Walk as Children of Light – Ephesians 5:8-14
In verse 8, we come across this little word “walk” again. The implications of the gospel upon one’s daily life are powerful and pervasive. We are to walk in unity (4:1-16), in holiness (4:16-32), in love (5:1-7), and now in light (5:8-14). Of course, there are overlaps between these categories, for you cannot walk in holiness without walking in love. And light is a Biblical metaphor for both holiness and joy. We are told that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and that “if we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:5-7). We are also reminded that “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (Ps. 97:11). So walking in light is walking in holiness and in the joy that springs from a life of godliness. They do go together: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). If, as Christians, we are not happy, it could be that it is because we are not holy as we ought to be. True holiness ought not to produce gloomy and morose people, but people who rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh (cf. Phil. 3:3).
The emphasis in the Ephesian passage, however, is more upon the aspect of holiness than it is upon the joy. Paul’s emphasis in the second half of this epistle is that believers should live in accordance with the truths they profess in the gospel, and this means living a life separate from the world. After all, the purpose of God’s electing purpose was that “we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). In chapter 4, we have learned that we have been given a new nature for a new life, and are now growing up into conformity to Christ.
In some sense, the apostle is only repeating what he has already said. This is just a different way of saying it. Again, we are exhorted to live in holiness. You will notice that he has used different ideas to emphasize the necessity of holy living. He has used the imagery of the body of Christ (4:12-16), the metaphor of creation (4:24), and the picture of family (5:1). Now he uses the metaphor of light. The point is always the same, as he exhorts the saints to turn from sin and to walk in ways that are consistent with following Christ the King. It just goes to show that we need to hear these things over and over again, even as believers. We should beware of thinking that we have somehow “arrived.” In my experience as a teacher, I have come to the conclusion that the worst student is that student who has familiarity with the topic being taught, but who never really mastered it in the past. The problem is that this familiarity breeds an attitude of indifference and a consequent lack of intentionality in trying to understand the concepts being taught. And the result is almost always the same: failure. In the same way, we have to guard against an attitude of familiarity with respect to the need for holiness. We need to be reminded of it again and again.
It’s interesting, though, how the apostle develops this idea through the imagery of light. He shows that there are essentially three movements in the life of the Christian, and he maps them out for us in these verses. The first movement is the passage from darkness to light, and the apostle deals with that in verses 8-10. The second movement is when the believer begins to shine this light upon others, and the apostle deals with that in verses 11-13a. The third movement is when the light which the believer shines penetrates into the conscience and heart of the lost or wayward, and brings others into the light as well, and the apostle deals with that in verses 13b-14. This, of course, leads to a cycle, so that those who are now enlightened go on to shine their light on others so that the circle of gospel influence grows wider and wider. So let us look together at these three movements, remembering all along that if we are believers this ought to be describing us.
First Movement: From Darkness to Light.
One of the mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase Post Tenebras Lux (“After darkness, light”). It underscored how the spiritual darkness that had enveloped the Middle Ages was giving way to the light of the gospel as it was being preached again in churches all over Europe. But this could also be the motto of every Christian, for there was a time when we were in darkness. And then the Lord came and his light penetrated our hearts and we came into the light of the gospel: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (ver. 8).
I think it is interesting that the apostle does not say, “You were at one time in darkness.” No, he says that “You were darkness”! And then he says that we changed from darkness into light. It was not that our environment changed. We changed. The problem is not that we are surrounded by darkness, though that is true. The problem is that the darkness was inside us; in fact, it defined us. We were the problem. People who talk about the inner light that dwells in each of us haven’t really come to grips with the desperateness of our situation outside of Christ. If we are darkness, we cannot generate light. In fact, apart from the work of the Spirit upon our hearts, we are all like black holes that suck in light but never release it.
To the Colossians, the apostle reminds them that they ought to give thanks “unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13). We were darkness, and we were held in the grip of the power of darkness. Later in Ephesians, the apostle will talk about how we “wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). This is consistent with the way Paul describes our condition as dead in sin: when we walked “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). In other words, our state of darkness was one of spiritual death, one in which we were under the power of the Devil. It is the state of many, many people all around us, and it was the state we were in prior to our conversion.
In that state, we walked “according to the course of this world.” Our walk, our habits, and the pattern of our daily behavior, was determined by the world in rebellion against God. We joined them in it, and willingly so.
The point I want to make with all this is that it is a mistake for us to blame our environment for our own transgressions, as is fashionable in these days. That doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by our surroundings; the verses above settle that matter – we are influenced: by the world, the flesh, and the devil. But the reason why the surrounding darkness affects us so is because by nature we are already darkness. The darkness without finds a ready alliance with the darkness within.
And then another point that needs to be made is that we need something outside of ourselves to save us. Darkness does not produce light. We are darkness, and if we want to become light, we have to be changed by a source of light outside ourselves. And that source is the power and grace of God. This is why the apostle says, “but now are ye light in the Lord.” Not just that we shine our light for the Lord, but that he is the source of the light in the first place. As our Lord himself put it, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).
Now, if Christ has changed us from darkness to light, if the Son of God has done a transformational work in your heart, then it is simply ridiculous to think that there will be no change. What? Shall the one who spoke the world into existence, who said, “Let there be light!” and there was light – shall he speak light into our souls only to leave us in darkness? Therefore, it is totally reasonable that the apostle should go on to say, “Walk as children of light.” Don’t walk as children of disobedience, but walk as children of light.
What does this mean? Paul elucidates in the next two verses. First, in verse 9, which though it is parenthetical, yet helps us to understand what it means to walk in light by giving some of its characteristics. Now, though the KJV reads, “the fruit of Spirit,” it is fairly universally agreed that it should read “the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (ESV). There is no material difference because the light here is itself a fruit of the work of the Spirit of God. Talking about the fruit of something is a way of describing its effects; the fruit of the light are the things it produces in the life of the believer. The apostle says that light produces goodness, and righteousness, and truth. The fruit of light is to make us good people, and righteous people, and people who speak the truth. If we don’t exhibit this fruit in our lives, then we need to re-examine ourselves.
Since verse 9 is parenthetical, verse 10 attaches grammatically directly to verse 8. In other words, the way we are to walk as children of light is by “proving what is acceptable to the Lord.” The point here is that the overriding concern for the followers of Christ is that they please him. Those who walk according to the course of this world lick their fingers to see which way the wind is blowing. They are more concerned about what most people think and what is popular – that is what guides their decisions and choices. Not so the Christian. For the Christian, the smile of Christ is more important than all the applause of the world. The believer says of God, what Paul said, “Whose I am, and whom I serve” (Acts 27:23).
Now how do we do this? Verse 10 is very like what Paul says to the Romans: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). That is, we do it by being transformed by the renewing of our mind, which means that our thinking becomes more and more Biblically informed and that our hearts and affections are more and more influenced and affected by its truth. We certainly don’t do it by checking in at the library of worldly thought.
And this is necessary, for if as Christians we are going to influence our world, we have to be different from it. Salt only serves as a preserving and savoring influence in meat if it is chemically different from the meat it is in. Christian culture can only have transformative power as long as its culture is counter-culture, when we shine our lights amidst the surrounding darkness. “Be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16). And that brings us to the second movement.
Second Movement: Shining the Light
The apostle goes on write, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (ver. 11-12). The Christian who is now light in the Lord cannot help but shine that light. And this is done negatively and positively. Negatively, in that Christ calls us to have no fellowship with the world. We are to live separate lives. To not have fellowship with the works of darkness means that we are not to participate in the kinds of talking and doing that characterizes those who are still in darkness. Now this doesn’t mean that we have to put walls around us and to have as little to do with the world as possible. That would be to hide our lights. No, we are to be in the world but not of it. Note that the apostle does not say that a believer cannot befriend an unbeliever (our Lord did that all the time!). Rather, what he says is that we should have no fellowship with their works. Don’t do what they do.
On the other hand, the believer is to rebuke the works of darkness. The word “rebuke” means to bring something to light or to expose it for what it is. That is what people who are light do; they expose the deeds of others for what they are. The deeds are shameful, but the world does all it can to turn shameful things into things which are celebrated. You see this in particular in our day with the various people in the abortion industry who call on women to celebrate their abortions. To kill a human being and then celebrate it! That is what sin does to people. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good, evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). We shine our light so that evil is shown up for what it is.
However, we should not see in this word “rebuke” a merely negative, censorious spirit. The purpose of this rebuke is to convince those who are involved in the shameful behavior that it is, in fact, shameful and wrong. And to do that, we also need to make a positive case. That is, we not only seek to show wrong behavior for what it is, but also to offer a better alternative. That is what the Christian is supposed to do. It is what Paul exhorted Titus to do: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able both to exhort and to convince [the same word as in Eph. 5:11] the gainsayers [those who oppose the gospel]” (Tit. 1:9).
Recently, Timothy Keller spoke at the British Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. If you have not listened to his presentation, I would highly recommend it. In it, he quotes a historian of early Christianity who asks why so many people became Christians in the first few centuries when there was no cultural benefit to do so. He dismisses the offer of community inherent in the Christian church, for the simple reason that most people then already had community. He also dismisses the offer of miraculous healing – also for the reason that other religions offered the same thing. What then made Christianity different? Simply put, it was the gospel. Every other religion proclaimed a works-based path to bliss in the afterlife. The appeal of Christianity was that it said that you don’t gain the favor of God by things you do but you gain God’s favor by what he has done for you on the cross, by dying for sins in our place as our substitute. That was the appeal of the gospel, and it is still the appeal of the gospel. In the end, it is really the only thing we have to offer: “But we preach Christ crucified . . . For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). This is the truth that we need to convince people of.
One thing we need to remember is that though the world may turn shameful things into things to be celebrated, they still know in the end that what they are doing is wrong. In other words, we have their own conscience on our sides. What they do, they often do in “secret.” Why? Why else, than because they know it is wrong?
Because of this, people will always want to cover up their sin. As our Lord put it, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (Jn. 3:19-20). They don’t want to come to the light, so it is the necessary job of the church to shine the light everywhere it can. When we “reprove” others, whether in the church or outside it, we are shining this light. Thus the apostle goes on to say, “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light” (Eph. 5:13). Light makes things visible and discovers what the world wants to hide. That is what we do when by our lips and lives, our words and works, we shine the light of truth and the gospel in this world.
But again, the point of this is so that the light will chase away the darkness, that lost people and backslidden believers will come to the light. And that brings us to our final point.
Third Movement: The Light Penetrating the Darkness
Before we begin considering this final movement, there is a matter of translation that we need to deal with. In the KJV, the last part of verse 13 (first part of ver. 14 in ESV) goes, “for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” Most modern translations have the verb “manifest” as passive rather than active. Thus, it could be translated “for whatsoever becomes manifest is light,” or, as the ESV puts it, “for anything that becomes visible is light.” Which is correct?
The problem is not that some manuscripts have a passive verb and others have an active. It turns out that there are some verbal forms in Greek which can be interpreted either as an active or a passive, and it turns out the particular form for the Greek verb behind “manifest” is one of those. Because of this, it is theoretically possible to translate this as an active verb, as in the KJV. However, when you look at the grammatical evidence in the NT overall, this is not very plausible or likely. Thus, I think the translation of the ESV is preferable: “anything that becomes visible is light.” But this being so, what is the apostle saying?
Remember that the apostle had previously said that in their conversion, the believers turned from being darkness to being light. Now, what he is saying is that when the light that shines out from the witness of believers under God penetrates the darkness of the lost, they too become light. As Charles Hodge puts it, Paul “does not say, ‘Reprove evil, for you are light;’ but, ‘Reprove evil; for evil, when reproved by light, is manifest, and, when manifest, it is light,’ that is, it is changed into light, or corrected.” In other words, the apostle is encouraging the believers to shine their lights because it is in this way that God brings others to embrace the truth of the gospel and to be transformed by it truth.
This interpretation is confirmed by the following verse: “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Here the lost are described as being asleep in spiritual death. But then the light of Christ comes upon them and they are awakened from the sleep of death. As Charles Wesley wrote: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night/ Thine eye diffused a quickening ray/ I woke, the dungeon flamed with light/ My chains fell off, my heart set free/ I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!”
This is either a quotation from the OT, or a quotation from an ancient hymn. It doesn’t really matter which it is; however, I am of the opinion that this is a loose paraphrase of Isa. 60:1, which reads, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” In both verses, you have a call that goes out to those dead or asleep to rise and to receive the light, and a promise the Lord will shine his light upon them.
This should remind us that it is not in virtue of our own light that people are rescued from the darkness of sin and wickedness. This is because our light is a borrowed light; it is not our own. We are like the moon which receives its light from the sun; we, too, receive ours from the Son of God. His light must shine upon us if we would be saved. The light which we reflect will only penetrate the darkness when the Lord makes it powerful to that end. The power of the gospel does not come through our ability to convince people but to the Lord’s faithfulness to draw out his people through the word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Have you been saved by the grace of Christ out of sin and into the favor and blessing of God? Have you been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light? Then thank God, and walk as children of light! Walk in the truth, speak and share the truth in convincing, winning ways. And know that if you are a Christian, you are light. You are a beacon of hope in the midst of a dark world, no matter where you are, no matter how great or small your talents or opportunities. Can there be any greater calling?
On the other hand, if you feel the darkness closing around you and in you, there is hope for you. Now I do not offer you some program of self-improvement because neither you nor I can turn darkness into light. Only God has the power to speak light into the darkness. So I point you to him. Do not look to or into yourself; look away from yourself to Christ who has the power to save. He has the power to save because he is the Son of God; because he became a man who could represent us before God; because he is the perfect sacrifice who gave up himself to death for us, not because he deserved death but because he chose to die the death we in fact deserved; because God has promised that all who believe in his Son will have the benefits of Christ atoning death for them.
What does it mean to believe on Christ so that we might live through him? It means that we trust in him and rest on him entirely for the hope of our acceptance with God. It means that we receive him completely as he is presented to us in the Bible, as the Son of God and Savior of the world, as our prophet to teach us, as our priest to atone for our sins, and as our king to rule over us for our good and his glory. It means to look to him, as God through the prophet put it, “Look unto me, and be ye saved: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22).
 In the ESV, ver. 13b is actually the beginning of verse 14.
 Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Banner of Truth; reprint, 1856), p. 215.
 In Eph. 4:8, the exact wording precedes a quotation from Psalm 68:18.