“Live as children of light (for the fruit are the light, consisting all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8, 11)
One thing that becomes clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is that Christian holiness is no easy thing. It’s a struggle, which is why Paul sees it as necessary to motivate us to holiness through a number of different approaches. Incidentally, each of these approaches relates to a certain way of thinking.
Already he has called us to holiness because we are God’s ‘dearly loved children’. It is a characteristic of children that they imitate their parents, which means that we must strive to be holy like God. However, he also appeals to us as ‘children of light.’ It is a characteristic of light that it is pure, so it is a fitting symbol to represent a Christian’s holiness. When Paul calls us to ‘live as children of light’, he is simply following the example of Jesus who said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world… let your light so shine before me that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). It is clear in the New Testament that Christians become holy by remembering their identity as children of God and understanding that God has transformed our natures by renewing them – “once you were darkness… but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).
Here Paul uses a natural metaphor to make the point that our transformed nature produces a certain kind of fruit. When a plant receives light, it comes to life and begins to yield fruit. “Well,” says Paul, “if God has shone into your heart with the Gospel, you have received new life and will produce a fruit that is consistent with God’s character.” This new life will be characterised by goodness, righteousness and truth. This means that believers will become active in doing good things, not simply as a way of earning God’s favour, but rather as an act of gratitude towards Him. Further, we will develop an intense interest in righteousness and the character of God. This will not only affect our relationship with God but also with other people. Just as God deals righteously with us, so we will extend righteousness and grace to other people.
Interestingly, Paul also makes the point that as Christians, we will be deeply concerned about the truth. Elsewhere he says to the Corinthians, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor 13:8). While people in our world question the possibility of knowing such a thing as truth, the Bible says that God is the source of it and Jesus Christ is its fullest expression of it. Truth is knowable and its fullest expression is found in Jesus Christ.
Finally, Paul reminds us that Christian holiness not only means that we do not engage in ungodly behaviour, but it also means that we show no interest in it. It is one thing to engage in sexual immorality, for example, but it is another to find a vicarious pleasure in it. What Paul means is that Christians are not only meant to avoid fornication and other sexual sins (which, of course, involve another person), but we are not to take pleasure in sins that others commit. This means that not only should we avoid sexual immorality, but we shouldn’t enjoy reading about it, watching it, or even making jokes about it.