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Read Ephesians 5:3-14.

Imagine with me the scene of an ancient baptism. The church has gathered at a river and those prepared for baptism are waiting to be immersed. They have been prayerful and maybe they have even fasted for a day or two. Their focus has certainly been on the Lord Jesus – his baptism, his teaching, his death, burial, and resurrection. Believing in Christ, they have renounced sinfulness and selfishness and are now submitting themselves to the Lord.

One of the shepherds of this ancient congregation has just finished reminding these repentant souls of the gospel and the kingdom way of life they are entering into. Then he baptizes them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as they come up from the water, the gathered congregation welcomes the newborn Christians by singing a little hymn that says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

This speculation about the practice of ancient baptism is based on ancient sources (such as the Didache, Chapter 7) that describe what baptism was like in the late first or early second century. It would certainly embody the belief of Ephesians 2:1-10 and Romans 6 and other NT Scriptures that describe how baptism is a defining moment in which one dies to the worldliness of sin and lives a new life in Christ. Thus, it makes sense that Eph 5:14 is a hymn or statement that was pronounced at baptisms.

If you’ve been baptized into Christ, what was it like at your baptism? What was said? What was done? What does that baptism mean? The message of Ephesians teaches us that our baptism is a transition. Once we were darkness, but now we are light. I hadn’t really noticed this before, but the transition is described as a change of nature (v. 8). Once we were darkness, not in darkness, but we were darkness. And now, being in Christ, we are light. Sometimes we tell children who are afraid of the dark that there’s nothing to be afraid of because everything in the dark is the same as it is in the light. That will work as long as we are talking about being in the darkness or in the light. But there’s one thing in the room that isn’t the same when the lights come on. The darkness is no longer there. Darkness is not the same in the light. Light is not the same in the darkness, in fact light changes darkness. Our transition is just as striking, now that we are in Christ we are no longer darkness. We are light. We are the children of light.

Our baptism then is a change of nature and a change of rule in our lives. And the implications of this are so important that it won’t wait until the day we get to heaven. It makes a difference right now.

Children of light live a certain way. Our lives make a difference. There’s a mix of metaphors in v. 9 – light bears fruit. Goodness, righteousness, and truth are the outgrowth of living as children of light. This is a grand vision for our lives. It means we can live in such a way that we are not just doing good or being good. We can live in such a way that our lives generate good. Likewise with righteousness and truth. Have you ever known someone who inspires you to goodness, righteousness, and truthfulness? Have you ever seen the legacy of goodness, righteousness, and truth that someone has left behind in their journey through life? That’s what it is like when Christ is in us and his light shines on us making us children of light. That really can be you.

The transition of our baptism also means that we have waken up in a new land. When we were darkness, a different power had dominion over us. It may have been our own greed and selfishness, it may have been fear, it may have been an addiction, it may have been anger or lust. But being in Christ means that we are under the dominion of Christ. When one is under dominion it means that one has a lord. That lord could very well be ours own self. That’s always sounds good. It’s very independent and ruggedly individualistic. Most of us, if we are honest, are lousy lords. We wouldn’t treat anyone as harshly and crudely as we treat ourselves. Perhaps we criticize ourselves endlessly, perhaps we do whatever we please with our own bodies and attempt to satisfy our never-ending lusts for sensual pleasure in ways that hurt us and in ways that never satisfy, perhaps we say anything we want and vent our anger and discontent but instead of earning us respect it drives people away. And when we do all of this and more we make a point of reminding ourselves and others that we free people and in charge of our own lives.

One always tries to please one’s Lord. When we are in Christ, we find out what pleases our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is as if the light comes on. We see clearly how the deeds of darkness never satisfy. They are fruitless.

I won’t pretend it is simple to talk about having a Lord and being in his dominion. We are a people who very rightly have a negative association with oppression and slavery. We should. Our history is stained with the legacies of dark dominions. But when we are in the Lord’s Dominion, we are light. Our lives are sources of goodness, righteousness, and truth. We find out what please the Lord, and though it may not always be easy we may just find that it is satisfying.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 24 June 2007

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