True Light from the Imago Dei

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Perhaps you have heard it too. A friend once told me that Christians are like the moon. Just as the moon only reflects the light from the sun, Christians can only reflect the light from Christ to the world. We are not the light; we are just reflectors.

There is some truth in this statement. Christ is the true light of the world (John 8:12). Understanding that we reflect his light helps us to keep a humble perspective and to remain focused on Christ as the central point when we share the gospel. But to say we only reflect his light is not quite the whole story.

Those who have been redeemed not only reflect light, they have the Spirit of God within them—light that illuminates and light that is a beacon of hope. There is both great joy and assurance when we understand that we do have a light within us which can shine for Christ. 

The God of light placed his image, the “Imago Dei,” into man.

To understand this truth, we need to look back to the beginning. In Genesis 1:26, God declared his intention to make a creature in his image. Genesis 2:7 describes how:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

The breathing of life into the man was by the Spirit of God, the active agent who brought about all God spoke into being. The breath from the Spirit resulted in a unique, ensouled, physically and spiritually living creature. The God of light placed his image, the “Imago Dei,” into the man to be his light in the world.

The full flower of the Imago Dei was lost when Adam sinned.  

Male and female he created them to rule over the physical creation under God’s loving authority. Sadly, when they were deceived by the lying serpent, tragedy struck the creation. In violating God’s one command, Adam and Eve were justly punished, as God had warned, with the curse of death: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19). But fortunately, that is not the end of the story.

The Spirit of God in them, the full flower of the Imago Dei, was lost when they sinned; the holiness of God could not dwell within sinful humans. But God offered hope. In Genesis 3:15, God promised an offspring from Eve who would undo the curse by fulfilling the test of loyalty to God that Adam had failed to do. Until that time, God would graciously provide a way to “cover” the sin of all those who believed him. But not all people would believe.

Christ is the true light of the world.

From that moment on, there would be two types of people in the world. Those who would believe God are called the “seed” or offspring of the woman, and those who would not believe but remain enemies of their Creator are called the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

Down through history the two “seeds” remained at war with each other until the promised (singular) “seed” of the woman came. Paul writes,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4–5)

In these verses, Paul presents the heart of the gospel. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has been redeemed from sin. This redemption is based on a double exchange when Jesus Christ took on believers’ sin, and believers received Christ’s perfect righteousness. The transaction is completed through faith alone in Christ alone. The atoning death of Jesus not only fulfilled the law of the old covenant, but it also ushered in the reality of the new covenant where sinners are given the perfect righteousness earned by Christ to make them holy before God with a restored Imago Dei.

Only those who have faith in Christ are, once again, given the Holy Spirit.  

All human beings retain a faint outline of the image of God. This vestige is why all people have a moral sense, seek justice, and desire relationships in family and friends. This shadow of the image of God is what gives human life an intrinsic value and prevents people from killing their neighbor and stealing his ski boat. While fallen humans still bear God’s image in its wider sense (the intellect and moral sense), by sin they lost it in the narrower sense (ability to act morally right).

But only those who have faith in Christ are, once again, given the Holy Spirit. The apostle John explains this when he tells us what happened when Jesus appeared to his disciples after being raised from the grave:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22) 

In a direct parallel to the creation of man in Genesis 2, John tells us that the resurrected Son of God breathed into his disciples the Holy Spirit. Everyone who would believe would also receive the Holy Spirit.

It is God’s Spirit that brings the new birth that Jesus described to Nicodemus in John 3, and it is by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s word that all believers are being conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:28-29). Although there remains, and will remain, a remnant of sin in every believer until glory, there is also the light of God in his image breathed into each one by the Spirit.

We have joy because of the light of the Imago Dei within us. 

Jesus encourages us with these words:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14–16)

Paul affirms this when he writes,

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. (Eph. 5:8) 

We can rejoice because of the light of the Imago Dei within us. We have assurance as well, regardless of the challenges in this life:

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 Cor. 4:6)

Unlike the lightless, cold moon, that merely reflects the light of the sun, we are lights of life, bearing the restored Imago Dei that can and should shine with confidence for his glory.

Don Strand holds a Master of Arts in Theology, is an ordained minister, and serves his local church as elder, teacher, and worship leader.