Jesus’ declaration in John 8:12 has a way of brightening our day in more ways than one: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Those are amazing, encouraging truths in a sin-cursed world that is becoming increasingly godless and dark. Ours is a world where sin is flaunted, truth is mocked, and mercy is rare. As Jesus’ followers, we rejoice that we have the light of life even as darkness surrounds us.
But Jesus expects more of us than simply to enjoy his light personally and bask in its warmth. One chapter later, Jesus offered a variation of his earlier claim: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:5). Please notice his qualifying phrase, “While I am in the world.” While!
Jesus’ implication seems to be that once he completed his acts of redemption for us and returned to Heaven, we would take over the role of being light in a dark world by reflecting Jesus in our lives. It is now our responsibility and privilege. Jesus directly offered us that challenge in his Sermon on the Mount when he stated, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
What does that look like on a daily basis? Part of the answer lies in the opening verses in Matthew 5. It is important to note that in verse 1 Jesus seemed to draw his disciples away from the crowds to offer a special challenge to them. Then his “Beatitudes” (vv. 3-12) described the way of life that God desires in his true followers, a way of life that is distinctly different than many lives around us. For us to be the light of the world, our attitude, values, and lifestyle must be different, or no one will notice.
For us to be the light, we need to:
- Show the world how to live with a humble spirit and utter dependence upon God, while others are filled with unhealthy pride.
- Show the world how to have a heart that breaks and heals through sincere repentance while others are condoning, redefining, and multiplying sin.
- Show the world how to live with gentle strength, under the Spirit’s control, while others are selfishly walking all over each other for personal gain.
- Show the world how to passionately thirst for the things that really matter, while others are chasing empty dreams.
- Show the world how to be merciful through compassion and forgiveness, while others are hateful, vengeful, or oppressive.
- Show the world how to be pure in heart, thought, and life, while others are gorging themselves on the filth so prevalent in the world.
- Show the world how to make peace, while others are jealous, racist, divisive, and cruel.
- Show the world how to stand strong and remain faithful in the face of harassment, peer pressure, and persecution, while others are perpetrating those things.
The Bible offers many examples of what it means to be a light in the midst of the darkness. Noah was a blameless example of righteousness in the midst of a corrupt society. Boaz and Ruth were a kind and godly couple surrounded by a morally depraved society. Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah demonstrated godliness while serving in positions of influence among the national leaders of pagan nations. Their lights shone brightly.
The true disciple of Jesus is to be a positive light on the ball team, in the classroom, at the construction site, in the factory, and in the face of a crisis. God described to the prophet Micah what that looks like: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).
One of Jesus’ disciples who heard his first presentation of the Beatitudes was Peter, who personally observed those attributes in the life of Jesus for three years. Peter’s own life was transformed by that influence, so later, by the inspiration of God’s Spirit, he reminded all Christians, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
A few verses later he summarized our task as reflectors of Jesus’ light: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (v. 12), echoing Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
You are the light of the world, a world in desperate need of a holy example. Let’s shine brightly and well!