaven. Children of light do not want praise for themselves, but for him. When Jesus warns against hiding our light, like putting a bowl over a lamp instead of setting it on a stand, he is saying both that God’s work in us should become visible through the way we live and also that we should make it clear that we live this way because of God’s work in us. To be kingdom people (the overarching theme of the Sermon on the Mount within which these words of Jesus are embedded) means to live the way the king commands for the king’s glory.
In short, our works of care and compassion must be integrated with words of comfort and challenge. Social action and evangelism belong together. Jesus shone not only with grace, but with truth. When his light shines in us, we too will be known as people of grace and truth. In our culture of deepening darkness, it is vital that we keep these truths together. We need to be doers of good and declarers of the gospel. Perhaps the most profound thing about our witness in this age will be that we are known as people who do good but who act not in defense of our own rights, or even primarily for the ‘rights’ of others, but for the glory of God in the name of Jesus.
It is only as Jesus, the light of life, shines on people that they know truth and can receive the gift of life. So, we must reflect him in our words and deeds.
As I close this post, let me ask you, child of the light, are you shining with the light of Christ? What about the community you lead within? Do people see you – singular and plural – and recognise the glory of God because you are full of grace and truth? If not, what must change?
Perhaps this Christmas as you rejoice in God’s light shining in the darkness you might discover again the immense joy of the right to become and to be known as children of God.