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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Walk as Children of Light!
Text:Ephesians 5:3-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1,2                                                                                       

Ps 112:1,2                                                                                                      

Reading – Isaiah 60:1-7; Ephesians 4:17 - 5:14

Ps 18:1,4,9

Sermon – Ephesians 5:3-14

Hy 31:1,2

Hy 19:1,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, the darkness is never far away. Right now it’s bright and sunny, but before too long the sun will start going down—and when day ends, night-time and darkness begin. Darkness is near, also when you’re at home: your bedroom might be lit up, but all you need to do is flick the switch and you’re in the dark. Darkness always flees the light, but where the light is taken away, shadows and gloom immediately invade.

That’s a good description of the Christian life. For we can feel like we’re living between two worlds: there is good, and there is evil; there’s the way of the Holy Spirit, and the way of our sinful flesh. This is the battle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light! And this war is close to home—it’s one we experience each day.

Even for those who belong to Christ, the darkness is never far away. So none of us can stand still, nor wander back into what we have left behind. Ephesians 5:3-14 exhorts us to reject the darkness that is a life apart from God, and to keep walking in the light of Christ. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

Walk as children of light!

  1. the futility of stumbling in the darkness
  2. the salvation through Christ’s shining light
  3. the calling of our radiant status


1) the futility of stumbling in the darkness: In his letters to the churches, Paul can be soft and gentle, and he can also be very direct—he’s not worried about being polite. So he tells the Ephesians: “You once were darkness” (5:8). For like in many of the first congregations, in Ephesus, there were both Jews and Gentiles. And Paul gives attention to the Gentile readers. These were people who previously had no idea about the true God. These were pagans who had worshiped at the temples found throughout the city of Ephesus. Paul bluntly reminds them of their former condition, that they were once “darkness.”

That’s a powerful word. When we read the Scriptures, we come across “darkness” many times. Sometimes it refers to a real darkness, of course, like when the sun goes down and night-time begins. But more often “darkness” in Scripture is a metaphor. It’s an image of something else—“darkness” signifies sin, in all its cruel dominion and its power. “The people walking in darkness” are lost, given over to the devil’s deadly strength and stuck in their hopelessness.

Paul uses this image for the Ephesians’ former misery. They used to be lost in a dense blanket of fog. Led astray by their false gods, held by the chains of immorality, they were without hope and without God. And such a darkness wasn’t merely a location; Paul doesn’t just say they were “in the darkness.” It was their whole identity: “You were darkness.” The influence of the devil was all-pervasive. Darkness was all they knew!

So what is that life really like? Paul spoke about this in 4:18, about a sinner’s “futility of mind,” and “darkened understanding,” and our natural “blindness of heart.” It’s a total loss of moral and spiritual direction. At their core, the things that the unrepentant do are lawless—for life on the “dark side” means rejecting the shining light of God’s law. It’s following Satan, the “prince of darkness.” This is how the Ephesians once lived. And Paul describes a little of what this lifestyle is like in verses 3-4: it’s a life that is awash in fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, coarse jesting…

Beloved, do we know about this? Have we seen the darkness? Would Paul say these words to us also? “You were darkness?” He probably wouldn’t. For most of us have always known the truth of the gospel. We’ve had the blessing of being raised in the covenant, and we’ve been life-long members of the church of Christ. By his grace, not many of us have ever been strangers to God’s light.

Yet the darkness is still ever-present, and its gloom is always encroaching on our lives. Satan has never left God’s people alone—instead, he attacks all the harder. Even if we haven’t been swallowed up by darkness like the pagans who lived in Ephesus, or unbelievers in our city, we know that it’s there, and we know its attraction.

Sin is attractive, because it agrees with us. And it’s easy, especially when you think no one is watching. For what the disobedient do, Paul says, they’ll so often do “in secret” (5:12). It’s simple: when night falls, when the lights go down, when there are fewer people around to witness it, the temptation to enjoy the darkness becomes very strong and appealing. Think of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians, very similar in theme: “Those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night” (5:7).

Darkness—that’s still what sin is like. For we’ll always try to keep our sin a secret. No one wants their misdeeds to be known, so we avoid having our sins brought out into the open. We try to hide our sins and erase the evidence. You shred the receipts. You delete the browsing history. You do your drinking when no one else is around. You pretend like everything is fine and avoid direct questions. We want to keep our bad habits in a quiet corner—hidden in the safety of the darkness, safe from being exposed.

That’s the kind of life which always invites sinners back. So the Spirit warns us: this way of living is futile and worthless! Says Paul in verse 11, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Sin is unfruitful; that is to say, it never brings benefit. We might try to fool ourselves and insist that this time we’ll be further ahead if we break God’s law, that we’ll be happier—but it’s useless.

For instance, greed might get us the money or the stuff that what we want, but it’s not long before we want more money and more stuff. We enjoy the pleasures of lust for a moment, but soon the thrill is faded and gone, and we know we’ll have to go back. We get a bit of satisfaction when we hurt someone with our unkind words, but it lingers only for a moment. In the end, it’s unfruitful.

And this isn’t just about the sins that are easy to point out in others. Look at yourself: these words apply to everything in our life that runs against God’s will. We’ll never walk away from any sin feeling better than we did before. We’ll never be satisfied with it, never fulfilled.

Rather, sin is always disappointing—always destructive. Even if we don’t see it right away, sin can only break down the good things of God. Sin breaks relationships, between husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and family. Sin wrecks those good and holy habits you spent years building. And ultimately, it leads only to the darkness of judgment, where you’re in a place that is shut out from the presence of God.

This is what the Spirit says: “No fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (5:5). When a person lives in sin and he does not repent, he’s showing that he actually doesn’t belong to Christ’s kingdom.

People who loiter in the darkness of a life apart from God will never get ahead—they’ll never be at peace, never find rest. I think we know this, yet the Spirit needs to remind us. For as we said, we still experience the power and pull of darkness. Even now, Paul says in the next chapter, we are wrestling against spiritual hosts of wickedness (6:12).

Though we know that it’s an empty life, one that will bring us nothing but sorrow, we still want it. A person can be so blind, he doesn’t even notice he’s blind. So if we faced this darkness alone, we might surrender so quickly. We might crawl into the night, and not ever return. Yet for those walking in the darkness there is a brilliant hope!


2) the salvation through Christ’s shining light: Do you know that glorious feeling of walking out into brilliant sunshine? Especially after a day cooped up inside, or after a few days of overcast skies, it can be so great to see the sun again. The simple gift of sunshine can actually change our mood; it can make a bad day into one much more positive.

Such is small taste of the power of God’s light. For though we were once darkness, “now [we] are light in the Lord” (5:8). This image of light is another that is found throughout the Scriptures. It’s especially used to capture a little of God’s character—for it is said that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” For like light, God is pure, and He is life-giving. Like the light of the sun, He is constant and unfailing. Just as at the beginning of time, God’s light shines into the darkness, and He creates something new.

And again, this light is not only a location where we find ourselves. It’s not just that we’re in God’s light now, like a cat resting in a sunbeam. No, we were darkness, but now we are light! The captivity to Satan has been broken, and the blackness of our hearts has been removed. Now we have a new identity—now we are light in the Lord.

The situation used to be grim. The Ephesians once were lost in a miserable gloominess, life outside of the Son. Without Christ, that’s where we would’ve been, too. But now there’s a new reality for those who are in covenant with God.

In the second half of verse 8, Paul says that we’ve actually become “children of light.” Like those rays that come beaming from the sun, we become radiant with God’s glory. He has brought us out of the darkness by his power, and we are his children!

So how has this happened? For the answer, we look to the very end of the passage. There, in verse 14, Paul echoes a passage from the Old Testament: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” It’s not an exact quotation, but Paul takes the gist of it from Isaiah 60:1.

There God is calling out to his people Israel. Remember that these were a people once lost in the gloom of wickedness; they were overwhelmed by the oppression of exile in Babylon. Everything looked bleak, but God says to them, “Arise, shine, for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.” Though it felt like the whole world was lost in darkness, God’s light was going to shine upon his people.

So our salvation is like two things, according to verse 14: waking and resurrecting. In the first place, it’s like Christ has woken us from the darkness of sleep. For when you close your eyes to sleep, of course, everything’s pitch black. In itself, sleeping isn’t such a bad thing—but you can be asleep another way too: in your spirit! Sleeping in spirit: that’s when we’re being lazy in the faith, when we’ve let down our guard against temptation. We just roll over and enjoy the bliss of being unconscious. Sometimes we grow so worldly in our thinking and our doing, we don’t even realize it.

But our sinful sleep is at an end. It has given way to being wide awake in Christ. It’s a new morning! “Awake, you who sleep!” Christ has roused us from our slumber, and He shines his glory in our eyes. We don’t much like being woken up by someone who suddenly turns on the light in our room, but this is different. For God has called us in his grace, “No more sinful slumber! Stand up and stand with me!”

There’s good news here, but also a warning. The Spirit is urging us, “Don’t lay down in the comfortable bed of this wicked world! Fight that temptation to close your eyes and hit the snooze button.” It can be so hard to fight against falling sleep at times—there are moments at the end of the day, or just after lunch on a hot afternoon, when it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes open. Well, just as easily any of us can be lulled into sin. Just as easily we can slip into bad habits, like not reading our Bible because we’re so busy, or coming to church only once because we’re so tired, having a couple extra drinks or indulging ourselves some other way.

“Wake up,” Christ says; “Realize what’s happening! Just because it’s easy or it feels natural, doesn’t mean it’s good. Just because you’re ignoring it, doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you. Open your eyes, and turn them to the light of Christ!”

Our new life in Christ is like being woken up from sleep. And it’s like something else, says Paul. It’s like resurrection, being raised from the darkness of death: “Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (5:14). For we were once dead in our transgressions and sins. And being dead means there’s no hope, no way to save yourself. But Christ has called out to us: “Arise from your grave and begin to live!”

We leave the darkness of our tomb, and coming out, we see Christ’s shining face. In the blessing every Sunday morning we hear it, that God makes his face to shine upon us. Living in his light means we’re accepted into the fellowship of his favour and protection, his covenant mercy and peace.

God says to us, his people: “In Jesus Christ, I give you a new start, a fresh beginning. So live in the joy of faith and the wisdom of obedience! Don’t live like the dead—don’t be a stumbling zombie blinded by sin, whose life is overrun by desire. Don’t do the things that draw you back into darkness. But walk in the light of life! 


3) the calling of our radiant status: Time for some implications. If we’ve been woken from our sleep, brought out of darkness and raised from the dead, then we have to act like it. Brothers and sisters, have you seen the light? If you have, then you need to listen to the command at the centre of this text: “Walk as children of the light” (5:8).

Here Paul uses one of his favourite words in Ephesians, the word “walk.” Just think of the difference between walking in the light and walking in the darkness. If you’ve ever tried to walk through an unfamiliar home in the dark, you know there’s a lot of stumbling and tripping, stubbed toes and confusion. Walking in the dark is painful and slow. But when the lights are on, we know where to go. When we’re walking in God’s light, beneath his shining face and with the lamp of his Word, we are safe and blessed.

Paul explains what a life that is illuminated will look like. Where the life of disobedience is fruitless and futile, the life in Christ bears many good results: “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness and truth” (5:9). Fruit needs light to grow, and when there is light through the Spirit, the harvest is beautiful and plentiful.

Goodness is nothing less than love for other people; that we treat them kindly and generously. God commands that we show goodness to our brothers and sisters in the church, to our neighbors on our street, through our words and in our deeds. For if we love God, we will love one another. If we’ve received the precious light of God’s love, we’ll reflect this divine light toward others.

A second fruit is righteousness. When we’ve been illuminated by God’s light, we’ll also become what we weren’t before: faithful! No more running away in disobedience, but now holding a real commitment to God’s commands. 

And truth too, comes as a fruit of being changed by God. In our dealings with one another, in our relationship with God, we will be truthful. Instead of covering our shame, instead of hiding behind excuses and running from responsibilities, God enables us to be genuine in all we do. We live in his truth!

These fruits are only a sampling, for when God shines his light, the results are far-reaching. But notice how the Spirit doesn’t give us a long list of commands to follow. It’s far better that Christians work out for ourselves, from hour to hour, how we are to think and act as God’s children. God simply gives that general direction: “[Find out] what is acceptable to the Lord” (5:10).

In the hundreds of different circumstances each day, in every unique life, we are called to test, judge, and discern what God desires of us. In each of the situations we face, we must seek what pleases our God. When we’re working at work; when we’re dealing in business; when we’re running our home; when we’re relaxing with friends; or serving in church; or leading and nurturing our family—we must ask, “Is this fitting for a child of light? Do these words, these actions, these choices reflect the radiance of God’s glory? Is this acceptable to the Lord?”

And be sure of one thing: our new life with God will be very different from a life without. That sort of lifestyle must be left behind completely. Just like the Spirit said before, “Do not be partakers with them” (5:7). In another place it’s even more dramatic: “What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). None at all!

How far should this separation go between light and darkness? Paul says that “it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret” (v 12). The Ephesians knew what their neighbours were doing—they knew what was happening in those temples, in those drinking-houses, in their homes. Yet they shouldn’t even talk about it.

That’s a good warning for us too. For even talking about today’s sin can drag us into it. We don’t mind talking about the latest sex scandal, the greed, the corruption of our society—but talking about it can sometimes drag us into it. We look at the pictures, we watch the video clips, we laugh and joke about it, but all of it lowers our resistance, and somehow makes it a little more normal. But it’s shameful even to speak of these things.

Instead of being well-acquainted with the deeds of darkness, Christian are called to “expose” them (5:11). Show a different lifestyle! By being separated and living in holiness, we can shine God’s light to everyone.

And Christ’s light must continue to shine: “All things that are exposed are made manifest by the light” (5:13). This is saying that more and more, the light of Christ should penetrate our lives. There might be things we’ve long kept hidden from God: sins that we haven’t confessed, regrets that we haven’t brought to him in prayer, fears that we haven’t admitted.

Let Christ’s light shine onto these things. Let his light pervade every corner, every secret place. Let every thought and word be transformed by the radiance of God! More and more, entrust your life to Jesus, the Light of the World, the Son who will shine forever.

So walk as the children of light. Leave behind the darkness that is so near. More and more, dwell in the light that comes from knowing God. And let your light shine before men! Shine forth to everyone the radiance of God—reflecting his glory in Christ Jesus!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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