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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John1:1-5, 9-13).


Jesus Christ, the light spoken of in John’s prologue to his gospel, was taken back up to be by the side of his Father. But he left his Spirit, who led people to believe in his name and who caused them to be born of God and so to become children of God. And those children became children of light, given such light to shine forth the light of Christ and his gospel. To such children our text speaks.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.

Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,

          and arise from the dead,

     and Christ will shine on you.”

We are to expose what is shameful to speak of. That appears contradictory, but it is the continuing progress of Paul’s argument that is truly baffling. He tells us that we are to expose the shameful works of darkness. When those things are exposed, they become visible. (That is easy enough to understand). What becomes visible is light. Stop there. How did we move from exposing sin with light to exposed sin becoming light? All of you English and logic teachers out there would be pulling out your red pens at this point if Paul were your student. Let’s go through this and see if we can untangle the argument.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. The first half of this sentence follows the ongoing thread of the passage, verses 3-14, namely that Christians are not to be involved in the immoral practices of the world in which they live. So much is clear.

The second half – but instead expose them – adds a new thought. The word “expose” is more often translated in the New Testament as “reprove” or “rebuke,” as in rebuking Christians who are acting in improper ways. But here it is the “works of darkness” that is the object of the verb, not the people committing the works. So it seems that Paul is saying to expose the immoral activities for what they are – unfruitful works of darkness. Such activities are fruitless. They do not produce virtue. They do not produce healthy fruit.

Verse 12 seems contradictory: “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret,” and yet it actually helps us to understand how the “works of darkness” are to be exposed. Paul is making the point of how bad the immorality is: Why it is shameful even to speak of such things! It is evident, then, that by exposing the works, he does not mean to publicize them, to hold them forth for public spectacle.

How then are the Christians to expose the works of darkness? Paul has already given the answer in verse 8: “Walk as children of light.” It is that walk – living out goodness and righteousness and truth – which will expose immorality for what it is – a bankrupt, destructive lifestyle of darkness.

Now we are getting to the more confusing verses: But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.

Verse 13 is self-explanatory and fits well with what we’ve just observed. By living light-filled lives, we expose the works of darkness for the ugliness that they are, because when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible. If Paul had just stopped there, all would be fine. But he adds this thought: “for anything that becomes visible is light.”

Evidently Paul is changing his train of thought, moving it up to another level. He moves from light merely shedding light onto an object to the light having a transformative effect. It is not transforming the works of darkness into works of light, but it is transforming the lives of those who engaged in works of darkness into light. That is what the quote in verse 14 enforces:

Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,

          and arise from the dead,

     and Christ will shine on you.”

We were, as Ephesians 2:1-2 explain, dead in the sins and trespasses in which we once walked. We were asleep. But God woke us up. As verse 5 of that chapter goes on to explain, God made us alive together with Christ. And so he brought us into the light of Christ.

Let me give an example from the experience of C. S. Lewis. Lewis summarizes his moment of conversion in matter of fact terms. “When we set out (on a trip to the zoo) I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”[1] I assure you that if he were joining Tenth, the elders would have prodded him a bit more on his testimony! Lewis actually did write a book – Surprised by Joy – about his journey to conversion, and presents, as you would expect, the arguments that eventually led him to faith. But arguments did not form the whole picture. Rather it was observing the lives of certain Christians that began to awaken him, so to speak. He writes of the turning point for him in the chapter “Checkmate.”

"His name was Nevill Coghill. I soon had the shock of discovering that he – clearly the most intelligent and best-informed man in that class – was a Christian and a thoroughgoing supernaturalist. There were other traits that I liked but found (for I was still very much a modern) oddly archaic; chivalry, honor, courtesy, “freedom,” and “gentilesse.” One could imagine him fighting a duel. He spoke much “ribaldry” but never “villeinye.” Barfield was beginning to overthrow my chronological snobbery; Coghill gave it another blow. had something really dropped out of our lives? Was the archaic simply the civilized, and the modern simply the barbaric? …

"These disturbing factors in Coghill ranged themselves with a wider disturbance which was now threatening my whole earlier outlook. All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader."[2]

Lewis then goes on to list his favorite authors, all of whom were either Christian or religious.

Can you trace what was happening to him? Lewis had been an avowed atheist, holding with conviction that whatever was the most modern in viewpoint was the right way in thinking. What began to shake him was to form friendships with others as bright as he, yet who thought and, more importantly, walked a different path. Using the terms of our Scripture, they walked as children of light. Their light exposed his darkness. He began to see the darkness of his way of thinking. But not only was he beginning to see the darkness of his life, he also began to see how the Spirit had been working in him (though he did not understand it at the time). Go back to the phrase, “I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen.” Not to have seen what? That he was already being drawn to the light by the books he had been reading. He will now revisit what those books have to say, but it only happens because of observing Christians being light. Eventually, Lewis would experience the description of verse 8: “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

Let’s review the whole passage, beginning in verse 3. Verses 3-7 tell us to put away sexual immorality. That life no longer belongs to us. Verses 8-10 tell us what does belong to us – namely, to walk as light, bearing the virtuous fruit of light. Verses 11-14 tell us the impact that such a life will have on those who still engage in the immoral works of darkness. That impact is first, to expose the bankruptcy of such a life. Secondly, it can even bring individuals to a state of conviction so that they have the same experience that we had and be transformed to light in the Lord by the very light of Christ.


What then do we learn?

For one, we see the stakes involved in our Christian walk. Lives are at stake, both our neighbors and our own. In regard to our neighbors, we are either living as light before them and hopefully exposing for them their darkness, or we are keeping our light hidden and allowing them to wander in the darkness unaware of the light of God. I feel the conviction of this truth. I want to live without having to be thinking of how my behavior affects my neighbors. I want to sit on my bus and read my Christian book without having to converse with my neighbor. I would like to let loose a little bit and not consider the impact that my speech and behavior is having on whoever happens to be around me.

But I have light. And Peter says in his epistle that I, along with all other Christians, was drawn out of darkness into light for the very purpose of proclaiming the excellencies of God who drew me into light (1 Peter 2:9). And my Lord said specifically that I must shine my light for others to see (Matthew 5:14-16).

All of us have our different gifts and strengths. There are some who have the gift of evangelism. They know how to share the gospel comfortably and people respond to them. But however gifted we may think we are and don’t think we are, we have all been given orders to “walk in the manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” Walking as children of light is not optional. It is not reserved for Christians who have reached a higher plane. It is not optional because the very lives of our neighbors are dependent upon seeing the light of gospel. Where are they going to see it, if they don’t see it in us?

Now, I mentioned that our own lives are at stake as well. Let me state clearly that I believe in the perseverance of the saints, the doctrine that teaches that all who are truly saved will keep that salvation. Once the Holy Spirit has regenerated a person who has been elected by God for salvation, that salvation is guaranteed. As Jesus said, no one can snatch anybody out of his hands.

Someone will come to me for counsel saying something like this: “I’m not sure if I am saved. I struggle with such and such sin. How could a real Christian commit such sin?” I take such a question seriously and will explore the matter with him. More often than not, I conclude with him that he is saved because he demonstrates conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit.

But there are others who have come to me, opening up about a sin, and then assure me that they are saved because they know they are saved by grace. Or I’ve had others basically ask me, how much sin they can get away with. (More often than not, the sin has to do with sexually immoral behavior.) They will ask, “Do you think I will lose my salvation if I continue…?”

I always think in such instances of what Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans. In chapter 5, he lays out before Christians the assurance they can have knowing that Christ has reconciled them to God. And all that is needed to access this peace is faith. He then contrasts the dismal results of Adam’s sin as our head to the life-giving work of Christ as our head. Caught up in the glory of it all, he makes this statement: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

I like to picture Paul as a seminary professor giving this lecture to his students. I had a NT professor, who would so caught up in his lectures, they really became sermons in which he got caught up in the glory of the message he was giving. Picture Paul that way. Paul follows that sentence with this conclusion: “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I see Paul now caught up in his reverie, when a student raises his hand, and asks the question recorded in Romans 6:1: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Startled out of his meditation, Paul comes back: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:2-4).

What are you thinking? Those who have been baptized into Christ don’t talk that way! Those who have been brought out of darkness into light don’t think that way! Those who have been freed from the bondage of slavery don’t calculate how much disobedience they can get away with!

And some of you are thinking that way. You are saying to yourself, “I know I shouldn’t be in this relationship, but God will forgive me.” “I know I should not be engaging in this kind of behavior, but God understands how weak I am. I’m saved by grace.”

Yes, we are saved by grace, but when you start using grace to enable you to sin – what am I as your pastor supposed to say? “It’s okay. You just keep on sinning. As long as you say the magical phrase – “I am saved by grace through faith” – everything will be all right”? No! I’m going to warn you that those who were once darkness and now are light don’t talk and act that way. We are weak; we sin. But we do not use grace to endorse or excuse our choice to sin.

Here is another lesson. There is an idea that we Christians should act as much like the world as we can in order to witness to the world. After all, was Jesus himself criticized for dining with sinners by the Pharisees? Yes, Jesus did dine with sinners, but he did not become like them. He certainly did not engage in their sexual promiscuity, nor would he have joined in with their crude jokes and speech. He remained holy and pure in all that he did.

And evidently these sinners were attracted to his light. For you see, it is not our willingness to engage in the same conduct that wins us acceptance in the company of the sinners. It is our love for them. It is our humility before them. In our case (not in Jesus’), that means acknowledging that we are no better than they, that we know ourselves to be sinners. If they observe our humility and feel our love, they will respect our desire to live righteous lives. They can handle us being different. They might even be influenced by our way of living. They might even grow interested in this Savior whom we follow and for whom we are willing to be different from the world.

I want to add this as well – we are too often embarrassed by what we should be bold about and unembarrassed by what should be making us blush. We are easily embarrassed to speak of Jesus in public, though we can easily listen to someone use his name in vain. We should be embarrassed to speak of what is sinful and should be private. We are with nonChristian friends and they begin to talk about sex. They say to us, “Oh, you are embarrassed,” and we are quick to deny it, as though it is shameful to be considered modest. I was reading of one minister who lost his church after falling into sexual sin. He started another church boasting of how more real he is now, and to prove it, he now will throw in swear words in his preaching. Is that to be the measure of how real, how down-to-earth we are – our boldness at being vulgar? Is the great shame for Christians to be thought of as modest or prudish?

What the world does – because it is the world – is lure us back into being with it. And it does it by twisting what the gospel does. Take this matter of exposing dark deeds. The world also approves of exposing what is done in the darkness, but with a different purpose. The world approves of shining light on what is considered by us to be shameful, because the world wants what is sexually dark to be considered light. And so the entertainment media of film, TV, and music proclaim the gospel of all things sexual being permissible, even good. It teaches us to equate the vulgar with being real, with being natural. And it is winning. Christians watch and listen to things that would have shocked us a generation or two earlier. And now we are beginning to engage in such things, even to justify such things. We are letting the world decide for us what is good and right and true.

Our Scripture passage challenges us to show the world what a life of light is. And the world needs to see it. Our neighbors need to see committed marital relationships. They need to know people whose speech is uplifting and clean. They need to have relationships that are not infused with sexual connotations and liaisons, conversation not laced with profanity and crude jokes. They need to know people who are embarrassed by shameful things and who are not embarrassed to be known as loving God above all else.

And if you are one who has observed such light; if you are one who has been enticed by the light of the gospel; now is the time for you leave darkness and to enter light. That pull you feel is the movement of the Holy Spirit stirring life in you, awakening you. And so, I say to you who have yet to turn to Christ; and I say to you who have turned to the light and yet have begun to slumber:

“Awake, O sleeper,

          and arise from the dead,

     and Christ will shine on you.”


[1] Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis, p. 237 (Harcourt, 1955)

[2] [2] Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis, p. 212-13 (Harcourt, 1955)

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