That is the Bible’s description of what it means to be without Christ. Paul says, “For at one time you were darkness” (v. 8). He doesn’t even say that you were “in darkness.” People outside of Christ recognize that there are many societal ills but they blame it all on external forces. “Children aren’t bad; they just live in a bad environment.” If we could just improve education, get rid of guns and let the state take over parenting, children would grow up to be good, peace-loving citizens. The Bible does not teach such ideas. The problem isn’t just our environment; it is us. Walt Kelly’s possum named Pogo gave us the line, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” What is worse, we don’t even know it.
In 1955 analysts Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed the Johari Window to describe interpersonal relationships. The first window is called an open window, which are things known to you and to others. The second window is called a hidden window, which are things known to you but not known to others. The third window is called a blind spot, which are things not known to you but known to others and the fourth window is called unknown because they are things not known to you or to others. These are things that you don’t even know that you don’t know. It is this window that contains spiritual realities and herein lies spiritual darkness. This darkness has led to great tragedies.
On November 30, 1991 fierce winds from a freakish dust storm triggered a massive freeway pileup along Interstate 5 near Coalinga, California. At least 14 people died and dozens more were injured as topsoil whipped by 50 mile-per-hour winds reduced visibility to zero. The afternoon holocaust left a three-mile trail of twisted and burning vehicles, some stacked on top of one another 100 yards off the side of the freeway. Unable to see their way, dozens of motorists drove blindly ahead into disaster. There is a disaster looming down the highway of life. It is called the judgment seat of Christ and every human being will one day stand before that judgment seat. Those whose lives are still darkness will be lost for ever in a Christless eternity called hell.
The Good News is that God has provided a way to be freed from the darkness within our hearts. Paul goes on to say, “but now you are light in the Lord.” Notice again that he doesn’t say that believers are in the light, but that they are light. The light is not merely around us; it is in us. Even those who are darkness can be around light. For example, they may have grown up in a Christian family where they were surrounded by the light, but for some reason the light never permeated their hearts.
The Ephesian Christians Paul was writing to had become light in the Lord. How did that happen for them and how does it happen for us? The Bible says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Therefore, to become light one must be “enlightened” by Christ, the ultimate Light of the World. But sadly, not all have received Him. The same Scripture passage goes on to say, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12). Therefore the way to become children of light is to receive, that is, to believe in the name of Christ. But what does it mean to believe in the name of Christ. The name of Christ is talking about His authority. It is like when you sign a check; your signature puts your bank account at the disposal of another entity, at least to the amount that is written on the check. When the name of Christ is on the check all the riches of Heaven are yours, namely the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, power to live a transformed life and eternal life. They are yours because Jesus signed the check.
The Bible goes on in our reading to say to us, “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” (vv. 8b-10). The true Christian has no interest in a faith that does not lead them to a better life. Paul’s exhortation is merely reminding them of something they already know in their heart. True, our flesh is still with us with its old desires, but we despise that flesh and we are eager to do what Paul tells us. Practically speaking that means producing fruit, “in all that is good and right and true.”
It is also important to notice that these things are the fruit of the light. Apples don’t make an apple tree and apple tree, but an apple tree produces apples. If we tied apples onto an oak tree it wouldn’t make it an apple tree. Likewise, if we only grudgingly strive to live as children of light without being children of light it would be an exercise in futility. But if we have become children of light through faith in the name of Christ, then we will cheerfully walk in the light.
Our passage goes on to say, “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” (vv. 11-12). The fourth century Christian preacher, John Chrysostom put it this way, “He has said, ‘you are light.’ Light exposes what takes place in darkness. Insofar as you are light your goodness shines forth. The wicked are not able to hide. Their actions are illuminated as though a lamp were at hand.” It is not our talking that will produce such an effect (Paul even says that it is shameful to speak of them). It is our lives. One summer when I was in college I worked on a shipping dock of a paint factory. The guys who worked in that factory hadn’t yet met Christ and their speech was quite colorful, to say the least. That was especially true of the foreman. But it wasn’t long before he was apologizing anytime he let out a four letter explicative when I was around. I hadn’t said a thing, but my non-use of such language gave me away.
Yet the desire of every Christian is not to make people feel bad or judged but that those who are still darkness will awaken to the light. So our reading ends with the words, “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’” (vv. 13-14). Exposing people to the light is not for the purpose of shaming them but for removing their sins, like exposing film to the light removes the pictures. When they recognize their need for Christ, you can say, “Rise up from spiritual death and Christ will shine on you.” In other words, repent of your sins and put your trust in Christ to save you.