The apostle Paul directs his Christian readers to imitate God by walking in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2). Walking in love toward Christ and toward one another means that we will not engage in sexual immorality, impurity, greed, or filthiness. Let us not be deceived into thinking that we belong to Christ if we are practicing these things. The wrath of God comes upon those who do these things. Now Paul is going to press into us who we are and what we are to do.
You Are Light (5:7-10)
Because the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience and they are trying to deceive you into committing these sins, Paul instructs to not be partners with such people. We do not participate with them in these immoral activities. When others are doing wrong, we do not join in with them. We cannot imitate the world. Why is this so important? Why can’t we join in with them? Why can’t we behave and speak the way other people do?
Paul gives us the answer in verse 8. It is all about your identity in Christ. You are light. You are not darkness. You have been given a new identity in Christ and you must know who you are. You are light. Please notice the change of identity that Paul describes in verse 8. Paul does not say that you were in darkness. He says that you were darkness. But when you come to Christ, he cleanses you so that you are not darkness anymore. Now you are light in the Lord. It is only in the Lord that we become light. We are not light if we are not in the Lord. When we are away from the Lord our identity reverts to darkness. Whatever you grew up thinking you were or were not, were able to do or not able to do, can be completely changed in Christ. You do not have to be wicked. You do not have to continue in sinful acts. You can be light in the Lord. Consider that God has given us a purpose by changing our identity from darkness to light. Now you have a mission. Now you have a responsibility. Now you have a purpose. Why are you here? What are you supposed to do with your life? What is the meaning of life? These questions are answered with this statement: you are light. That is who you are. You do not need to go find yourself. You are light in the Lord. You now know why you are here and what you are supposed to do. You are light and you are to be light. Notice verse 8: “Walk as children of light.” You are light. Live in the light.
We are able to look at our lives and know if we understand this identity given to us in the Lord. There is fruit that comes from light. If we are light then there are things that will naturally occur in our lives: goodness, righteousness, and truth. If we are light then these three things will be evident. If we do not see this fruit, then we are not light and therefore not his children. Being light means that the fruit will not be filthy, impure words or actions. We are light. Therefore we must do what good and right and true. What is going to change our desires away from wicked words and behaviors? What is going to change our hearts from desiring sexual immorality and impurity? What is going to keep us from these things? God says that you are light. You have a new identity in the Lord. You have purpose and meaning and it is not to use your body in dishonorable ways. Recognizing who we are changes our desires to want to be light. “I’m light. I need to live as light.” These should be the words we tell ourselves each day.
How do we walk as children of light? How do we live according to this new identity? Notice verse 10. “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” We are learning and discovering what is pleasing to the Lord. We must keep looking to the will of the Lord. Our minds are darkened and blinded (4:17). Therefore we are not to look to ourselves to be pleasing to the Lord. We must look to the word of God and use what God said to discern what is pleasing to the Lord in the various daily circumstances we face. We want to satisfy the Lord. So we always ask what would God have me to do right now. We keep asking what God wants me to do today.
What Light Does (5:11-14)
Paul now explains to us what light does. Since we are light in the Lord, we need to know what we are to do as the light.
Light exposes darkness (5:11-13).
Think about what light does. When you come home at night, the first thing you do is turn on the light. It is the very first thing we do. Why? Light exposes darkness. The light confronts the darkness and exposes all that is in the darkness. When you look into the blackness and darkness of your house, you cannot see anything that is it. You cannot see the furniture. You cannot see the walls. You cannot see anything. When the light comes, all that is in the room becomes exposed. The darkness is now revealed and everything becomes visible. This is what Paul says we are doing as light.
We cannot participate in the unfruitful works of darkness because we are light. Light exposes darkness. We cannot do what the darkness does because we have a new identity. We are light in the Lord. We reveal the darkness. We do not blend into the darkness. We cannot teach against immorality while indulging in it. How can we expose what we are practicing? Light and dark do not mingle together. There is darkness where one cannot see at all or there is light and the room is exposed. We shine as the light so that people can see the ways of God and give glory to God (cf. Matthew 5:16). We are not revealing God when we are participating in these works of darkness that Paul has described in Ephesians 4-5. We do not speak like the world or act like the world so that when we walk into a room of darkness, we can illuminate the room with the light of the Lord. We will show Christ to the darkness with our words and our actions and our lifestyle. When you go to your place of employment, you will go into that building as light, showing Christ to the darkness around you. When you are in your home, you will be a husband, wife, father, mother, or child as light, show Christ to all who are around you. When you are driving, you will drive as light, showing Christ to the darkness around you. Everywhere we go we are showing Christ to the darkness because we are light. We have been given an identity in Christ.
Light transforms (5:14).
Paul proves his point by blending a few texts from the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah, and quoting it to his readers. Isaiah 26:19 and Isaiah 60:1-2 seem to be the texts that are blended as Paul speaks to these Christians. Listen to Isaiah 60.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1–2 ESV)
Isaiah commands the readers to arise and shine because the light of the Lord has come and the glory of the Lord has been revealed. The world is covered in darkness and the people are darkened in their understanding. But the Lord will arise and shine. When the Lord shines then we are to arise and shine. So Paul takes the language of Isaiah and applies it to the situation in Ephesus. These words act as an invitation to everyone who hears them. You may have listened to the instructions of the apostle Paul and recognize that you have been participating in the unfruitful works of darkness. You have not been light. You have been darkness. You have neglected your identity to which Christ has called you. Listen to the words Paul says. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead.” Wake up. Don’t stay asleep in the darkness. Wake up. Recognize the darkness you are in. Rise from the spiritual darkness. This is a call to repentance. Stop living in the darkness of the world. Let Christ shine on you. You have a new identity. You are light in the Lord. Do not remain in darkness. The light of Christ is shining. You do not have to sit in the dark any longer. The world is repeatedly pictured in the scriptures as darkness. Paul described it this way to the Philippians.
…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life… (Philippians 2:15–16 ESV)
We must see ourselves as burning torches in this world, shining the light of Christ wherever we are by our words and actions. This is why we cannot act like the world. We are to be burning bright in this world. We are representing Christ. God is light. Christ is light. We are light in the Lord. When you think about going back to the sins and lifestyle of the darkness, remind yourself of your new identity. You are light and you cannot do those things any longer.