Who Am I ? "Living as Children of Light"
Topic: Integrity Passage: Ephesians 5:1–5:15
Who Am I? Finding Our Identity in Christ
June 5, 2016
Who Am I? Living as Children of Light
Let's turn together to Eph. 5. On July 20, 2015, Ashley Madison, a website specializing in arranging secret, extramarital affairs, announced that their security had been breached by hackers who identified themselves as the Impact Team. Over the next several months millions of names would be revealed, among them several high profile Christian celebrities, leaders, and pastors. When word got out that they had been breached in July, one well known Christian leader took the opportunity as a teaching moment and wrote a blog called Hacking Ashley Madison. In this article he writes, My prayer is that we, even if we haven’t committed adultery, even if we haven’t flirted with committing adultery, even if we just learned about Ashley Madison, would just recognize and embrace the biblical truth that our sins will find us out.
He went on to speculate that there were 37 million people who were losing sleep over the Ashley Madison hack. What he failed to mention in this article was that he was one of those losing sleep. A month later, when it became clear that he was going to be outed, this Christian leader was forced to confess that he, himself, had registered on the Ashley Madison site. That revelation transformed his article from a "teaching moment" into a "hypocritical moment" of stunning proportions. Any spiritual value that his article may have seemed to contain, any biblical insight it might have held, any appeal it may have made for a godly and Christian response to sin, was negated because the article lacked one very important thing: integrity.
The Hebrew word for integrity means “completeness” or wholeness. In math an integer is a whole number; in character, integrity is a whole person. Not a perfect person, but a genuine and whole person. The reason this topic is so important in a series on our identity in Christ is because our identity is who we are - and integrity is being who we say we are. The church can't be full of identity thieves: people pretending to be one thing when in reality they're another.
A couple weeks ago we looked at how God has lavished us with love by adopting us as His sons and daughters. We are, as verse 1 says, God's beloved children and therefore we should be imitators of God. The order is very important: we don't imitate God in order to be His beloved children, we imitate God because we are His beloved children. Because God is our Father, because we belong to the family of God, there should be a family resemblance, that's what Paul is saying.
But Paul then shifts the discussion and begins to lay out the underbelly of human behavior, the stuff that happens at night behind closed doors, the stuff that happens on dark websites that supposedly cover our sin and shame with secrecy, the wicked practices that destroy a person's integrity: inner crud like sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, and what Paul calls filthiness - a word meaning things that are shameful or deformed, and the outer expressions of inner filth like foolish talk and crude joking. Foolish talk and crude joking is more serious than being a little goofy or making a joke that is in bad taste. Foolish talk implies communication that doesn't distinguish between right or wrong, between noble or base, between wise or foolish. In the same way, crude joking is tasteless, mind in the gutter, irreverent joking that shows no fear of God and no boundaries of restraint.
Paul emphasizes darkness and secrecy over and over, but this is more than just a moralistic tsk, tsking at moral filth. He's not just saying "don't do these things!" The emphasis in these verses isn't on behavior, it's on nature. Those who are born again children of God have a new nature, it's not in our God-given new nature to walk in the filth and darkness we once walked in. So don't do those things or partner with those who do them, but live out of your new identity as children of light. Look with me at how in verses 6-9 Paul contrasts, not behavior, but birth:
Everyone [who does these things] has no inheritance (the birthright of a child) in the kingdom of Christ and God (vs. 5)
The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (vs. 6)
At one time you were darkness (not just you walked in darkness, you were darkness) but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… (vs. 8)
Bending towards the light
There's a phenomenon in plants called phototropism. That's the orientation of a plant in relation to a source of light. Plants that have positive phototropism move towards the light. Plants that have negative phototropism move away from the light. We were born with a sinful nature that, like a negative spiritual phototropism, bent us away from the light, but when we were born again as children of God, God supernaturally changed our nature from negative phototropism to positive phototropism. Away from deception to integrity. Once we bent towards the darkness but now our new nature in Christ bends us towards the light. But this passage makes it clear that it's not only something God did in us, it's also something we need to do. We need to be who we are!
The first step towards integrity is to embrace the exposure of light
Integrity begins with the honesty that comes from exposure to the light. The Bible says that judgment begins in the house of God - in other words, God in His love for and commitment to the church, will judge (shine the light on) the church for hypocrisy and secret sins and deception before He will bring judgment to the world for these things. I fear that in the American church there's too much that's kept in darkness, whether it be pornography or adultery or immorality or people that act one way when they're with their families and another way when they're in church, or, well, you get the picture. Sin flourishes in darkness and secrecy. Jesus says it comes down to an issue of what we love:
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 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.” John 3:19-21
If we love our sin, Jesus says we will love the darkness because it covers our sins and hate the light because it exposes our sins. If we love God and truth, we will love the light and the exposure that it brings, even though it will be painful at times. As children of the light we don't try to cover ourselves with secrecy because we have the better covering of Christ's blood. But you can't have both: covering of secrecy and Christ's blood.
In the blog that I referenced earlier that was written by the Christian leader about Ashley Madison, the writer made this profound statement: The glory of the gospel is that, for believers, our sins are covered. The irony of the gospel is that our sins are only covered in so far as we expose them. In order for them to be covered by the blood of Christ, they have to be confessed by the ones committing the sin. This writer wasn't practicing what he was preaching, but what he says here is true. God doesn't cover our sins with secrecy. He covers them with the blood of Christ. But only as we bring them into the light through confession and honesty. Walking in the light means guarding our integrity.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:6-9
Walking in the light doesn't mean we never sin. In fact, saying we don't sin is another form of walking in the darkness - "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Listen, one of the greatest dangers of sin and the darkness it brings is that it deceives us. Often people who are involved in serious sin don't they think they are. They are deceived - they truly don't see it. Deep inside I think they do, which is why they develop systems of rationalization and denial, but on the surface they are deceiving themselves. They choose to deceive themselves and keep their sin in the darkness because they love the sin and don't want to give it up.
But integrity isn't just about deep, dark sins. Often small, unconfessed and undealt with sins can eventually lead to devastating consequences. At 5pm on Dec. 15th, 1967, the Silver Bridge connecting West VA to Ohio suddenly collapsed into the Ohio River, killing 46 people. For 39 years the bridge showed no sign of weakness, even to the inspectors who regularly examined it. The cause of failure was determined to be a fracture in one steel eye bar that was caused from a minute crack formed 39 years previously during the casting of the eye bar. Though the flaw could not be seen with eye, the minute compromise in the bridge’s structural integrity eventually led to the disaster.
Brothers and sisters, let's pursue integrity by the grace of God. Let's welcome and embrace the light, letting the Divine Inspector reveal even small fractures in our integrity that, given enough time and stress, could give way to a disastrous collapse and hurt a lot of people. Welcoming the searchlight of God is at the heart of Ps. 139:23-24
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Ps. 139:23-24
That is what our new nature as children of light is longing and desiring more than anything. But how do we walk in the light and reject the darkness? Grow in integrity?
The second step towards integrity is to bend…and to break
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. (Ephesians 5:7-11 ESV)
Paul is strongly urging the Ephesian Christians to bend and to break: bend towards the light and break all partnership with the darkness. There's an important gospel truth here: we hold very tightly to the amazingly good news of the gospel, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins by providing forgiveness and cleansing from the stains of guilt and shame and rescue from the punishment that our sins deserved. Jesus' atoning death is the Christian's one and only hope for salvation. We aren't saved by Christ plus living right. We aren't saved by Christ plus living a no compromise life. We aren't saved by Christ plus anything. Our whole faith and trust is in Christ.
We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. If it is genuine it will be accompanied by the sanctifying work of Christ. If our nature has been changed, if we are children of light, we will be drawn to the light and away from the darkness. That doesn't mean we never struggle with darkness - the fact that Paul is addressing this reveals that we need to make an effort to make sure that such things are not named among us. But he gives a strong warning to the church:
Be sure that those who give themselves to such things have no inheritance in Christ's kingdom.
Let no one deceive you (darkness of deception) - God's wrath is coming to the sons of disobedience for these things.
Paul wants them to feel the weight and fear of these warnings. The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn't empty these warnings of their warnings. To the believer, these warnings are precious to our ears. They're like guardrails on a highway. When I drive, I don't wait until the car bangs into a guardrail before I start to turn. If Janice says, Allen, you're getting off the road! I don't say, "don't worry, I haven't even hit the guardrail yet." To me driving means following the road, not banging into guardrails all along the highway. I hope you drive that way too. But if, on occasion, I get off the road, or don't make a turn, I am glad the guardrails are there to warn me: you're getting off track, turn and get back on the road.
God didn't put these warnings in His word so we could bang into them constantly - hoping that we can sin as much as possible without going through the guardrail and over a cliff. We are meant to follow the road and heed the warnings. Let the light of God's word and Holy Spirit search our hearts and minds and lives and reveal to us what pleases the Lord.
So bend towards the light - our goal shouldn't be "how much sin can we get away with before the Lord will lower the boom on us?" Our goal should be "what pleases the Lord?" How can I grow in love, purity, kindness, mercy, selflessness, generosity, courage and justice, and integrity? Bend towards the light.
And then break partnership with the darkness. Flee immorality! Turn the computer off, get protections, don't hang out with that friend or those friends who lead you down the wrong road, be radical about breaking partnership. Satan's clever enough to know that if we leave just a small foothold, that it will only be a matter of time before he can push the door open again. Paul doesn't say form a minority partnership with darkness. Reduce darkness to a 20% shareholder in your life. Do not become partners with them [partners in darkness]…take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them…Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.
Practical application steps
Delight your heart in the Lord
This is something the Lord has been convicting me of recently. I've gotten away from filling my heart and mind with things that stir a love for God in me. News, facebook, movies, music - classical and secular - and so forth left little space for things that stir up love for God. Recently I'm trying to listen to Christian music and allowing it to stir up love for God and a desire to serve Him more passionately. Driving out to the DTH graduation yesterday I was listening to Andrew Peterson's The Reckoning album and it was really ministering to me. Then being encouraged by the testimonies of the young people who graduated - it was a good dose of bending towards the light for my soul. Find ways to do what your soul and mine want most: discern what is pleasing to the Lord and go for it!
Confess your sin to a faithful friend
A practical step to help us is to find a faithful, mature brother or sister to share where we're struggling and ask for their prayers and accountability. This might sound scary, but it can be a means of grace to get the sin or struggle out of the darkness and into the light. We don't need to confess sin to another person in order to be forgiven (unless the sin is against them, then we do need to confess it to them), but James 5:16 says Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
Having others see into that dark closet shines a painful light that can be a great motivator towards walking in the light. Someone might say, "isn't it enough to confess it to the Lord?" Yes, it is, and if we receive God's forgiveness and are motivated to bend towards the light and break partnership with the darkness nothing else needs to be done, but if we struggle over and over again, the fact is confessing it to the Lord and no one else can be a way of keeping it in the dark because we simply don't take our confession to the Lord very seriously when we're tempted.
It's a variation on the truth that John writes, he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20) - if we are not willing to be open and let light shine in with trusted people in our lives, we probably aren't really being open with God. We can play mind games and rationalization games and no one is tangibly there to hold us accountable.
A word to our men: I have been in discussion with a couple men about starting some men's meetings where we can encourage each other to do just that: bend towards the light and break partnership with the darkness. Stay tuned and we'll be sharing more about that soon!
Let me close by reminding you: if you have been born again you are a child of light. 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. (Ephesians 5:8-11 ESV) That's the good life God calls you to - and your new nature longs to live!
And if you're not a Christian, the Lord is inviting you to come to the light of Christ. Yeah, it means turning from the darkness that on some level you may love and want to cling to, but is actually not your friend and is destroying your life and soul. Jesus came to give you life and life abundantly - the life of living in the light of his love.
More in Who Am I?
July 3, 2016Who Am I ? - I Am a Citizen of Heaven
June 26, 2016Who Am I ? An Ambassador for Christ
June 19, 2016Who Am I ? I Am Secure Because I Will Never Be Forsaken by God Part Two