enjamin Franklin wanted to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light their streets at night. The American founder had a good case: streetlights would protect against crime and provide convenience for evening activities. As persuasive as he was, he failed to convince them.
Franklin decided to show his neighbors how compelling a single light could be. He bought an attractive lantern, polished the glass, and placed it on a bracket extending from the front of his house. Each evening he lit the wick. Passersby realized that the warm glow helped them avoid tripping over stones in the roadway. Soon others placed lanterns in front of their homes. Eventually the whole city was well lit.
Children of Light
The apostle Paul wrote, “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. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. . . . But everything exposed by the light becomes visible. . . . This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live” (Eph. 5:8-15).
The contrast between light and darkness is a reminder that something radical takes place in our lives when we welcome Jesus into our hearts. We are no longer what we once were (2 Cor. 5:17); we are light (Eph. 5:8; cf. Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:5).
The text doesn’t say that we used to be in darkness, and now are in light; it says we actually are light (Eph. 5:8). Our lives—not just our environment—have been changed from darkness to light. Conversion (revival) is nothing less than waking up out of sleep, rising from death, and being brought out of darkness into the light of Christ to live as light.
This transformation takes place in the Lord, the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5).
A Clear Distinction
This transformation from darkness to light is threefold: we separate from darkness (Eph. 5:3-7, 11); we live as children of light (verses 8-10); our lives expose and transform others (verses 11-14; Matt. 5:15, 16).
An advertisement for Epson printers displays a full-page spread of a herd of zebras. They’re packed so close that all you see is a page full of white and reddish-brown stripes. A green box on the left reads, “With ordinary printers you see the stripes on the zebra.” A matching box to the right announces, “With our printer you see the woman on the zebra.”
Suddenly you search for the elusive woman you missed at first glance. She’s there, in a matching white and reddish-brown zebra-striped hoodie jumpsuit. Flesh tones of her face match those of the zebras’ noses. Once seen, she’s easy to spot. At first, though, you’d miss her for sure. She’s incredibly well camouflaged.
Not so with children of light. The distinction between light and darkness cannot be camouflaged or blurred. Our separation from the moral darkness of contemporary culture should be so clear that no one would ever miss us: “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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. . . . Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Eph. 5:3-12).
It’s not a comprehensive list, but it mirrors our world, which breeds brazen vulgarity and general disrespect for almost everything. It is a world increasingly shameless, open, and bold in its “anything goes” “politically correct” amoral mind-set; a world that hardly knows how to blush anymore.
Questions for Reflection
1. Think back on your Christian experience. Which individuals at one time or another demonstrated what it meant to live as "children of light"? How did they do it?
2. If your friends or neighbors were to notice something in your life that sets you apart as living in the light, what might they notice?
3. If Christians are "the light of the world," (Matt. 5:14), why does it seem as though our influence is diminishing in society at large?
We are to walk as children of light (Eph. 5:3; cf. 1 Peter 1:13-16), a holy life full of “goodness, righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9). Our focus is discerning what is acceptable to the Lord (verse 10). It is something only the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit makes possible (Titus 3:3-5; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Yet holy light radiating from our lives brings us face to face with the world and with the practical decisions and concerns of our everyday lives. Our lives manifest purity, modesty, respect, and decency, which affirm the dignity of others and give us a heart for their welfare.
Our biggest challenge is having the courage not only to be different ourselves, but to be a transforming influence to those around us. Not only does light reveal what darkness conceals—whatever it touches can take on the quality of light: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Eph. 5:13).
Those around us can be both exposed and transformed by the moral spiritual quality of our lives. As light exposes and is then accepted, it transforms. As with Jesus, our light pierces darkness and overpowers it (John 1:4-9; cf. Isa. 60:1-5). The darker the darkness, the brighter we glow as light for Jesus and His kingdom of light. This shining forth is not merely doctrinal or theological, but moral—our lives transformed by the mind of Jesus: how we treat others, our attitudes, purity, kindness, respect (Matt. 5:16; 1 John 2:6, 9, 10; cf. 1 John 3:18).
To Glorify God
The story is told about some candles that refuse to be taken from a storage closet to provide light during an electrical storm. They all have excuses why they should not give off light. When the husband tells his wife that the candles won’t work, she explains, “Oh, they’re church candles.”
Such is the tendency to hide our light. But Christ calls us to let the moral quality of our lives shine like a candle on a hill so clearly and radically that others will see God and want to glorify Him (Matt. 5:15, 16). We are invited to be in dynamic connection with Him who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
We are called, not to isolate ourselves from the world, but to live differently from our non-Christian friends and acquaintances. We cannot share their attitudes and behaviors in sexual standards, attitudes toward money, or the way they joke, tell stories, and engage in verbal innuendo. We are different; we are light.
The British novelist and playwright David Lodge was watching one of his own creations, a satirical revue, the evening of November 22, 1963. The theater audience chuckled as an actor in the play showed up for a job interview with a transistor radio clutched to his ear, demonstrating his character’s blasé indifference. The actor then set down the radio and turned to a station, letting its news, music, or commercials play in the background while the play went on. This night, however, a voice came on the radio with a live news bulletin: “Today the American president John F. Kennedy was assassinated . . .”
The audience gasped and the actor immediately switched off the radio, but too late. In one sentence the reality of the outside world had shattered the artificial world of the theater. After that, anything happening onstage seemed superficial and irrelevant.
A single light in darkness is commanding. The greatest power on earth to change others is the influence of personal example—our own holy life glowing in the moral darkness around us.
Leave the light on!
This article was published September 26, 2013.