Text: Ephesians 5:8
Date: Lent IV + 3/30/14
In our Lenten discipline of the catechumenate so far we have learned that to be a Christian means to enter a spiritual battle with the devil. But we do not fight that good fight by our own powers alone but by a new birth, being born again. Being a Christian means becoming a brand new person. We discovered that baptism is the foundation of this new birth, as Jesus said, “by water and the Spirit.” Our attention to water then expanded our understanding that faith is that living water, that our new person is the creation of God the Holy Spirit. Today our focus shifts from the image of water to the image of light and darkness. As new persons of God’s re-creation and new birth, today we consider everything in life that is against God as darkness and the grace and salvation of God as our light. St. John takes the entire ninth chapter of his Gospel to tell us the story of a man born blind and how Jesus’ gift of gaining his sight allowed him to see the true darkness, the blindness of sin, and to discover the vision of saving faith, saying to Jesus the same confession that we are asking of you, “Lord, I believe.” St. Paul comments in our Epistle today, saying, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
The question is, what will life be like after you have been baptized? What is this new life lived by the newly reborn disciple of Jesus? Today we recall the first lesson that to be a Christian means to be engaged in a spiritual battle with the devil, for today we are telling you, you are ready for this battle. You are ready, first of course, because Jesus has already defeated death and the devil. Not only in His temptation in the wilderness but finally on the cross of His death and through the open tomb of His resurrection the Son of God has gone to war and won the victory. He won it for the whole world. He won it for you. So now you are ready because you have come to know as of first importance that your new birth, your conversion, your faith is totally the work and gift of God working through the outward means of His grace through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to you. Salvation, your justification before God through faith in Jesus, is totally God’s work and gift to you. Now, however, the life of faith is a matter of our working together with God, certainly relying on God’s grace and power but letting that grace and power be manifested through our works, our walk, our spiritual battle. By your baptism you have been freed to enter this battle and live life according to God’s commandments because your forgiveness and salvation is an accomplished fact not dependent on your success or failure in this fight. In other words we are to know that if we falter or fail or fall it does not mean that we lose our salvation. It only means that we rely that much more on God’s grace and learn to live in repentance and faith in the forgiveness of our sins.
St. Paul has it right, describing you and me and every Christian that ever was, saying, “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Darkness and light describe more than just your spiritual condition. They are the powers at work in the struggle. By our inherited, fallen sinful nature we, like the man in today’s Gospel, were born spiritually blind from birth. More than that, we were not only in darkness. Paul says you were darkness, identified by the darkness of your sin and separation from God. People not only commit sins, we are sinners. Now in Christ, however, you have not only entered into light, but that light has entered you so that Jesus says of you, “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).
This light is a power. It is productive. Therefore Paul says, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” What is good and right and true?
The light produces what is truly good. The world, you know, determines what is good only by majority vote. It is the age-old game played ever since sin entered the world everyone calculating whether anything or anyone is to our advantage or disadvantage, and that includes God! You can see how that ends up, the values of the world around us today having become topsy-turvy. Apart from the light of God’s Word the majority can easily be in the wrong, as the Lord God said through the prophet Isaiah “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). I like the premise of his new book entitled “Not Cool,” when the author, Greg Gutfeld, suggests replacing the categories of “Cool” and “Not Cool” with, simply, “good” and “evil”! The light of Christ enables us to call things what they are in God’s sight.
Secondly, “The fruit of light is found in all that is…right.” This is not merely the ability to know right from wrong, the conscience even of evil people bearing witness to God’s Law written in their hearts. This is the word for “righteousness.” More than merely right or correct it means everything working together as God originally intended. Paradise restored.
Thirdly, “The fruit of light is found in all that is…true.” What is truth? The first thing that always ought to come to mind when we talk about truth is God’s Word. Jesus prays for us, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The light of God’s word reveals reality as opposed to any and all lying perversion, sham, deception or pretense. Rather our walk and witness is as St. Paul told the Thessalonians, “our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive…. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness” (1 Thess 2:1-7).
Furthermore “All that is good and right and true” does not vary in meaning from one age to another. The Apostle calls us to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” “Discerning” means testing or examining ourselves and the circumstances and events around us. St. John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And how do you test? You see how you or anything agrees with God’s clear revelation of His will in the Scriptures. In this discerning and testing, then, is a warning that those seeking mere popularity or growth do not like, Paul’s words in Second Corinthians, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14), and in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.” How? “Avoid them,” he says (Romans 16:17).
Yet these words do not mean to pull back in a cocoon for the light is to blaze out into the darkness around us and expose what the darkness covers up. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” For only in such a way can true repentance happen.
As the Lord gave sight to a man born blind and then revealed Himself to him, so, Paul says, the call of an ancient hymn of New Testament times comes to us, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” In that light and that light alone are you prepared for the battle of the faith. Come, let us walk, let us walk in the light of the Lord.