October 8, 2017
Those who have come to know the Lord Jesus experience the tension of living for Christ in the midst of darkness. At one extreme, we’re tempted to separate from the world entirely; at the other, to embrace our culture without question. Alistair Begg reminds us that every Christian must engage the culture without accommodating the darkness present because of unbelief. The transforming light of the Gospel shines when Christians live as those who have been transformed by the grace of God with minds saturated by the Word of God.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians and to chapter 5. Ephesians chapter 5, and we’ll read from verse 6. Ephesians 5:6:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 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.’”
Well, we’ll pray:
Our God and Father, we pray that as we turn to the Bible, that you will so work by the Holy Spirit that we don’t just get more information but that we actually have a life-changing encounter with you, the living God. Accomplish your purposes, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, we are continuing our studies here in Ephesians 5, where Paul has been reminding his readers consistently of who they are in Christ. And we have been trying to say to each other—and understand and believe it—that it is our identity in Christ which then gives rise to our activity for Christ. It is our new life in Jesus which then is the foundation of our new lifestyle.
And this, of course, is not unique to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. He says similarly in Colossians, “The Father … has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” And we’ve already seen the important antithesis between darkness and light, the same thing you find when Peter writes to the scattered believers of his day in his first letter as he describes who they are in Christ; he then reminds them that God had called them “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And so, it is because they’re no longer what they once were that they must no longer live as they once did. And it is foundationally important that we get ahold of that.
Throughout the entire first half of chapter 5, the emphasis has been on life and lifestyle, walking. We’re going to see later about walking in wisdom, we’ve already considered what he has said in the opening verses concerning walking in love, and we began last time what we continue now—namely, to consider what it means to walk in light. Last time, we spent all of our time thinking about the change that he describes, the change there in verse 8: “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” And we said we would come back to it and we would consider not simply the change he describes but the challenge he delivers. And the challenge that he delivers is equally clear, and I want to point it out to you. I want us to think about the challenge in a three-dimensional way: first of all, that it comes negatively; then it comes positively; and then, if we have a moment or two left, it comes, if you like, evangelistically.
So, first of all, negatively. And the apostle is not bashful about explaining about what ought not to be happening. We live in a culture where negativity is very, very bad. It’s regarded as… You just can’t be negative at all. It’s not a good thing to do. It doesn’t translate into every area of life, clearly. It’s a very negative thing to avoid a collision with another airliner at ten thousand feet. We ought to be very, very happy that the pilot is prepared to take avoidance, to make avoiding action and so on, and to do so in that negative fashion—to turn away from things, and so we could go on from there. It’s pretty straightforward. But Paul, for example, when he writes to Titus, he says to him, “Now, Titus, you need to make clear to your people the nature of Christian doctrine so that they will be both apt to teach themselves and that they will live lives that commend the gospel.” And in the heart of that he says, Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared … teach[ing] us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.”
So he doesn’t share our concern about ever being thought negative, where being negative is actually a very positive thing to be. And so verse 7, here, he says quite negatively: “Do not become partners with them.” Partners with whom? Well, if your Bible is open, look up a phrase, and you’ll see partners “with the sons of disobedience” in verse 6. Who are “the sons of disobedience”? Well, the sons and daughters of disobedience. It’s a description of the unbeliever. It’s a description of what we are by nature. And the reason that we are not to be partners with the sons of disobedience is because we’re now members of a new group. As we have seen in Colossians 1, from what we just quoted, we are now in the saints of light. So, we were once in a band, and the band was called the Sons of Disobedience. And we’re no longer in that band; we’re now in the Saints of Light. And we’ve got a whole new song to sing. We’ve got a new score to sing from and so on. It makes perfect sense.
As I was thinking about that in preparation, it took me way back to my schoolboy days in Yorkshire, when I tried—with the emphasis on tried—to play rugby for our school team. They were very gracious to me. They took me along. I was hopeless. But I was able to go on the bus and back on the bus. And it was there that I was introduced to the singing of rugby songs. And if you have ever been in that context, you know they’re some of the filthiest songs you’ve ever heard in your life, sung by teenage boys on the bus. And right there, as a professing Christian, somebody who would have declared himself to be a child of the light, the challenge was real obvious. ’Cause those songs were funny. And I like funny. But they were rude, and rude is out.
So, how are you gonna live as a saint in light in the context of the sons of disobedience? You can’t go in a swimming pool and swim without getting wet. And so the challenge that comes across is a clear challenge: “You’re different now; therefore, you live differently.”
Now, notice carefully what he says. He doesn’t say, “Therefore, do not become friends with them.” He says, “Do not become partners with them.” He’s not ruling out friendship; he’s ruling out partnership. And there’s an inevitable tension in this. I’ve alluded to it already.
Many of the new believers in Ephesus would have had members of their family who did not share their faith. They were unconverted. When they went back to the workplace, as they lived in their communities, they would be routinely in contact with those who had no notion of the things that these new believers had begun to hold dear. And the challenge for them—and, indeed, the challenge in every generation—is to say, “How do we apply,” for example, “verse 7? How close can these relationships be without violating the principle that Paul is laying down here?”
Now, Paul very helpfully in other places addresses this. And I want to… I don’t want you to have to trail all the way through your Bible, but I will mention a couple of references. You should at least note them so that you can go back and see if they’re there. But in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, where he is giving direction to the believers in Corinth, he’s not giving direction to the culture in Corinth; he’s talking about immorality, but he is not condemning the Corinthian culture. He is confronting the believers within the church in Corinth in relationship to the matter of sexual immorality. And he says to them, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.” Okay? Now, that’s a fairly categorical statement. He then goes on to say, “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolators, since then you would need to go out of the world.” In other words, “It is impossible for you, to live in Corinth. You would have to be removed to heaven not to be associated with the everyday ins and outs of life.”
And then he’s actually going on to say, “What I’m actually writing to you about is not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister, who professes to be a saint in light, and yet is living as a son or a daughter of disobedience.” That’s the thing. That’s the great concern. And that, of course, you see, is one of the challenges that faces the contemporary church. The reason for the ineffectiveness of much in church life is because of the incongruity whereby those who profess to be one thing live as another thing. And it is that, says Paul, that needs to be addressed—hence the nature of discipline in the church and the importance of what that means in various ways.
So, he’s not actually calling for the establishing of a Christian ghetto. He is not arguing for monasticism, if we might put it that way. He’s not giving a foundation for some of us who would like to make a statement like this—a kind of call to ensure that our contacts are exclusively with Christians, and then, almost inevitably, exclusively with those who actually share our views as Christians, and then eventually it just gets smaller and smaller and smaller until what you have is what we’ve referred to in the past as “us four, no more, shut the door.” In other words, we simply round ourselves away from all of this, and we will live, like Austria at the beginning of the Second World War, in splendid isolation. No, says the Bible. No. Jesus said, “No. Father, I do not ask you to remove them from the world but to keep them from the Evil One.”
So, when we take a phrase like this—when we take this negative directive, “Do not become partners with them”—we need to be equally clear that he is not only saying no to isolation, but he is saying at the same time no to accommodation. In other words, we’re not going to accommodate ourselves to the lifestyle of those who still live in the darkness out of which we have been called and brought.
And again, let me give you Paul, this time in his second letter. And in 2 Corinthians 6:14, he says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” “Do[n’t] be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” When I read “yoked,” I thought two things: one, I thought about oxen and the picture of a yoke, which I think you’re supposed to think; and then I actually thought, at a far more trivial level, of the egg-and-spoon race at our sports day, again, back in Yorkshire. Did you ever do the egg-and-spoon race, where they strap your ankle to the other person’s ankle? And you’re yoked. I mean, if you get a good person to be strapped to, you can maybe make a go of it. If you don’t, or if you’re useless, eventually you’ll just tear one another apart. But you’ve definitely gotta be going in the same direction. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t get strapped together.
It’s clear in relationship to marriage. I’m growing old listening to people tell me, “But that doesn’t really matter.” If it doesn’t really matter, why is it in the Bible? There is no relationship in the physical realm that is more clearly a yoking than marriage; therefore, it has to address the issue of marriage. A Christian, a believing boy or girl, should only marry a believing boy or girl. The Bible says so. If you’re setting out in partnership in business, beware of violating 2 Corinthians 6:14. And he applies it very clearly, by saying, “Think logically about these things.” And when you do, you will realize that there is a complete antithesis here. “Do[n’t] be unequally yoked with unbelievers. [Let me ask you],” he says, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” None. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” None. “What accord has Christ with Belial,” or the devil, as it is? None. “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” None!
So, when we come to this, as we do, and his challenge to the believer in Ephesus and the challenge to all of us in all time, we’re gonna have to work it out. And when you go down to verse 11, you realize that in some ways he ups the ante here, doesn’t he? Not only “You’re not supposed to be partners with them,” but secondly, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” The darkness has unfruitful works. Trapp in the seventeenth century says, “lest by infection of their sin ye come under infliction of their punishment.” Pretty good. He says, “Don’t get involved in this, in these unfruitful works of darkness, lest you find yourself on the receiving end of the punishment that accompanies it.” Now, Paul is not breaking new territory here. He’s simply reinforcing what he has previously said.
You remember we said that we’d begun at the beginning of chapter 4—we’re exhorted to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we’ve] been called.” And then in 4:17 he says, “I … testify in the Lord that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They[’re] darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” He doesn’t say that in a spirit of judgment. He says, “This is the reality.” Without God and without hope in the world, this is descriptive of life. This is life for the unbeliever: “Darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them,” an ignorance that is “due to [the] hardness of heart.” And as a result of that, he goes on to describe the behavior that flows from that kind of conviction, that kind of view of the world. And he’s reminding them that the works of darkness are “unfruitful.” They’re ultimately empty. They’re an expression of futility.
One of the great questions that confronts a man or a woman every day that we waken is, you know, “What am I actually doing? What am I? Where am I going? How do I make sense of this strange existence?” Well, you may not think that every morning when you waken up, but you’ll think about it. You may think about it when you put your head on the pillow at night. You may think when you’re parked in a long line of traffic. You say to yourself, “How many more times in my life am I going to be stuck just in a line of traffic like this?” You say, “If only I could get out of here and go there!” Let me tell you, when you go there, you go there. There is no “there.” You’re the you. It’s me. You see?
And the works of darkness are eventually barren. At the end of the day, what have you got left to show, you see? That’s what he’s actually pointing out. In fact, when he writes to them—to the Roman church—at the end of chapter 6, he actually says to them, “Listen, let me ask you a question,” he says, “about the worthless works that characterize your preconverted life.” And this is how he puts it in verse 21: “What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” “What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you[’re] now ashamed?”
Now, I could ask people to come up here, and we could spend the balance of the time, and numbers of you would come up and say, “Absolutely no fruit at all. I thought I was. I thought it was everything! But the further I got up the ladder, I suddenly realized this ladder is… This is the wrong ladder! Or this ladder is propped against the wrong wall. Because I got up, and I got higher up than I thought I would get up. But when I got up there, there was nothing there. It didn’t satisfy.” The degree didn’t satisfy. The job didn’t satisfy. The relationship didn’t satisfy. Whatever it was. And he’s saying to them, “You think about it. What benefit did you get from those things? What fruit?” “The things of which you[’re] now ashamed.”
Now, it is at that point that he then turns from the negative to the positive. Look at this: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” But now he tells them something that they need to be doing, not something they shouldn’t be doing, so he turns positively. What are we to do? “Expose them.” “Expose them.” Who or what is the “them”? The “them” refers to the unfruitful works, not to the unfruitful workers.
Some of us are perfectly happy to get an exhortation like “Go out and expose all these people.” Every so often I see something here on local TV—there’s some fellow comes on and says, “And at seven o’clock tonight, we will expose,” you know, whatever it is. You know, it’s like, “Okay, fine.” And it never really gets me that excited. I don’t know; nobody cares whether it does or it doesn’t, but, you know, that sort of idea of “You know, we’re gonna do the big exposé.” Some Christians, they’ve got that in them. If you’ve got it in you, you need to get it out of you. “We’re, yeah, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to expose them.” Well, how does the exposing take place here? How do you expose unfruitful works of darkness?
You see, there is a prurient tendency in some of us that… You sometimes hear ministers talking about things, pastors talking about things, in such a way that you wonder whether they’re actually getting their jollies out of describing these dreadful things. You know what I mean? There’s a kind of voyeuristic element in it. I think that’s probably why he goes on to say what he says: “It[’s] shameful even to speak of the things … they do in secret.” So in other words, don’t waste your time talking about all this stuff. You don’t need to give illustrations. People know. Everybody knows. You don’t need to hold the poison up and put pictures on the screens. It’s actually “shameful,” he says.
So then, how in the world does the exposing take place? Well, I think it’s pretty straightforward. And it is this: what he is saying is that the essential difference in the believer’s life, the shining light that is present in the life of the believer—however strong or dim it may be at any point along the way—but the light in the believer shows up the dark stuff for what it is. It shows up the dark stuff for what it is.
When Peter writes in his first letter, again—I looked for this yesterday. I had a word in mind from the King James Version, and I kept looking for it, and I couldn’t find it, because it’s not there. It’s a great word. It’s the word profligacy, but it’s not in the ESV. But it took me ages, and then I finally found it. It’s 1 Peter 4:3, where he’s writing to the believers, and he says, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do.” “It’s long past time for that stuff,” he says. What did the Gentiles or the pagans want to do? He says, “Living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.”
He says, “Here is where the light is gonna shine. It’s gonna actually shine…” Because it’s passive, if you like. This process is silent. And in many ways this process should be surprising.
The surprise is the surprise that comes when the people say, “You know, she has always come to these things. What happened to her?” Or, “You know, Bill was always at this.”
Someone says, “Yeah, I don’t know what happened to him.”
Someone else says, “Well, he’s… I think he’s gone a little woo-woo.”
“Yeah, yeah—he’s… There’s a Jesus thing he’s got going.”
“Oh golly, are you kidding me?”
“No, no, he’s gone. He’s off his rocker. I mean, you couldn’t believe it.”
Someone says, “Well, that’s surprising. What would cause him to do that?”
You see, it’s not that he’s down there with a big Thompson Chain-Reference Bible trying to give his friends a little gospel. It is the absence of his presence. It is the silence of his voice. It is the thankfulness of his heart for things that other people regard as trivial and sensual and base which actually then exposes the darkness, shows it up. And people say, “Well, you know, he used to cuss like a sailor, and I don’t know why he stopped that.” Well, I’ll tell you why he stopped it: ’cause he’d been made a new person. He didn’t stop it to try and become a new person. He has been made a new person in Jesus, and Jesus is changing him. Sometimes he slips, sometimes he falls, sometimes her light isn’t as strong as it might be, but there is no question what’s happening. The darkness is being exposed. “Expose them.”
Also, “Walk as children of light.” “Walk as children of light.” That’s the exhortation that accompanies what we looked at last time: “You were darkness, … now you[’re] light in … Lord. Walk as children of light.” In other words, live like men and women who are at home in daylight. Live like men and women who are at home in daylight. If you’ve got little secret things in your life, if I have secret things in my life—I’ve got to go away and find a place to hide from all of you to engage in that—you can be sure I’m not walking in the light. If I can’t give you access to my checkbook, access to my diary, access to my iPad, then I’m in trouble. And so are you.
You see, the real practicality of this is really practical: “Expose them. Walk as someone who can walk in the light.” Just live in such a way that you assume everybody knows everything. Everyone knows everything. “Then fine, know everything! ’Cause I’ve got nothing to hide from you.” That’s what you want to be able to say. We’re not talking about enjoying privacy in certain areas of your life. We’re talking about that there is no incongruity, you see. We don’t have to go away and hide in the darkness. Because they were still living in the pagan culture of Ephesus, but rather than being part of it, they were to be distinct from it.
The works of darkness are unfruitful. The works of the fruit of light is wonderful. Light is necessary for fruitfulness, isn’t it? This orchid here comes and goes—or she comes and goes, or it comes and goes—depending on how it’s doing. But I know for sure that it needs light. And for it to be in the darkness all during the week is not good for it. It needs the light. In fact, one day I came in, and they had two artificial lights just shining on it—on this thing—for that very reason.
The picture is perfectly clear. What is the light? What is the fruit of the light? We could do an entire address on it. We won’t, but it’s there in verse 9. Incidentally, verse 9 is parenthetical, isn’t it? If you take the end of verse 8 and go immediately to the beginning of verse 10, you can see it as one straightforward statement: “Walk as children of light …, and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Parenthetically, he then says, “Incidentally, the fruit of light, if you want to know what it is, it’s good, it’s right, it’s true.” Good, right, true. What do you want to see instilled in your children? That which is good, right, true. Straightforward. Where is goodness to be found? Where is righteousness to be found? Where is truth to be found? All in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I was studying it during the week, it brought to mind, as I just came upon that trilogy, an event in London in 1971. I was nineteen at the time, and they convened a thing called the Festival of Light. And the Festival of Light, we gathered in Trafalgar Square—about a hundred thousand of us—and then we processed through the streets of London to Hyde Park, and then in Hyde Park we had more music and a festival and singing and speakers and everything else. I have vivid recollections of the day, and some of them are positive, and then there are others. Malcolm Muggeridge was one of the speakers at Trafalgar Square. In part of his address he says to the crowd, that was not entirely on his side, “Man’s true problem is his attempt to live without God, to live with fantasies that [he is] God himself. [But] without God, we are irretrievably lost in the darkness of mortality.”
As we stood there in Hyde Park, I realized at one point that I was standing next to an Afghan hound. The Afghan hound was at the other end of a leash, and at the other end of the leash was Eric Idle. And Eric Idle (I-d-l-e) was something of an i-d-o-l to me because of his role in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And I realized that I’m standing next to the Afghan and to him, and I didn’t have the courage to do anything other than just be impressed that he was there. But I realized that I was in the section that was throwing raw eggs at the platform and letting off stink bombs in the crowd—indeed, that the Gay Liberation Front, which was infuriated by the prospect of this Festival of Light, had determined it would do everything it possibly could to disrupt it.
I went yesterday to see what Rolling Stone magazine did with this, and I found it. On November 11, I think it is, of ’71, they covered the Festival of Light in the most scornful terms you could imagine, casting scorn on the ideas of truth and purity and light and taking their stand very clearly with the shouts of profanity and darkness that were represented in the response to a commitment to the light, to the good, to the true.
That was forty-six years ago. Ephesus is over two thousand years ago. Anybody that wants to tell us that the Bible somehow or another does not speak to the issues of the day either is oblivious to the issues of the day or never reads the Bible—or both.
Now, we need to wrap this up. Negatively, he says, “This is what you need to do.” Positively, “You need to expose them. You need to walk as children of light.” And you will notice in verse 10, “[You need to] try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Every so often I come against a well-meaning Christian who tells me that she doesn’t try in her Christian life; the Christian life is not about trying. Look out for her. She’ll be a problem to herself and everybody else. The Christian life is about trying. “Oh no, it’s about trusting.” Yeah, but when you trust, you try. If you don’t trust and try, you’re in trouble. Otherwise, why would Paul actually say, “Try to discern what the will of God is”? In other words, this is not something that comes upon us unexpectedly. This is not a feeling that rises up somewhere in our solar plexus. This is an exercise in bringing the Word of God to bear upon our thinking.
It is, if you like, in Paul’s terminology, Romans 12:1–2: “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Then you will be able to test and approve,” dokimázō—the same word is here—“test and approve what the will of God is.” It’s the same word that he uses in 2 Timothy 2, where he says to Timothy, “Study to shew [your]self approved unto God,” so that it is a kind of thing where your windshield or your windscreen has one of those little things on it that says, “This has gone through the process and has been approved in order that you may drive in relative safety.”
So, that’s the picture that is given here: “You’re not taking part in unfruitful works of darkness. You’re exposing them. You’ve got better things to talk about than that stuff. And so, here’s what you need to do: discern what God wants you to be and do.” What does that mean? Well, it means that our Bibles are very important, doesn’t it? It means that we need to be focused on the Bible, it means that we need to be directed by the Bible, and it means that our minds have to be filled with the Bible. Focused on the Bible, directed by the Bible, filled with the Bible.
It is a happy thing if your children or your grandchildren are learning the Bible. Because if they’re not learning the Bible, they’ll be learning something else. If they’re not being saturated by the truth of Scripture, they’ll be saturated by some other kind of truth. Some of us have not memorized a single verse in the whole of 2017. You say, “Well, are you a legalist or something? You gonna check at the door?” No! Do you realize how many songs and poems I’ve learned without trying in 2017? Well then, would you apply that giftedness to the memorization of the Bible so that you might be able to “try to discern” what the will of God is? He’s not talking about trying to find out who your wife is going to be or trying to find out where you found your car keys. What is the will of God? Our sanctification. How will we discover that?
As I was thinking about that, my mind went to a song that I remembered again from my childhood. I could only remember one line of it. It took me ages to finally track it down, and I eventually did. And I was intrigued to realize that it was it pretty well grounded in Romans 12:1 and 2. And it begins like this:
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please him in all that I do,
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
You say, “It doesn’t sound that good.” I don’t care if you like it or not. I’m just telling you it. And the chorus goes:
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee,
For thou in thy atonement didst give thyself for me;
I own no other Master, my heart shall be thy throne;
My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for thee alone.
Written by a guy who was born in Franklin, Kentucky, in 1886, died in 1960, was a schoolteacher at the age of sixteen in a one-room schoolroom thing, and wrote eight hundred poems, and some were set to music, and this was one of them. How it got from Kentucky to Glasgow, Scotland, I don’t know, but I’m very glad to bring it back to you.
And I want to say, particularly to young people who are here—to teenagers, to students, to guys, boys, seven, eight, nine, girls—who are trying to figure the whole world out: put God to the test. Take him at his word. Take a song like this; write it in the back of your Bible; ask God to make it your own. Ask him to fulfill his purposes in you and through you. God is nobody’s debtor. He does what he promises. And the future of the church in the United States of America lies largely in the hearts and minds of youngsters, schoolboys, schoolgirls, that are finding that their hearts are constrained and framed by these things. That’s why it’s so vital to be building in to the coming generations.
You say, “Well, thank you for telling us about Thomas Chisholm.” Well, you know Thomas Chisholm, because he wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” You might not know that one, but you know that one. He proved the faithfulness of God. He proved the things he wrote about.
So, the challenge negatively, positively, and I want just to say a word and say “evangelistically.” Evangelistically. This is how I’m trying to make sense of the close of this: “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.”
I found it helpful to read this in light of John chapter 3, and I commend that to you. See if it helps you. “And this is the judgment,” John 3:19: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light … does[n’t] come to the light, lest his [work] should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” This is the great transformation, you see. Previously we were hiding. Previously we were shameful. Previously it was unfruitful. Previously it was dark. Previously we went in those places where it was very bright on the outside, but as soon as you got inside, you couldn’t find out where you were.
I was in a hotel this week in New York, myself and a friend. And he was on the fifth floor; I was on the second floor. After I had gone to my room, dropped my bag, and came back down, he still hadn’t found his room. He was on the fifth floor, wandering all around. He finally got somebody to help him. Why? ’Cause the place was pitch dark! It was pitch dark. It wasn’t a bad place, but it was just dark. Why don’t you turn the lights on? Well, who knows? Who knows who you’ll see.
“Men loved darkness rather than light.” You’re not going to come into the light. And so look what he’s saying: “When [every]thing is exposed by the light…” How does it become exposed by the light? When the light shines. Where does the light shine from? Shines from Christ. Shines from those who are in Christ. “I am the light of the world,” said Jesus. Then he said, “You are the light of the world.”
Verse 14: “For anything that becomes visible is light.” It’s not easy, this, is it? “When [every]thing is exposed by the light, it comes visible.” It makes me think of my grandmother. I used to go shopping with her in Glasgow, and I’ve got a vivid recollection of her always asking of something, “Can I take this outside and look at it?” I’m like, “What’s up with you, Granny? I mean, what? You can see it in here. It’s a hat, for cryin’ out loud.” “No, no, no, no. I need to see it in the daylight. I need to see what it’s really like.” “Fine.” And you go out, you come back in. That’s what he’s saying here: “When [every]thing is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.”
Therefore, here’s the evangelistic call: “Awake, O sleeper, and [rise] from the dead.” There’s a word for some of you this morning—the first part, at least. I can see you. I can see you. It’s all right. It’s all right. Sometimes you need a good snooze. No better place, you know: comfortable seats, dimly lit. “Awake, O sleeper, … arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” In other words, the unbeliever is suffering from SDD, not ADD. Three metaphors: the unbeliever is asleep and needs to be wakened up. The unbeliever is dead and needs to be made alive. The unbeliever is dark and needs the light of Christ to shine in him or her.
Father, it only takes a spark to get a fire going. We know that. Some of us are aware this morning of how difficult it is to navigate the tension that is conveyed in these verses—how we find ourselves with one foot going one way and one foot going the other, tempted to be drawn back again into the darkness from which you’ve set us free, tempted to go and just fiddle around again with some of those unfruitful works. And so we pray this morning that you will so by the Holy Spirit reveal the darkness to us, disclose it to us, disclose the dark bits in us, and then by the Holy Spirit dispel them, and then enable us to shine—not in a way that draws attention to ourselves but points away from ourselves, causes us to be surprised when people say, “You know, I noticed.”
Lord, grant that we might, then, live as lights in a dark place. And thank you that the call of the Lord Jesus is an extensive call, so that whoever hears his call and comes to him, he will never turn him away. Awaken us. Raise us. Shine in us and through us, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Colossians 1:12–13 (ESV).
 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV).
 Titus 2:1 (paraphrased).
 Titus 2:11 (NIV).
 1 Corinthians 5:9–10 (ESV).
 1 Corinthians 5:11 (paraphrased).
 John 17:15 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 6:14–16 (ESV).
 John Trapp, Commentary on the New Testament (1865; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 597.
 Ephesians 4:1 (ESV).
 See Ephesians 2:12.
 Quoted in Robert Greenfield, “Freaking London’s Jesus Festival,” Rolling Stone, November 11, 1971, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/freaking-londons-jesus-festival-236760.
 Romans 12:1–2 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV).
 See 1 Thessalonians 4:3.
 Thomas O. Chisholm, “Living for Jesus” (1917).
 John 3:19 (KJV).
 John 8:12 (ESV).
 Matthew 5:14 (ESV).
 See John 6:37.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.