Walk as Children of Light | Ephesians 5:7-14

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. 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. 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. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:7-14 ESV

As we continue our study through the fifth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle is now ready to bring together many of the various threads being weaved since 4:17. In that verse, Paul commanded us to no longer walk as the Gentiles do but instead to put on our new self in Christ. He concluded chapter four with specific examples of how this is to be done. Next, in 5:1-6, he essentially mirrored the message made in 4:17-24 by describing our status as beloved children in Christ, while the world remains children of disobedience. Yet while these verses have highlighted our distinction to the unbelieving world, the apostle now describes how we are to conduct ourselves as children of light in the midst of darkness.

This text can be divided into four sections (each containing an explanatory clause beginning with the word for). The first three begin with explicit commands for us to follow (do not become partners with them, walk as children of light, and take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness), while the fourth grounds us again in the transformational power of Christ.

YOU WERE DARKNESS // VERSES 7-8

The opening word therefore, of course, ties this passage directly onto verses 1-6. After drawing the distinction between beloved children of God and children of disobedience, between we who know the sacrificial love of Christ and those who have no inheritance in His kingdom, Paul tells us do not become partners with those who are outside the kingdom, with the Gentiles. The apostle has already used the Greek word become partners before in this letter. In 3:6, he wrote that the great mystery of Christ is “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Partakers is the shared word between these two verses. This forms a powerful comparison. We who are partakers in the promises of Christ cannot also be partnered with those who scorn His Lordship and salvation because the promises offered by unbelievers are contradictory to those made by Christ.

Consider the promises made by the three largest non-biblical worldviews. Islam promises a clear path of moral and religious goodness to outweigh our sin in the present and a hedonistic paradise of pleasure in the future. Hinduism (which sort of serves the largest example of paganism in general) promises inner peace and tranquility in the present and an enlightened unity with the cosmos in the future. Secularism promises liberation from the shackles of religion in the present and a utopia of peace, enlightenment, and unity in the future (wait, did I just repeat myself…). Christianity, on the other hand, promises death in the present and life to come. Death in the present comes to both ourselves and our sin. Our sin and the condemnation that it brings are crucified to the cross with Christ but so too are we. We are given the righteousness, the peace, and the liberty of Christ, but they are given alongside promises of suffering and trials. But our life to come is truly Life Himself. Pleasure and peace certainly await us, but our true reward is eternal life spent in the presence of our Father, our Lord, and our Comforter, the one true God.

The promises of present strength and future hope between Christians and non-Christians are incompatible with one another. To partner with them is like trying to build a skyscraper onto two entirely different foundations. We possess different visions of reality. In fact, Paul expresses this distinction in terms of darkness and light. Although he has already alluded to this imagery previously, here it proves particularly poignant.

The apostle explains that we must not partner with nonbelievers because at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. In 2:1-3, Paul recounted our days before Christ, when we were dead in our sins and following after Satan, the world, and our own desires instead of Jesus. And in 4:18, he noted that those who are apart from Christ are “darkened in their understanding” just as we once were as well. Yet now he says plainly that we were darkness. We were not simply in the darkness; we contributed to it. We propelled it forth ever further into the world. We were active members of Satan’s “domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). Now, however, we are light in the Lord. Just as Jesus is the light of the world, we who are in Him are now light as well. A fundamental transformation, therefore, has occurred, a change that turns darkness into light.

Brothers and sisters, we must grasp the importance of these words. No one is neutral in the cosmic war around us. Our world is in the midst of a struggle between light and darkness, and every single person is one of those two kingdoms forward. Everyone is either a light shining into the darkness or a bodily encampment for the domain of darkness. But we will return to that theme heavily in chapter six. For the present, the next two sections teach us how this distinction must shape our lives.

THE FRUIT OF LIGHT // VERSES 8-10

Here Paul gives us our fourth walk command. As I have said of the previous three, these commands are all essentially telling us the same thing only from different angles. To walk in a manner worth of our calling means also no longer walking as the Gentiles do, which also means walking in love, which also means walking as children of light, which (as we will see next week) also means walking carefully and wisely. They are each commanding us to live in light of our new life in Christ and of our wealth of spiritual blessings in Him. Therefore, as Christ is the light of the world, we must walk as children of light.

We must imitate the loving and pure radiance of our Father in heaven, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. Goodness, righteousness, and truth are attributes of God Himself. He is their definition; He is not defined by them, as if they were abstract principles eternally existent apart from Him. The fruit of light is all that is good because only God is good, so to do good is imitate God. The fruit of light is all that is right because only God is righteous, so to be righteous means imitating Him. Likewise, truth is the fruit of light because only God is truth (remember that the truth is in Jesus, as we saw in 4:21), so to be true is to be like God. To walk, therefore, as a child of light means imitating “the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

Therefore, we must take great care to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Paul, of course, does not mean here that we must try to discern what pleases the Lord in the sense that it ought to be attempted whether we successfully do so or not. Rather than telling us to give it a good hearty attempt, the apostle is commanding us to carefully test and examine what things are pleasing to the Lord. As God’s children, our utmost desire should be to please Him, and we should consider how we walk accordingly.

Of course, we must then ask how we are to discern what pleases our Lord. The answer is none other than His Word. Through the Scriptures, God’s will is made known to us. He is not a silent God, leaving to grope in the dark for what might appeal to Him. He has spoken to us clearly and plainly, laying before us what He both loves and hates. Our effort, therefore, to discern what pleases the Lord begins by diligently knowing and obeying His Word.

UNFRUITFUL WORKS OF DARKNESS // VERSES 11-12

Paul now gives us very practical guidance on how we are to interact with non-Christians, for we know that his previous commands against walking like the Gentiles and not becoming partners with them are not to avoid all nonbelievers completely. In fact, Paul clarifies on this issue in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, saying:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Because we only go out of this world via death, we will constantly be surrounded by sinners in this life, and we should not find it surprising to find those apart from Christ behaving unlike our Lord. Instead, if our brother or sister in Christ is unrepentantly sinning, we must not associate ourselves with him or her both for their sake and for the sake of the church’s witness before the world. The disassociation is a plea for repentance to the wayward brother or sister and a public denunciation of the sin.

But if we are not to entirely disassociate ourselves with the world around us, how then are we to behave toward nonbelievers? Paul gives two commands: take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

The word Paul uses for taking part is a verb form of the word koinonia, which often translates as fellowship, communion, or participation. Calvin fittingly explains this as, “It is not enough that we do not, of our own accord, undertake anything wicked. We must beware of joining or assisting those who do wrong. In short, we must abstain from giving any consent, or advice, or approbation, or assistance; for in all these ways we have fellowship.”[1] As children of light, our community cannot be with darkness, and neither can we participate in their unfruitful works.

Instead, we are called to expose them, which could also be translated as reprove or convict. When we walk properly as children of light, this becomes a natural process. Light, after all, exposes darkness simply by being present. A single candle gives light, however dimly, to an entire darkened room, and as its flame is moved about, the shadows give way to the illumination exposing different crevices and corners. Likewise, the Christian’s presence and conduct is a light upon the darkened understanding of the Gentile. By living according to God’s law, we validate the reliability of their conscience, spotlighting the truth that they have been suppressing (Romans 1:18).

I recall taking a school trip in my early days of college with three nonbelievers, who felt inclined to constantly apologize/justify their language and smoking to me throughout the weekend. I never once mentioned either behaviors, nor did I shoot any judgmental glares at them. My conduct was simply different from theirs, and I believe my presence merely brought their often-subconscious guilt to the surface. As Paul notes in verse 12, for it is shameful even to speak of what they do in secret. Their hearts testify against them of the shamefulness of their behavior, so they must keep it hidden in the dark, even if that only means attempting to keep it a secret from their own conscience. All know the truth, but many suppress it, hiding themselves from it.

We could apply this principle particularly to the Christian household, but since Paul himself will do that very thing soon, we will table those discussions for a couple more weeks.[2]

Instead, let us focus on how our refusal to take part in unfruitful works of darkness online might expose them. The Babylon Bee (a satirical Christian website) recently published an article titled, “Man Who Just Reads News and Social Media All Day Unsure Why He’s So Depressed.”[3] They are humorously calling attention to the increasingly well-known fact that both consumption of news and social media tends to correlate with feelings of worry and anxiety. Yet even though social media makes us unhappy, many cannot give it up because it is their only source of transcendence, of participating or communing with something bigger than themselves. Divorced from God, secularism replaces God with self, creation with evolution, salvation with self-actualization, heaven with communism, and the Holy Spirit with social media. The never-ending scroll is their comforter. But in a poor imitation of the true Comforter, the news feed does not quicken our conscience toward repentance; it merely tells us what the latest object of our wrath will be. Indeed, place news and social media up to 4:31-32 for examination. Are bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice more abundant than kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness?

Yet the barrage of distractions can only mask temporarily our God-designed hunger for more. Unfortunately, the hope to which many are turning is Eastern spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. They leave the Arctic for Sahara.

We, instead, can offer real hope. Part of the article reads: “’I wish God had given us some eternal words of truth that could comfort me and call me to behold the good and the beautiful instead of the depressing and the stupid,’ he lamented as he refreshed Facebook again, his phone dinging to notify him about yet another dumb thing some dumb politician said.” Of course, He has. The LORD has given us His Word, which calls us to meditate upon it day and night. It also calls us to be mindful but primarily of our reality and glory of our great God and to consider how we might love Him and the people He made more. Furthermore, it teaches us that the most life-giving poses are the postures we use to boldly approach our Father’s throne of grace.

All of this is not to say that social media and the news are inherently sinful. I do not believe that they are. However, we must take great care not to fall into the world’s dark and unfruitful obsession with the present. We are, instead, a people who are rooted in a long chain of family history extending to back to the Garden and a people who are anchored in the blessed hope that Christ’s imminent return will dissolve the current heavens and earth and replace them with unfallen and uncorrupted new ones. This faith in the past and hope for the future enable us to be “rooted and grounded in love” (3:17) in the present. Only God’s Word can give us such a cosmic-sized perspective of our current day, so the wars, rumors of wars, and cares of this world do not render us fruitless. Instead, “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2), and let the good, right, and true fruits of light that we bear expose the unfruitful works of darkness around us. While the world descends into chaos, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” (Philippians 4:5) “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Expose the hopeless of the Christ-less life, and be prepared for what follows, which is what Paul describes in our final section.

CHRIST WILL SHINE ON YOU // VERSES 13-14

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Here Paul highlights the purpose behind exposing the unfruitful works of darkness: that those who are darkness might become light. In other words, our aim is that sons of disobedience (as we once were) would become God’s beloved children in Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains the nature of these verses, saying:

While we continue to hold conversation with unbelievers, while we maintain a social contact with them, we must desire to make them begin to feel that they are missing something tremendous. Why did publicans and sinners draw near to the Lord Jesus Christ? He was absolute purity and holiness, yet He acted like a magnet on them and they drew near unto Him. The Pharisees hated them, denounced them, and kept apart from them, but when publicans and harlots saw the incarnate God walking before them, they drew near unto Him. Oh! there is something attractive about holiness; it makes us feel very unworthy and unclean when we look at it; it makes us see the things we are doing, as negative denunciation never does nor ever can do; it shows us our need, and at the same time it gives us a glimpse of something that is so different from our past, so much better, so much more wonderful than anything we know. Holiness ought to be attractive, it ought to be loving, it ought to be enticing, it ought to be charming, it ought to draw people. That is what is meant by reproving. We are to reprove the unfruitful works of darkness by being light, by being what we are, in our conversation, in our speech, in our exposition of the gospel.[4]

We are not bringing mere morality; we bring the gospel of Jesus Christ. We bring the light of Christ that raises the dead and awakens the sleeper.[5] He is the light that converts darkness into light beyond simply expelling it. We bring the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The LORD’s plea through Isaiah must now be His cry through us:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
            come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
            come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
            without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
            and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
            and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55:1-2

Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. All who hunger and thirst for His righteousness will be satisfied. Let us bid them to come into the light of Christ and live.


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians, 5:11.

[2] The capstone of this Kingdom Life portion of Ephesians is in Paul’s instructions to three daily sets of relationships: wives/husbands, children/parents, and slaves/masters. This structure is intentional. Our walking as light against the darkness is primarily conducted within our own households. We should remind ourselves of this fact often because the simplest things are frequently the easiest to forget as well.

[3] https://babylonbee.com/news/man-who-reads-news-and-social-media-all-day-unsure-why-hes-so-depressed

[4] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light, 421-422.

[5] This final line of poetry that Paul cites (v. 14) is an amalgamation of many passages from Isaiah; however, I tend to think that they were compiled together to form this poem (or piece of poetry), which may have been an early hymn of the church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s