Living as Children of Light
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Ephesians 5:1–5:14
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Throughout his thirteen New Testament letters, Paul repeatedly uses the word “walk” to illustrate the manner in which one regulates his or her life. Frequently he will employ the term as a verb of command, indicating that there is a prescribed pattern of conduct by which the Christian is to live.
If you will permit a brief sidebar, I’d like to think for a moment about how the Bible uses the word, “walk.” There was an older Greek term for “walk”—“πατεω”—that had largely fallen from use during New Testament times. In its place arose several forms of that basic word that attached prefixes that intensified or strengthened its meaning. The most familiar of these, and the one of which Paul was most fond of using, simply added the prefix “περι,” which means “around.” The most basic definition of “περιπατεω,” then, meant simply “to walk around.” Therefore, when Paul writes of one’s “walk,” he is talking about one’s “way of life.”
In order to amplify Paul’s intention, listen to how various lexicographers define or describe the term: “to make one’s way,” “to regulate one’s life, “to conduct one’s self,” and “to maintain a certain way of life.” But just to make certain that we clearly understand what Paul means when he exhorts us to walk in a certain way, let’s listen to W.E. Vine’s concise definition. He says that a person’s “walk” signifies “the whole round of activities of the individual life.” As has been said, “In the end, it’s our walk—not our talk—that matters.”
I labor to make that point as we begin for the purpose of emphasizing the fact that being a Christian is not merely an “add-on” to one’s life...it is a radical transformation. Jesus Christ did not give the supreme sacrifice of His life to simply put “religious makeup” on the faces of those who we were His children. He came to change us from the inside out and to move us out of the realm of darkness into His Kingdom of light.
Paul began discussing this in chapter 4, verse 1, by urging his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which (they) had been called.” In transitioning from his discussion of what the followers believe to how they are to behave, he has emphasized the radical lifestyle change that will characterize and confirm that one is truly a Christian. There he used the illustration of taking off an old garment and putting on a new one. Now here in chapter 5 he switches metaphors to show that the difference between the life of the believer and that of the unbeliever is like “day and night”...“light” and “darkness.” In fact, he says down in verse 8 that we are to “walk (or live) as children of light.”
As this passage unfolds, Paul shows us what that looks like in three ways. The first of those is seen in verses 1 and 2, where we learn that...
Living as children of light means following the example of Christ (verses 1-2)
The word “therefore” in verse 1 takes us back to the previous chapter, particularly what is found in verses 17 through 32. There, you recall, Paul drew a contrast between the old manner of life before coming to Christ and with that which we have been called to become. Now in these first two verses of chapter 5, he holds before us an example of what that new life looks like. He writes, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Notice the threefold reference to “love” in these verses. This is always the starting point in terms of our relationship with God. As we have seen on recent Wednesday evenings in our study of 1 John, “God is love” (1 John 4:8 and 16). It is His very nature to love. In fact, in verse 1 He even refers to those who are His children as “beloved.” Not only is that our name, it is also our identity. Because we are His “beloved,” we are to “love” the way that He “loves.” We are to “imitate” His love...to “mimic” it. “Like Father, like son.”
Just how are we to demonstrate that kind of “love”? Verse 2 says that we are to “walk,” or let our whole lives be characterized by “love.” And becoming more specific, the writer adds, “as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.” You see, Christ not only has become our Savior, He has become our role-model as well. Peter has reminded us, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Paul employs the language of sacrifice throughout verse 2, using terms that hearken back to the Levitical offerings of the Old Testament. The apostle’s point is plain. When Jesus handed Himself over to death for His people, it was the supreme demonstration of His “love” for them. Because He is both the ground and model of their love, costly and sacrificial love is to be the distinguishing mark of their lives. To serve others in this way not only pleases God...it is also to imitate both the Father and the Son.
So, the first prerequisite for living as “children of light” is following Christ’s example, living lives of loving self-sacrifice for the sake of others. A second way we are to live comes out of verses 3 through 7:
Living as children of light means forsaking every form of immorality (verses 3-7)
You and I live in a culture that seems to have lost its ability to feel shame. “Anything goes” has become the mantra of our day. Were we to read the Puritan writers, we would find it difficult identifying with their emphasis on personal holiness. We may have “come a long way,” but in some ways we have been traveling in the wrong direction.
Little seems to shock us anymore...which is why what Paul tells us here sounds so radical. Take, for instance, verse 3: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” That would eliminate most of the forms of our entertainment, would it not? I find it interesting that it is within the context of “love,” that the writer tells us what is inappropriate sexual behavior. And he employs three words to express the full orb of the command:
- “Sexual immorality” refers to any type of sexual activity outside of marriage. It is the Greek word “πορνεια,” from which the term “pornography” is derived.
- “All impurity” (“ακαθαρσια”) speaks of every kind of moral uncleanness. In fact, it would inappropriate in this setting to fully define meaning of this word.
- “Covetousness” (“πλεονεξια”) basically refers to “greediness”...and within this context it refers to “unbridled lust” or having an “insatiable sexual appetite.”
The believer is instructed to abstain from such immoral sexual behaviors at all costs. And Paul further adds that such matters should not even be the subject of conversation among us. That includes, I believe, every form of media—whether it be read, watched, or listened to—that would titillate us and arouse within us illicit sexual passion.
Now, lest you think that is just “preacher-speak,” then drop down to verse 5, where we find this warning: “For you may sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater)—the very same words—has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” The parenthetical reference to “idolatry” suggests that the person who has chosen live this way is following a “god” of his own making. And by virtue of that choice, he has separated himself from any claim to the “spiritual blessings” first mentioned in Ephesians 1
But go back to verse 4, where we see that it isn’t just our immoral deeds that are forbidden, but our words as well. Paul has added this command: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Again Paul strings out three words in order that we grasp the need to safeguard our speech.
- “Filthiness” (“αισχροτηs”) refers to that which is “obscene.” We might say “x-rated” language.
- “Foolish talk” (“μωρολογια”) literally means “the words of fools.”
- “Crude joking” (“ευτραπελια”) refers to “sexual innuendos” and “double entendres” that are sexually-suggestive or vulgar.
All three of these terms reveal what was once called a “dirty mind”...one that expresses itself in conversation of the basest kind. Keep in mind that “sins of the tongue” reveal the sinfulness of the heart. This kind of language must be avoided and deemed to be inappropriate and inconsistent for those whom God has set apart for Himself.
“Instead,” Paul adds, “let there be thanksgiving,” or “giving of thanks. One writer has said that “Thanksgiving is almost a synonym for the Christian life. It is the response of gratitude to God’s saving activity in creation and redemption, and thus a recognition that He is the source of every blessing.” Indeed, it is the distinguishing mark of Christian speech.
I am aware that many of us struggle mightily to live morally pure lives. To you, I say, “take heart” in knowing that you are not fighting battles like this by yourself. At the same time, don’t let the fact that others are battling the same lusts you are be an excuse to remain as you are. The church exists to help you in the conflict...and I am not just talking about the elders. All of the “one another” commands in the New Testament give us permission to speak into each others’ lives and receive Godly wisdom and counsel in return. Avail yourself of this resource that the Lord has provided to spur us on to spiritual growth.
Even more assuring is knowing that we “do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with (your) weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Be grateful that you are a blood-bought child of a God who extends His mercy to you, and is able to lift you from what John Bunyan called “the slough of despond” and help you back on your way to “the celestial city.”
In concluding his exhortation regarding the need to forsake every form of sexual immorality in both word and deed, Paul adds this word of caution in verses 6 and 7: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.”
Please notice that it is possible for us—even as Christians—to be “deceived.” And the manner in which that deception comes to us is often in the form of “empty words,” words that are devoid of truth and lead us into error...words that promise what they cannot deliver...at least not righteously. Further note those who reject or neglect the commands that are mentioned in this section exist under “the wrath of God.” Such people are referred to as “the sons of disobedience,” and Christians are warned to “not become partners with them.” Fellowship with “disobedience” renders us “indicted co-conspirators” and places us under God’s judicial hand. If that means finding new friends and new forms of entertainment, so be it. Do it for the sake of your own soul.
Living as “children of light” involves forsaking every form of sexual immorality. Just in case we tend to forget, God takes sin seriously...very seriously. And so must we. And while Christians are not sinless, they should “sin less”...and less. And as that change occurs, others cannot help but take notice. And that brings us to the third way that Christians are to live. Verses 8 through 14 tell us that...
Living as children of light means fruit bearing that exposes the darkness (verses 8-14)
As he did in chapter 4, Paul reminds his readers of their former manner of life and then contrasts that with what they had become. We see this in verse 8 with the two phrases, “at one time you were” and “but now you are.” In other words, he is calling them to live out their new identity “in Christ.” As mentioned earlier, the comparison is between “darkness” and “light.”
Ours is not the first generation to deify sex. We are to see it as a good gift given by a good God to be used for good purposes within the marital relationship. And, as radical as it may seem, it is intended to point us to the One who gave it. What we tend to forget is that it has boundaries. The Bible never equates sex with sin, unless it is outside the bond of marriage. Therefore, as John Stott has said, “The reason why Christians should dislike and avoid vulgarity is not because we have a warped view of sex, and are either afraid or ashamed of it, but because we have a high and holy view of it as being in the right place God’s good gift, which we do not want to see cheapened.” How counter-cultural are his words.
“The children of light” are placed in stark contrast with “the sons of disobedience” mentioned in verse 6. In commanding us to “Walk as children of light,” Paul explains parenthetically in verse 9 what that looks like. “The fruit of light,” he writes, “is found in all that is good and right and true.” It is accidental that he lists another trilogy here, this time one that speaks of virtue rather than vice:
- “Good” (“αγαθωσυνη”) or “goodness” refers to that which is “morally upright.”
- “Right” (“δικαιοσυνη”) could be considered a synonym for “goodness,” but it goes deeper than that. In fact, it is a depiction of God Himself. It might even be thought of as “Godliness.” It is used repeatedly in Scripture to refer to “right standing with God.”
- “True” (“αληθεια”) might be better translated “truthfulness” or “perfect fidelity with all that is truthful.”
All three of these terms describe the character of God. From 1 John 1:5 we learn that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Therefore, hearkening back to Paul’s initial command in verse 1 that we are to “be imitators of God,” we are further urged here to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” And if that seems a bit vague, he has filled in the blanks for us in other places. For example, in Romans 12:1 and 2 wrote, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As I mentioned a week ago, Christians are to be “thinking people.” We are not merely animals who live by instinct.
“Light” and “darkness” cannot co-exist. They are diametrically opposed one with the other. Where one is, the other isn’t. God’s character is the ultimate example of this. Remember John’s words: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “Darkness” represents sin, evil, and unrighteousness, including those deeds and words described in verses 3 and 4. But “light” symbolizes all that is “good and right and true.”
Therefore, verse 11 tells us that, as “children of light,” we are to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them”...“show them up for what they are.” And what they are is “unfruitful” or “unproductive” and “useless.” One is immediately led to think of the “works of the flesh” listed in Galatians 5(:19-23) and which stand in opposition to the “fruit of the Spirit” listed there. Such “works,” we are told here, are “shameful even to speak of,” as evidenced by the fact that many are committed “in secret.”
Twelve years ago an ad agency was hired by the Department of Tourism in Las Vegas to come up with a slogan that would brand that city as the place where visitors could come and feel the freedom to “let their hair down,” and engage in acts they would never think of doing “back home.” Thus was born the phrase, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Although it took a few years to really catch on, the ad campaign has proven successful. Today “Sin City” draws more visitors with fewer inhibitions than ever before.
Of course, you and I don’t have to go to Las Vegas to carry out “deeds of darkness,” do we? All we have to do is “pull the shades” or “watch our steps” and, if we are careful and cunning enough, we can enter into our own little world of immorality. It’s available 24/7 on computer and cable screens. And as too many broken lives have shown—to borrow from the Las Vegas slogan—“what happens in our mind rarely stays in our mind.”
Verse 13 adds, “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.” “Who will ever know?” we ask. Well, for starters, the God who is “light” already knows. And, truth be told, you already know as well...don’t you? “Be sure your sin will find you out,” Moses warned the people of his day (cf. Numbers 32:23). What happens in Vegas never stays in Vegas. Sin is always “exposed”—shown for what it is—“by the light” and “becomes visible.” Jesus expressed it this way in Luke 8:17, “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”
How sobering and convicting to consider that every “immoral,” “unclean,” and “covetous” act we have committed, and every “filthy,” “foolish,” and “crude” word we have spoken will be laid bare for all to see...forcing us to cry out to God for mercy. But how reassuring to know that we have a Savior who is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” if we will “confess” them to Him (1 John 1:9).
But hear me carefully, my friends, now is the time to do that...not then. 2 Corinthians 6:2 tells us that “Now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation.”
In fact, as we arrive at verse 14, that seems to be where this passage has been taken us. Outside of its context, this verse would be unclear, but flowing out of the first thirteen verses it appears to be making a closing appeal. When Paul says, “For anything that becomes visible is light,” he is emphasizing the fact that light has a twofold effect on the prevailing darkness...it makes visible, and it also transforms.
Now here is the point—and this is where being “children of light” makes this applicable to us: the disobedient and “unfruitful” lives of unbelievers are brought to light when seen against the obedient and “fruitful” lives of believers. In other words, the faithful presence of a consistent Gospel witness exposes the presence of evil. And because of that, many are led to repent of their dark and disobedient manner of life and turn to the light of the Savior. Paul says it this way in verses 13 and 14: “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” The “light” changes everything. It makes “visible” that which is in the “darkness.” John Newton spoke for every “son of disobedience” who has been radically transformed into a “child of light” when he penned the words, “I once was blind, but now I see.”
The citation at the end of verse 14, therefore, is the appeal to those still residing in the “darkness” to respond to God’s redeeming grace:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
The “sleeper” is the one who persists in living in the realm of disobedience, darkness, and death. And the exhortation is to “awake” and get up out of the grave. In other words, look to the “light” of Christ, and He will “shine on you.”
Rather than being a direct Old Testament quote, these brief lines are believed to have been drawn from several passages and fashioned into a hymn that was sung by the church whenever someone repented of their sinful life and became a follower of Jesus. Some have suggested that it was sung at the time when a new believer was baptized, and that it served as a testimony of the change that had taken place in his life.
The word for “shine” (“επιφαυσκω”) was used to describe “the rising of a heavenly body in the sky.” How appropriate when we think of the Son—“S-o-n”—rising in a person’s heart exposing his sin and bringing him to repentance. Among the Apostle Peter’s last words were these: “You will do well to pay attention (to God’s word) as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day star dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Perhaps you need to turn away from the “darkness” and look toward that “Son-rise.” Could it be that you need to confess and forsake those sins that you think are being done “in secret” and seek the forgiving mercy and life-giving grace of God?
Although this passage concludes with an appeal to the unbeliever to turn to Christ, its primary application is for those of us who are already numbered among His disciples. And this application has two aspects.
In the first place, it is altogether possible for Christians to dabble dangerously in the realm of “darkness.” Two of my pastor-friends have recently had to step down from their pulpits due to immorality. If you are trafficking them then God is calling you to “cease and desist,” and realize that you are living like someone who has been excluded from “the kingdom of Christ and God.” We must stop and consider where our sinful choices are taking us. And make no mistake, because we are His children, the Heavenly Father will not hesitate to discipline us in order to restore us to the path of obedience. The entire tenor of this passage is that we need to begin living in a way that appropriately and consistently represents the Savior who purchased us through His sacrifice on the cross.
And secondly, if you are walking as a “child of light,” be encouraged in knowing that the Lord is using your obedient and fruitful life as a visible testimony to those who are without the Savior. Paul likened the believers in Phillipi to “lights in the world” who shone “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (cf. Philippians 2:15). And let’s not forget the words of Jesus Himself, who left for us this exhortation: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
One of the opportunities we have to demonstrate that we are “children of light” is in our corporate gathering at the Lord’s Table. Just as we eat from one loaf, we who are many show that we are one in Christ. As we approach this celebration, we are told to “examine” ourselves (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:28) before coming to the Table. Where there is need for repentance and confession, use this as the opportunity to renew the commitment you have made to the Savior...and then receive His inviting grace. Where there is need for strength and wisdom, know that He is able to abundantly supply. If you are a member of this church or if you are visiting with us from another church that preaches the same Gospel that you have heard from this pulpit today, and have been baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ, then you are invited to partake.