There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
Christians reflect the Light.
Have you ever been outside somewhere far away from the light pollution and really gazed at the night sky? The stars you see in remote areas like that can be breathtaking. So can the moon. You don’t realize how bright a full moon can be until you are sufficiently far from civilization, and the moon becomes the truly dominant source of light in the night’s sky.
However, the fact is that the moon is NOT a source of light. It generates no light at all. The moon’s function isn’t to create light, it’s to reflect it. If it weren’t for the sun’s shining brightly on the other side of the earth, the moon in our night’s sky would be as dark and cold as the rest of the blackness of space.
The same thing is true of Christians. We generate light in a dark world, but only to the extent to which we reflect the radiance of God Himself. The Son (play on words clearly intended) is light. The Apostle John called Jesus “the true light” (John 1:9), “the light of life” and “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Interestingly, Jesus gave Christians that same title (“light of the world”), instructing us to reflect His light so that a watching world would glorify His Father (Matthew 5:14-16). It is our job not to generate light, but to reflect the One who is the light.
How does that work?
My small group has been studying spiritual gifts recently, and certainly that must be at least part of the answer. Spiritual gifts are a key way in which God uniquely equips us to reflect His glory in loving and serving others. By this love and service (each in our unique way), we testify to who God is by reflecting Him.
But in my experience, whenever the discussion turns to the Holy Spirit, people have a ton of questions. The topic of spiritual gifts is no exception. For example, the other night in small group someone asked why Christians each have different spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12, Rom 12:3-8, 1 Pet 4:10-11, etc). So, I wanted to share an analogy that I think helps us better understand both that question and how we uniquely reflect / testify to God’s light.
Seeing God’s perfect light
God is perfect and infinite. Therefore, any reasonable analogy of God as light would have to imagine that light to be very bright, very pure, and very full — in fact, infinitely or perfectly so.
But did you know that white light is the sum of all possible colors of light? The light that comes from the sun contains every frequency of light (each frequency is a different color) the eye can detect, as well as a whole bunch of frequencies we can’t see. But in order for that light to become visible, it has to bounce off something with “pigment” in it. Looking at the sun is just white-hot blindingly brilliant. No color, no discernible shapes, just burned out retinas. But a blue shirt or a red rose or the green grass all contain various pigments which absorbs some light waves and reflects others. A blue shirt reflects the light frequencies that make up that particular shade of blue light, and absorbs the rest. The red rose reflects red light, and absorbs the rest. And so on. Suddenly, you have color. And beauty. And wonder at the world God made.
Another cool way to see the many diverse colors in white light is through a prism. A prism is a crystal shaped in a certain way as to pull apart the wavelengths of the light, in turn separating the colors into a visible rainbow (the natural progression of colors along the frequency spectrum). It is by this same principle that a water droplet forms an actual rainbow in the sky — sunlight is bent and separated when it passes through the water to display its various composite colors.
Refracting, not just reflecting
All of this, I think, helps to explain why Christians have diverse spiritual gifts and adds practical detail to understanding how we reflect the Lord. If God is infinitely pure and perfect light and our job is to reflect that light to the world, then I contend none of us is in a position to reflect God’s light perfectly. So the moon analogy isn’t quite right, because we don’t really reflect a “dimmer and less pure version” of the full spectrum of God’s light.
Instead, I think a better analogy might be to see each of us as a shirt or a rose or the grass. I think it makes more sense to see the Christian as uniquely shaped water droplets — shaped by our unique spiritual gifts. I have gifts of knowledge and teaching, so I reflect and refract the blue light, so to speak. My wife has gifts of service and mercy, so she reflects and refracts red light. And so on. Dozens of gifts, each given by the Spirit to show a small particular facet of God’s perfect whole. Millions of Christians in every generation, each with unique “spiritual DNA,” who in their totality (though still imperfectly), reflect God. The world sees a small aspect of God in the Spirit’s work in me, and a different small aspect of God in the Spirit’s work in you. But in total, as the Church, we become a much more reasonable reflection of who God is than any of us could ever be alone. Instead of the retina-scorching brilliance of God’s blazing white light, the world sees … us.
Making it practical
This not only helps to answer my friend’s question from small group the other night, but it creates a tremendous sense of obligation to examine our lives. If God designed Christians to be a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16) and a reflection of God’s glory, then this cannot remain just an academic question or an interesting small group discussion. It becomes a matter of how we honor God with our lives, and begs the question of how we apply it.
I’ll likely come back to this topic in more detail, but I tend to think of the empowerment of the Spirit in the Christian life by breaking it down into four distinct categories. Much of my understanding on this comes from studying under Bruce Bugbee, John Ortberg, Ruth Haley Barton and others at Willow Creek back in the 90’s, so it’s held me in good stead for a while. But instead of getting into a lot of detail here, let me just list these categories, along with the primary question I recommend you start with if you want to dig deeper. Like I said, I’ll likely write more later. In the meantime, ask yourself, ask God, and ask a trusted Christian friend these questions about your unique Christian DNA…
- Godly Passion — What could you stay up all night talking about?
- Spiritual Gifts — What do I most enjoy doing?
- God-given Personality — In what kind of interactions with others do I most enjoy?
- Spiritual Pathways — When do I find myself feeling the most connected to God?
Digging into these four areas will help you with mechanics and details, but the true and final call to action in any Christian’s life is to love God and love others in the unique way that only you can (Matthew 22:36-40).
This is what it means to bear witness to God. We reflect and refract His light in our own unique way, in the way He designed for us before we were even born (Psalm 139:13-16).
To that end, I’d like to close with a phenomenal song I first heard months ago in children’s ministry. I loved it then, and I jam to it at least once a week still. It’s by Jamie Grace, who is an insanely talented musician, and every time I hear her song Show Jesus, I think of the moon reflecting the sun or the prism refracting a small piece of the light of Christ into the world, and reminds me that this is what God is calling me to do and be. Maybe it’ll become that kind of “song of remembrance” for you too.