We go into a car showroom. The salesperson extols his model - it has dual air-bags, CD player, remote central locking, chip-resistant paint, super-comfort easy-care upholstery, colour TV, drink cooler... We ask, "Does it have an engine?" Foolish, unnecessary question! No new car comes without an engine!
And yet... many folk seem to have an idea that faith in God is just an optional - and unnecessary - extra! Little wonder society sometimes seems like an engineless, powerless, undirected vehicle - only able to wander aimlessly downhill, unable to function with true purpose and freedom.
Paul is writing to people who have already made that first choice. They have put their trust in Christ as their Saviour and Lord. They are "saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2.8). They have made the choice that affects every other choice they will make from that time forward.
Making that choice is coming "home". Living out that choice is natural - it is living the way we were always meant to live. There are, of course, habits and life-styles that will have to change. This may well take time. But it's not as if you are standing on your head or walking on your hands!
From time to time we receive advertising brochures which, among many other things, promote a "night scope" - a cheaper version of what defence personnel use to "see" at night without using a light which would alert others to their presence.
The technology is clever, but it serves to highlight the fact that human beings are creatures of the light. Blind folk may develop a sort of "sixth sense" which helps compensate for some of their loss. We endeavour to be inclusive, to give equal opportunity to the visually disadvantaged. But, in spite of our best efforts, it is a sighted world. At every point, our life and life-style assume that we are creatures of the light.
But Paul goes further than that. He writes, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord" (5.8-10).
We belong to the light - spiritually as well as physically. We are "children of light" - belonging in the family of the God of light and truth and holiness, belonging there by the grace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Light of the world.
Having made that first choice, we belong in God's light. There are ideas, attitudes and life-styles that no longer "belong" in our life. They are incompatible in the life of any child of the light.
Already, in chapter 4, we have seen how Paul says we should "put off" our old self and "put on" the new self (4.22-24). To describe this transformation as a change of clothes may make it appear simpler than we find it in practice. But it is a reminder that the "first choice" commits us to a whole series of other choices down the line.
The other day one of the charities was advertising their need to restock after a major warehouse fire. The gist of it was a challenge to empty out of our wardrobes those clothes we no longer need but have held on to for years. Perhaps even with clothes, we may have taken them off, but then still hold on to them for sentimental reasons or "just in case."
When Paul writes about our spiritual "putting off" what belonged to the old life, he means "getting rid of" them. For some that may mean destroying unhelpful CDs, books or magazines. For others, the termination of unhealthy relationships.
We are called to "a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (5.2). This "life of love" isn't some "warm fuzzy" feeling towards others. It is a life shaped by the love of Christ - he had no illusions about human sin, but gave himself redemptively for the forgiveness and transformation of sinners.
So in our "life of love" there must not be "even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving" (vv. 3-4).
It has become trendy to speak about "affirmation" rather than "salvation" these days. But God "affirmed" us in a cross - a statement about both the extreme seriousness of human sin and the greatness of his redemptive love for us. God's affirming love doesn't condone sin, but brings forgiveness and looks for real change.
"For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (vv. 5-6).
God offers us his love, his grace, his forgiveness, his salvation - a whole new self. We cannot "go it alone" without suffering the consequences.
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord" (vv. 8-10).
This new life will be visible in "all goodness, righteousness and truth". It will be good and wholesome - guaranteed to be also fulfilling and exciting! It will be "right" - expressing what God always meant life to be. It will be "true" - without deceptions and cover-ups.
We do not know the origin or use of the song or saying in v. 14 -
Communism popularised the slogan that "religion is the opiate of the people." They saw religion as a tool of management to keep the working class content and compliant.
Paul is saying that Christians are daytime people - alert, awake, living in the light of Christ - not living in pretence or denial, but knowing the truth and living by grace.
So, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (vv. 15-16) - "redeeming the time" as the old Bible put it - making the best use of every moment, measured by the will of God.
The driving, enabling spirit in our life is not to be alcoholic, but God's Holy Spirit (v. 18). The verb has a continuous sense, "Be continually being filled with the Spirit."
And let your life overflow in both heartfelt joy and thanksgiving to one another and to God (vv. 19-20).
Choices - we are making them all the time! But have we made that first choice - to receive Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord? And have we allowed that choice to shape and mould every other choice we make? Put off the old self and put on the new. Allow his Spirit to bring about real change in our life. The Lord hasn't finished with any of us yet. Let's step out together each day with him!
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