Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday, and I’ve chosen Ephesians 5 to help us consider our role when it comes to exposing the darkness of abortion and anything that undermines God’s design for human life. For forty-nine years, our federal government offered protection for the murder of over 60 million babies. Then came June 2022—the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—our Constitution does not grant the right to abortion. And we rejoiced.
At the same time, twenty-one states still have legal protections for abortion. Texas isn’t one of them. Still, last December, a lawsuit emerged from a Texas woman requesting court approval to abort her baby at 20 weeks old, and one judge granted her permission.[i] On January 2, the city of San Antonio was dedicating $500,000 in their budget “to fund organizations that send pregnant women out of state to kill their preborn children.”[ii] Last June, President Biden issued two Executive Orders that seek to protect access to abortion, including abortion-inducing drugs. The work is far from over.[iii]
There’s still much darkness and many who sit in darkness without knowing it. I want us to see our place as light-bearers in this very dark world, where such things like abortion exist. But before jumping in, let’s read our passage. Our focus is verses 7-14, but let’s begin in 5:1 to get a better sense of the context…
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 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.”
There are four commands in verses 7-14; and Paul follows each with some reasoning. Essentially, though, we could boil things down to two major points: consider your new identity as light in the Lord; and conduct yourself as light in the Lord. We’ll discuss those and then look at some ways that help us think about the sanctity of life.
Consider your identity as light in the Lord.
First, consider your new identity as light in the Lord. Notice his reasoning in verses 7-8. “Therefore, don’t become partners with them.” “Them” looks back to the “sons of disobedience” in verse 6, those giving themselves to sexual sin, impurity, filthy talk, idolatry. Don’t become partners with them? Why? Because he told us before, they won’t inherit the kingdom. That’s one reason not to partner with them.
But another reason is verse 8: “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” What does he mean by darkness? Later, in verse 14, he alludes to Isaiah’s prophecy; so that’s a good place to start. Isaiah uses darkness to depict moral depravity. Isaiah 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Isaiah 9:2 pictures a people walking in darkness without the light of God’s special revelation. Isaiah 29:15 depicts the wicked doing their deeds secretly in the dark, saying, “Who sees us?” Isaiah 59:9-10 adds death to this darkness.
Jesus also uses darkness in John 3:19. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” In Acts 26:18, Paul connects darkness with “the power of Satan.” So, the darkness Paul has in mind represents a whole system of evil—people enslaved to Satan’s power; people acting in moral depravity; people rejecting God’s word, stumbling toward death. Paul doesn’t just say you were in that; he says you were that. You weren’t just a victim of darkness; it was your nature. You embodied darkness.
But how awesome that he uses the past tense: “you were darkness.” What happened? God’s grace happened. It’s an amazing pattern throughout Ephesians. 2:1, “You were dead in trespasses and sins…But God being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ.” Or 2:12, “Remember that you were…separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus…you have been brought near.” You were but now you are—all by God’s grace.
That’s the pattern he follows here as well. Once you were darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Don’t miss that: “in the Lord.” Nobody becomes light on their own. You only become light in the Lord. That means God puts you into a relationship with Jesus. People become light only through Jesus.
But what does that mean that you are now light in the Lord? Again, if we start with Isaiah, it means you love the light of God’s word. Isaiah 2:5, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” and in context the light is God’s word. In Isaiah 9:2, it means you have experienced his salvation in the promised seed of David. Isaiah 42:6, you now embody God’s light to others—meaning, you take them the message of God’s salvation. Isaiah 58:10 mentions your justice shining like light: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness.”
In John 8:12 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Being light means you follow Jesus. Satan no longer calls the shots. Colossians 1:13 says, “[God has] delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
Christian, in the Lord, this is your new identity. Because of God’s grace, you have a new nature that embodies God’s light to others. If you’re not a Christian, your nature is still darkness. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay darkness. God can change you into light. That’s why he sent his Son into the world, to bring light to our darkness and transform people into his light-bearers. If you belong to Jesus, you are light.
Conduct yourselves as light in the Lord.
Let’s look now at what it means to conduct yourselves as light in the Lord. Paul’s ethic is not “Conduct yourself this way and then you will become light.” It’s “You are light; now live that way.” That’s a key difference between Christianity and the ethic of most (if not all) religions in the world. Christianity begins with grace. God made you this already, now live from that new nature. Be who God already made you to be in Christ—that’s the Bible’s ethic. If you flip it around, you’ve got a different religion. So, with our new identity in view, how should we conduct ourselves as light?
For starters, Paul tells us what light does not do. Verse 7, “Do not become partners with [the sons of disobedience].” Again in verse 11, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” That doesn’t mean we cut off all interactions with those in darkness. If that was the case, “you’d need to go out of the world,” to quote Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:10. What he means is that we can’t participate in their lifestyle—the one he illustrated earlier with sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness and filthiness and crude joking. We now have different values shaped by the light of God’s word; and we can’t participate in those behaviors.
But the Christian life doesn’t stop with avoidance. Verse 8 says we must also, “Walk as children of light.” Walking is a proactive way we go about our day. “Walk” means your habitual conduct, what you commit yourself to. In the Old Testament, to walk in the ways of the Lord was to obey his word and do life as God intended.
Getting more specific, verse 9 mentions how “the fruit of light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” This stands in contrast to the “unfruitful works of darkness” in verse 11. Darkness has works but never produces what God desires. The Lord’s light produces “goodness, righteousness, and truth.” These are attributes ascribed to God elsewhere in Scripture; and this aligns with Paul calling us “children of light” in verse 8. By producing goodness, righteousness, and truth, the children of light reflect their heavenly Father. Like Father, like son—so to speak.
“Goodness” begins with God. The Psalms often rehearse, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” But we learn God’s goodness from his works in creation and from his works in redemption. God shows an incredible interest in the welfare of others—from sending rains on the just and the unjust to sending his Son to save people from their sins. To walk as children of light means we show a similar interest in the welfare of others, reflecting God’s own generosity and goodness.
Righteousness also begins with God. It describes an upright behavior that reflects God’s moral uprightness. He is the God who does no wrong. All that he does in relation to others is just. Likewise, children who bear his light will be righteous/just in their dealings with others. They’re not going to keep their finger on the scale or take advantage of their neighbors. They will value just actions in every circumstance.
Truth is another fruit of the light. God himself is true. In him there is no falsehood. When we bear God’s light, we too show a concern for what’s true. Walking as children of light means we don’t deal in falsehoods; we speak the truth. As Jordan put it last week, we should use our minds in service of the truth. When you are light in the Lord, your life will be marked by these qualities: goodness, righteousness, truth.
Now, how you produce these in any given circumstance requires discernment. That’s why Paul follows with verse 10: “Walk as children of light…trying to discern what’s pleasing to the Lord.” How do we discern what’s pleasing to the Lord? By going to the Scriptures and letting God’s word shape our minds—such that no matter the circumstance, God’s word has given us the skill we need to please him. We also get ourselves in the presence of wise counselors who also know the Scriptures, and we pray together and seek clarity on what action pleases the Lord.
We’ll get to some examples in a minute; for now, let’s move to yet another piece of conducting ourselves as light. We expose the works of darkness. Look at verse 11 again: “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Show them to be wrong. Help people recognize why those works are evil.
Verse 12 describes these works as so awful, that it’s “shameful even to speak of the things they do in secret.” But he also says in verse 13 that “when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” That’s a challenging verse. Is the light simply making the “anything” manifest? Or is what is manifest becoming light? Another question to sort out is whether the “anything” refers to evil works being unveiled for what they are, or evil people being transformed into light.
I lean towards the “anything” referring to evil people becoming light. Glance back to verse 8, and you’ll recall that’s what happened to us: “you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” God’s light shone on you, he exposed your evil, and through that work he turned you into light. Also, you’ll notice that Paul justifies his remarks by alluding to Isaiah’s prophecy in verse 14; and Isaiah’s prophecy includes imagery of people in darkness becoming his God’s light-bearers.
So, let’s look at that now. He says, “Therefore, [or This is why] it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” You’ll have a hard time finding that exact wording in any one passage of Isaiah. Rather, Paul combines language from two places in Isaiah, and he’s showing their fulfillment in Christ.[iv]
Isaiah 26:19 is the first passage. In context, Israel was supposed to bring God’s blessing to the nations, but they fail. They accomplish no deliverance in the earth. They can’t. They’re unfaithful. But God then promises mercy. And he does it with these words: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” Notice, the nation are like dead people, sleeping. But God will make them awake; and when he does, they will become a “dew of light.” This is the light you’d see before sunrise. When God transforms them, makes them alive, they will shine like the dawn on the nations; and those nations of the earth will also start waking from death.
Isaiah 60:1-2 is the second passage. Again, the context describes Israel’s failure as a people. Their sins have multiplied. Righteousness and truth (remember those two words?) are lacking in Isaiah 59:14-15. They’re cursed with darkness in Isaiah 59:10. But then God promises mercy. A redeemer will come to Zion—Isaiah 59:20. And then God says this: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” God’s light will shine on them through a redeemer; and his light/glory makes them shine to others. “Shine!,” he says.” Meaning they will radiate with God’s light. And when they do, 60:3 says that nations will come to the light as well.
Paul combines both prophecies and interprets them in light of Christ. The Lord, the Redeemer of Isaiah’s prophecy is Jesus Christ. He redeems us from sin on the cross. He rises victorious over death. He reigns from the new and better Zion right now. He is waking up Jews and Gentiles right now, raising them from their dead state and making them alive. And all who wake from sleep and come to Jesus—he transforms them into light that they too might shine his light to others in darkness.
Church, this where you fit into the story. You are God’s new people. You are the true Israel that Isaiah anticipated. You are light in the Lord; and as light, you are God’s world-wide plan to make others into light. We do that by not partnering with the sons of disobedience, by walking as children of light, and by exposing the darkness.
Light in the Lord and the Sanctity of Life
Now, that has a wide range of applications. But today our focus is the sanctity of life, especially the lives of those who are most vulnerable. How should we conduct ourselves as “light in the Lord” when it comes to issues surrounding human life?
For starters, we must discern what pleases the Lord. That was verse 10. When we look to God’s word concerning life, we find great clarity. Genesis 1:28, “God created man in his own image.” All people have special dignity as image bearers.
We also know from Scripture that from the moment of conception, preborn children are legal persons who have intrinsic value. Psalm 139:13, David describes his preborn state in fully personal terms: “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” In Exodus 21:22-25, there are legal consequences for causing harm to a pregnant mother or to the child in her womb.
We also find in Scripture the broader pattern of God’s compassion for the vulnerable. Orphans, widows, sojourners, the poor—God shows special concern for those who can’t defend themselves. Children in the womb are even more vulnerable. They have no voice. They can’t protest or run to safety. Michael Spielman puts it this way: “By explicitly commanding us to care for those whose livelihood is in jeopardy…God is implicitly commanding us to care for those whose lives are in jeopardy.”[v]
So, it’s not hard to discern what pleases the Lord when it comes to human life. From conception to natural death, treat all life as precious. Neighbor love demands diligent action to protect and promote the life of all God’s image-bearers. Meaning, when someone asks a question like, “What about abortion for cases of rape and incest and disability?” our answer is always, “No, where life exists, we must protect it; and we will do whatever we can to help this child and their mother.”
Also, as light in the Lord, we cannot partner with those who disregard or destroy life. That means not supporting or voting for pro-choice advocates. It means not using “birth-control” methods that are abortifacient, or not using artificial reproductive technologies that threaten the sanctity of life. Abortifacient means having properties that prevent the woman’s body from sustaining an already-conceived child. Do your homework: “Will this provide the best environment for life to flourish at every stage?”
But there’s also a deeper heart attitude driving the dark culture behind abortion. Really, it’s the same attitude that drives genocide and racism and abuse and a host of other sins. That attitude goes like this: dehumanize anybody who stands in the way of my plans, my wants, and my comforts. That is the darkness; and as light we cannot partner with that darkness. That darkness may be easier for us to discern when it comes to preborn children. But I wonder if our discernment is calibrated as carefully when it comes to the poor or illegal immigrants or civilian casualties in war.
Hear me rightly. In this fallen world, protecting life will include policies that don’t allow the poor to take advantage of others. It will include processes for maintaining a rule of law and screening immigrants to ensure there’s no threat to other image bearers. And, sadly, there are even occasions in war when a country is forced to weigh the loss of innocent civilians against stopping a greater threat—I hate that’s even a question to consider, and it reflects how broken the world is.
All I’m saying is that our bent as light-bearers must always be, “What’s best for the lives of these image bearers? How can we do them good? What will reflect God’s generosity and goodness most clearly, given these circumstances?” Even good politicians may lack consistency here. But we should seek consistency and support what’s right in God’s eyes, even if that means admitting where our desired leader gets it wrong.
As light-bearers, we must also expose the darkness of those who undermine God’s designs for life. Advocates for abortion often present their position in a positive light. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even has a guide for language: instead of “heartbeat” use “embryonic cardiac activity;” instead of “preborn child” use “embryo.” That is darkness talking. They claim to be avoiding bias, but they are showing bias by preferring only language that hides the true nature of things. When someone puts abortion under “reproductive healthcare,” we must unveil the double-speak and show why murdering the innocent is not healthcare. It’s shameful.
We also expose the darkness by helping people see that humans are equal by nature not function. In his book The Case for Life, Scott Klusendorf develops a helpful anacronym, SLED. “Philosophically,” he says, “there’s no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today.” Take your Size—that’s the S in SLED. “You were smaller as an embryo, but since when does your body size determine value? Large humans are not more valuable than small humans.”
Next is “Level of Development: True, you were less developed as an embryo, but why is that decisive? Six-month olds are less developed than teenagers both physically and mentally, but we don’t think the former have less of a right to life.” Then he moves to “Environment: Where you are has no bearing on what you are. How does a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from a being we can kill to one we can’t?” Last is “Degree of Dependency: Sure, you depended on your mother for survival, but since when does dependence on another human mean we can kill you?”
“In short,” Klusendorf argues, “humans are equal by nature not function. Although they differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God.”[vi] That’s a helpful anacronym to remember when exposing the darkness of abortion.
Something else—walking as children of light will mean that we pursue goodness, righteousness, and truth when it comes to life. Part of God’s goodness, we said earlier, was that he shows incredible interest in the welfare of others. We must reflect the light of his goodness by doing the same. Christians reflect God’s goodness when we offer our homes to children in need of foster care or adoption; and if you’re not in a place where you can offer your home, support those who can. Another way to reflect God’s goodness is by supporting organizations like the Pregnancy Help Center of Fort Worth. Some of you serve there already—they need more help. We should also be first to help mothers in distress, to stand against human trafficking, to care for the elderly and disabled. Christians should be first to help the poor or to visit the orphan and the widow.
We also shine the Lord’s goodness when we celebrate life even when many in the world would say that a life has no value, or when many would say that if the quality of life after birth will be hard, why bother. I think we’ve all witnessed this recently with the Branches grandchild, Malachi, and the amazing testimony of his family delighting in him. Knowing the diagnoses, knowing the complications and the pain, and still rejoicing, supporting him, pulling for him through pregnancy and the surgeries. They have been a light in this world of darkness.
We also want to act in ways that reflect the light of God’s righteousness or justice in relation to others. Christians do this when we lead the way in working to abolish abortion. Some people will try to separate religion and politics. But this fails to recognize that people are religious creatures—our inmost convictions shape policy. We also believe that Christ reigns over everything, not just our private life. We believe that God is involved in the world, and he works through human means—means like you voting, educating, writing, serving, and so on.
Also, Scripture speaks to our involvement in various realms. In creation, we’re stewards of the earth. In family, we nurture marriage and childrearing. In the economy, we mind our own affairs and work with our hands. In politics, we are citizens who serve and speak for the good of society. Wherever Christian discipleship affects these realms, we must act according to goodness, righteousness, and truth.
So, yes, the church can act to shape the conscience of others in politics. We can work toward laws that give equal and just treatment to all humans, because all bear God’s image. We can work to shape the character of the people we already know, like through one-on-one discipleship. Not all Christians understand the importance of supporting the unborn, and we can educate ourselves and them in the Scriptures, logic, and biology. The church can also act as a social conscience when we lovingly criticize ideologies opposed to truth, call attention to grave injustices, or pioneer efforts for change in unjust laws.[vii]
None of this, of course, should be done with an air of superiority. After all, once you were darkness too. That ought to keep us humble and compassionate in the way we go about exposing the darkness.
Finally, as children of light, we must never forget that our mission is not merely that others agree with our pro-life ethic. Being pro-life is rooted in God’s character. It’s also a serious implication of the gospel. But our goal isn’t that others simply agree with the moral principles of Christianity. You can stand against abortion and still not inherit eternal life. Our primary aim is that people become light in the Lord.
Our primary aim is that by shining light into the darkness, people will come to know the truth, stand convicted of their sins, and come to Jesus for salvation. We don’t just give people good morals; we give them a great Messiah. We don’t just give them commands; we give them Christ in all his glorious grace. We walk as light, we expose the darkness, and we pray for people to awake from their sleep, to rise from the dead, and for Christ to shine on them. That is our mission. That is our hope, so that we can say of many, many others: “you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
[i] Texas Right to Life, “Texas Court Allows Subjective Judgment to Overrule Law and Abort Baby,” Texas Right to Life (December 7, 2023), accessed at https://texasrighttolife.com/texas-court-allows-subjective-judgment-to-overrule-law-and-abort-baby/.
[ii] Texas Right to Life, “Texas Right to Life Subpoenas Pro-Abortion Funds,” Texas Right to Life (January 3, 2024), accessed at https://texasrighttolife.com/texas-right-to-life-subpoenas-pro-abortion-funds/.
[iii] The White House, “FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Highlights Commitment to Defending Reproductive Rights and Actions to Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care One Year After Overturning of Roe v. Wade,” The White House (June 23, 2023), accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/06/23/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-highlights-commitment-to-defending-reproductive-rights-and-actions-to-protect-access-to-reproductive-health-care-one-year-after-overturning-of-roe-v-wade/.
[iv] Here I am indebted to Jonathan M. Lunde and John Anthony Dunne, “Paul’s Creative and Contextual Use of Isaiah in Ephesians 5:14,” JETS 55/1 (2012): 87-110.
[v] Michael Spielman, “A Biblical Mandate to Do Something about Abortion,” Abort73 (August 30, 2016), accessed at https://abort73.com/end_abortion/a_biblical_mandate_to_do_something_about_abortion/.
[vi] Scott Klusendorf, “Clarity Not Gadgetry: Pro-Life Apologetics for the Next Generation,” The Gospel Coalition (January 21, 2011), accessed at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/clarity-not-gadgetry-pro-life-apologetics-for-the-next-generation/.
[vii] Examples come from the discussion in Bene, Religion and Politics, 82-112.