What does it mean to be light of the world?

Evan Forester —  November 24, 2014

In John 8:12, Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

There are three things I want to point out in that verse:
1) People are walking in darkness
2) Jesus is the light of the world
3) By following Jesus, we can also have the light of life

One of the most exciting things about Christianity is that Jesus calls us to join in his work of redemption and restoration. We can do this is by bringing light to the darkness. Let’s talk about how that works.

light of the world


When you think about darkness, what words come to mind? I recently asked some friends this, and we came up with a list: fear, danger, despair, blindness, sadness, sin.

Nighttime can be a scary thing, but in modern times we often feel safe because of electric lights. Imagine, however, going out at night during the time of Jesus. There were no street lights, no police, and danger awaited around every corner. Historian Peter Baldwin described nighttime before electricity as “downright perilous.” There were at least three dangers to the night:

1) No guidance or clear paths: Have you ever walked through your house at night with no lights on? There is a reasonable chance you kicked the bed, tripped over a toy, or worse. Roman cities had tight walkways covered in garbage, stonework, and wild animals. You risked serious injury simply because of the many obstacles!

2) Night was the realm of the criminal: Vandals, thieves, murderers. These were the type of people you might encounter if you left your home in the darkness. Not exactly ideal companionship.

3) People who had something to hide: John Henley described the situation this way: “Those fearful of arrest could move safely under cover of darkness. Lovers could connect, adulterers could couple, prostitutes could work, homosexuals could meet.” In other words, people hid everything they could in darkness.

(Side note – I found an awesome collection of photos with modern cities as if they had no lights.)

Photograph by THIERRY COHEN (click photo for more)

Jesus is the Light

The light of Jesus conquers darkness in every way:

1) It gives us guidance and a clear path: Psalms 119:105 says, “Your word is a light to my feet and a light unto my path.”

2) Sin and danger are overcome: John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Thanks to Jesus, the murderers and thieves are defeated.

3) The hidden ways of darkness are exposed: Ephesians 5:11-13 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.

Most people will be pretty happy about number 1 and 2, we want clear paths and conquered criminals! But what about part 3? All of us have areas of our lives that we would rather not have exposed. It can actually be terrifying to know that Jesus sees everything and exposes everything.

But this fear is good, because it gives us no other option but to run to Jesus. When we do that, he redeems us! Ephesians 5:8-9 says, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” There is hope here for everyone, even murderers, thieves, and vandals.

How to walk as children of the Light

Not only does Jesus proclaim himself to be the light of the world, but he also calls us to be light to the world. He did it in John 8:12, Ephesians 5:9, and also Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

If we want to be the light, then we must start by understanding how to shine the light. Imagine a lightbulb: Its purpose is to shine light, but no matter how hard it tries it cannot generate light on it’s own power. The lightbulb cannot fulfill its purpose until it is plugged into a power source. Once connected properly, however, the lightbulb will automatically shine – it cannot help it.

In the same way, we cannot shine light unless we are connected to Christ. We must seek after him and live in his presence. When we allow the Spirit to work in us while we do things like listening to the Word or praying, we won’t be able to help but shine His light.

From there, it is simple. You must do what light does – overcome darkness.

Bring courage to those with fear.
Protect those in danger.
Kindle hope for those in despair.
Offer guidance to the blind.
Give joy to the sad.
Show grace to the sinful.

The list could go on and on, but it starts with Jesus. Being the light of the world is not a matter of performance, but rather a matter of position. When you place yourself at the feet of Jesus, you will bring hope to dark places like never before.

If you would like to take a deeper dive into this topic, check out this series on how to be a light of the world that explores the Sermon on the Mount.


Evan Forester

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This post was by Evan, an adventure enthusiast learning to #LiveFully in New Zealand. He now writes for Embracing Exile.