The Lord's Day Morning
July 9, 2006
“The New Walk (3): Children of Light”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 5, as we continue our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul — not just to the church of Ephesus, but to us, as all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for our reproof and correction and training in righteousness.
We've said that this whole section in Ephesians (from Ephesians 5:5 down to verse 21) deals with motivations. God is kind. He knows that we face many temptations in life, He knows that our hearts have many inclinations to sin; and so, He gives us numerous arguments which we can use in arguing with our hearts and arguing against the world in the pursuit of godly living. And He gives us many motivations in the Scriptures to godly living. We looked at one last week in verses 5-7. The Apostle Paul held before us the picture of the coming judgment, and he bade us look forward into the future and to consider that great judgment throne of God. [I say “last week”, it was actually three weeks ago!] The last time we were together in Ephesians, we looked at Ephesians 5:5-7. Now Paul turns from the future, and from the coming judgment and our anticipation of that judgment as a motivation for Christian living. He turns from that now to our past and to our present.
In verses 8-14, this part of this passage that we're studying today, he asks us to remember who we were apart from the grace of Christ, and then to consider our identity now as having been saved by the grace of Christ. So, from looking to the future and the coming judgment as a motivation for Christian living, he turns now to the past and to the present and our identity as a motivation for Christian living.
Before we read God's word together, let's look to Him and ask for His blessing as we hear it read and proclaimed. Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, we cannot understand this word as we ought without the help of Your Holy Spirit. This is not because Your word is lacking or deficient; Your word is perfect, it is true, it is authoritative, it is good, it is practical. In fact, it is sufficient to grow us in grace in everything that we need for faith and life. And yet, O God, because of the dullness of our hearts and minds, because of our inclination to sin, because of our inattention and a thousand other reasons, we need the help of Your Holy Spirit in order to hear Your word rightly. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ reminded His disciples that they needed to hear Your word reverently, realizing it's the very word of God; and that they needed to hear the word in faith, believing everything that You promise and obeying everything that You command. Heavenly Father, by Your Spirit, give us reverence and faith as we hear Your word, and by Your Spirit apply it to our hearts. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We’re going to read verse 7, as well, even though we're going to be concentrating on verses 8-14, because we don't want to pick up in the middle of a sentence.
Let's look to the word of God.
“Therefore do not be partakers with them, for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, ‘AWAKE, SLEEPER, AND ARISE FROM THE DEAD, AND CHRIST WILL SHINE ON YOU.’”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now, if you have the outline today, you will notice that there are five points in that outline. But do not be deceived: this is a one-point sermon! The reason I have those five points there is so you can follow Paul's chain of argument, follow his trail of logic. But he's got one point, and that's the point that I want to come back to over and over.
Remember we said that from Ephesians 5:5-21 that Paul was going to give us four motivations or incentives, or inducements, to our living the Christian life, and we saw the coming judgment and our anticipation of it as an inducement, or an incentive, or a motivation to the living of the Christian life, when we were last together in this passage. Today we're going to look at a second inducement, and that is our new identity in Christ, and that's the one point of Paul's message. Paul's one point is simply this: Remember who you were apart from grace, apart from Christ–remember who you were, and who you are–and live like who you are.
Our identity in Christ.
That's Paul's one point in this passage. He's saying ‘Here's another incentive, Christian. Here's another motivation for the living of the Christian life. Remember what you were apart from Christ, apart from grace; and think about who you are now by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and live out the grace that has been shown to you. Cause in your living that grace which God has shown you in Christ to be made manifest. Be who you are, by God's grace.’ That's Paul's one point: To remember who we were; to reflect on who we are; and to live out who God has made us to be in Christ. But we’ll walk through each of these five points in order to emphasize the particular details of Paul's argument.
We’ll begin in verse 8. Notice there where Paul says “…you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord….” You see what Paul is saying there. He's saying remember who you were formerly: darkness. That's how you could be characterized as a person. You were in darkness. You were darkness. And, remember what you now are, by God's grace. You were formerly darkness, now you are light in the Lord.
The Apostle Paul is saying when God saved you He dramatically morally transformed you. He changed your character. You were a person in darkness. In fact, Paul puts it more strikingly than that. In the New Testament especially John and Peter like to talk about us before Christ, before grace, before conversion, being in darkness; and after Christ, after grace, after conversion, being in light. But notice that Paul doesn't say that. He doesn't say that you were “in darkness” and that you’re now in the light: he says “you were darkness” and you are now light. He's talking about this dramatic moral transformation that occurs.
The Lord Jesus Christ, when He saves us, not only justifies us; He not only declares us righteous, He not only freely forgives our sins because of what He has done on our behalf, but He transforms us. He brings us out of darkness and into light. He changes us from the inside out. That doesn't just mean we stop doing everything that we've ever done wrong and we start doing everything right. In fact, it doesn't mean that at all, because Christians still struggle with sin. But it does mean that we are fundamentally morally changed, so that especially we realize that this world is not fundamentally about us. It's about God and His glory; and our enjoyment, our pleasure, our satisfaction in this life, our meaning, our fulfillment, is found not in centering the world on ourselves, but on focusing on the One who is the first, the best, the greatest, the center of all things: the Lord God. And when we de-center ourselves and give all praise to Him and pursue Him in His glory, ironically it is precisely there that we find all satisfaction, all fullness of pleasure, and joys forevermore. And so the person who has been transformed by the grace of Christ has found sinful self decentralized in his or her experience. God is at the center of everything, and that begins to work out a moral transformation in every area of life — a transformation that takes a lifetime to complete. It doesn't instantaneously happen. The Christian continues to struggle, but the Christian is fundamentally different from the one who is centered upon himself or herself.
That is one reason why in our approach to evangelism and discipleship at First Presbyterian Church we try to be dramatically God-centered. We want to send a message to everyone who comes in the doors that it's all about God — and that is radically counter-cultural, because our culture thinks ‘It's all about me.’
Some of you may have seen the hilarious video that's circulating on the internet now, called Me Church. If you haven't seen it, go to Google and type in “Me Church” 1 and watch the video. It will leave you on the floor laughing. But it's a spoof on evangelical churches that have followed the ways of secular marketing and tried to appeal to the basis of what people want, and what they think the church ought to be like and ought to be doing, in order to get them to church, and it's called Me Church.
The video opens with a woman saying, “You know, my life is hard. I work hard, I've got a busy week, and when I get to Sunday, it's hard for me to be on time. And I want to go to a church that starts when I get there.” And then the narrator comes on and says, “OK, you join our church, and when you arrive, we begin!”
And then it zeroes in on a family holding a young baby, and they say, “You know, this little guy, he plays by his own rules. We want to go to a church where if he starts crying in the middle of the service, nobody looks at us and judges us, but they accept us.” And he says, “That's all right. If you come and join our church, your little guy starts crying, then everybody else around you, they’ll just have to leave! And you can stay there.”
And then another person comes on, and he says, “You know, my wife Sherry and I, we don't personally give a lot to the church, but we like to know who does.” And then the narrator comes on and says, “All right, you join our church and you’ll know everybody who gives, in detail!”
And then a little guy comes on to the screen. He's on his bicycle. He says, “If I join the church, I want a pony!” And the narrator says, “Look in your back yard!”
And then a lady comes on, and she's reading a book, and she says, “You know, I want to know…if I join the church, can I get a buff and a wax? During the worship service?” And the narrator comes on and says, “Not only a buff and a wax, but we’ll do an oil change and a tune-up, free!”
And then another guy comes on, and he says, “If I join the church, I want tickets to the Big Game. I want tickets to the Super Bowl.” And they say, “Oh, that's asking too much, ” the narrator says. He says, “Nope, no deal. If you don't get me tickets to the Big Game, then I'm not joining.” He says, “All right, we’ll throw in tickets to the Super Bowl.”
And the point of the video is that this church is completely built around them! It's Me Church! Well, one of the fundamental things that God does in us when He brings us from darkness to light is He teaches us “It's not all about me. It's about God. It's about His glory. And my enjoyment, my pleasure, my fulfillment, my growth, my satisfaction, my meaning in life is only found when I am decentralized, and when God is at the center of everything. When He is exalted, that is where I experience fullness of joy forevermore.”
So you can't build a church full of people who are God-centered by saying to them “It's all about you.” You can't move people from being me-centered to being God-centered by being me-centered. So the Apostle Paul is reminding us here in this passage that all of us who have come to faith in Christ have come to realize in some measure that it's all about God. It's all about His glory; and my enjoyment in this world, my fulfillment, and meaning and satisfaction is realized only when I realize it's all about God. And that begins to change everything in life.
And so the Apostle Paul says you were darkness, but now you are light. You were darkened by the confusion that you were at the center of the universe, and now you realize that there is a God and you are not Him. And you were created by Him, for Him, to worship Him, and enjoy Him forever, and that has radically changed your whole moral outlook and experience and character in this life. So, remember who you are! Remember that you are now a child of light, and live that out. That's what Paul is saying.
2. That takes us right to the second thing that he says, and we see it there in verse 8: “You were formerly darkness but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light….” So Paul says remember what you were, and what you now are by God's grace, and live out what you now are by God's grace. In other words, he's saying be who you are; do what you are. The Apostle Paul is saying in light of the fact that God has worked this dramatic, radical moral transformation in you, you need to live out that moral transformation in your daily life.
God is light — John loves to say that! “God is light,” he says. “God is love,” and “God is spirit.” And Paul latches on to that, and he says “God is light.” And you know what? You’re His children. You’re children of light. So, if you are God's children, live as children of light, because God is light. Live out that light that you are.
And it's so wonderful that in the New Testament that the command to the Christian life is always a command not for you to become what you are not, but for you to be who you really are in Christ.
The Apostle Paul wants you to realize what you were, realize what you've been made in Jesus Christ; and then he calls you–not to do something that you can't do, not to change your own heart, which you can't do; not, if you’re in darkness, to act like you’re in the light when you’re in the darkness–but now that you are light, to live as light. Be who you are. The call is always to realize and live out what the grace of God has already done fundamentally in your heart. God is light. You are His children — live as His children, live out the light. Be who you really are in Christ. Do what you really are in Christ.
III. Now what is the fruit of that light? Look at verse 9. Paul spells it out. What are the results of living as children of light? What does it look like to live as children of light?
“For the fruit of the light [Paul says] consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth…”
So he says the fruit of the light…you want to see somebody who's bearing the fruit of being a child of light? A child of light who's bearing fruit, what kind of fruit are they bearing? Goodness, righteousness, and truth.
Does that remind you of anything? Many of us have memorized The Shorter Catechism, or parts of it. And in its definition of God, it asks “What is God?” and it answers:
“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness [and then listen to the last three}, justice, goodness, and truth.”
Did you hear those? Justice, goodness, and truth.
Now look what the Apostle Paul says a child of light is like: A child of light is characterized by goodness, righteousness, and truth.
Goodness — Far from malice, a spirit of generosity that desires to bless others.
Righteousness — Activity which is right in the sight of God.
Truth — Integrity, so that your inside and your outside is alike; so that your motives and your actions are coordinated.
And you know what it really is: Paul is saying the fruit of being a child of light is wanting to be like your heavenly Father. (Now you’re saying, “Where do you get that from?”) Well, because our heavenly Father is good, and just (or righteous), and true. He is filled with integrity; He is just (or righteous); and He is good. In fact, that's precisely what we saw in the first verse of Psalm 72. Turn back to Psalm 72. Solomon is praying this prayer, and Brad was exactly right: ultimately nobody fulfills Psalm 72 but Jesus. Nobody — certainly not Solomon!
But in the first instance, Solomon is praying the prayer of Psalm 72 because he wants to be a better king. And look at what he says in the very first verses of Psalm 72. He prays to God this:
“Give the king Thy judgments, O God, and Thy righteousness to the king's son.”
And what's Solomon saying? ‘Lord, I want to administer judgments like You would administer. I want to be righteous in ruling this people like You are righteous in ruling us.’
In other words, Solomon is saying ‘God, in some measure I want to be a king like You’re a king. I want to be the kind of just king, righteous king, good king, merciful king in his judgments and actions — like You are.’ That's every Christian's prayer, and the Apostle Paul is reminding us, 'Remember you’re not just a citizen of God's kingdom, you’re a royal child of God's house.' You’re “a child of the King,” we sing. You’re a child of the King! And one of the things that is characteristic of a child of the King is he wants to be like his heavenly Father, or she wants to be like her heavenly Father. And so one of the fundamental displays of the fruit of the light is that we want to be like our heavenly Father, and He is good, and He is righteous, and He is true; and therefore we manifest goodness and righteousness and truth in our dealings with one another and with all men.
IV. Now notice the next thing that Paul says, in verse 10, and take it together with what he says in verse 8: “Walk as children of light, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Paul is saying to us that the children of light love to live for the Father's pleasure.
Now we need to pause and clarify at least a couple of things about this. The first thing we need to clarify is this: When he speaks of “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord”, he is not intimating that God has somehow left it unclear what He wants us to do in order to please Him. It's not–you know, a good parent doesn't say to your child, “Look, you better do what pleases me, or else. Now go figure out what I want you to do. And remember, if you don't do what I want you to do, you’re going to get it.” So God has given us a whole book that tells us what pleases Him. It's not that Paul is saying that we've got to go out and scratch our heads and sit in a dark room and figure out maybe, possibly, what God might want us to do. No. Learning to do the will of the Lord, learning what is pleasing to the Lord is not something that is theoretical: it's something that is practical.
Let me take it from the standpoint of practicing an instrument. When you are learning a song to play on the piano or the guitar, the point is not simply to know what the notes are that are written on the page, but to get to the point where you can play exactly the notes that are written on the page without having to look at the page, and to do it with interpretation and passion and intensity, and in beauty. The point is not merely to rote memorize what the notes are on the page, but to be able to play it so that it becomes a part of you.
Well, it's the same thing in trying to learn and do what is pleasing to the Lord. It's not just that we know that in one particular Bible passage it says to do this, and another says to not do that; it's that the reality of what God wants us to do is ingrained in our experience so that it becomes a part of us, and we learn to do what is pleasing to the Lord by doing what is pleasing to the Lord.
In rehearsing a piano song or a guitar song, when you get it the first time you’re not done rehearsing. After you've done it the twentieth time you’re not done rehearsing. After you've done it the hundredth time you’re not done rehearsing. You’re working until it's ingrained in you and it becomes a part of you. And this is what the Apostle Paul is talking about: Children of light practice the Father's pleasure in such a way that it becomes a part of us.
The second thing we need to say about this is we cannot have a picture here of some tyrannical, irascible, mean-spirited stingy God sitting up there and saying, ‘OK, try and do something to please Me.’ No. The picture here is anything but that. Take the picture of Eric Liddell, who was fast, and he ran races, and he won Olympic races. And he says of his running that when he runs, he feels the Lord's pleasure. Why? “Because God made me fast,” he says, “and I run for His glory. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” In other words, Eric Liddell is doing exactly what God made him to do, and he knows that the Father delights in him doing exactly what God made him to do, which brings God glory. And so it is something not that you have to say ‘Now do this’ or ‘Don't do that’ — he desires to please the heavenly Father! He desires the Father's pleasure, and he takes pleasure in the Father's pleasure.
Have you ever seen your children doing something kind or good or generous, and it just takes you off-guard? You know, they don't know you’re looking, they don't realize what they've just done in your presence, and it's so encouraging to you to see your child do something which is good or kind or generous, maybe with their playmates or maybe towards an adult, and you take pleasure in that. And if your child finds out that you take pleasure in that, your child takes pleasure in your taking pleasure in their having done what is good or generous or kind. It's the same thing with the heavenly Father. He delights to see us doing what He made us to do, and our enjoyment is wrapped up in our glorifying of God, which He made us to do.
And so the Apostle Paul is saying children of light love to live for the Father's pleasure, because they know that He loves to dote on us and praise us for doing exactly what He made us to do, even though He can take all the credit for it. He loves to take pleasure in our doing of His will.
V. And then, finally, we ask the question ‘Well, what does living for the Father's pleasure look like?’ and that's what Paul describes in verses 11-14. I only have time to say this: Notice that Paul emphasizes that living for the Father's pleasure means a distinctness that exposes.
What do I mean by that? Look at verse 11:
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them….”
Living for God's glory, living for the Father's pleasure, remembering who you were and are, and living out who you are is going to mean that you are not going to do some things that the world is doing all around you, and you are going to do to certain things that the world is not doing around you.
We live in a self-centered, self-preoccupied culture, and every time we live out God-centeredness and other-centeredness, people who are watching are going to scratch their heads and wonder ‘What's up with you? You’re weird. You’re nerdy. You’re way out of fashion. You’re obsolete. You’re behind the times.’ We’re going to be distinct from the world. That is going to be the fact. But on the Judgment Day, every action of goodness and kindness and generosity for the glory of God done in the name of Christ, in dependence upon Him and the Holy Spirit, none of those actions are going to look weird or nerdy or out of date. And the actions of the culture around us, no matter now dominant, are going to come under judgment.
And so if we are going to live as children of light, we are going to be different from the world in some things. Now that will cause one of two reactions. One reaction will just be disdain. You know, you’ll be viewed as a ‘Goody Two-Shoes’, or ‘holier than thou,’ or judgmental — just because you refuse to join in with what everyone else is doing.
But others will, by the grace of God and the work of His Holy Spirit, be blessed by your very distinctness, because your distinctness from the world will expose sin for what it is. Some people, to be sure, will not like their sin being exposed. Some people, however, by God's grace will bless the day that your goodness exposed their sin.
You know, one of the things that happens when you hang around with mature Christians is you see things in them that you do not have in your own character. That's one reason I like to hang around with mature Christians, because I see the places where my character is deficient, and I see the graces that God has worked in those other men and women's lives who are godly, consecrated Christians, and I realize, “Lord, I am falling short there, and I want to be like her…I want to be like him…because they’re living light in that area in accordance with God's word, and their lives are fragrant, and I want to be like that.”
That will be the reaction of some to your own distinct living, but to others, they will hate their sin being exposed, and consequently they will be disdainful of you and one day may even persecute you. But the Apostle Paul says, ‘Dear Christians, here is an incentive for your Christian living: Be who you are. You are children of light. You have been made light. Live that out. And your distinctiveness will expose sin in this world, perhaps for the eternal good of many.’
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word, and even as we come to Your table we recognize afresh a need for Your grace and strength, that we might live in accordance with what You have made us to be in Christ. Grant us, O God, that motivation; and grant that You would meet with us at Your table. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Please take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to No. 378. We’ll prepare for The Lord's Supper with Bonar's great hymn, Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face.