Growing in Your Walk with Christ, part 6

“Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14, NCV). The apostle Paul was acutely aware of just how vital holiness is for Christians. Already in chapter 5 of Ephesians he has exhorted his readers to purity in their lifestyle (vs.1-7). Now, pulling on the rich heritage of light and darkness familiar to him through the Old Testament, Paul unpacks the need for a holy life, a separate walk from the world with Christ (v.8-14).

A Holy Walk (5.8-14)

As children of light, Christians walk separated from darkness.

8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

For at…darkness: Before Christ, they practiced these sins and were identified by darkness.

But now…the Lord: A sharp contrast is drawn from where they once were and where they are now. Now they are in the Lord which carries with it certain ethical charges and changes.

God is light (1 Jn 1.5). God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6.16). His truth is light (Psa 43.3). Light expresses His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. Darkness, on the other hand, is every in opposition to His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. It is in this darkness the world gropes and in which we once made our abode. But not anymore. In Christ, we are “children of light.”

Walk as children of light: Here is the obligation of those rescued out of darkness.  “The life lived as children of light is characterized by goodness, righteousness, truth, and whatever is pleasing to the Lord” (Patzia 258).

9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),

For the fruit of [the] light: Fruit is “a figurative term for the moral results of the lights, its products as a whole” (Nicoll 356). The earliest manuscripts read the light making “the Spirit” (NKJV, KJV) a transcription error intended to harmonize this verse with Galatians 5.22.

Found…and true: This triad summarizes living in light. “All goodness” is a disposition inclined toward good works (cf. 2.10); “righteousness” is moral integrity by obedience to God’s word; “truth” is what corresponds to reality, esp. relating to God.

This could serve as a commentary of sorts for what Jesus says in Matthew 5.14-16. Letting our light shine so that others may see it means we pursue goodness (a disposition seeking to engage in good works), righteousness (moral integrity & rectitude), and truth (freedom from falsehood and embracing, loving, and speaking moral truth). Sometimes there is a yawning chasm between what we know how we live. My brethren, these things ought not be so!

10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

And try to discern…the Lord: To live (“walk,” v.8) as children of light means Christians will “find out” (NIV) what is acceptable to the Lord, He Himself being light. The present tense indicates that this is the lifelong, habitual practice of light-children. Keep discerning what pleases the Lord.

Like Yoda said, “No try. Do or do not.” To “discern” is “to ascertain by test and experiment. Our whole walk should be directed to finding out what things are pleasing to Christ, rejecting at once everything that is not so, and clinging to all that is…The supreme practical rule of the Christian’s life must be to please Christ” (PC 209). The way to discern what pleases Him is accurate & diligent study of His word. Further, through careful practice we can please our Lord. “Discern” & “pleasing/acceptable” are both found in Rom 12.2. This has led some scholars to see here (Eph 5.10) sacrificial language, i.e. our entire, every action is a sacrifice unto God as we are ever laid upon the altar.

Implied in this is that there is a lifestyle which is displeasing to God, i.e. a life lived in darkness, a life stubbornly refusing the light. Wickedness, unrighteousness, and falsehood would characterize that kind of life.

Pause for a moment and notice the progression of these verses:

  1. Transformation (v.8): We have been changed from darkness to light. Hence, we abandon immorality and pursue holiness; we put off ignorance and put on knowledge; we are no longer but now have joy.
  2. Obligation (v.8, 10): We are called to walk as children of light and live so as to discern what pleases God. Don’t go back to the darkness and engage what is not pleasing to God; walk farther into the day where God-pleasing activities are.
  3. Demonstration (v.9): We will demonstrate 1) divine beneficence/benevolence – doing good to all men; 2) divine righteousness – rendering to men what is theirs and to God what is His; 3) divine reality – the way things ought to be with God in control.

11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Take no part…darkness: The works of darkness are barren, having no life in them. They only produce death (see Rom 6.21). The Christian is to “have no fellowship” (NKJV) with the evil so prevalent in the world. That is old self behavior; the new self accentuates light, especially…

Instead expose them: Expose here means to convict through words and actions. By living the life excellently Christians convict and even condemn the world (see Noah, Hebrews 11.7). By speaking the word engagingly we can convince them of the truth.

Christians must never be content with passivity toward darkness. We are light and must shine forth into darkness (Matt 5.14-16; Phil 2.15). Now when people’s darkness is exposed it is traumatic so expect a reaction (see John 3.19-21).

12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

For it is shameful…in secret: Clarke says this is a reference to the mystery cults of Ephesus which we engaged in extreme levels of debauchery as recorded by Livy. However, it need not be limited to those cultic practices performed at night. It certainly could be the secret vices of engaged in the home. Either way, it is shameful for those who practice them to talk about, but Christians must speak out and shed light into the dark corners of culture & society. Paul has done that throughout these two chapters as he contrasted the old self with the new self.

The degradation & depravity of man knows no bounds today. We’ve got an entire internet full of corruption and foulness. Parades are held in celebration of debauchery. Sin has crawled out of the shadows of hiding and is now all over the TV & silver screen. It is still darkness; it just seems the darkness is advancing. Fast falls the night. And it is still shameful, disgraceful. Deep down inside those who practice know this is the case. Yet, they have seared their conscience, walled it off in an attempt to silence that still small voice which tells them, “This is not right.”

13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,

But when…the light: When Christians identify those evil, barren works of darkness to those who practice them, “people will come to see the true nature of evil and, it is hoped, turn to the light” (Patzia 261).

It becomes visible: Or they are seen for what they are, i.e. shameful, evil, darkness.

We, Christians, are enlightened (1.18; 5.8) and we are enlightening others. “Christians are to be God’s light in the midst of darkness” (Boice). We’re like Motel 6 – “We’ll leave the light on for the you.” Brethren, let us hold forth the light of the gospel in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”

14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

For anything…is light: Here is the transformative effect of the light of the gospel. Once enlightened, what was darkness is light (verse 8).

Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.

“Awake, O sleeper…on you”: Three metaphors for turning to God are linked in this statement: 1) Awakening from sleep; 2) Being raised from the dead; 3) Christ shining light into darkness. This may have been a song sung when a person was baptized (Patzia 262; see also Special Study).

Paul seems to present a three-fold progression from darkness to light:

  1. Exposure (v.11): Their sin(s) are revealed to them either through conversation with or conduct of Christians. They are found out.
  2. Disclosure (v.13): A crisis of judgment occurs – either they avoid the light (because they love evil) or they allow their deeds to be made manifest (John 3.19-21). But if they disclose their sins to God…
  3. Erasure (v.14): The light erases the darkness. They come to the serenity and tranquility of being So darkness is transformed into light by Christ (who is Himself the Light).

Special Study—What Is Paul Quoting in Ephesians 5.14?

Most scholars believe that Isaiah 60.1 is in view, though other Old Testament passages are cited as well (Isaiah 9.2; 26.19; 52.1). However, there is not an exact match with any OT text. So what is Paul quoting? Foulkes says, “The most likely explanation is that we have here another little fragment of an early Christian hymn” (155). Patzia goes further and says “it may have been used by the church at a baptismal service as part of a hymn that was recited or sung” (262). If it is a hymn, Isaiah 60.1 (et al) surely inspired it.

Growing in Your Walk with Christ, part 5

Paul continues to expound upon the new kingdom ethic which should be normative for Christians. There are certain behaviors, actions, & attitudes which should be avoided at all cost by Christians. At the beginning of chapter 5 Paul’s practical guidance reaches from those sins which some consider “light” offenses to those which are very “heavy.” Make no mistake – all of them are sins. Kingdom citizens seek to rid themselves of all impurity.

A Pure Walk (5.1-7)

Living with Christ requires abstaining from impure & immoral behavior.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

Therefore: Seeing that “God in Christ forgave you”…

Be imitators of God: Be (present imperative) or “become” indicates a process with progress. Paul exhorts these Christians to “become” imitators (Gk mimêtai, from which we get “mimic”) of God. Imitate God in His forgiving love specifically, but also in holiness generally.

The call to follow Christ is a call to imitate God is a call to holiness. We have been made children of God by the grace of God. Since He has saved us by grace through faith (2.8) we have an obligation to live according to His holy calling with which He called us (2.10; 4.1). Of course it begs the question “How is it possible to imitate One who infinitely above us, the Sovereign God of the universe?”

As beloved children: Children should look like their Father who loves them.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Walk in love: “Let every act of life be dictated by love to God and man” (Clarke).

As Christ…for us: Christ is our example & model of love. His steadfast love was the impetus for Him giving Himself up to death on our behalf.

This is similar to Hebrews where Jesus is both our great High Priest (4.15) and the better sacrifice (9.23) offered outside the city (13.12).

A fragrant offering…to God: The Offerer and offering are one and the same. Fragrant or “sweet-smelling” is language harkening to the burnt (Lev 1.13), grain (Lev 2.2), & peace (Lev 3.5) offerings. Sacrifice points to Christ’s death as a sin offering acceptable to God to reconcile us.  “Christ is not merely one kind of offering, or sacrifice, but every kind” (Coffman).

Christ’s life was a whole burnt offering to God and His death was a sin offering. He fulfilled all the various offerings and sacrifices. In a similar way, when we “live a life of love” (NIV), we unite in Christ’s offering, which is to say our life becomes a sweet savor unto God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

But [fornication]: Gk porneia. This is illicit sexual intercourse of all kinds—heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Marriage is the proper place for sex.

All impurity or covetousness: Or indicates that these are the same but different, the difference being impurity is more general whereas covetousness is specific. The former seems to be “sexual perversions of all kinds” whereas the latter is engaging those activities for selfish reasons (Patzia 257).

Notice the sharp contrast between Christ’s self-denying sacrifice and sin’s self-satisfying indulgence. The Jewish idea of idolatry being the root of all sins is present here. There is always the struggle concerning who we will worship and pledge alligence to: God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) or something else (in particular here, sex outside of marriage – be it physical or fantasy).

Must not…among saints: Engaging this this type of behavior is a contradiction of those who claim to be called by God. Saints are to be holy & these sins must not exist among us.

Our culture is so sexually charged that we need this instruction badly. “Sex sells” and companies such as Carl’s Jr. and Victoria’s Secret know it. In this hyper-sexualized culture, the clarion call of God through this epistle is unmistakable: this kind of behavior is not proper for the saints of God. Like these Christians, we are surrounded by a culture of sex. Yet Christians are not to adopt the lax sexual standards of our surrounding society. Rather, we must uphold the standard of God: the beauty of sex expressed in marriage and the ugliness of sexual sin.

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Let…crude joking: Filthiness or “vulgar speech” (NET) is the kind of behavior that a morally sensitive person should be ashamed of. Foolish talk is the kind of talk uttered by a drunkard which is senseless and unprofitable. Crude joking or “coarse jesting” (NASB) is the kind of joking which includes double entendres and obscene references.

Note that this is not forbidding all humor. One can be humorous without being crude, filthy, or vulgar. What is condemned here and should be rejected by saints of God is that which is morally and spiritual perverse, the use of humor as a way to play with sin.

Which are out of place: There is no place for these things in the life of the Christian.

Not only are we not to engage in these immoral practices; we shouldn’t even talk about them. What comes out of the mouth is a reflection of the heart. (Matt 12.34) The three categories covered by Paul deal with everything from vulgarity/obscenity to defiance toward God to innuendos (Snodgrass 276). A quick way to determine if a person is conformed to the world or transformed after Christ is by what they say and how they feel about it. Use of this kind of language which God prohibits and lack of remorse for it is an indication that the heart & mind have been darkened.

But instead…thanksgiving: Gk eucharistia at the heart of which is charis (grace). The three (3) modes of speech preceding are graceless speech. Hearts captured by God’s grace will issue forth with praise & thanksgiving to God with the mouth.

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.

For you…is covetous: “For this you know with certainty” (NASB). These Christians knew without a doubt that continuation in certain practices led to forfeiting one’s eternal inheritance. These include 1) Fornication, 2) Impurity, & 3) Greed. These connect right back to verse 3, with the caveat that at the heart of covetousness is idolatry. Whatever one covets—be it money, power, pleasure— becomes their god with their affections & devotion going to that rather than God.

Has no…and God: There are not two rival Kings with rival kingdoms; “God’s kingdom is Christ’s kingdom.” (Foulkes 151). Those who practice the above mentioned sins have rejected the rule/reign of God & Christ in their life. Hence, they have renounced their inheritance.

At the heart of the gospel is a changed life. One cannot be saved by God’s grace and remain the same. The old self is put off; the new self is put on. The man who once exploited his fellow man no longer does so because he has become a new man. And a woman becomes a new woman. “The hope of the world is not new programs but new people” (Boice).

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Let no…empty words: Surely there were those in the 1st century who were saying that these various practices were not sinful and that these were not offensive to God. Such preaching is patently misleading & erroneous. Further, it is void of purpose & meaning.

Jesus’ words also ring in my head as I read Paul here: Matthew 5.19. “The greatest disservice that any man can do to a fellow man is to make him think lightly of sin. Any teaching which belittles the horror and the terror of sin is poisonous teaching” (Barclay 194).

For…sons of disobedience: Sons of disobedience (cf. 2.2) is not a phrase describing the saved. These are the faithless ones who engage in said practices and hasten God’s coming fury & rage.

“There were then, as there always are, those who made light of sin, and scoffed at the thought of its consequences” (Foulkes 150). This may have been a similar group to those Paul addressed in his Roman epistle (Rom 6.1-2). They had perverted the grace of God into license to keep on sinning and still enter the kingdom of heaven. Paul emphasizes that Christians are no longer “sons of disobedience” but are now “children of light.” Grace is not an occasion to sin; it brings with it responsibility and obligation. Since God has been so gracious, we ought to seek a holy life.

Therefore do not become partners with them;

Therefore…with them: Since these various actions are incompatible with the nature of those the Father has forgiven; and since the full force of the Father’s fury is to be unleashed on the faithless, Christians are not to share or partake with them in their practices.

John R.W. Stott [as quoted by Boice] says we are God’s new society:

Their theme [the theme of these chapters] is the integration of Christian experience (what we are), Christian theology (what we believe) and Christian ethics (how we behave). They emphasize that being, thought and action belong together and must never be separated. For what we are governs how we think, and how we think determines how we act. We are God’s new society, a people who have put off the old life and put on the new; that is what he has made us. So we need to recall this by the daily renewal of our minds, remembering how we ‘learned Christ … as the truth is in Jesus,’ and thinking Christianly about ourselves and our new status. Then we must actively cultivate a Christian life.