Monday, March 31, 2014

Sermon on Ephesians 5:8-14, for the 4th Sunday in Lent, "Children of Light"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In a world that is so thoroughly electrified, it’s rare that we get to experience true darkness. The constant glare of streetlights surrounds us, and the hazy glow of light pollution hangs over anyone who lives even close to a city. I’d bet even your bedroom is not completely dark—with little LED lights from your alarm clock or computer, or a power strip glowing in the dark. Total physical darkness is not much of a thought in our well lit modern life. Before electricity, things were very different. But have modern lights really changed what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 5, where he tells us, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord?”
Of course he’s not talking about physical darkness, as if flipping on the light switch brought us out of darkness. It’s spiritual darkness he’s talking about—and that is the same today as ever. But it should catch our attention that he doesn’t say you were “in darkness” and now you are “in the light”—but he says “you WERE darkness, but now you ARE light in the Lord.” Being in a room with the lights on or off doesn’t change anything about who you are. But this speaks much more strongly of our identity, our being—that we were a PART OF the darkness, or even that the darkness was inside us. Sin, after all, is not just something outside us, or part of our surroundings, that simply moving or changing our circumstances could get rid of it. Sometimes we do need to flee from sin that is around us or outside us, but we should not forget that sin is also inside us. When the Bible talks about our “flesh”, its talking about that sinful nature that is part and parcel of how we were born into this world. We carry sin with us in our heart and our desires. So being darkness because of sin, we need a far deeper cure. We need a total transformation of our being. Ephesians 2:5 tells us, “5even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
Our reading in chapter 5 echoes this by saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Our darkness of death and sin has been overcome by the Light of Christ who calls us forth from the grave. It reminds us of Jesus calling Lazarus out from his tomb, waking from the dead, walking back into the light of life. As profound as our darkness was—reaching to the depth of our being, so much more profound is the Light when Christ has called us out from death! You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord! Again, not just you are in light, but you ARE light. The Light of Jesus has shone into the very depths of our being, our soul, our nature, and made us a new person. As sin once held sway, now light holds sway in our hearts and in our life. And the Light of Christ drives out the darkness.
All this is completely by grace, not of our own doing, so that no one can boast. Salvation is nothing of our own doing, but all of God’s doing. But the fact that nothing we do gets us into heaven doesn’t mean that God has nothing for us to do. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We do good works because it’s God’s will and plan for us, and because it’s a natural outcome of our new identity. Not to earn His favor, but out of thankfulness for new life in Him.
So our passage today from Ephesians 5 sets out the shape of the Christian life. “Walk as children of the light”. To “walk” refers to total conduct of our life. Our whole walk is to be as children of light. That means keeping away from “unfruitful works of darkness” or shameful things done in secret. That is not the way of the light, it’s not the way of Christ, and Scripture warns against returning to the old ways of darkness, so that we don’t endanger faith and salvation. The way of the light and of darkness run in opposite directions, and you can’t stay on both paths. The rest of Ephesians chapter 5 gives examples of the unfruitful works of darkness to avoid: sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. No filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. No empty and deceptive words, no drunkenness.
In order then to walk as children of light, we have to be able to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” If our walk means staying on the right path, then God’s Word as a Lamp to our feet and a Light to our Path shines the way to go. It keeps us from stumbling into sin and error, because we’re especially vulnerable when we fall into the darkness, away from the Light of Christ and His Word. But discernment isn’t an easy task. Sure, sometimes sin is obvious and blatantly wrong—but more difficult and more common is when Satan comes to deceive us on the sly. When he first tempted Eve, he didn’t take the direct approach, but was sneaky and tried to get her to doubt and question God’s Word. Then he tried mixing a little of God’s Word with some lies, to give those lies the “flavor” of truth. But it’s no truth if its mixed with the lie. It is a lie, plain and simple. Deception and temptation require discernment and the Light of God’s truth to expose, because they are rarely straightforward.
The Christian, wanting to do what is good and pleasing in the sight of the Lord, listens to God’s Word, learns His commands, and hears the pleading of the Holy Spirit in our conscience. We apply God’s Word to the multitude of situations we face in life. Knowing what is the right thing to do in a given situation may take study of God’s Word, prayer, and perhaps discussions with your pastor or a fellow Christian who is mature in their faith. Better to live with a clear conscience, knowing that you are striving to walk as a child of light, than to ignore conscience and do whatever seems most convenient, most comfortable, or most enjoyable. Quite often sin comes in attractive packaging. The devil is a good marketer. But seeking what is pleasing to the Lord means striving to know and do God’s will, just as Christ did.
Christians have another responsibility as children of light, and that is to “expose” or “convict” those “unfruitful works of darkness.” How do we do this, if its “shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret”? Obviously we live in a time where there is little shame about sin, and in the day of the internet and social media, and where practically everyone has a camera phone, there are few things that are secret any more. Dozens of TV shows and tabloids are fully dedicated to gossip and rumors and scandals. So how do we expose or convict sin, without delighting in what is shameful? There are a number of ways. One is that we strongly oppose sin, for we know what it is, and are not ignorant of the devil’s schemes. Another is to speak the truth in love, winsomely persuading people to turn from error, and using “divine power to destroy strongholds; destroy[ing] arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We can show the emptiness of sin and error by the truth of God. And, not only by word, but also in action, we can show the better way, the fruit of light that is found in all that is good and right and true. And setting a positive example of living by God’s design, may show what is good, right, and true to those who may never have known or seen anything better or different in their life.
But most importantly, the way we convict or expose the works of darkness is the same way that they are convicted in us—when Christ shines on us. When the light breaks into our darkness, it drives back all the shadows, no less in us than in anyone else. The very Word of God by which we practice and train for discernment, is the same Word of God that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God’s Truth examines and exposes all the thoughts and intentions of our heart. Every sinner must be convicted of their sins, and that continues in this life as long as we are still alive and sinning. And the cure also remains the same. Convicted of sin, exposed by God’s Light, we again hear the call to resurrection and new life, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!”
As the Light of Truth convicts our sins, so also the Light of Jesus’ Life shines forgiveness and cleansing on us. Once forgiven and set free, that Light of Jesus purifies and cleanses us from all sin. Only the Lord Jesus who went to the cross for our sin and rose from the grave to defeat death can call us up from darkness to live anew with forgiveness. Jesus calls us to arise daily, and His life, His forgiveness, His power calls us out of the grave and darkness of our sins. And more faithful than the rising sun that greets us each day, is the great faithfulness and mercy of Jesus to daily rise and shine on us. Light of the World, Light of our Life, Jesus shines on us and makes us Light in Him. He makes us to walk as children of the Light. So all our life is filled and illumined with the glory and greatness of His grace, to the praise and glory of the Father’s name. Amen.

  1. Read Ephesians 5:8 carefully. Note that it doesn’t say “you were in darkness”, but rather, “you were darkness, but now you are light.” Why is this difference significant? What does it tell us about who we were and who we are now in Christ Jesus? How thorough is the original corruption of sin? Ephesians 2:1-5, 11-12; 4:17-20; 5:3-7
  2. This passage describes how we live as “light in the Lord.” Can you identify in these verses what actions we are to take, to live as children of light? How does this new life flow from and remain in Christ?
  3. The “fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true”. There are limitless possibilities for the good that we can do in our life, and in the various callings or vocations that God has given us in life. But they are found in all that is good, right, and true. What similar thing does Paul say in Galatians 5:23, after describing the fruits of the Spirit?
  4. Why is learning to discern what is pleasing to the Lord an essential task for the Christian who is walking as a child of the light? What makes it challenging to discern what is right and wrong? What is the nature of deception and temptation? Genesis 3:1-6; 2 Corinthians 2:9; 11:13-15. How do we discern what is good and pleasing to the Lord? Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; Philippians 1:9-10; Hebrews 4:12; 5:14.
  5. We are called not to participate in “unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them”. What sinful practices do you know that you need to avoid or leave behind? What makes sin so alluring? How does seeing a better way to live—God’s way—help to convict us concerning sin, so we can leave it behind and come into the new life Christ has for us?
  6. How is the new identity that we have in Christ? How is this pure gift and new life? Whose power is it, by which we both live and bear fruit? Describe the joy of being cleansed by Jesus of all sin. How can God use you now?

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