Ephesians 5:11-14, “11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 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.”
Continuing his exposition of our need to walk in the light of Christ and please God, Paul in Ephesians 5:11-14 explains that living apart from the darkness does not mean withdrawing entirely from the world. Instead, walking as children of the light means not engaging in the sins of the unbelieving culture even as we love the sinners around us (Eph. 5:11). When it comes to interacting with the world, we are not forbidden from making friends with those who are still enslaved to sin; instead, we are forbidden from acting in ways that displease God.
Paul helpfully explains that we are not to take merely a defensive stance against dark deeds and stay away from them. Our approach must be offensive — we are to “expose” unfruitful works of darkness. The interplay in the immediate context between light and darkness helps us understand how this exposure happens (Ephesians 5:7-14). That which is hidden in the darkness can be revealed only when light shines on it, and by walking in Christ, we shine the light of holiness on the dark recesses of this world. Our efforts to live sanctified lives stand in stark contrast to the evil of our fallen culture, thereby exposing sinners for who they truly are and unveiling what they truly deserve — the wrath of God. Our preaching of the gospel goes hand in hand with such living so that those whose deeds are exposed might know that they will escape the darkness if they come to Jesus.
Only two responses can follow such exposure. Many will hate the light and those whose lives provide the illumination, and they will try to stamp out the light and silence the church (John 3:19–20; Acts 14:8–23; 19:21–41). Others will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and see the darkness of their deeds. They will turn from their sin to Christ and thereby begin to glorify the Lord (Matt. 5:14–16).
The light of God that shines through us both illumines and transforms, exposes, and cleanses. Those whom the light redeems become visible and that which is visible is light (Eph. 5:13–14). In other words, formerly dark individuals are cleansed and become lights through whom our Savior shines brightly. This is what happened at our conversion, and we continue to become ever brighter lights as we, through confession and repentance, expose our sin to God and flee from it.
Matthew Henry comments, “We must witness against the sins of others, and endeavor to convince them of their sinfulness in our words, but especially by the holiness of our lives.” Our holy living has consequences not only for our own sanctification but also for the eternal good of others. As we seek to please God, humbly admitting how we fall short of His standards, we provide a beacon of hope to those trapped in the darkness of sin.