“Therefore do not become partners with them; 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)” (Eph. 5:7-9).
Separatism, in the sense of total withdrawal from the world, has appeared at various points in church history. Many ancient Christian ascetics led solitary lives in the desert because they wanted to battle Satan in a setting free from worldly temptations. Some groups in our country, such as the Amish, form closed communities with limited access to the surrounding culture. Basing their practices on texts such as 1 Corinthians 15:33 (“bad company ruins good morals”), such Christians believe limiting contact with the world is essential for holy living.
We may sympathize with this separatist impulse, living as we do in an ungodly culture. Absolute withdrawal from the world, however, is not what the apostle has in mind in texts such as 1 Corinthians 15:33. After all, in the same epistle Paul tells us that the separation he encourages is not separation from unbelievers who live ungodly lifestyles but from professing believers who celebrate their sin (5:9–13). He confirms this point in today’s passage. We are not to become partners with those who attempt to deceive us through empty words — people who teach that sexual immorality and covetousness are compatible with faith in Christ (Eph. 5:3–6). We can — and must — have friendships with non-Christians without engaging in their ungodly behavior or approving it, for God may work through us to win them to Jesus. But we must be willing to rebuke professing Christians who engage impenitently in sin. This may even mean withdrawing from them if they sin obstinately and yet continue to claim the name of Jesus.
Once we were darkness; now we are light in the Lord (vv. 7–8). Therefore, we can no longer live as if we were still in Adam and approve of sin; rather, we must walk in the light of Christ (1 John 1:7). We must expect others who profess to be in the light to walk in the light as well — to exhibit the virtues of goodness, righteousness, and truth (Eph. 5:9). Sinless perfection is not what we demand of ourselves or others. Instead, we look for a desire to live consistently with God’s law, a desire that manifests itself in repentance and a striving after holiness. When we partner with professing Christians who approve of sin, we implicitly make the gospel a license for ungodliness and confuse the world about the true nature of biblical faith.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The fruit of light listed in today’s passage — goodness, righteousness, and truth — are examples of what Paul elsewhere refers to as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–24). These things, along with qualities including love, joy, patience, and self-control, are the marks of the true Christian. Believers do not practice such things perfectly, but they should be able to find some evidence, however small, of these graces in their lives.