The Light Defines UsErwin W. Lutzer | December 27, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
If you’ve entered the light of Christ, it’s time to let your light shine in this dark world.
Let’s walk in the light, being people of understanding and knowledge.
Let’s live wisely, bearing fruit and avoiding the deeds of darkness.
Since we have the Light in Jesus Christ, we can seize our opportunities and reflect Him to everyone we meet.
I think one of the greatest gifts to God’s church is Christmas Carols like the one we have just sung by Phillips Brooks – O Little Town of Bethlehem. And no matter where you are in the world, if you’ve ever been to Bethlehem, somehow it stays with you, that Jesus was born there. How thankful we are for music during this marvelous Christmas season.
Let me say that this happens to be the fourth and the last in a series of messages titled The Light Has Come.
Back in 1993 there was a man by the name of Jennings Osborn, who was asked by the Arkansas Supreme Court to cut down on the number of lights that he had on his property, and told that he would have to cut down on the number of days that the light shone. You might think to yourself that that’s another invasion of privacy that the courts today take, but you need context.
Jennings Osborn had a great estate, and he decided to make a huge Christmas event by all of the lights that he had on his property. He had Santa Clause – 18 feet high, and some deer that were there that were proportionate. When the neighbors began to complain because of all of the traffic, he decided to up the ante, and he ended up with 3,200,000 lights on his property, so the neighbors filed a lawsuit. They said that they couldn’t go downtown; no ambulance could possibly get through the traffic because tens of thousands of people came to look at this spectacular display.
It is interesting that Christmas has always been associated with light, and in this series we have talked about the motif of Scripture between light and darkness. Colossians 1:13 says: “You’ve been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His blessed Son.” This transformation, often referred to as conversion, is instantaneous. It’s not something that just happens to you because you are born in a Christian home, or you attend church, or you sing Christmas carols. It is instantaneous and it is also permanent. Once you are in the kingdom of light, you are in the kingdom of light. And after that it is our responsibility to share light, and that actually is the essence of my sermon today. Let me give you the bottom line. What I want to accomplish is to motivate you to leave the darkness, come into the light, and then let your light shine in the darkest of places. That’s where we are!
I’m going to ask you today to turn to Ephesians 4 and 5, and I need to let you know ahead of time that I’m going to be going back to chapter 4 and then to chapter 5, and the reason is because the theme of light and darkness occurs in both chapters. And if you have your Bibles, we’re going to begin with chapter 5, and then we are going to look briefly at chapter 4, and then we’ll come back to chapter 5. It’s very important that you look at the text because what we’re going to be doing is unpacking some of the verses here, not only that we might understand their relevance, but also there are huge implications for us as followers.
You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul says (And I’m just beginning here really. A whole series of messages could be preached on these texts.) in chapter 5, verse 5: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Now let’s remember that this would have been written to the people at Ephesus. Some of us were in Ephesus this past fall, and what we saw were not only the ruins of this huge city (commercial city) but we went to the ancient Temple of Diana, which is a couple kilometers outside of Ephesus. This ancient temple was a place where there were sexual orgies, where there was immorality, and all of those things that are associated with pagan religion. But also it was like a bank. People came there to do commerce, so what we find here in the text is that there were plenty of people there in Ephesus who would fit into the category of immorality and covetousness, which we normally don’t think is that great a sin. Paul puts it in the very same list as other sexual sins.
And they thought to themselves that it would not influence whether or not they would inherit the Kingdom of God. No wonder Paul says in verse 6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” What are empty words? They are words that are used by people to justify their immoral lifestyle and they think that they’ve actually even convinced God that it’s okay. Our nation is awash today with empty words. You find them all over.
And then the Apostle Paul says that we should walk. He says, and I’m skipping here to verse 7: “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Isn’t it interesting that Isaiah, the prophet, said, “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light?” Jesus talks about those who follow and walk in darkness. Paul goes even further now and says that those people who have not been translated into the kingdom of light are darkness. But he also says we are light.
So what I’d like to do in the next few moments, and thank you for your permission, though I’d do it without your permission as well, is I would like you to think with me what it means to walk in the light in such a way that we impact our culture, because our culture is much like that of Ephesus. So stay with me on this because we are living at a critical time in history, and God knows this nation, our families and our communities need light.
First of all, we walk in the light because of what we know. Now for this I’m going to go back to chapter 4. I warned you we’re going to go back and forth a little bit. Chapter 4, and I’m in verses 17-19: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
What Paul is saying here is that when you come to the light, you then do no longer need to be darkened in your understanding. What he’s saying is that we now recognize darkness when we see it. You know there is a story (it’s a true story) that I read many years ago about some campers who were walking in complete darkness. And they decided to set up their tent. They had some flashlights and they put up the tent for the night. In the morning they realized that they had stopped about 50 feet, or whatever it was, from a huge cliff. If they had kept walking in the darkness, they’d have gone over. And you see, because the light now came, they could know where all of the cliffs were. They could see the danger zones. And when the light comes, people begin to see things differently.
Let me give you an example, which I want to put into this to illustrate it. Let’s take even the issue of pro-life versus pro-choice. There have been people who have given their testimonies (and I’ve heard it over and over again), who at one time were very strongly pro-choice. What they did is they took the fetus and they called it a product of conception so that they could justify it. And then after they came to the light, after they came to Christ, they became pro-life. And the reason is not because of some new arguments. It’s not as if, you know, they looked at the thing and now suddenly some new scientific data came. No, they began to see things differently. Light does that.
You think, for example, of other instances in our society, and, of course, I say to those of you who are women who have had an abortion, you know that we offer to you through Jesus the forgiveness and the cleansing of God. I only use that illustration to help you to understand how light causes us suddenly to see the danger zones, and we know where we are in our lives and in our culture.
You think, for example, of people who say today… And Rebecca told me just this past week about a distant relative, perhaps 35 years old, who said, “I’m an atheist.” Now he was brought up in a Christian home, a Christian church, but he’s an atheist today. Why? It’s because some new information has come that has convinced him. I don’t think so. Now there are those who have intellectual problems with the existence of God, but those can be easily overcome in moments of honesty. The real issue is not the matter of evidence. Look at what the text says. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them (Here we have it now.) due to their hardness of heart.” That’s really the issue.
And how do we get a hard heart? We get a hard heart when we are cynical. We believe that life is unfair. We believe that God hasn’t helped us. We’ve been in situations where we thought to ourselves that surely a good God should deliver us, and He’s not done that, and so we develop this cynicism.
And then the other thing that causes atheism is unresolved guilt. The only way you can really live with yourself is to say that God doesn’t exist and to do away with this nagging conscience. Of course it doesn’t work well. But the first thing that we must realize is that when we walk in the light, we are walking with a sense of knowledge and understanding. You say, “Well, what about the aufklarung?” How do you like that for a word that just came to mind? It’s the German word for enlightenment. It’s the clearing up. You know the enlightenment in France and Germany was of some benefit – definitely. It had its positive impact because now people had freedom of religion. But what the enlightenment could not do… It gave Europe freedom of religion, but it could not give Europe wisdom. It could not enable people now to see into at least a glimpse of eternity because they had the Scriptures.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this really sounds as if you Christians think that you are just so superior because you are looking at things from a standpoint of light, and everybody else is in darkness.” I hope I haven’t given that impression for this reason. Anyone who speaks from a standpoint of superiority because he or she is a Christian doesn’t understand the implications or the depth of Christianity. We have no more reason to thank ourselves because we are in the light than those campers had to take credit for the sunrise. It is all because it is a gift of God that is available also to you. The way is narrow, but the gift is available - translation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
So one of the ways that we are in the light is because of what we know. A second way is because of the way we live. Now our finger has to be in the text here. You need to be able to see this for yourself. It says in verse 7… Now I’m back in chapter 5, and we’re going to stay in chapter 5, so you can look at that. Ephesians 5:7: “Therefore do not become partners with them (He’s talking about going back to the darkness, and Christians can do that. They can leave the light and go back into darkness, at least for a time.), 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.”
Well, I’ll read the next two verses. “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”
Hang on to these verses for just a moment as we look at them much more deeply. First of all, notice the contrast. If you are in the light, you have fruit – goodness and truth. Fruit does not grow in the dark. He says the works of darkness are unfruitful. You know that apart from photosynthesis, apart from the light of the sun, there can be no fruit at all. You only have darkness.
Now people who walk in darkness oftentimes do good things. We recognize that because of the commonality of our human natures, but these good deeds, because they are not offered up to God through Christ, are something like hanging ornaments onto a tree. You hang this ornament, and you hang that ornament, and it makes the tree look better, but there’s nothing organic. There’s nothing that arises from a new nature. That can only happen to believers.
And I say to you today as a believer; if you are tempted to go back into darkness, please remember that in darkness there is no fruit. There’s nothing but more darkness if you go back into darkness. That’s why Paul warns about that.
So, what we must do is to realize that oftentimes in the world in the darkness people are motivated to do good, first of all to avoid shame, which Paul talks about here, and to receive honor. And as a result of that they oftentimes do what they sometimes do very publicly because honor is important.
Now notice that Paul says: “Discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” That’s the best single statement of Christian ethics that I know. What you are interested in doing is pleasing the Lord, so you please the Lord by the television programs that you watch, by the movies that you watch, by the associations that you have, by the connections that you make. In the back of your mind, if you are walking in the light, always is this question: Is the Lord pleased? You are to walk that way.
Now, in addition to how we live, let me say also that we are to expose the darkness. You’ll notice it says here, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Now why should we expose darkness? He says it’s a shame what they do in secret. Why would we expose them? Is it just to wag our finger and say, “Look at this; you’re doing this? We want to bring some shame into your life.” No. Sometimes the church of Jesus Christ has acted that way and has turned many people away from the church.
The purpose of exposing the darkness is always to replace it with light. That’s what Paul says here. “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” That’s why our exposure of the darkness must always be done, not with a view of condemnation, but rather helping people to see that there is a better way. And the better way is the light, the light that Jesus Christ brings to us.
So how do we become lights in the midst of our darkness – our dark society? First of all, it is as a result of our own understanding. It’s by what we know. We see darkness; we recognize it because for us the Son – S-O-N – has arisen.
The second thing we do is by the way in which we live, and also third, and related to living, is by what we say. And here, I guess, I will go back to chapter 4 when the Apostle Paul says in verse 29 of chapter 4: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (by what you say and by what you do).” That’s the next verse.
So what we need to do is to make sure that in our testimony, we’re not laughing at the same degrading jokes that may be told, or stories that may be told. We’re not participating in all of the criticism and the undercutting that oftentimes is exposed or exists in darkness. Unfortunately it sometimes also exists among people of light. But we don’t do that. We watch it. And it’s not as if we are there to condemn people, and drive them away, but to spend time with them individually, helping them understand where we are coming from, and why we think that Jesus is the most wonderful gift that God could ever give this world. (applause) And we do it with a sense of humility. And we ask the question, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” And we help them to understand…
Now there are some people who say, “Well, you know, I just live the life. I never say anything.” Oh, you know what that means. People say, “Hey, he’s a nice guy,” or “She’s a wonderful woman.” That’s great. That’s half the story. If you are flying on a plane, that’s one wing, but it’s not going to get you to the airport. You need another wing, because unless you explain to them that it’s all about Jesus, what do they know? What explanation do they have for your life or mine?
And then Paul goes on to say here (and I know that Tim would like this immensely) in chapter 5, verse 17: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Here’s the part I was thinking about when I was thinking about Tim.), addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks.” That’s the expression that should be on our minds and our hearts. We should be thankful people, different people, because, after all, we have been brought to the light. What a privilege.
What I’d like to do is to help you to understand some transforming truths as a result of this brief exposition today. First of all, remember that we are called to reflect the light. Did you know that this past Christmas was the first time in I don’t know how many years that there was a full moon on Christmas Day, and the next time is going to be 19 years from now. Many of us probably will not see it. We may be looking at life from a very different vantage point in 19 years. But does the moon ever wake up sometimes and say to itself, “You know, I just don’t know how I’m going to shine tonight?” Does it say, “I just don’t feel like it? You know, I’m dark and there’s really no life on me to speak about, and how am I going to do this?” No, the moon just needs to be the moon. It needs to reflect the light of the sun. That’s what it is.
And there are moments when you and I may not feel as if we have the strength and the wisdom to know how to do it, but we cast ourselves on God, and we say, “Lord Jesus, you are the light. I have received you as the light, and I want to do a good job of reflecting you to a world that is very deceived and very confused.” It’s all about Jesus. Jesus said these words in the Sermon on the Mount: “You, and you alone, are the light of the world.” And then He said, “Let your light shine in such a way that people will see your good works and glorify God who is in heaven,” that the light that we have may impact the culture and our neighbors and our families.
You know, I began this message by talking about Jennings Osborn who had 3.2 million lights in his yard back in 1993. And the court in Arkansas said, “You have to cut back just a little bit, and maybe not have those lights as many days.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we here as a church so let our lights shine that cars might line up to see what in the world is happening there, because after all, when they come to this church they should say (and I pray for this often for Moody Church), “Surely God is in this place,” because our light should shine. And of course, during the week in banks and hospitals and factories and stores, we have the opportunity individually to shine our lights so that people wonder who we are and begin to ask us questions that we can answer. And we can point them to the light of the world, which is Jesus Christ.
So we are called, my friends. And you know I marvel at this. Jesus didn’t say, “Now, you’ll be the light of the world after you get mature in Jesus, after you get it all together.” No, He said, “You are the light of the world,” period. And then He went on to talk about the implications. Maybe a light that is hidden? He talked about that too. Bad idea! A light that the flame flickers? But you and I are the light. And I hope that you understand, therefore, your importance within the framework of God, and His purposes in this world, and the witness to the city and to our families, because we are light, hopefully shining brightly.
Second, and I think that this is important too; darkness does not just bring obstacles. Darkness also represents opportunities. I could go back here in verse 15 of chapter 5: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Is there anyone here today who says, “I don’t believe that the days are very evil?” Are you kidding? Almost everything that has been nailed down is being ripped up, and we see this on so many different levels. We have the challenge of technology, which is distracting our young people and distracting adults. We have challenges politically. We have challenges morally. We’ve got these huge challenges. The days are evil. Paul didn’t say, “Therefore, try to get out of them, and hide in a cave somewhere, and hope that you can escape the evil days.” No, right where you are, right where God has planted you, you represent Him in an evil time. You be there, and you have your light.
I know I’ve talked to people and I sympathize with them. I’ve never been in a situation like some people are. They’ve said, “In the office where I work (or the place that I work) it is so dark. There is so much that is said that is degrading that I just receive no affirmation, and it’s difficult.” But Jesus has you there because He says, “You are the light of the world.” You know, you might not be a very good light, but you are probably the best light these people will ever meet. Hang in! Represent Jesus. Make sure that you have not gone back into the darkness. And if you go back into the darkness, you confess your sins and you begin walking in the light, and praying and seeking God, and you might be surprised about the impact that you have.
And even if you don’t always see it… I remember in college… I was attending a university in Canada, and I witnessed to this guy so many times. I explained the Gospel. We became good friends. He never believed, to my knowledge, but long ago I’ve learned that if you can take a person from negative zero against Christ to even eight or five, let someone else do the harvesting. You never know what seeds you are planting that will eventually bear fruit.
And, of course, as we noticed, in the light you bear fruit. In the darkness you can’t. That’s why in Galatians Paul says: “The works of the flesh are this.” And then he lists the works. The fruit of the Spirit, letting the nature of Jesus be revealed through us – that fruit is honoring to God and impacts it. And what is it? Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance! It all has to be grown from within because of the light.
Let me say also that you are today either in the light or in the darkness. You are either in the realm of darkness or the realm of light – either one! You know (the Apostle Paul, and John as well), as you think about this darkness and light struggle in the New Testament, there is no third category. You are one or the other.
And now Paul sort of breaks in and says (I’m in verse 14): “For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” He’s now, I think, talking to those who are unbelievers. I mean, you know, he’s talking to those who are in darkness as if they are sleeping.
Do you realize the number of people whose lives are really based on dreams? There’s no reality – just dreams, because they are sleepwalking. I don’t know why kids do this. I did it when I was maybe eight or nine years old. I actually did sleepwalk once in a while. They told me I went into the bedroom where my two sisters were sleeping, and I looked outside the window and began to make comments. And I was totally asleep. What woke me up was tripping against some furniture, and that, sometimes, is what is needed for people to suddenly wake up and say, “Lord, I am yours.”
Awake you who sleep, and Christ will give you His light. He will shine upon you, and it’s at that moment when we receive Christ as Savior by faith, and not take for granted that we are Christians (or that we are in the light, but we receive Him by faith), that Christ shines upon us, and we become reflectors of His gracious light. “Let your light shine,” said Jesus, and don’t hide it under a bushel. Don’t be silent, because you know something that other people need to hear, and they need a humble witness.
Many of you perhaps have heard of Paschal. Paschal actually was a great French philosopher. He was a well-known mathematician, and Paschal was someone who made the wager. That’s what he’s really famous for in philosophy, namely that if you believe in God and you trust in Christ and it turns out to be wrong, you haven’t lost anything. But think of what will happen if you don’t do that and what the consequences would be. So let’s make a wager. It’s the best bet to trust Jesus as Savior. I think there is some truth to that. It’s been debated throughout the centuries, but he was converted at a moment of time, and he gives us the date. It’s November 23, 1654.
You know, I’ve read some of Paschal, and I am just amazed at his understanding of human nature. It just has blown me away about the way in which we as humans operate. But he says this. This is his testimony: “Fire! God of Abraham, God is Isaac, God of Jacob! Not the God of the philosophers and scholars! Certitude, feeling, joy, peace! He is to be found only in the Gospel. Total submission to Jesus Christ! Eternal joy for a day’s training on earth!”
I’ll tell you… Do you know where they found that testimony? He had sewed it into his coat, and he kept it there. He wore his testimony very close to his heart, and it shows how much it meant to him. And only when he died did a servant, as his coat was taken off, find his testimony of his conversion.
Do you know the date in which you saw the light and believed? Jesus said, “Come unto Me. I am the light of the world. He who shall follow me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” And then once you receive the light of life, it is your privilege, and mine, to shed that light wherever God has put us, because at the end, as Paschal said, it’s only one day training. That’s how short life is for an eternity with God.
I’m going to pray now, and when I do, if you have never received Christ as Savior, you can pray where you are. You can even do it as you are listening on the radio, or on the Internet. You can trust Him as you come into the light of the Gospel and the good news. It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about us.
Father, I pray in Jesus’ name that at this moment there may be people convicted of their sin, and they say, “I leave the darkness and I receive the light.” I thank You that Jesus died on the cross, that He came to reconcile us to God, so that we could call God Father, and I receive Jesus as mine right now.” Cause them to believe. Help them, Father, to take the words of Scripture, “Awake, you who are asleep. Rise. Christ will give you light,” we pray.
And now, if you have done that, and now I’m speaking to the congregation, but if you have done that, would you tell us about it later? You come and shake our hand maybe in the Visitor’s Center or share it with some other members of the pastoral staff that you have come to saving faith in Christ. We’re here to help you on your spiritual journey.
Lord Jesus, thank You for what You have done today in the lives of all who have heard, we pray in Your name, Amen.