Communities of Light, Part 1 (Biblical Theology)

Tim Brister
Tim Brister
2014 29 Apr

God is light.

I’m not sure we have probed into the depths of that profound reality. I’m not trying to sound abstract or philosophical. The Bible is clear to explain that God is light (1 John 1:5). He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) and is considered as “the Father of lights” (James 1:17). All of this speaks of God’s character and domain of existence. He is brilliant in all His holiness, perfect in all His righteousness, and absolute in all His attributes. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, and in the same manner sin cannot stand in the presence of God.

In the beginning, God’s first work in creation was a reflection of His character. God who is light made light out of darkness. He took what was “without form and void” and stamped His nature upon it with four little words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:2-3). Where there was chaos, there was clarity; where there was emptiness, there was the presence of His character.

God created Adam and Eve to walk in the light of His presence. In the Garden, Adam and Eve were to bear God’s likeness, exercise dominion over all He created, and enjoy the presence of God in the protection and provision of His creating and sustaining Word. But as you know, the serpent threw darkness upon the light of God’s Word, sowing doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve regarding God’s good purposes for them (“Did God really say . . .?”). The darkness of doubt bore fruit in the sinful rebellion of Adam and Eve, and darkness moved from doubt to guilt and shame as they hid themselves from the presence of God (Genesis 3). Since then, mankind is born in a state of sin and separation from God in what the Bible describes as the “domain of darkness.”

God’s necessary response to darkness has to be wrath. Because He is perfectly holy, He cannot tolerate the slightest of sin. God can no more tolerate sin as light can tolerate darkness. This is why Paul says “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). Godliness and righteousness is light. Un-godliness and un-righteousness is un-doing that godliness and righteousness in perpetuating the darkening actions of the Fall from our sinful parents. Even still, God’s light shines forth in His character through His invisible attributes, His divine power and divine nature, so that they are clearly perceived (Romans 1:19). Nevertheless, it is these very truths about God’s character (light) that men suppress because, as Jesus said, people loved darkness more than light (John 3:19-20). Therefore, the wrath of God abides upon them because they can’t stand to bear the reality of God through the light He has revealed.

Aren’t we glad the story does not end there? There is good news for those stumbling in darkness!

The promise is that there would be one who would come to the earth to overthrow the domain of darkness. He would come as light so that whoever believes in Him may not remain in darkness (John 12:46). He would be the one of whom was prophesied of old,

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

Indeed, at His birth, Zechariah prophesied that He would “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). This Light has shone in the darkness, and while the darkness overcame in the Garden, it could not overcome in the Manger (John 1:5). Jesus the Messiah has come as “the light of the world” so that those who follow Him would not walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12).

The way God worked in creation to sovereignly bring light with His omnipotent Word is the same way God worked in redemption. Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3). He is the manifestation of God’s infinite perfections bound up in one person. When you see Jesus, you see the character and ways of God clearly and beautifully. The glory of God is bound up in a person–Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ–who He is and what He has done–is bound up in the gospel (i.e., Light » Glory of God » Jesus Christ » Gospel). So when God works to bring sinners “out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), He shines “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” upon their minds and hearts (2 Corinthians 4:4). But notice how God does this:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In other words, when God put the stamp or imprint of His nature in creation, He said, “Let there be light.” In the same way, when God put the stamp or imprint of His nature in re-creation, He said, “Let there be light.” God has supernaturally given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God where it was “without form and void.” Where do we see this light? In the face of Jesus Christ!

Sinners who believe in Jesus for salvation are “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). They are those who have “turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). Being renewed in the image of God, Christians are to do what Adam and Eve failed to do–namely “walk in the light as He Himself is in the light” (1 John 1:7). In contrast to the crooked and perverse nature of the world, believers in Jesus are lights (Philippians 2:14-16; Matthew 5:13-16) who “put on the armor of light” by “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:12-14). By discovering the realities of the gospel and living out of their union with Christ, Christians walk as children of light who are becoming who are they already are (“light in the Lord”) (Ephesians 5:7-14).

There will come a day when darkness will utterly cease to exist, when the domain of darkness is completely removed. Even now, “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). But the time will come when God’s people are permanently in God’s presence in a place where there night will be no more. John writes,

“And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

The God who began creation by saying “Let there will be light” will consummate creation by being light forever and ever. What a glorious day that will be!

The theme of light and darkness in Scripture carries us throughout the scope of the biblical narrative–creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. The purpose of probing the depths of these truths is to bring our attention to the nature of gospel community and the mission it bears as light to the world. In a follow-up post, I want to consider the practical and missiological implications of being communities of light who display the manifold beauty and brilliance of God while at the same time shining the light of the gospel in a dark and depraved world.  My hope is when there is greater clarity in our identity there will be a corresponding greater conviction and commitment to our mission.