(This article is the seventh in a series tracing the theme of spiritual opposition in Ephesians.)
Field of Battle
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Ephesians 5:1-6
Ephesian 5 continues God’s call to us to conduct our lives in keeping with Christ’s deliverance of us from the power of sin and hold of Satan over us. In the model of our Lord Jesus, we are to walk in love. Those things that characterized us under the dominion of darkness, such as sexual immorality and impurity, are to characterize us no longer. We are no longer “sons of disobedience” upon whom the wrath of God will come but now “beloved children of God” from whom the wrath of God has been turned aside.
Our walk, however, is conducted in the dangerous jungle of darkness. That’s why in chapter 5 Paul couches our call in terms of conflict. Ephesians 5 is replete with darkness and light. As Christ came into the world as the light of life and the darkness did not overcome Him (John 1:5), so we in Him we are able to maintain our light and not be swallowed up by the darkness of evil and godlessness that surrounds us.
We are opposed by the enemy who would deceive us, mislead us and overcome us. The world is filled with spiritual pits and perils. We must be alert and discerning, our wits sharp and not dulled. The Word of God must be the light to our path, defining for us the path our God would have us walk (5:10, 17). We need the camaraderie of Christian community to help one another and to keep one another from spiritual harm (5:19-21; cf. Heb. 3:12-14; 10:23-25).
Paul reminds us that we are now children of light, our new identity in Christ. He tells us what that means.
“for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8–10)
Instead of participating in deeds of darkness we are to oppose them and expose them (5:11).
Paul reminds us that although we are light in the Lord, liberated from the dominion of darkness that characterizes this fallen world, we still find ourselves in the flesh and in the world.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16)
To walk carefully is to walk circumspect. We are to be alert to danger and diligent in devotion to our Lord. We navigate the treacherous terrain of this dark world with the compass of wisdom, discerning what is pleasing to the Lord.
James, in his epistle, also highlights spiritual opposition (Jas. 4:4-10). He informs us that we conduct spiritual warfare by resisting the devil and drawing near to God in humility and absolute dependence. As does Paul, James stresses the need for wisdom. But he goes on to point out that even there we must be discerning.
All wisdom in not wisdom. Some wisdom has an appearance of godliness (1 Tim. 3:5) but in actuality is devoid of power, the power Paul promotes in Ephesians. James contrasts wisdom with its counterfeit, which he titles as “demonic”:
This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:15-18
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is as we keep God the North Star of our sojourning and His Word the light of our discernment directing our steps and our course that we will navigate our ways in safety and sanctification.
The themes of conflict found in Ephesians 5 are mirrored in Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, as we live in this present evil age. Jesus prays “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) We are to walk in the truth of God’s Word, living out the love and peace of Christian community, as ones in the world but not of it.
Note: Those interested in a more general study of spiritual warfare will find an brief overview in What is Spiritual Warfare? (Basics of the Faith Series). My book, Warfare Witness: Contending With Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, addresses evangelism from the perspective of spiritual warfare. A study guide to the book is available under CHOP resources.