Ephesians 5:8-14: From Shadowed Unbelief into the Clarity of Truth

“What is truth?” someone scorned Jesus hours before His crucifixion. Our Lord recognized the Roman Governor came to “bear witness to the truth,” but further taught, “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37-38). Pilate doesn’t care. Cynical and annoying, he ponders the possibility and power to unearth actual truthfulness in life’s journey, thinking it’s impossible. Why strive for what you’ll never reach?

A similar sense of apathy thrives in our day. Again, truth’s objectivity is on trial. Many assume we concocted the idea of truth and its contents. This leads to clashing perspectives in life with no unifying footing. What undergirds us when our worldview is born from individual perceptions? How will we thrive? Reality swings in shifting views, with no absolute truth we might share or use. Can we dwell in harmony when each operates from a separate foundation?

In Ephesians, Paul conveys Christianity as a belief with its teachings standing firm on the unshakable truth. Why else does he categorize the Ephesians’ lives in such stark, black-and-white terms? Earlier, they lived in darkness, as Pilate did before them, without faith in Christ. Except the Word echoed in their ears. Baptism gave them life anew, and they believed. So he calls them what they are: “light in the Lord.” In later verses, he bolsters them to “walk as children of light.”

God is the only One who can grant you and me genuine righteousness. In the beginning, when God created, He glimpsed upon creation, calling everything “good” (Genesis 1:12). Later, Scripture shows God’s goodness comes to us as His gift and blessing. Psalm 73 beckons, “The nearer to God, the better” (vs. 28). In Psalm 109, we read His “steadfast love rescues [us]” (vs. 21). Jesus highlighted His heavenly Father’s incomparable goodness when he responded to a wealthy man. “Why do you call me good, for no one is good except God?” (Mark 10:18).

Bleak and lifeless, we lay in a bottomless abyss before encountering Christ. The Ephesians lived without God, void of eternal purpose, centering their lives on carnal pursuits. In the first chapter of Romans, we learn to what wretched depths humanity fell, chasing after false gods and engaging in unnatural relations. Thank God He permeates with innate goodness. So, His Holy Spirit descended, who rescued you and me from spiritual blindness, our eyes coming alight with faith. Now, we can bask in genuine goodness!

Christ offered His life to free wayward sinners, taking us from unbelief to belief, darkness to light, from evil to righteousness. The prophets, Apostles, and Jesus Himself delivered to our world the good Gospel of God. This news brings us the only true God who forgives and saves through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.

Standing near and talking to Jesus, Pilate still dwelt in faithless shadow and scoffed at the notion of truth. So he proclaimed his verdict, not based on ethics or morality, but by taking the easiest path. Gaze on this world with its decaying trappings. Do our sinful natures crave to uncover holiness and heed God’s ageless and righteous guidance?

Much decision-making is subjective, flowing from our flawed human heart. “Whatever works!” How foolish, many presume, to seek goodness from outside themselves. A moral life living by an unchanging principled creed doesn’t indulge our flesh or fill our bank accounts. Our morality might bring us to abstain from behaviors at odds with our values, turning away from paths others take for earthly gain and riches.

God alone is the essence of goodness—and only He is rightness itself. So, Paul teaches Christians to seek what is “right” while prompting them further to pursue justice and holiness. The movement is from inward to outer, internal virtue toward outward action, from our hearts to our hands.

Contemplate God’s righteousness, and when we do, we often view Him as a judge or final decider. Most times, the Scriptures speak of our God this way. Psalm 7 proclaims, “God is a righteous judge” (vs. 11). Psalm 50 rejoices, “The heavens declare his righteousness for God himself is the judge!” (vs. 6).

Without understanding “righteousness,” one cannot comprehend the core of Scripture. After creation fell into sin, God pronounced His verdict on Adam and Eve according to their wrongdoing. “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The world now lived in a corrupt, sinful state. So, the Creator cast His divine decree of justice, well within His rights, to judge and sentence the sinner so.

Ah, but God, likewise, declared His kindness and mercy. Consider the words of compassion He spoke, of a Savior who will become our Sin-Slayer (Genesis 3:15). Throughout holy Scripture, we learn God doesn’t declare His judgments with hostile force or icy indifference. No, our Lord seeks justice for what is right while being merciful. So He shines His grace as He announces the gift of His Son—who shall give Himself for the sake of the lost sinner.

God made a promise, a pledge of a Messiah, changing His declaration of one’s self-required righteousness. No more must the offender appear before the angry judge based on his works or merits. Sinners now have an advocate who stands next to them—in our place as a substitute, taking the death we deserved upon Himself. This defender is the incarnate Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus.

So, God isn’t someone from whom we should flee. No, we should run to Him. From Isaiah, “Though your sins are scarlet red, they shall be whiter than snow” (1:18). Paul makes a similar statement. First, everybody is sinful and falls short of God’s glory. So, salvation must come as a grace-given gift through Christ’s redeeming work (Romans 3:23-24). God delivered this goodness and rightness to us, rescuing us from sin’s bleak night into salvation’s light, calling us to what is right.

To comprehend God as righteous and merciful means, we can understand how to stride in God’s light as His children, in what is “right.” This lifestyle will be consistent with justice and mercy, with sound judgments and forgiving words. Not done, we strive to heed the Almighty’s Law, but focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Aware of what’s “right” to God, we have an ethical standard by which we live. Paul wrote, “Try to discern what pleases the Lord,” because we can do so! Discerning God’s nature and disposition toward us enables us to learn what brings joy to His heart. To distinguish what God accepts exposes to us the opposite, what He doesn’t favor and finds appalling.

The Apostle speaks of another helpful virtue: truth, saying we should walk in whatever is true. Of course, Jesus is Truth Incarnate, as John writes in his Gospel. In chapter 1, he imparts, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Full of grace and truth, we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (vs. 14). A few verses later, he articulates again: God gave us the Law through Moses, but “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (vs. 17).

These texts are explicit. In John 14, listen to our Lord’s words ringing out in fuller clarity, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). The Sacred Writings resound: Truth springs from its Source, God Himself. People can only revel in such divine truth within the embrace of God’s embodied truthfulness, Jesus Christ.

The Word, our Lord teaches, is pure and profound truth. Hear what He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Born anew as our Father’s children of light, we stride in His truth. How does someone do this? Jesus unveils in John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are indeed my disciples, and you will know the truth,” which He echoes “will set you free” (vs. 31-32).

The illuminating Word is how the Holy Spirit draws those from shadows deep into His guiding light. God’s Word delivers us from our unfruitful, dark, and shameful ways. The life we received exposed our shadowed unbelief so we can live in the clarity of truth.

Such struggles we have today with debates over what is true! Someone calls herself a cat. Not willing to accept an unborn infant as a person, we bristle from a soulless language, calling the death of a child “abortion care.” To stand up for your beliefs may cause others to call you a bigot or use other unsavory expressions. The Christian faith and its worldview are under heavy assault by forces of darkness and evil.

Paul wrote his words in our Epistle for Christians. Read them, and you won’t find him barking at Gentiles but exhorting God’s chosen in Christ. The Apostle is summoning, reminding, and teaching them—and us—to live out our rightful callings in the light of the Lord. So, walk in wisdom’s ways, realizing the days are evil and Satan will always attack those who trust in Jesus.

Virtue stands judged in our era today, with bent scales shifting and swaying. Pilate’s query still echoes, resonating forward to our generation. Yes, but we received the life-saving Word—the divine source of wisdom and knowledge. The heavenly Father, who is Himself faultless and holy, sent forth His Son to unveil those virtues in front of our eyes.

Not finished, our Savior brought us into His marvelous light, cleansing us righteous so we can lead virtuous lives. Cling to the Word of Christ, pursuing goodness and truth in our day, to God’s glory while serving our neighbor. Amen.