Light and dark
For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! | Ephesians 5:8 (NLT)
Pardon the inadvertent insult, but it strikes me that we’re a little like elephants. In captivity, elephants are initially heavily chained. Despite all of their straining and their considerable strength, they can’t free themselves. They’re then beaten and whipped. The fight drains from them and they surrender, a broken animal. At that stage, the weighty chain and shackle can be replaced by a thin strand of material. A strand so flimsy that the elephant could easily walk off, but it doesn’t because it’s been conditioned through the beating to believe it cannot.
Granted, the analogy is flawed, as in the Gospel the bondage we’re in is not one form replaced by another lesser system, we’re free! However, the elephant shows us the possibility of being able to be free but living a life more familiar, more trapped than the one that could await us.
In Ephesians, where we find today’s passage, Paul structures his letter very deliberately. It’s a short book – just six chapters. The first three of which he uses to remind believers what God, in Christ, has achieved for us. His choice of us, the freedom that was purchased through the cross; the reality of sins forgiven, etc (it’s well worth sitting with a brew and reading in one sitting). The latter part of his letter he gives to reminding what the Ephesians ought to do in light of what he’s just said.
In light of the life-transforming news of Jesus… live differently.
Many will know these words well, but I wonder to what extent we live them. I suspect, like the elephants who don't pursue a free life, there’s freedom and Christlikeness available to us in the Gospel which we haven’t yet realised. The very fact that Paul needed to write what he did to the Ephesians suggests that if as you read this your life doesn’t reflect the radical difference the Gospel makes, then you may not be alone.
Paul’s encouragement in today’s passage is to stop the behaviours and the way of thinking that are associated with the old life – darkness – and instead live as recipients and ‘shiners’ of light. When you look at it on paper, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? A path of sin which leads to guilt and condemnation or a life of freedom that leads to unshakeable joy and forgiveness. Yet the human heart is twisted and deceitful. It tricks us and draws us time and again back to ways we’ve been freed from. It offers much, but that it can’t deliver. And like beaten elephants, we surrender and stay stuck.
C. S. Lewis said it like this:
“Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Sound familiar? It’s more common than you’d think.
What then is the answer? It’s chapters 1-3. It’s the gospel. It’s the good news of freedom in Christ, extravagant grace lavished on the undeserving, forgiveness for the vilest offender. The invitation into an ongoing renovation project on your heart and life.
The gospel is a little like a Possession Order issued by a Court for a house where squatters reside. Ownership is changed, but there remain undesirable residents to be dealt with. And so the Holy Spirit comes, like a bailiff, to evict the squatters by reminding them of the Possession Order. When the squatters holler in protest and seek to draw us onto their side – ‘we’ve lived here for so long; where else will we go?’, we look back to the Possession Order; we return to the gospel and we trust it as being as sufficient for our salvation today as it was the hour we first believed.
Light has broken into the darkness of our existence. The dark cannot withstand it. Live, then as children of light. Put the old ways down; walk in the light… and let your light shine before others so they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.