Throughout Scripture, divine activity, and human response are carefully balanced. The two are never opposed to one another but are always presented as working in conjunction with one another. A classic verse that demonstrates this reality is Philippians 2:12: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.” Here we see both divine initiatives— “it is God who works in you”—and human response— “work out your salvation.” These two realities are not presented as logical contradictions in Scripture the Bible doesn’t treat them that way. Instead, they are always carefully balanced; held in tension by the biblical writers and are both equally presented as true and necessary.
Here, in Ephesians 5:7-9, we find another instance of this philosophical balancing act (as can be seen throughout the book of Ephesians). Paul, after explaining that the wrath of God rests upon those who do not submit to the Lordship of Christ, encourages the church at Ephesus: “Therefore do not become partakers with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (vv. 7-8). Hear the force of Paul’s words: “you were darkness.” Before the members of the church at Ephesus had come to Christ, they weren’t merely in darkness; they were darkness. But notice the change that has taken place in them. “…but now you are light in the Lord.” Those who are members of the domain of darkness or of light actually carry that dominion in their own persons (cf. Colossians 1:13), and their actions will reflect that. But also notice this transformation has taken place “in the Lord.” Ultimately it is Christ who makes the decisive difference in a person’s life. And that’s the divine initiative. “God…made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
But now see the human response. Those who were once darkness but are now light in the Lord are to “walk as children of the light” (v. 8b). Their behavior must conform to their new identity. Those who call Jesus Lord must conform their lives to be subject to His will (Luke 6:46), and a failure to do so is actually an indication that true repentance and conversion has not taken place. Christ has initiated an extreme transformation in those who are His; He has changed their very nature most radically. So radical that Paul contrasts the two natures as having such a stark difference as darkness and light. Darkness and light cannot mix. Where one exists, it is impossible for the other to be present. So it must be in the lives of the children of the God who dwells in light unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16).
Paul mentions three characteristics of this kind of new life in the Lord: “for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (v. 9). Goodness, righteousness, and truth. These three are the “fruit” of the light that believers carry. Every step we take and every action we engage in should be with the intention of pursuing and producing goodness, righteousness, and truth.
So the tension is here presented: Christ has made us children of light, and therefore, we are to walk in that identity by producing the fruits of that light: goodness, righteousness, and truth. But where are these three to be found? The answer is in the Triune God alone.
God alone is good (Mark 10:18), and we will find nothing to inspire us to this end within ourselves or the world (Romans 3:10-12). God alone is righteous (Psalm 119:142), and we cannot muster this up within ourselves. Our only hope is to be infused with an alien righteousness that is not our own, but that of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since God’s very nature is one of truth (Titus 1:2), which He has given us access to in Jesus (John 14:6) and His Word (John 17:17). So, the source of all goodness, righteousness, and truth is God. Therefore, the way in which the children of the light walk is one of humble pursuit of God, who is the giver of all these things.
Saint Augustine once prayed “Lord, command what you will, and give what you command.” After reading these words of Paul, is there any other prayer more fitting than this? God initiates a change in us that transforms us from beings of darkness to children of light. Then God commands us to walk in goodness, righteousness, and truth, but yet it’s only from Him alone that we can receive such things. Thus, our pursuit, if we are to fulfill our purpose and live up to our God-given identity is the singular pursuit of Christ. In Him, we have access to all the riches that afford us the privilege of producing these qualities, all the grace that enables us to desire and to do what’s necessary to grow them, and all the promises of God that encourage us to continue steadfastly in this endeavor. Child of the Light, fight for this. Give yourself to this. Relentlessly pursue Christ and all that He has for you. You do not have three goals: goodness, righteousness, and truth. No, you have one: the God-Man Jesus Christ, the Son of God who embodies everything we should be and imparts to us all we need to become it.
His divine initiative has set you on the path that leads directly to Him, and you are responsible to walk it, but along the way, you’ll find the sustenance your soul needs to keep your pace by setting your sights upon Christ and not looking back. All is of grace. We are responsible. God is the divine initiator. Man is the responsible actor. Let’s not diminish either one of these biblical truths, but hold both of them tightly and closely, believing that as we work, so does He.
1 John 1:5-7, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”