Ephesians 5:8-14 “At one time you were darkness…” With those simple words- and with that powerful image -Paul conveys the terrible truth about the plight of mankind apart from God: darkness --and along with it-- despair and death.
It has become fashionable in our day and time (when speaking of the human condition) to talk about moral ambiguities-- and shades of gray--and different perspectives and experiences and values. The average person on the street when asked about their relationship with God will freely admit that of course they are no Mother Teresa but neither are they an Adolf Hitler --and so they ought to make it into heaven.
But the bible knows absolutely nothing of a moral middle ground where the vast majority of “pretty good” human beings supposedly reside. Biblically, there are ONLY two options for humanity when it comes to our standing before God: darkness or light.
The painful, frightening truth, is that every person who is born into this world—while biologically alive—is born spiritually dead—lost in the darkness of unbelief-- and unless rescued from that darkness—unless the Light of the Lord shines upon them—they will remain there in darkness and death for eternity.
That is the dark shadow of death that the devil’s deception in the garden has cast over all humanity-- and we were all at one time a part of it.
We tend to forget that. Most of us were born to Christian parents, raised in the Christian faith, and we are believing members of the church today. In our memory, there never was a time that we were anything other than what we are now: alive in the light of the Lord. Praise the Lord for that godly heritage!
But there are those who have experienced the truth of what Paul is talking about: those who were adult converts to the Christian faith and lived the great part of their life in sin and unbelief—those who were raised in a Christian home and fell away from the faith in unholy living only to return to the light of the Lord as adults—those who sat in church pews as hypocrites before coming to faith.
These folks know by experience the truth of which Paul speaks concerning the tragic spiritual darkness of mankind apart from Christ. For the rest of us, we will simply have to believe what God’s Word says about us—that we were at one time: darkness.
It is important to remember where we came from because forgetting how desperate our plight was as we were born into this world—we will never fully realize the wonder and glory of what has followed—that now we are “light in the Lord” because “God…called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Whether it was in the first few weeks of our life when our parents brought us to the waters of Holy Baptism-- or whether it was in childhood and a friend brought us to Sunday School or VBS and we heard about Jesus for the first time in our lives--or whether it was later on in life through the preaching of the Gospel or the witness of a friend—Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, shone into our sin-darkened lives and dispelled the dark shadow of death. The Bible says:
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Imagine how someone rescued from being lost in a dark cave must feel! Imagine how the African slaves felt on the day of their emancipation! Imagine how someone who receives a new organ must feel towards the donor! And these priceless gifts of rescue and freedom and light benefit us only in this life.
How much greater and enduring is what Christ has done for us: rescuing us from the darkness of death by his resurrection—setting us free from sin by his death on the cross—enlightening our heart and mind by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament so that now: “You ARE light in the Lord.”
Please note: the Bible does not say: “you must be light!”--“you ought to be light!”--“you should try to be light!” Instead, you are “light in the Lord”. That is your baptismal identity and your purpose in life-- is to let the light of Jesus Christ shine through you in all that you say and do.
Because we are light in the Lord, the Bible says that we are to, “Walk as children of light”.
The light and life of Jesus Christ THAT has shone into our lives, dispelling the darkness of sin and death--is now to shine from our lives into a sin-darkened world. Our lives- and how we live them-our attitudes and priorities-- are to be a reflection of the light of Christ that has shined upon us.
And so what does this kind of shining life look like against the dark shadows of this dying world? It has two parts---things that we are to do and things to avoid. First of all it is a life that bears abundant spiritual fruit. The bible says, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
As those who have been called out of darkness into light, our perspective has changed and our eyes have been opened. We see things differently than we did before.
Now we want to please God and do his will and so our entire lives are devoted to bringing glory to God in all that we say and do—asking ourselves in every moment and circumstance and decision: is this pleasing to the Lord? Does it serve others? Will it bring glory to God?
That is what Paul is talking about when it comes to walking as children of the light. When we produce spiritual fruit such as “goodness, righteousness, and truth”, we show the world around us that we belong to God—that we are filled with his Holy Spirit—and that we are connected to the true vine of Jesus Christ, living lives like his and bearing the spiritual fruit of our fellowship with him.
Second, the Bible says that as those who walk as children of the light, we:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
It is a spiritual impossibility to live in the light of Jesus Christ and continue to live in the darkness of the unbelieving world—to have, at one and the same time, fellowship with God and fellowship with the Devil. It is simply impossible!
The child of God has nothing to do with the sins of this dark world but rather by the light of Jesus Christ that shines from our lives--exposes them for the demonic darkness that they are.
All around us we see a world living in dark delusion—a world that has turned the truth of God upside down—a world that calls that which is evil, good—a world that regards moral and spiritual darkness as light.
Those who walk in the light of Jesus Christ have a responsibility—in their lives and with their lips—not only to refuse to have fellowship with evil, but to actively and purposefully expose it—letting the bright, shining light of God’s Word reveal it for the darkness and death that it is.
As the people of God, we are called to be salt and light in a dark and decaying world. We have a prophetic responsibility to those who will not see and will not hear the truth-- to unashamedly show with our lives and speak with our mouths that which is good and true and righteous so that they may be awakened from spiritual death.
The Bible says: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” In these words to us today from the living God of the universe, there is a “wake-up: call for the Christian and for the unbeliever-- and a glorious promise for both.
For Christians, this is a wake-up call to be done with the lazy, lax distortion of Christianity that is so common today in the church today.
We have been rescued from darkness and death! The Light of Jesus Christi has shone into our lives! God has a call and claim upon our lives to walk as children of the light—to leave behind the disengaged, disinterested Christianity that fills so many churches today and to live a life concerned for others, thoughtful about what we see and hear, and actively involved in the Lord’s mission.
For the unbeliever it is a wake-up call to rise from the darkness of sin and death. God says: Arise! Arise! My Son has forgiven your sins upon the cross and he raised you up from the dead in his own resurrection. His love and light and life shines upon you! Arise! Arise and walk in newness of life!
For all of us, this is a day to remember where we were: lost in darkness. This is a day to give thanks to God for where we are right now—living in the glorious light of Jesus Christ. And this is a day to recommit ourselves to letting his light shine forth from our lives into the darkness of the world around us. May God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen.