A challenge we face as believers is discerning how to engage with outsiders to the faith without participating in aspects of their lifestyle that we know are dishonoring to God. Our own inimitable “Prof” Howard Hendricks often said, “Jesus was able to companion with sinners without becoming complicated by their sin.” But where can we turn in the Bible to get a better grasp of this subject? One place is Ephesians 5, where Paul explains what it means to be children of light. In verses 8–9, Paul says, “You were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.”
THIS BRIEF ARTICLE EXPLORES WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT AND HOW THE FRUITS (VIRTUES) OF LIGHT—GOODNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND TRUTH—BECOME FOUNDATIONAL FOR BELIEVERS IN LEADING OUTSIDERS TO A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD (JOHN 8:12).
THE FRUIT OF LIGHT: GOODNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND TRUTH
Ephesians 5:8 calls believers to walk, live, and maintain a lifestyle as children of light. The fruit of light, we’re told, consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. On the surface, Paul’s choice of the metaphor of darkness and light might appear somewhat odd. But one of his main points in Ephesians 5:6–14 is that believers have been called out of darkness, and because of Christ we are now the light in the Lord. Therefore, Paul admonishes us to live as children of light. When we do, outsiders to the faith will see (aided by the power of the Holy Spirit) virtues in us: goodness, righteousness, and truth. God often uses the fruit of the light to draw attention to the light of the world—Jesus!
These three virtues are not intended to be exhaustive, as the fruit of the Spirit is again outlined in Galatians 5 with eight more virtues. The fruit of the Spirit, manifested in the life of the Spirit-empowered believer, could also be viewed as the good works that “God prepared beforehand so we can do them” (Eph 2:10). In her commentary, Lynn Cohick says, “Paul invites believers to walk in those good works that God prepared for them (2:10) and to walk in a worthy manner (4:1), walking in Christ’s love such that it spills over onto others (5:2)”.¹ Chapter 5 sets up the final chapter of Ephesians, in which Paul will summarize the entire argument of the second half of the letter. In that last chapter, Paul returns to the theme of “walking in Christ’s love” through the metaphor of armor, which includes righteousness and truth, along with a few additional virtues.
Let’s examine these three virtues: goodness, righteousness, and truth. It’s important to see these virtues as foundational to Paul’s overall argument in chapter five of Ephesians. We are to be imitators of God, walking in love (5:1ff.). Imitators of God live like children of God. After all, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Paul advances his overall argument in Ephesians 5:15–21, pointing out that when it comes to outsiders, the wise person will also take “advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Seeing our lives in a challenging world as an opportunity is possible only when we live as Spirit-empowered (5:18) children of light.
Notably, in Ephesians the fruit of light consists of virtues. If not supported by godly character (the fruit of light), then using words, speech, and arguments to engage outsiders is often more harmful because such engagement is not Spirit-empowered. As James 1:19–20 teaches, “human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” James goes on to explain other key points of relational advice that lead us to appropriate interactions with other people.
Godly character virtues develop over time as the believer’s behaviors (and thoughts) are conformed to Scripture’s moral principles such as “love your neighbor as yourself.” As we share the gospel with outsiders, we must ourselves continually become people of virtue, so that our words match our walk. This is why our motto at DTS is “Teach truth. Love well.” We might even switch the order: “Love well. Teach truth.” As Prof Hendricks would often say, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Let’s unpack the first fruit of light, goodness: “for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph 5:9). We know goodness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). And in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, we read, “in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith.”
Goodness “calls believers to a vibrant, active concern for others so as to benefit them,” states Cohick.² Paul told the Romans that he was convinced they were “full of goodness” (Rom 15:14). Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” When people get a “taste” of how we relate to them, do they conclude that we’re good? Goodness is therefore the first virtue of the children of light.
The second virtue Paul lists for believers living as children of light is righteousness. Cohick says that righteousness “includes both the idea of personal integrity and community justice and fairness”.³ In Romans 6:13, Paul says our bodies are instruments to be “used for righteousness.” Our giving to others in need (2 Cor 9:9–10) “will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow.”
The final virtue Paul points to as the fruit of light is truth. In Ephesians 4:21, Paul shared that “the truth is in Jesus.” Of course, the gospel itself is the word of truth (Eph 1:13). In the last section of Ephesians, in which Paul focuses on the armor of God, he admonishes Spirit-empowered believers to take up the armor of God in order to “stand against the schemes of the devil.” Armor-clad, Spirit-empowered believers can stand fast because the “belt of truth” is around their waist.
Paul’s teaching here is not primarily about an affirmation of ideas but about a way of living. The ideas must be lived out in our everyday lives, as we seek to become more like Christ in all that we do.
When believers imitate God, walking in love as children of light, the fruit of light spills over into the lives of outsiders, benefiting them as well. This is even more important when we realize that the good works that God prepared for us are also what the Bride of Christ (the church) uses to adorn herself at the wedding celebration of the Lamb: “She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints)” (Rev 19:6–8).
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY
The fruit of light in Ephesians 5:9 becomes a foundation that the wise person will leverage in engaging with outsiders—namely, people currently in darkness and not following the light of the world. Though Paul is clear that believers are not to partner with or be “sharers with them,” we certainly see that “Paul encourages believers to take their role as light to be light to others so they too might come into the light”⁴; the way we live becomes an invitation to other people to experience the new life that they can see in our example.
The apostle Paul brings the admonition to be imitators of God (5:1) full circle at this point. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, left heaven to come to earth—fully man, fully God—so He could rescue us from darkness. While on earth, His ministry demonstrated that He was the light of the world. Those people He has rescued are now called to be children of light, and our fruit—goodness, righteousness, and truth—can become the means by which God works in the lives of outsiders to bring them out of darkness and into His glorious light.
May we each be the children of light in whom God uses the fruit of the light to open the eyes of those in darkness around us, so that they too can have the hope of a life spent with Him.
¹ Lynn Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians (New York: Eerdmans, 2020) (327).
² Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians (328).
³ Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians (328).
⁴ Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians (325).
About the Contributors
Kraig McNutt is Executive Director of Marketing & Communications for DTS. He studied philosophy at Indiana University (BA) and holds degrees from the University of Kentucky (MSLS) and Grace Theological Seminary (MDiv). He is also an author and historian on the American Civil War.