“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
At least in the decades I have been exposed to the functions and practices of the church, I believe the church generally speaking has made a large error in the way she has dealt with new believers.
It seems for the most part that when people come to the Lord and begin attending church, the first thing we want to do is start telling them how to be a ‘good’ Christian, and secondly to indoctrinate them in the denomination; whatever the denomination might be. Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Southern Baptist or whatever.
As a result we have congregations of people who live a life of high highs and low lows, going up and down emotionally about their performance as Christians on a sort of ecclesiastical roller coaster ride, and at the same time bragging that they are Southern Baptist, or Lutheran or whatever, as though being identified with that group is the most important thing, after all.
In a great many cases, the church deliberately teaches them that being a good _____ (you fill in the blank) is the most important thing.
My wife and I attended the state convention of the Colorado Baptist General Convention 5 or 6 years ago, and we were very turned off by one of the scheduled preachers who stood up and rambled on for about 30 minutes about what good Southern Baptists we should all try to be. I would have much preferred to hear a sermon from the Bible. He wasted our time.
The topic of our study today is what should be taught to every new believer in Christ, and unfortunately I think many Christians can and do go for a long, long time down the Christian road before hearing it.
So I’m going to keep it simple today, and just take these four verses and amplify them for the sake of clear understanding.
YOU WERE DARKNESS
We’ve already seen earlier in this chapter that Paul is establishing the truth that the Christian is absolutely different than the non-Christian. He calls them children of wrath, but us children of God. Beloved children.
They are sons of disobedience, but we have an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.
He’s just continuing his theme here, but as I’ve said in a previous sermon, I feel like this illustration of darkness and light is the most potent and powerful example given in scripture, of the chasm that now exists between what we once were and what we now are.
Now I want to make clear early on that by the things I say here I am certainly not advocating the Christian’s withdrawal from society, or that we should avoid personal contact with unbelievers. In fact, as we study these verses we’ll see that these truths; these facts about the Christian, are the very things that call us to a duty of impacting their lives as often as we can for Christ.
We are to evangelize them; bring the good news to them and pray for them. But as Paul says here, we are not to be partakers with them. We’re not to share with them in the deeds of darkness, because we are no longer dark.
This chasm I’m talking about is a reference to the spiritual reality of the separation between us.
They cannot understand their darkness. They are dead spiritually, and have no concept of any spiritual reality. They can only speculate, and when they do, they speculate wrongly. It is impossible for them to know and understand truth, because the truth is in the light and of the light, and they are darkness.
So we have to understand clearly what they are, and that we once were the same, in order to rightfully understand what we now are, and what they are so we can reach out to them correctly and effectively.
So before we move on, let me point out that Paul has not said, “you were formerly in the dark”. Indicating a lack of understanding only. Before we came to Christ we were not just ignorant. We weren’t just misinformed or uninformed. If that was the only problem, then evangelism would be very easy and people would be saved in multitudes every day.
I could walk into Denny’s during a heavy lunch hour, bang a spoon on a plate to get everyone’s attention, tell them what they need to know to be saved and talk about Jesus and Heaven and a loving Heavenly Father, and about 80-90% would say, “Gee, I never knew all that; I think I’ll do what I need to do to go to Heaven. I have heard the facts now, and I believe.”
But becoming a Christian is not a matter of hearing some facts, and choosing to believe them and then joining a church. The most eloquent sermon, the most clearly presented Gospel message to the man on the street, the most inspiring song, the most well-written book; none of those things, has the power to make anyone a Christian.
Why? Because they are not just ignorant. They are dead. They are darkness. Not just in the dark, not just darkened, but darkness itself.
Jesus Himself used this analogy in His sermon on the mount, when He said that if the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
We were not in the dark, the dark was in us; we were darkness.
Therefore the only thing that can give them light; the only thing that can dispel the darkness in them and put light in them, is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, through the power of the Gospel message delivered.
Until then, there can be no fellowship between the Christian and the non-Christian; no understanding, no union,
The difference and the separation between us and the unbeliever is absolute. Let me illustrate this way…
Let’s say you have an appointment in another city, and you need to fly there. You purchase your ticket on the internet, you get your confirmation with times and flight and gate numbers. But you are delayed enroute to the airport, and when you finally arrive, running through the airport you come to your gate only to be told that the plane you see rolling away outside the window is the one you were supposed to be on, and you’ve missed your flight. You were very, very close. But there’s no such thing as being half on and half off a commercial flight. You’re either all the way on the plane and heading for your destination, or you’re standing in the airport with your hands dangling at your side because you’re helpless to change your circumstances.
This is the difference between children of light and children of darkness. There is no in between. You are light, or you are dark. You are heaven bound, or you are destined to an eternity without God. You are saved or you are lost. The only way you’re going to get on that plane; the only way you can ever hope to be made a child of light, is to go to Light Himself and on His terms.
YOU ARE LIGHT
You are light. This is what needs to be taught first thing, to every new believer. You were darkness, but now you are light. You have not had the light turned on in the sense of understanding something you did not before; although that has happened, but that’s not all and it’s not the best news. The best news is that you are light!
You are a lamp, Christian, and a lamp shines light. It doesn’t just reflect light, it has light in itself, and it shines out and illuminates its surroundings.
This is why Christians are persecuted when they are walking in obedience to Christ, Jesus said it in John 3 in His discourse with Nicodemus.
“…this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come into the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” Jn 3:19
Christian, you shouldn’t be surprised when people react badly to your declarations concerning the claims of Christ. You shouldn’t be shocked when they reject you and mock you, and even if they do you physical harm you shouldn’t be taken back.
In a Clint Eastwood movie, Clint was coming up against a whole town of people who had a dark secret they thought they had safely hidden, but he knew their secret and was about to expose them. A woman he was with warned him that the people were afraid, and she said, “that makes them dangerous”. Clint’s reply was, “It’s what people know about themselves inside that makes them afraid”.
You illuminate the darkness, Christian, and it makes people afraid. Not all of them will react violently or bitterly toward you. Most will change the subject, or excuse themselves and move away, or listen quietly with some embarrassment and say the words they think you want to hear; but the truth remains the same; they are darkness. They love the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds are evil. You make them afraid.
Still, we must be what we are. Light.
IN THE LORD
Paul said we’re light in the Lord. In the Lord. Very important to understand. Because our light is not of ourselves. It is His light we are infused with, and that is the Light that saves.
He is the Light of the world. Now, in Him, we are the light of the world.
As He told Paul on the Damascus road, so He would say to us all; that He calls us to go to them that their eyes might be opened and they might turn from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God.
Jesus is the Light of the world, and it is His light that we now are, and that we take to the world. In II Corinthians 4:3-6 Paul reconfirms this:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
You are light in the Lord, Christian, and that means that the One who in the beginning said, “Let there be light”, has infused you with light and you are no longer darkness.
Can you see why it is so vitally important, and why Paul spends so much time warning us, to put off the old man? To put away the deeds of darkness? To no longer partake with the sons of disobedience upon whom God’s wrath will come?
For the Christian to continue in or go back to the practices of darkness is the most demonic of contradictions. And strange as it may sound, those in the world may not understand spiritual things, but they see and love to point out a Christian who is not walking according to truth and obedience to Christ.
Someone said you don’t have to be a chicken to smell a rotten egg.
Listen believers. When people see a dog acting like a dog, they say, ‘that’s a dog, and he’s doing what dog’s do’. They go their way and think no more of it.
But when a man acts like a dog, people think ‘he’s crazy, or he’s a fool; either way, he’s disgusting’.
Now people may not want to be a Christian, and they may fiercely reject any attempts to evangelize them. Still, when they see a Christian walking according to darkness, it disgusts them. And fellow Christians, they see a lot of that in our society.
The church of Jesus Christ in America needs to pray that God will send a spirit of repentance to the collective Christian heart and unveil the Gospel light that has become so dark in so many, so we can once again preach of Jesus to a dark society without hypocrisy.
TRYING TO LEARN
The last phrase I want to look at today is the one that signifies a deliberate effort on our part.
First let me say that verse 9 is not unimportant. It is in scripture and all scripture is God-breathed and profitable to the man of God.
But for the sake of smoother reading, I just want to set it temporarily aside and go right from verse 8 to verse 10.
“…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
I like the addition of the Amplified Translation to this phrase, “walk as children of Light’, it goes on, “lead the lives of those native-born to the Light’
You see, the first part of our text, ’you were formerly darkness but now you are light in the Lord’, that is entirely on Him.
As I was saying earlier, it is only the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit that gives us life and light in the Lord. We had no part in it whatsoever; anymore than a dead man takes part in the efforts of the emergency medical responders to revive him.
But the Holy Spirit grants repentance and gives life, and light to comprehend and believe. It’s all on Him and even the faith we exercise in believing is His gift to us.
Then in this second part we’re told, ’walk as children of Light’, (lead the lives of those native-born to the light) Now Paul is telling us to do something, but all he’s really asking for is that we live our lives in a way that should come automatically to us now.
It sounds ridiculously obvious, but it’s like telling a lamp to shine.
You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. So shine!
This should not be a struggle. If it is, you’re doing something wrong or at least unnecessary. Because you’re a lamp. Just shine in the darkness. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.
Understand that you are not darkness anymore, put away the deeds that those in darkness do, and shine.
But in this final phrase he’s gone a step further and he’s now telling us to put forth a little effort.
“trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord”
The lamp analogy only goes so far. We are not to sit gathering dust and looking pretty. It’s not what we were saved to, and since the Lord is the One who saved us and made us light, He has a right to expect some action in the form of obedience and service.
Now we know that nature deplores a vacuum. It’s true in the spiritual realm also. If we’re no longer participating in the deeds of darkness, then it stands to reason that our time and our hands are now freed up to participate ~ partner with the Lord ~ in studying to learn what is pleasing to Him, and then doing it.
In her commentary on Ephesians, titled, “The Wealth, Walk and Warfare of the Christian” Ruth Paxson had this to say on verse 10:
“Is this thing acceptable to Christ? This is the invariable criterion; here is stated the acid test. Not, is there any harm in this thing? Not, does everyone do it? Not even, does the Church countenance it? But, is it acceptable to the Lord as conduct that becometh saints?
The Christian who has entered into any real spiritual apprehension of what it means to be “accepted in the beloved” will have one consuming passion—that his walk step by step will be wholly “acceptable to the Lord.” His loving, joyous eagerness to please his Lord will be the fitting complement to the Lord’s loving, joyous eagerness to make him acceptable to His Father. He will always approach Christ saying, “What more may I give to Thee, and how may I please Thee most?””
So if we’re going to start trying to learn what is pleasing to Him, we need only to back up to Paul’s parenthesis.
Because what would please Him who is Goodness and Righteousness and Truth, more than seeing the fruit of the light, which is goodness and righteousness and truth manifest in the lives of His little lights?
As we continue through this chapter, remembering that the whole chapter is devoted to this one theme, we’ll see other ways in which our walk should be pleasing to the Lord.
These things to come will be the ways that we carry out doing what is pleasing to the Lord. But our acts of obedience and faith are based in and flow from goodness and righteousness and truth
Let me say all this another way.
You may remember from chapter 4 verse 24 that in my sermon on that verse I said that the image of God man lost in the Fall was that of His righteousness, holiness and truth.
Paul hasn’t entirely left that theme. He’s repeating it here in another way. Christ made us light, and the fruit of that light in us is what manifests in us the image of God. Then all godliness in our lives flows out from there.
I want to end on a personal note. For many years this portion of scripture bothered me. It was a burden to me and made my Christianity a drudgery.
Because you see, I didn’t understand the grace of God, and I didn’t know that a spiritual work had been done in me. I was a Christian, I thought, because I subscribed to a belief system that began with Jesus dying to pay for my sins and rising from the dead so that I could go to Heaven and spend eternity with Him.
But I thought that I was supposed to act in certain ways the same way a Boy Scout acts like a Boy Scout, or an American soldier acts like an American soldier.
So when I came to this part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and saw him exhorting me to walk like Jesus, I despaired. For I knew I could not.
So I would suppress the feeling of guilt and inadequacy and go on to study other Bible passages, but I wasn’t a joyous Christian. How could I be, when I was already a failure and had to reconcile myself to being a second-grade Christian at best?
But one day He shined His glorious light and opened my eyes and showed me that it is by His grace and His power and His goodness, righteousness and truth in me, that I go forward, learning and then doing.
The weight was off my shoulders then, and my heart was filled with joy! Because I finally came to understand that I am light. Christian, you are light! And the fruit of that light in you is what manifests God’s own image in your life, so that those He sends you to may one day turn from darkness, and have the same light shining in their heart; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (II Cor 4:6)
And that’s what it’s all about!