Living as Children of Light
So far in his letter, the apostle Paul has talked about who we are ‘in Christ’ and how we find identity, belonging, and purpose because of what Jesus has done for us (1:1-2:10). He’s talked about the importance of the ‘church’, which is God’s ‘temple’, God’s ‘family’, and the ‘body of Christ’ in the world (2:11-3:21; 4:7-16). In the church, everyone is to be involved and we each have a part to play in building up one another and encouraging one another so we can grow into maturity. Then Paul wrote about the vital necessity of unity and the importance of each follower of Christ making a concerted effort to guard it on a daily basis (4:1-6). He then moves on to address what it is like to live as Christ would have us live - as children of light in a spiritually dark world (4:17-5:20). In the first half of this letter, Paul focused on the grace of God and what he has done for us. He then moves on to talk about how we should then live in response to God’s grace. Notice the use of the word ‘walk’ or ‘live’ (4:1,17; 5:2,8,15). Obedience is always a response to grace. God acts first, then we respond. God has invested so much in us so we must now live in such a way that our words and actions represent him well.Our Old Life (4:17-19)
Paul paints a clear picture of life without Christ. Sin is not so much the problem as is the mind and the choices it makes against God. Without God, our mind and our thinking are ‘futile’, which means meaningless, worthless or empty. We are in darkness and lack understanding about what life is about. This leads to all sorts of uncontrolled behaviours that damage us and others around us. God no longer wants us as his children to live like that.Learning Christ (4:20-24)
In contrast, followers of Christ are to begin renewing their mind. There is a major contrast that emerges between what we were and now what we are ‘in Christ.’ The old life and the old way of thinking needs to be ‘put off’ like an old piece of clothing. The new life and the new way of thinking needs to be ‘put on’ like a new piece of clothing. Our change of identity is to lead to a transformation of our character. We begin to reflect Christ’s nature. Growth and change is a partnership between us and God. God acts and we act. Justification occurs at the moment of conversion as by grace our sin is forgiven and God’s righteousness is imparted to us. Glorification will occur when Jesus returns and sin is eradicated from our life and our world. In between time we are in a process of change, much like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. This is the process of sanctification – us gradually becoming who we really are, children of God who reflect his nature.Change Dynamics (4:25-32)
Paul now moves on to give some practical advice about how to change specific behaviours and habits. He addresses truth, anger, theft, speech and love. Genuine change begins with new thinking then works itself out into new actions. Instead of focusing on stopping the negative behaviours, Paul encourages a focus on positive behaviours that will build others up. Instead of lying, choose to speak the truth (4:25). Instead of stealing, work hard so that you have the resources to give to others in need (4:28). Instead of speaking words that tear others down, choose to speak words that build up and encourage (4:29). Instead of anger, bitterness and harshness, choose to be kind, compassionate and forgiving (4:31-32). Fight the darkness by turning on the light. Get rid of the old by putting on the new. The motivations for these changes are the love of God (4:31-32; 5:1-2), our desire to please God (4:30), and our desire to protect and enhance Christ’s new community of faith (4:25,28).Be Like God (5:1-2)
As God’s children, we are to become like him. We are to look at him and imitate him. God is a God of love and we are to become like him. His love is not self-serving but rather it is generous and always seeking to serve others. We now carry God’s image and God’s nature. May we reflect him in all we say and do. ‘What would Jesus do?’ is a good question to ask not just from an outward conformity to certain ethical practise but to aid us in an internal change of heart. We do this not to earn God’s salvation, which is a free gift of grace (2:8-10) but as an expression of our experience of God’s love and forgiveness.Walk as Children of Light (5:3-14)
Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:8 summaries the entire letter: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” It declares the contrast of what life was like before and what it is to be like now that we are in Christ. We are to avoid sinful behaviours, including sexual sin, destructive words, and greed (5:3-7).
In the words of Jesus, we are called to be ‘in’ the world but ‘not of’ the world (John 17:11,14-16). This creates a delicate tension. If we focus too much on being ‘not of’ the world this can lead to isolation. We have a great message but we have no audience. No one is listening and therefore we have no impact. If we focus too much on being ‘in’ the world we can drift into becoming so like the world that there is no noticeable difference between us and others non-Christians. We have an audience but we have no message and therefore we become irrelevant much like salt that has lost its saltiness. God calls us to be distinct and different in our character, our attitudes and behaviours, but he also calls us to engage with our culture, seeking to be instruments of God’s peace, to help those in spiritual darkness. Not everyone will respond. Some love darkness and hate the light while others will run to the light in search of God’s grace.Living in the Spirit’s Power (5:15-20)
God calls us to live life carefully, knowing his will and making the most of every opportunity. We are not to get drunk with wine but we are to be continually filled with the Spirit. Paul describes the results of the Spirit-filled life as people whose lives are marked by singing, thankfulness, and mutual submission.Sample Discussion Questions
- Reflect on and share about your life without Christ (before you became a Christian). What was it like? Is Paul being too negative? Are humans really depraved or not?
- How much impact does our thinking have on how we live? Share some examples of how a change of thinking (mind renewal) can lead to a change of behaviour.
- Discuss the importance of water baptism, which symbolically represents the burial of our old life and the rising to live a new life in Christ. How can we better live out the reality of this spiritual transaction?
- Reflect on a change of behaviour or of a bad habit in your own life. How did God help you to change and what things did you do?
- Discuss anger. When is anger not sinful? How does unresolved anger give the devil a ‘foothold’ (4:26-27)? What are some keys to dealing with anger?
- Forgiveness breaks the cycle of retaliation. Why is it often so hard to forgive? Discuss the difference and the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation.
- What does it mean to be ‘in’ the world but ‘not of’ the world? How can we avoid the extremes of isolation (different but irrelevant) and immersion (no difference)?
- “Be filled with the Spirit” (5:18) is a command. Obviously, God desires to continually fill us with his Spirit. How can we position ourselves for this to become a reality?