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17. Living in the Light While Residing in a Dark World

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For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 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.” (Ephesians 5:8-14)

How can we live in the light while residing in a dark world?

Paul is continuing his exhortation to imitate God that began in Ephesians 5:1-7. He called the believers to imitate God by living a life of love, and by getting rid of sexual immorality of every sort, including activities, thoughts, and words. Here the believers are called to imitate God by walking as children of light.

John MacArthur says this about the figurative use of the word “light”:

In Scripture the figurative use of light has two aspects, the intellectual and the moral. Intellectually it represents truth, whereas morally it represents holiness. To live in light therefore means to live in truth and in holiness. The figure of darkness has the same two aspects. Intellectually it represents ignorance and falsehood, whereas morally it connotes evil.1

We see this in many places. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path,” In this reference, “light” refers to intellectual truth as found in God’s Word. In Romans 13:12-14, “light” refers to moral deeds and “darkness” to immoral deeds.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

In Isaiah 5:20, these words refer to both the intellectual and the moral. It says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

Believers are in the light because they have been changed intellectually and morally. How can believers continually imitate God by living in the light? In this study, we will consider six truths about living in the light.

Big Question: How can believers live in the light, as commanded in Ephesians 5:8-14?

To Live in the Light, Believers Must Remember that Light, Not Darkness, Is Their Nature

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8)

Here, Paul reminds believers that they were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. It is interesting to consider that he does not say believers were “in” darkness, but they “were” darkness. That is the character of every believer before coming to Christ. There has been a definite character change in the life of every true believer. By using the term “children of light,” Paul reminds us that we have our Father’s nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4).

In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In Psalm 27:1, God is called “light” and “salvation.” This is the character and nature of God our Father, and we have his nature.

Interpretation Question: In what ways is the believer light and the world darkness?

1. The believer is light because he knows God.

Romans 1:21-23 describes the world as intellectually darkened in reference to knowing God the Creator. It says,

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

People of the world have darkened minds. They profess to be wise when they are really fools. They deny the living God by worshiping false gods or denying his existence. Psalm 14:1 says the fool says in his heart there is no God. The world is dark because people do not know or even acknowledge God. But believers are light because they know the light—they know God.

2. The believer is light because he knows the gospel and Scripture in general.

Second Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The world is blinded to the light of the gospel. First Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Though the world rejects the gospel, to the believer, it is the power and wisdom of God.

Not only are unbelievers blinded to the gospel, they are also blinded to Scripture in general. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” While the world rejects Scripture and cannot understand it, it is the believer’s daily bread (Matt 4:4), constant meditation (Psalm 1:2), and joy (Psalm 119:24).

3. The believer is light because he practices the character of righteousness.

Romans 13:12-14 says,

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

As believers, we called to put aside the deeds of darkness and clothe ourselves with Christ.

Similarly, 1 John 3:10 says, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” Children of God are identified by their obedience to God, and unbelievers are identified by their disobedience.

Essentially, to be in darkness is to be ignorant of God and his Word and to practice rebellion in regards to those things. The world is darkness, but the believer is light. He knows the truth about creation, the gospel, and God, and he lives in view of these realities that the world rejects. 

Application Question: What applications can we take from believers being children of light?

1. Believer must shine their light by placing it in the most strategic places.

Christ says this in Matthew 5:14-16:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Christians must put their light on a stand (Matt 5:15). When placing a lamp in a house, people put it in the most advantageous position. We must do the same with our lives. We must consider this when deciding where we will work, live, and go to church. How can we most effectively spread our light?

Also, we must remove anything that might dim our light or make it ineffective. There are certain environments that could hinder the effectiveness of our light by either causing us to hide it or by blowing it out as we succumb to temptation. Believers must place their light on a stand for all to see.

Placing our light in the most strategic places also includes helping it get stronger and shine the brightest. For example, this might include things like being involved in a good church, seeking godly mentors, and reading the right books.

2. Believers must avoid the temptation to hide their light.

In Mark 4:21, Christ asks, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?” Many commentators believe the bowl and the bed represent common reasons that people hide their light. Some hide it because of work. The bowl which Christ refers to is probably a bushel for collecting grain. Many believers get so busy at work that they hide the light of Christ, or they hide it so as to not hinder their chances of promotion. However, our light should not be hidden under the bushel of work. Secondly, Christians tend to hide their light simply because of laziness, as symbolized by a bed. They are too lazy to go to church, read their Bibles, serve on missions, or share the gospel.

No wise person puts a lamp under a bowl or a bed—and neither should believers. Our light is more important than any lamp in a house. We must strategically place our lamps in places that will maximize their output and effectiveness for the kingdom of God.

Application Questions: In what ways are you tempted to hide your light? In what ways do you believe God is calling you to place your light in the most effective location?

To Live in the Light, Believers Must Produce the Fruit of Light

(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) (Ephesians 5:9)

Observation Question: With what terms does Paul describe the fruit of the light?

The next thing believers must do to live in the light is to produce fruit consistent with light. Paul uses several terms in describing the fruit of the light. We can understand these terms better by comparing them with their opposites.

1. Goodness. 

Goodness refers to anything that is morally excellent, including generosity.2 One commentator calls it “love in action.”3 It probably focuses on our relationship to others, including meeting the needs of those around us, serving them, and caring for them. Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

It is the opposite of selfishness and apathy towards the needs of others. Like Christ, who is the light, we must go out of our way to serve and minister to the needs of the world, and especially to believers.

Are you bearing the fruit of goodness? Or are you cultivating apathy and selfishness?

2. Righteousness.

There are two aspects to this fruit. First, it has to do with our relationship with God. Romans 4:5 says, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” In salvation, God gives us his Son’s righteousness to make us acceptable in his eyes.

Secondly, it has to do with how we live. As those justified and made righteous by God, we must daily practice righteousness. James 2:17 says, “Faith without works is dead.” First John 2:29 says, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” True believers practice a lifestyle of righteousness. These fruits should be continually borne in our lives, instead of the fruits of evil and sin.

3. Truth.

“The third fruit of the light is truth. Truth has to do with honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, and integrity—in contrast to the hypocritical, deceptive, and false ways of the old life of darkness.”4 It is conformity to the Word of God in thought and action. Is the fruit of truth growing in your life? Or is hypocrisy and deception?

Many have noted how goodness seems to focus primarily on how we relate to others, righteousness on how we relate to God, and truth on how we relate to ourselves.

Application Question: How can we produce the fruit of light?

As with any fruit, it is produced in the right environment. What is the right environment? Essentially, it is our relationship with Christ. John 15:5 says, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

We must make our home in Christ through prayer, his Word, fellowship with the saints, worship, and service. As we do this, the fruits of goodness, righteousness, and truth are produced in our lives.

Are you bearing the fruit of light in your life or the fruit of darkness?

Application Question: What fruit do you most desire to produce in your spiritual life and why?

To Live in the Light, Believers Must Continually Discern What Pleases God

and find out what pleases the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10)

Not only must believers produce the fruit of light, but they also must continually find out what pleases the Lord. “Find out” can also be translated “to test, discern, and approve.”5 It was used of testing a metal to see if it was genuine.6

William MacDonald says this about “finding out what pleases the Lord”:

Those who walk in the light not only produce the type of fruit listed in the preceding verse, but also find out what is acceptable to the Lord. They put every thought, word, and action to the test. What does the Lord think about this? How does it appear in His presence? Every area of life comes under the searchlight—conversation, standard of living, clothes, books, business, pleasures, entertainments, furniture, friendships, vacations, cars, and sports.7

Certainly, finding out what pleases the Lord also applies to knowing God’s will in specific circumstances.

Interpretation Question: How can believers test and discern if something is pleasing to God or if it is his specific will for our lives?

1. Believers test and discern God’s will by using God’s Word.

God’s Word either tells us what to do, or gives us principles to apply to discern God’s will. In applying Scripture, we should ask questions like, “Is it moral?” “Is it helpful to others?” and “Is it honoring to God?”

God’s will never conflicts with his Word. God’s Word is the revelation of his character and being, and it trains the man of God for all righteousness (2 Tim 3:17).

2. Believers test and discern God’s will by putting God first in their lives.

Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” The more we put God first in our daily lives—through family, work, entertainment, etc., the more God will make his will clear to us. If we neglect God or de-prioritize him, we will not be able to discern his good and pleasing will.

3. Believers test and discern God’s will by not conforming to the pattern of the world.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you can test and approve what is that good and perfect will of God.” If a believer is conforming to the world in thought or action, it will inhibit his ability to hear and discern God’s guidance.

4. Believers test and discern God’s will by considering both their heart desires and whether they have peace in their hearts.

Philippians 2:13 says he works in us “to will and to do according to his good pleasure.” This means that God is always working in our hearts to help us discern and do his will. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When I am walking with God—abiding in his Word, prayer, and the fellowship of the saints—many times the desires in my heart are of the Lord. In discerning what is pleasing to God, we must discern what God is doing in our hearts.

But also, in considering our hearts, we must consider whether or not we have peace, as this often is an indicator of God’s leading. Consider what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13:

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.

Paul lived for open doors to preach the gospel; however, he left Troas because he had no peace of mind. Many times, God leads us through peace or lack of it. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” “Rule” was used of an umpire at an athletic game. The umpire calls, “Safe!” “Out!” or “Winner!” This text can also be translated as, “Let the peace of Christ decide.”

Sadly, instead of being led by God’s peace, many are led by fear of the future, fear of what people think, or fear of failure. God works in our hearts to will and do of his good pleasure. He guides us by his peace, not by fear and anxiety.

5. Believers test and discern God’s will by considering the counsel of other believers.

Proverbs 11:14 says there is safety and victory in the multitude of counselors. Scripture records that when God called somebody to do something, he often confirmed it through a prophet or another believer. God does the same with us. We should seek the counsel of other believers, especially in major decisions like who to marry, what school to go to, what job to take, etc. God often guides us through the counsel of wise believers. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

6. Believers test and discern God’s will by considering open and closed doors.

God is sovereign over all things. Many times, he makes his will clear by closing or opening doors.

If we are going to walk in the light, we must find out what is pleasing to God. We do this by bringing every thought and decision before the Lord so he can shine his light on it. He clarifies his will through his Word, other believers, our hearts, and his sovereignty, among other things.

Application Questions: In what other ways can believers discern what is pleasing to the Lord? Describe a time when God clearly guided you.

To Live in the Light, Believers Must Not Partake in Darkness, but Expose It

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. (Ephesians 5:11-12)

The next thing believers must do to live in the light is to not partake in darkness, but to expose it instead. “The verb translated here as “expose” (from elegchō) can also carry the idea of reproof, correction, punishment, or discipline.”8

Interpretation Question: How should believers expose the deeds of darkness?

1. Believers expose darkness indirectly by living holy lives.

Many times it will simply be the fact that believers do not curse, cheat, get drunk, have sex outside marriage, or lie that exposes the sin in others’ lives. A life of light exposes the sin of those around it. The rebuke of the light typically invokes either desire to change or anger. First Peter 4:3-4 says:

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

In a world that loves darkness and hates light, believers will constantly be mocked, thought strange, and sometimes persecuted for living a lifestyle of holiness. John 3:19-20 says:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

One must realize that living a holy life is both rare and strange in this world. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fire for not bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3). Daniel was cast into the lions’ den simply because he prayed three times a day to the true God instead of false gods (Dan 6). Jesus was crucified. We must welcome the cross our own Savior bore. He was the Light and the world hated him; we will often receive that same displeasure.

Are you willing to be different even if it means being considered strange or hated?

2. Believers expose darkness directly by words of correction.

Our exposure of darkness is not just indirect; it is also direct. We must call lying “sin,” cheating “sin,” adultery “sin,” and fornication and homosexuality “sin”—again, often incurring the wrath of the world for doing so.

Kent Hughes says:

We need to be ethical light when we are in the office, in the classroom, in the shop, and in the Church. We must be willing to risk being called “negative,” “narrow,” “judgmental,” “puritanical,” or “bigoted.” If God’s Spirit is calling us to stand up against wrong, it is up to us to be faithful.9

But we must not only expose the darkness by calling it darkness, we must also expose the darkness with the gospel. One cannot preach the gospel without exposing sin. Sadly, this is often neglected in gospel presentations. The gospel says that all men are sinners under the judgment of a holy God (Rom 3:23, 6:23). It calls men to repent of their lifestyles of sin and turn to Jesus to save them. Yes, we must expose the darkness by teaching the gospel to a world under God’s wrath.

Are you willing to expose sin through correction and sharing the gospel with others?

3. Believers expose darkness by not even talking about things that happen in the dark.

Believers must wisely not discuss many of the details of events that happen in the darkness. By discussing these, they give life to them and contaminate others with filth.

John MacArthur sheds light on Paul’s comment:

Some things are so vile that they should be discussed in as little detail as possible, because even describing them is morally and spiritually dangerous.

Some diseases, chemicals, and nuclear by–products are so extremely deadly that even the most highly trained and best–protected technicians and scientists who work with them are in constant danger. No sensible person would work around such things carelessly or haphazardly.

In the same way, some things are so spiritually disgraceful and dangerous that they should be sealed off not only from direct contact but even from conversation. They should be exposed only to the extent necessary to be rid of them.

Some books and articles written by Christians on various moral issues are so explicit that they almost do as much to spread as to cure the problem. We can give God’s diagnosis and solution for sins without portraying every sordid detail.10

By choosing to refrain from certain conversations and jokes, it again shows how perverse the world is. Believers must use wisdom in their conversations and interactions. Every word must be “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt.” (Col 4:6).

Application Questions: What makes exposing the darkness in a company, a church, or a relationship difficult? How can we do this wisely? Share a time when God called you to expose darkness. How did it turn out?

In Order to Live in the Light, Believers Must Convert Darkness into Light

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. (Ephesians 5:13)

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by “for it is light that makes everything visible”?

Next, in order to live in the light, believers must convert darkness into light. “For it is light that makes everything visible” can also be translated “for everything that becomes visible is light” (NASB). “When light touches something, it becomes light. It is lit up; and, to some degree, the object gives off light itself. It is converted and changed.”11

In the same way, the light of a believer’s life often changes a work environment as sin is exposed and righteousness replaces it. It changes people’s lives as they repent and give their lives to Christ. Light is by nature more powerful than darkness. It changes environments and lives.

First Peter 2:12 says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Though believers are persecuted and mocked by the world, their conduct often leads to change in those around them, even if only slowly. When Christ comes, many will glorify God for the chaste life of a Christian co-worker, friend or family member who led them to Christ.

Peter also says this to believing wives of unbelieving husbands (1 Peter 3:1-2):

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

The pure and holy life of a godly wife often changes an unbelieving husband, even without words.

Application Question: How have you seen or experienced light converting darkness in your life or the lives of others?

To Live in the Light, Believers Must Preach to the Sleeping

This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

Interpretation Question: Where is Paul quoting from in Ephesians 5:14?

Commentators are not sure where this quote comes from. Some believe he is drawing from Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Others believe he is drawing from an Easter hymn sung by the early church. It was probably used as an invitation to unbelievers visiting congregations.12

Either way, Paul clearly calls for Christians to preach to those who are asleep. The actions and words of Christians should speak to unbelievers—encouraging them to repent and follow Christ. But, they also speak to believers, as is probably the focus in this context. There are many believers living a lifestyle of darkness who need to repent. 

In Romans 13:11-13, Paul uses the same terminology with reference to believers. He says,

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

Yes, many believers are slumbering in their spiritual lives. They are lukewarm—not on fire for God. By practicing the deeds of darkness—sexual immorality, drunkenness, dissension and jealousy—they live as though our Master is not returning soon. Believers must continually challenge them to wake up—to turn away from the darkness and to put on the light!

If we are going to walk in the light, we must not only seek the salvation of unbelievers, but also that of the church—for not all who profess Christ are living for him, or even saved (cf. Matt 7:21-23). There are many foolish virgins without oil who will be shut out of the wedding banquet—they have a form of godliness but not the inward reality (cf. Matt 25:1-13, 2 Tim 3:5). They must be warned in love (Eph 4:15).

Application Questions: How should we respond to believers who are asleep and living in the darkness? Why are so many believers spiritually lethargic?

Conclusion

How can believers live in the light while residing in a dark world?

  1. To live in the light, believers must remember that light, not darkness, is their nature.
  2. To live in the light, believers must produce the fruit of light.
  3. To live in the light, believers must continually discern what pleases God.
  4. To live in the light, believers must not partake in darkness, but expose it.
  5. To live in the light, believers must convert darkness into light.
  6. To live in the light, believers must preach to the sleeping.

Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.


1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 205–206). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 165). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 45). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 210). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 200). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

6 Accessed 9/28/2015 from https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1381&t=KJV

7 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1943). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 211–212). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 167). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

10 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 212–213). Chicago: Moody Press.

11 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Ephesians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 213–214). Chicago: Moody Press.

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