Knocking Holes in the Darkness
June 19, 2014
The year was 1970, the tail end of the wild period of modern American history. Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the famous Methodist missionary/author/evangelist, was asked to name the number one problem of the church. He replied quickly that the number one problem was irrelevance. He went on to say that 3/4ths of the opposition to the church stems from disappointment. We promise to make men different, but the promise goes largely unfulfilled.
Dr. Jones went on to tell the story of a multimillionaire who said, “If Brother Stanley cannot convert me, I will sue him.” He said it half in jest and half in truth. Dr. Jones explained that the world is saying to us, “If you Christians cannot convert us, we will sue you for breach of promise. You promised this, now fulfill it. Show us that you can and will convert us. There is no hope from any other direction.”
Revival or anarchy!
Forty-four years have passed, and those words still ring true today. A recent Gallup Poll reports that 77% of those surveyed agree that religion is losing its influence in America. George Barna puts it very bluntly:
Let’s cut to the chase. After two decades of studying churches in America, I’m convinced that the typical church as we know it today has a rapidly expiring shelf life. (The Second Coming of the Church, p. 1.)
In 1998 he predicted that within a few years America would either experience a massive spiritual revival or total moral anarchy. Sixteen years later the massive revival seems nowhere in sight but we see moral anarchy on every hand.
How did this happen?
The world has decided to ignore us
Put simply, the church in America has lost its influence. There are many reasons why this is so, but one reason stands out above the rest. The church has lost its influence because Christians have neglected their responsibility to be light in the world. As we have neglected to be what God has called us to be, the world has decided to ignore us.
Looking back to the early days of the Christian movement, G. Campbell Morgan remarked that “the church did the most for the world when the church was the least like the world.” Could this help explain our dire straits today?
When Paul wrote to the young church in Ephesus, he knew they were an island of light in a city filled with darkness. How could that tiny band of believers make a difference in the cosmopolitan metropolis that was home to the world-famous Temple of Artemis? In Ephesians 5:8-14, Paul gives us his answer:
We are no longer free agents
You are the light of God.
Live like it.
Let your light shine.
It will dispel the darkness.
Some people won’t like that.
Shine your light anyway.
Others will join you in the light.
What worked in the first century still works today. In our passage we see three remarkable results when the light of God enters a dark world.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (v. 8).
Here we have a beautiful picture of conversion.
Coming to Christ is like walking from the darkness into a room filled with blazing light. But once you come out of the darkness, you see things you never saw before. When you lived in the darkness, you did whatever you wanted to do. But now in the light, you must put off the deeds of darkness and put on a lifestyle fitting for the children of the light.
Verse 9 spells this out for us: “For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” Goodness touches how we deal with others. Righteousness involves a new commitment to obey God’s commands. Truth demands a deep commitment to live with integrity.
We now have a new goal: “Find out what pleases the Lord” (v. 10).
No longer can we say, “If it feels good, do it.”
No longer can we say, “But everyone else is doing it.”
No longer can we say, “I don’t care what others think.”
If we truly want to please the Lord, we will do it
We are no longer free agents, making up our moral choices as we go along. Christians believe something stupendous that the world does not understand at all. We believe there is a God in heaven who has spoken, that his Word is authoritative, and that he has the absolute right to determine our moral choices, which includes what we say, what we eat and drink, who we have sex with, how we conduct our business affairs, how we spend our money, and all the other choices we make in life.
Let us be frank and say that the world finds this strange, somewhat mysterious, possibly antisocial and borderline dangerous. When it comes to things like who we sleep with, we believe that God has spoken clearly, that fornication is always wrong, that homosexual behavior is always wrong, and that adultery is always wrong. In short we believe something the world rejects, that there is a God in heaven who has spoken and whose words about sexuality should be obeyed.
That means we can’t support gay marriage. In fact, we believe such a thing does not exist in the eyes of God. The government may pass whatever laws it wishes, but no parliament or act of congress or edict from the Supreme Court can overturn what God has decreed.
There is no such thing as gay marriage
I am writing about sex because a) this is a subject we all think about and b) it’s in the news constantly today, but Paul’s focus goes beyond sex to include every area of life. To be a child of light means that you pray every day: “Lord, show me how I can please you today.”
After 45 years as a Christian, I have concluded that nothing else matters as much as this. If we truly want to please the Lord, we will find a way to do it. However imperfectly we live, and no matter how many times we fall short, God will help us if we truly want to please him.
“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” (vv. 11-12).
Some things shouldn’t be mentioned in public.
No doubt Paul has in mind the various rituals associated with the Temple of Artemis (also called Diana) located in Ephesus. Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it drew worshipers and tourists from many distant lands. Temple rituals combined overt idolatry with every sort of sexual excess. When Paul speaks of things done in secret, he means a vile form of evil that goes beyond ordinary acts of rebellion. It describes evil that is gross, unnatural and perverted. Certainly this applied to various acts of sexual immorality associated with the idol worship at the Temple of Artemis.
The light of the gospel exposes evil for what it really is. Let me illustrate. If you are planning to buy an expensive diamond, you will want to view it in the brightest light possible before you make the purchase because light will expose the hidden flaws in the stone. Shadows hide the flaws, but light reveals all of them. Similarly, when the gospel enters a family, the hidden secrets will be revealed. When the gospel invades a community, corruption will come to light.
The world doesn’t want the light, but it desperatley needs it
We must take Paul’s warning seriously. We must not trifle with evil, make jokes about it or laugh it off. Warren Wiersbe has a good word at this point:
Be careful how you deal with the unfruitful works of darkness. The motto today seems to be, “Tell it like it is!” And yet that can be a dangerous policy when it comes to exposing the filthy things of darkness, lest we unconsciously advertise and promote sin.
Paul issues the same warning in a different way in Galatians 6:1, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” In our zeal to help the hurting, we sometimes ignore that last phrase. Satan is tricky. He knows that if he can get one person trapped in sin, he may soon get another and then another. This is why doctors wash their hands so often. Not only must they avoid giving germs to their patients, they must also guard against receiving germs from their patients. In our attempts to help others, we must be careful lest we start making excuses, offering rationalizations, avoiding confrontation, and letting sympathy replace truth.
Verse 13 describes the result of this ministry of reproof: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (v. 13). The God’s Word translation puts it very simply: “Light exposes the true character of everything.” It’s not hard to understand this principle. When a little child cries in a dark room, his mother turns on the light and the tears quickly vanish. The coming of the light shows him there is no reason to be afraid. The monsters of his imagination vanish when she turns on the light. Apply this to the spiritual realm. Sexual sin often seem pleasurable precisely because it is done in secret. But let those emails and text messages be made public, and suddenly the romance fades as light enters the room. A wise counselor often told his clients, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” You can’t get better until you begin to tell the truth to yourself. As long as you live a double life, with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness, you will be forever torn, double-minded and unhealthy because your heart is divided.
“Light exposes the true character of everything.”
We shouldn’t be surprised when some people resent us for shining the light of God’s truth. “Who are you to judge me?” Well, I’m a nobody, I have no standing to judge anyone. But God calls us to shine the light of his truth and let it judge the human heart. Remember that the Word of God is like a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12-13). It cuts through all the nonsense, exposes all the lies, reveals all the deception, and lays bare the evil in every human heart.
But it hurts to be cut with a sword!
No wonder people don’t like strong preaching.
No wonder we get such a strong reaction from the gay rights crowd.
No wonder they label us as reactionary fundamentalists, bigots, hatemongers, and all the rest.
I have said it before and I will say it again. The truth hurts. And it will hurt you before it heals you. This applies to Christians just as much as it applies to anyone else. The same light that exposes the evils of society also exposes our own hypocrisy, our secret sins, our pride, our sinful ambition, our sexual compromise, our love of money, our need for power, our lust for approval, and all the other hidden idols of the heart.
Truth will hurt you before it heals you
The last phrase of verse 13 suggests that light actually has transforming power. J. B. Phillips translates it this way: “It is even possible (after all, it happened to you!) for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light also.” First, light penetrates and scatters the darkness. Then it illuminates the hidden evil. But then the light begins to change the very thing it shines upon into light itself.
Darkness can only produce more darkness.
But light can turn the darkness into light.
When God turns on the light on in someone’s life, the darkness is gone forever. Hank Williams captured this truth in a familiar gospel song:
I wandered so aimless life filled with sin
I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord I saw the light.
I saw the light I saw the light
No more darkness no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light.
“This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (v. 14).
In his long ministry at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, W. A. Criswell preached on this verse a number of times, always calling it something like “the Bible in miniature.” He compared Ephesians 5:14 to John 3:16, saying that both verses contain the essential truth we need to know about salvation. He was fond of pointing out that this verse calls for something impossible when it says, “Rise from the dead.” After all, Paul himself had already stated in Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
So how can a dead man rise from the dead?
Isn’t that like talking to a corpse and commanding it to stand up?
How can a dead man rise from the dead?
What would we think if a man walked into a mortuary and started telling the dead people, “Wake up. You’ve been dead long enough”? Such a man would soon be carted off to a hospital somewhere because we all know that dead people can’t come back to life on their own. Dr. Criswell says,
A man who is dead cannot raise himself. He must be quickened. The life giving power extraneous, outside, must come into him if he is to live. (From the sermon “Awake and Arise”)
When the light of the gospel comes in, it wakes up the spiritually dead and draws them to Jesus.
That’s the new birth.
That’s the life-transforming power of the gospel when Jesus Christ comes into a life.
This passage shows us what happens when the light of God begins to shine in the world.
First, the light shines on us and transforms us from darkness into light. In the process that same light purifies us on the inside so that we seek to please God in everything.
First we must be transformed by the light
Second, the light shining through us chases away the darkness and exposes the evil done under cover of the night. Because men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19), they often fight against the light of God. But when the light does its work thoroughly, it contains within itself a healing power. Because the light comes from God, it can take the darkness and turn it into light. We know this is true because that’s what happened to us.
Third, the light awakens those who are asleep and raises them from the dead. This is why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. This is why he boldly preached in the very heart of the ancient world—in Corinth and Ephesus and Athens and Rome. Paul knew that when the gospel shines on a society, the light will expose some people and make them angry, but that same light will awaken others to their need of Christ.
Light makes some people very angry
Recently on American Family Radio we interviewed Naeem Fazal, a Pakistani Muslim raised in Kuwait, who tells the story of his conversion in Ex-Muslim: How One Daring Prayer to Jesus Changed a Life Forever. Not only did he become a Christian, he now pastors a church in North Carolina. But before his conversion, when he heard that his older brother had become a Christian, he got so angry that he threatened to kill him. That anger turned out to be the first step in the long journey that led him to Jesus. As you witness to your friends, don’t be startled if they get angry with you. Anger means they feel the force of the light of God. Better anger than apathy. Anger at least means they care enough to react to the truth.
Robert Louis Stevenson
When Robert Louis Stevenson was a young child, he was sick much of the time. He couldn’t go out and play like the other children so he spent a lot of time watching at the window. One evening he sat and watched as a man came down the street lighting the gas lamps. His nurse said to him, “What are you doing?” “I’m watching the man knock holes in the darkness,” he replied.
What a beautiful picture.
We are called to knock holes in the darkness in Jesus’ name.
We were made for times like these
I think we are facing a magnificent opportunity. Earlier I spoke of the moral decay going on all around us. Let no one despair. The darker the night, the brighter the light shines. It is precisely when the world is at its worst that the people of God should be at their best.
We were made for times like these.
Let no one be deceived. It will not be easy. The world doesn’t want the light, but it desperately needs it.
We aren’t called to save the world. Only God can do that. But we are called to make a difference. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. What we can do, we ought to do. Let’s go knock some holes in the darkness this week.
Lord Jesus, grant that we would not be even slightly disappointed at the conditions around us. You have made us for times like these. Give us a new vision of the difference we can make in our world. Amen