Children of Light

Ephesians 5:3-14
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, August 08, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P.G. Mathew

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:8-10

Scripture draws an absolute antithesis between believers in Christ and unbelievers. They are completely opposite in their beings, thoughts, and actions. An unbeliever is darkness and he walks in darkness, which stands for ignorance, moral evil, and so on. The darkness of the unbeliever is not a surface or an environmental darkness; his very being is corrupt. Out of the heart of the unbeliever proceeds the immorality that defiles him. He is dead toward God and godless. His thoughts are governed by his atheism and his deeds are unrighteous.

But a believer is light. Having been made new in his being to be like God in righteousness and holiness of truth, a believer will naturally do what glorifies God. He is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. One is either darkness or light, not both. So we want to look at three things from this passage: First, the life of the children of darkness; second, the life of the children of light; and, third, the warnings Paul gives about living circumspectly in the world.

Walking as Children of Darkness

“Have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (v. 11). Paul mentions six vices when he describes the life of the children of darkness (vv. 3-5). The unbeliever lives a self-indulgent and self-centered life. He is totally incapable of living in love.

  1. Sexual Immorality Paul speaks of sexual immorality, porneia, from which we have pornography, although porneia is not limited to pornography. According to C. L. Mitten, “This word speaks of any sexual indulgence outside the permanent relationship of marriage in circumstances where sexual appetites are used merely as a means of pleasure, without any sense of responsibility or care for the partner.” It is the opposite of the purity that should control and direct our God-given sexual powers and impulses in accordance with God’s law and purposes. So porneia, or sexual immorality, is any sexual activity that breaks the bonds of marriage and destroys the sanctity of the family.

    The Scripture speaks often and seriously about sexual sins. Romans 1, beginning with verse 24, says of unbelievers, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” What we think governs our deeds. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. If anyone is engaging in sexual immorality, it is divine judgment on that person. “Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones,” and so on.

    First Corinthians 6:9-11 states, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

  2. UncleannessPaul then speaks about uncleanness, akatharsia. It refers to all forms of sexual uncleanness, whether in thought, word, or deed.
  3. GreedTo be greedy is to overreach, to try to have more. David, remember, reached for more. Although he already had several wives and concubines, he was greedy. So he violated the tenth commandment and overreached for Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.

    But pleonexia (greed) also includes overreaching for more money. Unbelievers think that more money will give them more pleasure, more power, and more security. But the Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Such greed is idolatry, the worship of creation, not God. For the Hebrews, idolatry was the worst sin. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says of this greed:

    And then the Apostle proceeds to condemn covetousness because it isidolatry. And there is no more terrible sin than idolatry. It means that you make a god of something, and you worship it. But covetousness is idolatry. The New Testament tells us so time and again. It does not matter what it is, anything that you and I tend to set up as the big thing, the central thing, in our lives, the thing about which we think and dream, the thing that engages our imagination, the thing that we livefor, the thing that gives us the biggest thrill: if it is anything other than God, it is idolatry. And it is for every one of us to examine ourselves. Some people worship money, what it can do and what it can bring and get; some people worship status and position; others their own brains and ability; others, their own good looks. It is idolatry. And it is the ultimate sin. We are meant to worship God and to worship him alone. There is but one God and He recognizes none other. God forbid that any of us shall be worshiping or giving ourselves to anybody oranything, save the only true and living God (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,Darkness and Light [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984], 340).

    From the Sixties on, the Western world has been in a sexual revolution and liberation. All boundaries have been pushed aside. Unbelievers glorify smut and delight in immorality. No wonder the Muslims of the world are angry at the West! They are for many reasons, but one is our corrupt morality.

    What is the antonym for fornication and uncleanness? Self-control. A Christian should practice self-control, not only in the area of sex, but in every other area.

  4. Filthiness

    Next, Paul speaks of filthiness or offensive speech, aischrotês. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Those who are dirty in being will do dirty deeds and speak dirty words. Such people glory in pushing the envelope and breaking all norms of social behavior. Their glory is in their shame.

  5. Foolish Talk

    The fifth vice is foolish talk, môrologia. The unbeliever speaks as a fool, making light of any high standard of behavior. Foolish talk is the talk of fools, those who say in their hearts, “There is no God.” Foolish talk is anti-God, anti-law, and anti-reality.

  6. Coarse Joking
    Finally, there is coarse joking, eutrapelia. As we said, dirty people with dirty minds express themselves in dirty words. They joke about sex in crude terms. Such speech degrades the gift of sexuality. It is a demonic activity.

Replacing Evil with Thanksgiving

God’s people will not engage in such vices; rather, they should engage in thanksgiving. The antidote to all these evils is eucharistia, thanksgiving. We thank God for his generosity, for our existence, and for all the gifts he has given us, including the gift of sexuality, as well as for his gracious provision of food, clothing, and everything else we need. We thank God especially for Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sins on the cross. We thank God for blessing us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We thank God for choosing us from before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in Christ. We thank God for the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating us and granting us the gift of true repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ. We thank God for adopting us as his dear sons and daughters and making us heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. We thank God for the forgiveness of all our sins. We thank God for sealing us by the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption. We thank God for the holy Scriptures. We thank God for the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that is making us holy, blameless, radiant, and perfect.

Ephesians 5:19-20 tells us, “Speak to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we engage in studying the word of God intelligently and store up God’s thoughts in our hearts, we will begin to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and our hearts will be full of thanksgiving. Show me a thankful person, and I will show you a person who is not affected by dirty thoughts, dirty words and dirty deeds.

How, then, should we speak? “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). We must speak the word of God, because the word of God is full of grace and is able to build others up even as it brings great joy to our own souls. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). When we think about such things, we will speak such things. As God’s children we think, speak, and act differently because we are light in the Lord.

Walking as Children of Light

How, then, do children of light live? First, we must realize we are light and children of light (v. 8). Not only that, we are saints, for everyone who has trusted in Jesus Christ is called a saint. As saints, we do not partake of the evil deeds and unfruitful works of darkness (vv. 7, 11). Our being is different; we are new creations in Christ. Our thought is different: we think God’s thoughts after him. Our deeds are different, for we live, not to please ourselves, but to please him who gave us eternal life.

So we are exhorted, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality. . . because [such things] are improper for God’s holy people” (v. 3). That is one translation, but the Greek simply says “improper for saints.” The word “saint,” or its adjective “holy,” appears fifteen times in this letter. Every true believer is a saint. He is holy, separated to serve God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit who teaches him the holy ways of God from the holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit will never lead a child of God to sin.

A saint knows God’s purpose for his election is to make him holy and blameless. A saint knows he is a holy temple in which God lives by his Spirit (2:21-22). He knows that the lifestyle of the unbeliever is unfit for him; thus, he will not walk in the counsel of the ungodly nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of mockers. His delight is in the law of the Lord, and his deeds are prescribed by the Lord.

Do you know that you are different? Do you know you are holy, separated to God from the world? Do you know that you are light? Do you know that you are a new creation? Do you know that you are a child of God, adopted into his family, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ, and that now it is your nature to think differently and act differently?

Christians are light, and the world is darkness. It is not in darkness; it is darkness. So there is then an absolute difference between the sons of God and the sons of the evil one. Christians are ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ, while unbelievers are ruled by the lusts of their flesh and by Satan. So what Paul is saying is, “You who were once darkness are now light; therefore, behave as light.”

Jesus is the light of the world, and in him we are also made the light of the world. So Jesus said: “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). To shine is to live a life of a saint-a holy, separated life.

In Romans 13 Paul exhorts us, “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (vv. 11-14).

We are the light of the world. It is not that we are in the light and they are indarkness. No, no, we are light and they are darkness. This is the essential difference between believers and unbelievers. It is the difference of being. In Jesus Christ, we are light inside because we have been given divine nature. Therefore, we must shine as light in our word and deed. It is most natural for a Christian to be different.

Light Produces Fruit

As we walk as children of light, intellectually and morally, we will produce fruit. Verse 9 tells us, “For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” Imagine this little planet without light. It would produce nothing; there would be no life. So also the light of Christianity is productive of certain things, and the world has a right to expect certain fruit from a Christian. Three of these fruits are mentioned here: goodness, righteousness, and truth. How will people know that we are light? Our lives will produce such fruit. Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruit.” Paul speaks in Galatians 5 of the fruit of Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, and so on, as contrasted with the works of the flesh. There is a definite difference.

First, then, the fruit of light is goodness, agathôsunê. It is the exact opposite of the badness we read about in Ephesians 4:31: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The word used for malice iskakia, badness. A Christian will manifest goodness, which is the character of God himself. The goodness of God is intended to lead us to repentance.

Goodness is the opposite of self-centeredness. Goodness speaks of God’s benevolence and generosity. God is generous toward his creation. He is concerned about benefiting others. So as light we must not be self-centered; rather, we must shine in terms of goodness and be benevolent to others. An unbeliever uses others for his self-centered needs, but a Christian reaches out to help others.

Then there is righteousness, which speaks of moral uprightness. What does the Lord require of you, the prophet asks, but to do justly, to show mercy, and to walk humbly before your God? Lawlessness characterizes the unbeliever, but God’s people delight in the law of the Lord. They are not antinomians. They keep the Ten Commandments out of love for God and by the power of the Spirit of God.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (vv. 8-10). What is the next thing Paul is saying? Find out what pleases the Lord. That calls for an understanding of the Scriptures. We are not to participate in the evil of the children of darkness, but we are to find out from the holy Scriptures what pleases the Lord. (PGM) Walking in the light means we do not please ourselves but the Lord.

When we became Christians, we declared Jesus is Lord, thus implying that we are his servants. Therefore it is important as Christians and baptized people to discover, not what pleases us, but what pleases the Lord. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” He himself told God the Father, “Not my will but thine be done.” Coming into the world as the Suffering Servant, he always sought the will of God and did it. He went to Gethsemane and then to Calvary to die because it was the will of God.

So we are not to live as the children of darkness but to find out what pleases the Lord. In Colossians 1:10 Paul says, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” Some people think, “Now that I am a Christian, I am going to use God to fulfill my desires.” That is an absolute misunderstanding of Christianity. If you are a Christian, your job is to find out what pleases the Lord! You order your life, your time, your money, and everything else for the purpose of pleasing the Lord.

We find this idea of pleasing God in Philippians 4:18, where Paul commended the Philippian church for their gifts: “I have received full payment and even more. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God.” First Corinthians 10:31 instructs us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Romans 12:1-2 also speaks of living a life wholly devoted to God: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discover what God’s will is-his good and pleasing and perfect will.” What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. Holiness is happiness, in that order. As we seek to please God through obedience, we will experience great joy.

Not only are we to avoid evil, but we are to deal with it: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (v. 11). We are to shine our light upon the evil of the world and expose the deeds of darkness. Notice, the life of a child of light yields good fruit, but the life of an unbeliever is fruitless. It is all a waste. How many people get to the end of their lives and say, “Oh, yes, I have had a very satisfying life. I have two children-well-educated, well-placed, well-married. I have seven grandchildren. I have a good estate. I worked hard. I have had a good life.” You fool! The Bible says your life is unfruitful, a waste. You are a stench in the very nostrils of God.

It does not matter how successful a person is, according to the world’s standard. If he never trusts in Christ, it is all a waste. Look at the life of the prodigal son. Did he come back and say how great he was? No, he realized he had wasted his life, and he was a waste. The life of an unbeliever is a waste and a shame.

As light, we expose the deeds of unbelievers for what they are. We do so by being different and by shedding the light of the gospel in every situation. We are not told to leave the world and go into a monastery. No, God wants us to be in the world and be light to it, so that through us, people will come to know the truth. We are to be like the man from whom Jesus drove out a legion of demons. When this man expressed his desire to follow Jesus, Jesus told him, “No, go back to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Let them see the radical change God has wrought in your life. And when they ask how this happened, tell them about me.

So we are not to participate in the evil deeds of the unbelievers, but to function as light. We are to expose their evil deeds and convince them of their evil, so that they may confess their sins and be converted and become as light. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Saul of Tarsus was darkness, but he saw the resurrected Christ in his glory, brilliance, and majesty, and he became light.

Look at 1 Corinthians 6:11 again: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” God can perform wonders and miracles in the lives of sinful people just as he did for us.


Paul gives us certain severe warnings concerning the works of darkness. Note, these warnings are given to the children of light, not to outsiders.

  1. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (v. 3). Evil speech and deeds are unfitting for the saints. No Christian should be accused of any sexual immorality.
  2. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place. . . .” (v. 4). Such behavior is unbecoming for the saints.
  3. “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”(v. 5). Those who do these things are excluded from the kingdom of God. In fact, the Greek says, “Be doubly certain of this: No immoral, impure or greedy person . . .” That is a warning for every one of us who entertains any ideas of participating in the works of darkness. Suppose we say, “Christianity doesn’t offer me any happiness or joy. All happiness and joy is out there in the world.” You are a fool if you think that way! Jesus Christ came into the world to give us the real, abiding happiness that is without any regret. The Bible says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”; “Without holiness, no one can see God”; and “He who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure, as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Unless a person repents, he will be outside of God’s kingdom. This is a very serious warning. Revelation 21:27 tells us, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Revelation 22:15 states, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices deceit.”

    Even the people of God will be chastised if they indulge in these sins. Just think of how David sinned, and the terrible consequences both he and his descendants experienced. “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).

  4. “Let no one deceive you with empty words. . .” (v. 6). Deceivers will come and teach that God is love; that he loves everyone and forgives everyone, no matter what; that you can continue in sin; that what you do with your body does not affect your soul; that you can go to heaven by just receiving Jesus, without any change of life; that doctrines and ethics do not matter. But the Bible says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Avoid empty words of lies. Save yourself from this crooked and perverse generation. The antidote to being deceived is to know and do the word of God. Ignorant and feeling-centered people are prime targets of deception.
  5. “for because of such things the God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (v. 6). Those who practice these evils shall be judged. The just wrath of God is coming upon them in history and beyond history. We experience judgment not only on the last day, but in our own personal history. Moses warned the Israelites in Numbers 32:23, “Your sin shall find you out.” Twenty-four thousand Israelites were killed for their sexual immorality with the Moabite women. The wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, who are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).


  1. If you are still darkness and walking in the darkness of moral evil, I hope you will be convicted of your sin. Confess your sin, and call upon the name of the Lord, that he may convert you and make you light.
  2. If you, as a Christian, are committing such sins, repent of them immediately, forsake them totally, and God will surely forgive you instantly. Then you will be able to experience the true happiness that comes from living a holy life. But do not play games with God. His eyes are like a blazing fire. He knows the very imaginations of our hearts.
  3. If a Christian refuses to repent and continues in sin, that person, according to 1 Corinthians 5, should be put out from the church. That is proper exercise of church discipline.
  4. If you are a Christian, you have no right to pollute your mind and soul with the filth of the world. Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind with the word of God. Be very careful with whom you associate, what type of program you watch, what you read, and so on, because some things will only corrupt you.
  5. Do not attend churches or listen to preachers on the radio or television who refuse to preach the holiness of the gospel, for such preaching is dangerous to your immortal and eternal soul. It can only corrupt you and lead you to hell.
  6. Be careful whose counsel you seek. Bad company corrupts good morals. Unless the counselor is a Bible-centered person, he can lead you to hell.

May God have mercy and save those who have not trusted in him. May those Christians who have engaged in evil repent and forsake their sins, and be filled with the happiness that comes only from holiness. And may we be always thankful for what God has done in our lives. Once we were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord.