Walk as Children of Light
Topic: Expository Scripture: Ephesians 5:3–5:14
Synopsis: In Ephesians 5:3-14, Paul continues his description of what it means to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling” with a call to Walk as Children of Light. It is a call to a life of moral purity as is fitting to those who are called “saints” and who represent the kingdom of light.
In Ephesians 4:1, Paul began the second half of his letter to the Ephesians with these words: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
In the rest of the letter, he explores and expounds on what that looks like. In today’s text, Paul takes up another arena of life in which there needs to be a dramatic transformation if we are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. In fact, in this arena of life, the contrast between the old life and the new life is so dramatic that Paul uses the image of light and darkness; night and day.
The arena of life that he is talking about is that of our moral standards, and particularly of sexual morality and immorality and standards of sexual behavior. I don’t need to tell you that this is an incredibly controversial subject in today’s world. We live in a world that openly and belligerently declares that there are no moral absolutes; an era of “sexual freedom” to do and be whatever we want to do or be. Beginning with the “sexual revolution” in the 1960’s, the western world, anyway, has been speeding down this road, discarding one sexual taboo after another. Anything goes. The categories of “light” and “darkness” no longer exist. It is all a murky grey.
That the world is rushing down this path should not surprise us. In fact, in this arena of life, there is truly “nothing new under the sun.” The Roman world in which Paul lived and to which he ministered, was almost devoid of any kind of moral restraint. Drunken parties, orgies, multiple concubines, masters feeling free to have sex with their slaves, rape as the right of the conqueror in time of war; it was all accepted and acceptable. No one even gave it a second thought. Even the religious practices of the day often involved sex with temple prostitutes as an act of devotion to the gods of pleasure.
Yet it was to such a world, and to Christian converts who had recently come out of that world that Paul penned the words that we read a few moments ago in the Scripture reading: (Ephesians 5:3-14)
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)
Paul’s vocabulary covers the gamut here. The word translated “sexual immorality” is the Greek word “porneia” from which we get the word “pornography”. It is the broadest of the words, covering all manner of sexual behavior or sexual intimacies that take place out of the bounds of Biblically defined marriage. “All impurity” is an even broader reference; any kind of moral contamination or corruption is included here. It is intriguing that he also adds the word “covetousness” in this context. The word is often used of coveting things. The basis of the word is “greed” – always wanting more and more and more without regard to need, as well as wanting what is not ours – what others have. And don’t forget, in this present context, the tenth commandment which includes the words: Do not covet your neighbor’s wife. It is all part of the same driving force of the sinful nature: “I want what I want and I want it now!”
What does Paul say about these sins? They “must not even be named among you.” Why not? They are not “proper among saints.” Remember Paul’s vocabulary here. “Saints” does not refer to some elite category of extra holy person. It’s the way Paul refers to all the followers of Christ. We are all “saints” if we belong to Christ. But the word “saint” does still carry the connotation of “holy” or “sanctified”. We are called “saints” and we are called to live in a manner worthy of people who are called “saints” and sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness are not proper among those who bear such a name.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit even extends the mandate to holy living to include not only our actions, but also to our speech.
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Obscenity is out. Dirty jokes have to go. Sexual innuendo, seductive speech, titillating gossip – it’s all “out of place”. It isn’t fitting among God’s people. It’s all to be taken off. If we use the metaphor from the sermon two weeks ago, of “taking off” the garments of the old self, and “putting on” the new self, we are to take off filthy speech. What are we to put on in its place? “Thanksgiving.” What a contrast! Remember the earlier reference to “covetousness”. Covetousness is rooted in wanting what we do not have. Thanksgiving is rooted in being content and thankful for what we do have; the good gifts that God has provided.
Let me challenge you to do something right now. Think back over the previous week and do a quick inventory of your speech; all the words that have come out of your mouth. How much of it has been crude, morally questionable, displeasing to God? How much has been rooted in a deep and abiding gratitude to God and thankfulness for his blessings?
Now, let me add a word of caution here. Please do not take this to an incorrect and unbiblical conclusion. These verses do not rule out talking about sex. Such talk is absolutely right, fitting and appropriate in its proper context, between a husband and a wife, between a parent and a child, with a trusted counselor, in a class. Sex is not the problem. Sexual immorality is the problem. Sex is not dirty. After all, it was God’s idea to make male and female. Sexual pleasure is one of God’s great gifts to the human race when enjoyed in the proper context. But like so many other things God has given us, we have taken it and misused it and perverted it and twisted it into something dirty and destructive.
Paul wants to be sure that we do not take his words lightly, adding some sobering remarks in verse 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.
Notice that these are the same three categories of sin and sinner that he referred to in verse 3. Now, a verse like this makes us very uncomfortable. Is Paul saying that these are unforgivable sins?
Let’s consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
So clearly such sins can be forgiven in Christ. But when such sins are forgiven and we are justified in God’s sight and receive the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God, a dramatic change should occur. We are “new creatures” and there are new standards. We are called to a new way of life. When there is no change, and when the person who claims to have been washed, sanctified and justified goes right on sinning, right on engaging in immorality, impurity and greed, he is giving evidence that he does not know Christ at all. An unchanged life is a mark of an unsaved person.
I remember reading the biography of a well-known Scottish preacher and evangelist from a previous generation by the name of Robert Murray McCheyne. After engaging in a fruitful evangelistic campaign in which many people had responded to the Gospel invitation, he had this to say: “We will wait to see if they are real conversions.” What would be the evidence that he looked for? Changed lives. Changed behavior.
Paul continues in verses 6-7:
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;
Think about it logically, Paul says. If we know that God is going to punish unbelievers for just such behavior, by what logic do we assume that he is going to tolerate it and overlook it in his own children? Imagine a judge who spends all day in court, handing out sentences for crimes that people have committed. When he comes home, is he going to shrug his shoulders and turn a blind eye if his own children are doing the same things under his own roof? It would be a massive contradiction and we would have no respect for such a judge. And God is not that kind of judge or that kind of Father.
So, as saints who belong to the family of God, how different are we from the world around us? How different are our moral standards? Our standards of speech? The way we treat members of the opposite sex? What about our thought life? What would your browsing log on the internet reveal? What about your standards for what you read, what you watch on TV? Are we at risk of becoming “partners with them” in sin?
Paul now summarizes what he is saying by using the metaphor of light and darkness. The metaphor has specific reference to the sins he has just been speaking about, but the image can also be expanded to all that Paul has been saying about the “worthy walk”; we have come out of the darkness to walk as children of light.
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.”
It is a dramatic and stark contrast. He doesn’t just say that we were “in the darkness”. He says that “you were darkness”. He doesn’t just say that we should “walk in the light”. He says, “you are light in the Lord”. And we are to “walk as children of light”. In other words, walk in a way that reveals our new character. The fruit of light is found “all that is good and right and true”. And we will be guided at all times by “what is pleasing to the Lord”. Such a life style will truly stand out in contrast to the unfruitful works of darkness” and expose them – not so much by what we say as by the way we live.
Our lives as followers of Christ ought to provide a rebuke to those who continue to walk in the darkness. But this is a difficult balance to find and to walk. I don’t think this means that we are to around with our noses in the air, shaking our fingers at people like so many 21st century Pharisees. Our Lord was accused of being a friend of sinners because he went to the places that sinners hung out – and even the prostitutes were attracted to him. But when the prostitute came to Jesus, she didn’t come to trade lewd jokes or seductive comments. She came in tears to confess her sins. We ought to live in such a way that our life, by its very contrast, exposes sin.
It is a new life – one that is so dramatically different that it can actually be compared to a resurrection.
Many scholars believe that in verse 14, Paul is quoting from an early Christian hymn.
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
It is a great and challenging call to a new life and a worthy walk – a resurrection life style; a life befitting a saint.
So, here is the question for all of us to consider. Are you a saint? And if so, are you living like a saint? If you are a follower of Christ, you are a child of the light. Are you walking like a child of light? Is it your highest aim in life to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord? This is what it means to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. None of us will achieve it perfectly in this life – but we should all be able to point to dramatic transformations that are taking place in our lives – changes that form a stark contrast to our former life style and that of the world around us. If our life is no different from that of those who do not follow Christ – what reason do they have to listen to our message?
In the early days of the railroad in the US, there were no such things as electronic signals at the points that the railroad crossed other roads. This was especially dangerous at night. To avoid accidents, trains used to carry a signal man. Whenever the train approached an intersection, the train would slow down, the signal man would jump off and run ahead, carrying a lantern. He would stand at the crossroads, swinging the lantern to warn oncoming traffic that a train was about to pass. When the last train car had passed, he would run and jump on and the train would continue on its way.
One night, something went wrong. A carriage crossed in front of the train. The train struck the carriage. People were killed. A hearing was held to find out what happened and who was to blame. The signal man who was on duty that night was placed on the stand. He could be seen to be visibly distraught. But he stuck to his simple story. He had been on duty. He was there at the intersection. And he had been waving his lantern to warn the oncoming traffic. Finally the hearing was over, and the case was dismissed.
Later, a friend took the signal man aside. “I believe your story,” he said. “But if you were doing your duty, why did you look so upset when the lawyers were questioning you?”
The man buried his head in his hands, and began to weep. “I was there that night. And I was waving my lantern. But the light had gone out!”
I sometimes wonder if that is the problem in our lives and in our churches as Christ’s followers. We’re vigorously waving our lanterns. But the world isn’t paying any attention, because we live in such a way that there is no contrast between us and the darkness of the night around us. We are waving the lantern of the gospel, but the light has gone out!
Before I close this message and this topic, I want to turn to another passage of Scripture. A topic like this cuts very deep into our secret lives and our secret struggles. I believe that is why the Scripture uses the image of darkness – we are ashamed and we want to hide in the darkness. And it is possible for a message like this to feed that sense of shame and simply drive people deeper into their darkness and into a sense of hopelessness.
To counteract that possibility, I would like to turn to a parallel passage in First John. This passage does not make specific reference to sexual sins – but it does use the image of light and darkness.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
This is a basic and fundamental statement about the character of God and his absolute purity. Now follows a very important implication that arises from that understanding of God’s character:
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
God isn’t going to share our darkness. If we want to have fellowship with him, we have to come out of the darkness and walk in his light. What is at stake here is not our salvation, but our fellowship with God.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit and seek to walk in the light and to live a life of moral purity, we will enjoy fellowship with God – and we will experience the ongoing cleansing of the blood of Jesus. As we do that, we do not need to pretend that we are morally perfect as verse tells us:
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Denial of our struggles and our failures is not the solution. Instead, to experience the ongoing cleansing and to enjoy continuing fellowship with God, we must follow the instructions in verse 9:
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This is the answer to our need, and to our failures. Our failures need not drive us deeper into the darkness of shame. We can bring even our failures to the light through confession and receive forgiveness.
1 John 2:1-2 strikes the perfect balance we need in our struggle against sin:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
There is the call and the challenge to walk as children of light. But even with the Spirit’s help and our best intentions, we still stumble and fall. When that happens we need not hide in shame. The verse continues…
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
We are going to gather around the Lord’s Table in just a moment. It is my fervent hope and prayer that not one of us will walk away from this table and from this service with a sense of shame and failure. Jesus died to take away our shame and to forgive our failures. And with that forgiveness comes this invitation to walk with him in the light.
- Read Ephesians 5:3-14 together.
- “There is nothing new under the sun.” “The ‘new morality’ is just the old immorality.” The deteriorating moral standards in our society are dismaying, but are they really new? Do they surprise us? Should they surprise us?
- How and why should Christ’s followers be different in the area of sexual morals and standards of sexual behavior? Why do you think Paul uses the images of light and darkness?
- What conclusions should we draw from verses 5-7? Are these unforgivable sins? (Use 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as a parallel passage in your discussion.)
- How do we reconcile and balance “not being partners with them” (verse 7) and “but expose them” (verse 11) and the accusation made against Jesus that he was “a friend of sinners”?
- The battle for moral purity of thought and action is a life-long struggle. How does 1 John 1:5-2:2 shed light on and give hope for us in the struggle?