Sermon Notes

Ephesians 5:7-14 March 19, 2000
How Can I Change? Transformed by the Light

When I was growing up my parents would pack my brother and me up in the family car and we would take long vacations. The highlight was stopping at a cave. Missouri of course has plenty of them. It is thought you can transverse the entire state below ground. We went to Meramec, Mammoth, Crystal and Onyx, among others. Last summer, in an effort to recapture my fleeting youth, John, my father and I went to Arizona. One day, while tooling down Route 66 between Seligman and Peach Springs, the signs beckoned us to try the Grand Canyon Caverns. It should come as no surprise that I like my spelunking with all the modern advances of technology. An elevator takes you down, the jagged rocks are paved with cement, handrails guide your steps and, of course, it is well lit. On every cave tour I’ve taken there is that point when the guide tells the group what spelunking was like before electricity, when explorers carried simple lanterns or torches. But with one slip, the light would be extinguished and at that moment, he hits a switch and we experience the terrors of absolute darkness. In the bowels of the earth, far from the reaches of the suns rays, nothing is visible. They say that in such darkness vertigo sets in and a person loses all sense of direction. But before the entire tour is reduced to a pile of Jell-O, a small match is struck and at last – the cavern is filled with the light of that flickering flame.

Darkness is something with which few of us have much experience. We live in a time when the darkness of night is displaced by street lamps, headlights and even from the far reaches of civilization, the Coleman Lantern. So when a storm knocks out our electricity or we stub our toe climbing out of bed in the middle of the night – we only begin to have a glimmer of insight into the depth of darkness.

The transforming power of light forms the basis of much biblical imagery. Creation begins with the earth formless and void, of darkness over the surface of the deep. And it is at that point that God’s creative word brings light. The Apostle John follows this same form at the beginning of his Gospel when he says that through the Word all things were made and "in him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." The metaphor of darkness and light to explain sin and salvation is common. In our passage this morning the transforming power of light is described as the means by which changes takes place in our lives.

We are at a point in Ephesians where Paul is applying the truths of our position in Christ to everyday aspects of our life as he answers the age old question: "How can I change?" In Ephesians 5:7-14 Paul reminds us that in light of our transformation by the Light who is Christ, we are to be agents of transformation, as lights empowered by the One True Light.

7. Therefore do not be partners with them.

8. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

9. (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)

10. and find out what pleases the Lord.

11. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

12. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.

13. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

14. for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

Light transforms us into light  - verses 7-8

Once darkness

The reason for the putting off and putting on, for our lives to be radically different from those who do not profess faith in Christ is because a transformation rearranges us, causing us to live differently. In verse 8 Paul describes our previous position: "you were once darkness." Back in 2:1 Paul described us as dead in our sins and in 4:17 that our thinking was futile, our understanding is darkened. The use of desperate terms should not be surprizing. But look closely to how we are described. We are not just in a state of sin; we are not just enveloped by darkness. We were darkness. He is not describing our environment, but our constitution. It is not external darkness enveloping us, but internal darkness at the root.

We rebel at being described with such harsh terms. Sick is all right, misaligned is tolerable, weak is acceptable. But to say we are dead, dumb and dark goes too far. We can’t be that bad. But in order to understand the power of God’s gracious love and transforming power, we must understand that our starting point is a lot more desperate than we can ever imagine. It is a fatal error to convince oneself that apart from Christ we aren’t all that bad. To consider our condition as anything but darkness, death and doomed for destruction will cause us to play down God’s grace and ignore the need to look to Christ for everything.

Now light

Paul is clear – a radical shift has taken place. There is no in-between state; it is only once darkness, but now light in the Lord. Just as before he spells out our past condition so that we can see our present standing, so again Paul sees the transformation which took place as one in which we are not just moving from a darkened state to an enlightened one, but that we have become light. Transformation is what this passage is all about.

Paul’s description is so cut and dried. We expect a decreasing darkness and increasing light. But that is not the biblical model. It is not a ying-yang kind of a foot in both camps. Either there is darkness or there is light. It is an I/O switch, either off or on. Just as in the creation of the universe God’s word brought light into darkness, so also His Word transforms us as well. Paul draws this parallel in 2 Corinthians 4:6 when he quotes Genesis 1:3 by saying: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Our salvation is moving from darkness to light, from chaos to order.

"In the Lord" reinforces the positional nature of our being light. We are light because we are in Christ. Moving from darkness to light is not about trying our best. We are light because we are "in Christ."

The light of the Gospel transforms, it changes. Now on the basis of that change, of that new position we have been given by God’s grace, Paul moves from the indicative to the imperative. Because of what God has done in us, this truth must be applied to how we behave. Notice the command that follows: "Live as children of light." How?

Light transforms our lives - verses 9-10

Light produces fruit - verse 9

Simple biology reminds us of the importance of light to growth. Stick a plant in the basement and soon the leaves will shrivel and die. The only thing that grows in the dark are mushrooms, but they also take a lot of manure to grow as well. When the light of Christ enters our lives, there should be some evidence of the changed life. Paul specifically mentions certain fruit.

Goodness: Paul uses this term in Galatians 5:22 when he lists the fruit of the Spirit, so being listed here should come as no surprise. Goodness describes a moral excellence, a generosity, a willingness to look beyond oneself and see the needs of others. God’s transformation should be seen in how we interact with others. Is there a movement from self to other orientation?

Righteousness: If goodness speaks of being benevolent and giving, this term points to the adherence of what is right, to the issue of integrity. Righteousness is what is imputed to us, given to us in our justification, so that now we are to live in light of Christ’s perfect keeping of the Law. Living as light in the Lord means putting on the breastplate of righteousness which Paul describes in 6:14. The demands of God’s Law were met in Christ’s life, so that by faith today we too will live in such a way to honor God. What is your response to God’s Law?

Truth: Here we have the absence of falsehood, of deception. The light that showed us our sin and our need for an alien righteousness is the same light which should not continue the practice of denying our need of a savior, of shifting the blame on others, of justifying ourselves. Paul dealt with the importance of truth earlier in his letter. In 4:15 it is by speaking the truth in love that maturity comes to the body. In 4:24-25 putting on Christ means we will be transformed, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

This will affect us in the next verse as we then put off falsehood and speak truthfully to each other. Is truth a firm standard based on God’s Word or a pliable tool to serve your needs?

Light directs our lives - verse 10

The light of Christ in our lives will transform us not only to evidence that change in our actions, but will also transform our minds so that we will know what it means to please God. This transformation of the Gospel will enable us to find out what pleases the Lord. The word "find out" means to test, prove and discover. It is the process by which one can determine the validity and usefulness of something. What we are to be determining is what pleases God, what is acceptable. Paul says this in Romans 12:2:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The light which transforms us is the light which will enable us to know how to live. How does this happen? So God changes your life... how then are you going to now live?

God’s Word is the means by which we determine what is good, righteous and true. It is God’s Word which tells us what pleases God. It is that Word and Spirit which took us from being darkness and made us light in the Lord. It is the Word which continues to transform us so we know how to live. We are to test and prove what is right not by some interior heart felt response, not by some inner light we confuse with our own personal likes and dislikes, but the light of the Word. If you struggle with knowing what pleases God, if you want to know God’s will in your life, it is not some cosmic mystery to be discovered. It is written in black and white.

Light transforms our world - verses 11-13

Light exposes dark deeds - verses 11-12

The light which reveals the sin within each of us, likewise affects the way in which we respond to others. The light which transforms us will transform our culture, but too often Christians have run to extremes. Some view the light like police detectives in an old movie, shining the spot light on the criminal while they lurk in the shadows. Others want a kinder form of Christianity, so they just put the light on a rheostat to dim the light so as not to look too different.

But since we are transformed by the light, we must live as children of light. Since we are children of the light we must having nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. Participation in that which we’ve examined over these past several weeks is not allowed. That should come as no surprise. The fruitless deeds are those things which flow from a life alienated from God. Nothing healthy can come from falsehood, anger, robbery, complaining, and impurity. How will we know if the deeds are fruitful or fruitless? How will we know what pleases the Lord? Go back to verse 9. Is it good, righteous and true?

But we are not to withdraw from the world, avoiding contact, but rather expose the fruitless deeds.

The word "expose" has a wide range of meaning. It means to disgrace or put to shame, but also to reprove, convict or reverse. To expose these fruitless deeds is not just to wag the finger and say: "That’s filthy, that’s wrong!" The word implies that the next step will occur, that others will be convinced by evidence that what they do is wrong. As they see the destructive nature of their lives, they will turn from them and embrace Christ. We expose their darkness by light and it is that light which transforms.

But what does this mean for our everyday life? To what degree does Paul demand we separate?

In the ancient world the Essenes went to Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea to separate from the defilement around them. The desert fathers of the early Church ran from the degradation of the Roman Empire; monks in medieval Europe and the Amish in our own country have tried to create a moral community apart from the world. The problem with separation is that while we may separate ourselves from certain sinful activities, we can never separate ourselves from sinners, because we take the remnant of the old man with us wherever we go. The "world" is as much in us as we are in the world. It is the deeds we turn from, not the doers. The idea of separation misses the mark.

What Paul is describing here is the positive change that the Gospel brings. It is transformation. This is what Jesus described in Matthew 5: we are salt, we are light. This is not something we try to be, but in Christ this is what we are. Now, what effect should we be having on those around? If we withdraw and define ourselves by how we are different, by what we do not do, then we have not grasped what is being described here.

One note as to what exposing these dark deeds is not.

Verse 12 disallows Christian voyeurism; it puts an end to the kind of self-righteous talk uttered by so many pseudo-pious sorts. Our job is not to enlightened the world about what the immoral do by describing what they do. When it comes to their sin ... keep your mouths shut. Remember the context from last week regarding obscenity.

Light changes darkness into light  - verse 13

Rather than engaging in sinful patterns of behavior with others, we should expose them. What does that exposure do? We’ve already said that exposure means showing the futility for what it is, but also seeing that it changes, too. That which encounters the light takes on the quality of light. We expose sin for what it is not just by labeling it as sin, but when we are able to first show its futility and then point to the means of change.

The trouble is this puts the transforming of our culture into our laps but out of our hands. We are to be busy about applying the truth of the Gospel to every aspect of culture. We can’t run off to the convents we call homes and the monasteries we call churches. But, as we draw attention to the need we all have for Christ due to our sin, we know that change comes about only by God’s grace and in His timing. We reprove evil by being used of God to see others taken from darkness to light.

This is the work of the Word and the Spirit.

Religious instruction, however sound, is not enough by itself. It brings light, but it cannot impart sight. The assumption that light and sight are synonymous has brought spiritual tragedy to millions. The Pharisees looked straight at the Light of the World for three years, but not one ray of light reached their inner beings. Light is not enough. The inward operation of the Holy Spirit is necessary to saving faith. The Gospel is light but only the Spirit can give sight. (A.W. Tozer, Born After Midnight)

With that in view we must speak. We refrain from a judgmental, prudish, holier-than-thou attitude which pervades so much of caricatured Christianity by going back to 4:2 for a reminder. So with humility we must apply the Law of God, calling sin sin, but also and never without, the only solution to our sin, that is the Gospel of Christ. Change will never occur within ourselves, our families, our nation, unless we as God’s people are willing to see transformation take place as the light of God’s Word, the Law and the Gospel, shines in every dark corner of each of our lives.

When Pastor Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:

"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ' Woe to those who call evil good' but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

"We confess that We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism;

"We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism;
We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle;
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery;

"We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare;
We have killed our unborn and called it choice;
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable;
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem;
We have abused power and called it politics;
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition;
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression;
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

"Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of Your will, to openly ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. In 6 short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively.

Conclusion: Wake up call! - verse 14

Paul concludes this section with a wake up call. This verse is rooted in Isaiah 26:19 and 60:1-2 and is a call to reflect the Gospel. We, like Rip Van Winkle, too easily doze in the light of the day. If Christ’s work of regeneration has transformed your life, there should be a change. The light of Christ’s work should be at work in you. If it is not, then you must ask the penetrating question of whether you are regenerate or not.

As we do that, we have the privilege to call others to change. We can be used of God to shine the light of Christ, the transforming power of the Gospel in the lives of those, who like us, are in darkness except for the grace of God. As the light shines, we take on the properties of that light and we shine, too.

Is the Gospel shinning in your dark heart? If we are light we must act as light, manifesting its brilliant functions, both positive and negative. We must live out the ethics of light in "goodness" and "righteousness" and "truth," and we must at times "expose ... the fruitless deeds of darkness."

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of wanting to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light the streets at night as a protection against crime and a convenience for evening travel. When he failed to influence them by his words, he bought an attractive lantern and placed it on a long bracket that extended from the front of his house. Each evening at dusk, he lit the wick. His neighbors noticed the warm glow in front of his home. Passersby appreciated the way the light helped them make their way over the rough cobblestone streets. Soon others began placing lanterns in front of their homes too. Eventually the city recognized the need for well-lighted streets. May we rise and shine that others will see the need for God’s light in their lives as well.

Sermon Notes