The Final Call to Purity
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 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. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Message begins at approx. the 34 min mark.
This morning I want to start by doing something different. I’d like to begin by reading a short article that was written by Michael Kruger. It is entitled, “One Trait that Set Apart the Earliest Christians.”
“In the first century, while Christianity was still in its infancy, the Greco-Roman world paid little attention. For the most part, the early Christian movement was seen as something still underneath the Jewish umbrella.
“But in the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice. And it didn’t like what it saw. Christians were seen as strange and superstitious—a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of decent society. Christians were, well, different.
“So what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture? One distinctive trait was that Christians would not pay homage to the other “gods…”
“But there was a second trait that separated Christians from the pagan culture: their sexual ethic. While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because they refused to engage in these practices.
“For instance, Tertullian went to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out that Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need. But then he said, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why did he say this? Because, in the Greco-Roman world, people sometimes shared their spouses with each other.
“In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author went out of his way to declare that Christians are normal in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society. However, he then said, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7). Again, this trait made Christians different.
“We see this distinction play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides. Aristides defended the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union.”
“A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix. In his defense to Octavius, he contrasted the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians: [Long quote having to do with the prevalence of incest in the ancient culture. Incest was practiced by their gods and by the ancient peoples.]
“This sampling of texts from the second century demonstrates that one of the main ways that Christians stood out from their surrounding culture was their distinctive sexual behavior. Of course, this doesn’t mean Christians were perfect in this regard. No doubt, many Christians committed sexual sins. But Christianity as a whole was committed to the sexual ethic laid out in Scripture–and the world took notice.”
You can no doubt see from Kruger’s words that the what we’ve been studying in the Epistle to the Ephesians had a significant impact on the ancient world. And there’s no doubt that we are living in a time where the same sort of battle is taking place. We have the opportunity to stand out just as much from our culture that is mired in sexual sin.
And as we come to our text today, we are called once again to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” Paul’s words are becoming more generalized. There’s a sense in which these words can be a general call to a biblical way life; one that is distinct from the wicked lifestyles of the world around us. But we remember that the context we’ve been looking at has to do with our sexual purity. The unfruitful deeds of darkness are primarily the sexual sins that are promoted and practiced by the world.
So this passage is yet another call to sexual purity. It is a call to be like that early church that stood out from its culture. It is a call to each of us to practice
And that’s what we want to focus on today. And the first thing we want to note in regard to this purity is its priority.
I. Priority of Purity [11a]
Look at the first part of verse 11. Paul says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” As I mentioned, this is talking about the wicked sexual practices of the world. And Paul says says we should take no part in these things. We should steer clear of them and make sure that we avoid them.
What I want you to understand is that this is now the third time Paul has told us that we must not be participating in these kinds of behaviors.
Paul began in verse 3by listing all the different sins which violate God’s design for sexuality. He said that there should not be any sexual immorality, no impurity/uncleanness, no covetousness, no crude joking or foolish talk. He said that these things shouldn’t even be named among you. There shouldn’t be a hint of them within your ranks as a church body.
Then in verse 7 he said we should not “become partners with them.” By that he meant that we should not to join with them in these practices. We are not to partner with them in that we tolerate them or engage in them.
Then we come to verse 11 and he says it again: You are not to take any part in these dark, unfruitful works.
One might ask, why does Paul repeat himself? Or you might ask why do I feel the need to point this out again? It is because these are the issues of our day. And it is important that we have it clear in our minds what God requires in this realm. This is a good reminder that sexual purity is a priority with God. And it needs to be a priority in our own lives.
We’ve said through these last couple of weeks that God requires chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage. Let me ask you, are you making that a priority? Are you seeking to live within those boundaries?
We have talked a couple of times about where our culture is. We’ve noted that it is not by any means innocent. There are pressures that our cultures is putting upon us to compromise and give in. But we need to think about ourselves too. Our culture cannot do anything if we are committed to doing what is right in God’s eyes.
We are living in a world where there’s a lot of temptation. There are lots of opportunities for sexual sin. A lot of those temptations are right here at our fingertips. It has a lot to do with our cell phones and the pictures we are looking at, the websites that we are visiting, and the relationships we are developing - and those might not be lawful relationships.
And recognize it is not the phone. The phone is just a tool. The real issue is the heart. I’ve done a lot of counseling with people along these lines and the phone is a real issue. And its not the phone’s fault. It is a problem because one’s priorities are not set right.
I heard just this week that Michigan State is suspending football coach Mel Tucker because of some inappropriate conversations he had with a lady over the phone. His speech was not pure. While he did not have a physical relationship, he was not demonstrating fidelity to his wife because he was having inappropriate phone calls with another woman. Tucker was in the third year of a $95 million contract. So he stands to loose around 80 million dollars if his contract is terminated. He is about to see a lucrative career go down the drain because he failed to put a priority on his purity.
So what do you do? Do you toss out the phone? In some cases, yes. If you can’t get rid of the phone, you better have accountability. You’ll need to take steps to not take part in thes unfruitful works.
It may mean that you need to talk to someone too. You may need to talk to your parents. You may need to talk to one of the leaders in our church. You may need to say, “I need some help in this area. I’ve been in sin. And I recognize that I need to get right with God in this area. I have been taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness. And I need to stop.” In other words, you may need to confess that you’ve not had the right priorities and begin to make some changes in those area.
That’s what God wants. That’s what he’s calling you to. God wants to save you from these sins and the glorious thing is is that he can. He will. There’s grace to renew and deliver you from these unfruitful deeds of darkness.
The important thing is that your priorities be in line with God’s priorities. And we see from what Paul says here -- and from the repetition he uses -- that your purity needs to be a priority.
If that’s to be our priority, what is to be our preoccupation? That’s what Paul gets at in the next portion of our text.
II. Preoccupation of Purity [11c-13]
At the end of verse 11 Paul says that we are to expose these wicked deeds of darkness. Instead of taking part in them we should show them to be the vile things that they are. As Paul says in the next verse. It is shameful to even speak of the things that they do in secret.
As you can imagine, these things are done in secret (they are behind closed doors and not done in public places) because they are quite vile. And Paul says that our job is to pull the cover off of it, so to speak. It is to be brought to light and show to be the wicked thing that it is.
Now the word expose here has an interesting meaning. Those of you who have the KJV will have the word reprove. It can also mean to convict, to correct, to chide, or to reprehend severely. Paul says that we should be bold enough to confront these evils and make sure people know that it is not acceptable. Drag queen story hour is not normal. Its reprehensible.
That’s exactly what Paul is talking about. The word expose or reprove is the same word that is used in the book of John. When Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, he says that the Spirit will convict the world of sin, judgment and righteousness. That word convict is the same word that is used here.
John Calvin says that the word means to ‘drag out into the light.’ I don’t think that is the exact meaning, but it is a good metaphorical rendering.
One way we will pursue this is by our righteousness and purity of life. You may have experienced this. There are people who feel shame for their sins because they see the purity of your life. They hear how you talk and they see how you live. That makes them realize that their particular way of talking or acting is not right.
I’ve mentioned before how this happens for me. Sometimes I will meet someone or be introduced to a group of people. And perhaps some of them will be speaking with foul language or using crude words. Then they will ask what I do for a living. When I say that I am a pastor, they will immediately begin to apologize for the way they had been talking.
What happens there? That person comes to be convicted. Their misdeeds have been dragged out into the light and its wickedness has been exposed. And they feel a sense of shame for it. They didn’t feel that shame a minute ago. They were happy to curse and be lewd. But once they came face to face with the light, they sensed the awfulness of their behavior.
Alexander MacLaren has said, “Christians should be, as it were, the incarnate conscience of a community.”
Now, let me just point out that this is not the mainstream way of thinking in evangelicalism today. We are often told that we should not be too forward with our views and with our criticisms. There are many Christians who say that we need to be winsome and make sure that we do not make the unbelievers around us feel ostracized. It is not right, so they claim, to make unbelievers feel bad.
Instead, they say we should try to accommodate them and make them feel as comfortable as possible around us. That way, it is supposed, we’ll become more attractive. People will be drawn to Christ and be more open to the gospel because they have had opportunity to see how appealing the Lord really is.
And this was a core tenet of the seeker sensitive movement years ago. Let’s make sure that our services do not mention sin or come down too strongly on the law of God. If we do that, we might turn people off and they will never come to know the Lord.
That attitude is directly opposed to what is said right here in Ephesians 5. Paul does not want us to pursue the kind of life that unoffensive to the world. Paul says that you should be living and speaking in such a way that they do have a sense of shame. They should feel awkward when you are around them. That’s because light should be beaming down.
That leads us then to our third point. We’ve talked about the priority of purity and its preoccupation. Note lastly the prospects of purity.
III. Prospects of Purity 
Verse 14 might seem like an odd one. One reason is because it starts out saying, “Therefore it is written,” but there is no Scripture in the OT that has that quotation.
But it’s also kind of odd because it sounds like some sort of Tolkien novel. It says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” You get the image of some sort of mythological giant waking up and rising out of a graveyard.
Well, what does this cryptic verse mean? Let me summarize it by saying that Paul is talking about becoming a Christian. It is a way of referring to someone’s conversion.
When someone is converted, they are awakened from the deadness of their sin. They rise from the dead. Christ shines upon them in that he gives them knowledge; knowledge that leads to life.
And you see what Paul is driving at. He’s showing what may possibly be the result of your pointing out the evil that people do. Why is it that you need to expose the deeds of darkness? It is so that they will recognize the wrong they have done, see how they have offended God, and be in a position where they can be converted. They cannot come to a saving knowledge of Christ unless they understand what they are being saved from.
To put it another way, once people grasp the bad news, then they may avail themselves to the good news.
Christianity, you understand, deals with guilt. One of the corruptions that we are seeing in our world today lies right here. Christianity is no longer thought of in terms of guilt and pardon for sin. It is typically thought of as therapy.
What do I mean by that? What I mean is that Christianity is frequently thought of as help for hardship. Jesus is a drug that will help you cope with adversity. It’ll go like this: Life is hard. There are a lot of difficulties that you have to deal with. Sometimes you don’t feel like you are going to make it. You don’t know how you will get by. But this is the good news. Jesus can help you. What you need is the power of God. You’ll be better if you have Jesus in your life because you’ll have him upholding you and he will get you through. When your life is drained, he will be your pick me up.
It’s no different than how we think about medicine. I’m not feeling well. So what do I do? I take a pill and I get better. Jesus is a little drug that will help me feel better and I’ll be able to get along.
Maybe you’ve heard the footprints poem. That’s what Christianity is presented as so much of the time. Here’s a guy walking on the beach. As he looks back he sees the events of his life in the sky. And he notices that there are two sets of footprints. But during the hardest parts of his life there are one set of footprints. And he says, “Why were you not there, Jesus, during those hard times? And Jesus responds by saying, “These are the days I carried you.”
This is the way that many people think about Christianity. Jesus is primarily therapeutic. That’s not what Christianity is all about though. Christianity is a religion that deals with guilt. It deals with death and sin and your being liable to God’s judgment. The light that Christ brings is the knowledge that there is a way to escape this judgment. There is a solution to this guilt which your sins have incurred.
And this is what you may wake up to. Jesus didn’t die to make life a little better. He died to make life eternal. And people may come to enjoy that life if they recognize their sinfulness and turn to Christ.
And it is because of these prospects that we should not shrink back from talking about how utterly sinful sin really is.