But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” –Ephesians 5:13-14
In verse 14 Paul calls the Ephesians to wake up, and arise from death, for the light of Christ has come. Paul insisted that preachers and missionaries go out and wake people up (Romans 10:5). But spiritual awakening is more than waking up from sleep. It is waking up from death. It is awakening from captivity by the false categories of good and evil, which keep people involved in Satan’s false dichotomy, and keep people from the true dichotomy of God, which is life and death (the struggle between sustainable life in Christ and reliance on human opinion apart from God-in-Christ). There is a spiritual war that has been raging since Adam and Eve left the Garden. Humanity understands this war as being between good and evil, and have been actively fighting this war ever since. This fight is also called history, and human history has been dominated by this struggle.
However, this is not how God understands the spiritual war. God sees the opposing sides of the war differently. God sees them as the forces of death arrayed against the forces of life, where the forces of death generate both sides of the struggle of good against evil. The conflict between good and evil produce real warfare and cause much suffering and loss of life. This conflict is the engine of war that inflames people to take up arms against one another. And both sides, both the good and the evil, understand themselves to be on the side of good, according to their own best thinking. Both sides understand themselves to be motivated by genuine concerns of goodness and righteousness.
But each side values different aspects of the truth, and pits them against one another. Each side devalues the other side by identifying it with evil, while identifying itself with good. But God sees both sides engaging in analysis and evaluation on the basis of imaginary (or imagined) philosophical categories that are limited by their own minds. Each side trusts only its own analysis of what is true, each side only values its own sources, which keeps them from seeing truth from another perspective. By trusting themselves and their own sources, they close themselves off from the greater truth, of which their perspective comprises only a part. Again, each side of the good vs. evil struggle see themselves on the good side.
The struggle of good against evil is the cause of human war, and it actually serves the cause of death rather than life. Because God is greater than humanity, He stands apart from this struggle and is able to see it for what it actually is. God knows that the real conflict is not between what we call good and evil, but is between life and the death of war, where war is the result of the conflict between good and evil.
Thus, the call to wake up is a call to stop relying on one’s own understanding as an adequate means to comprehend reality. Human beings are not designed for self-reliance or self-sustainability. We are social beings, which means that we require others to sustain human life. This is true biologically and spiritually. But neither is humanity as a species designed to be self-reliant or self-sustainable. Rather, just as males and females need one another to procreate, so humanity and God need one another in order to manifest in time.
It’s not that God needs humanity in any sort of ultimate sense, but that as far as we can know, in order for God to manifest in time, as time is configured for the earth, He needs a body or vehicle that can operate in time. Thus, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who sent His Holy Spirit, who is Himself by the reality of the Trinity. God does not need humanity for His existence, but humanity needs God for its sustainable viability. Apart from God, humanity will simply engage in the war of good against evil, either keeping humanity in a state of perpetual war, poverty, and destruction that attends war, or eventually destroy itself completely.
Thus, the call is to awaken from the false dilemma of the categories of death and embrace the God-given categories of life in Christ. And the call necessarily comes from Another, because only by hearing from Another can we awaken from the captivity of self-reliance. In addition, the hearing of the call must also be heard through Another, through the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, through the power and presence of God-in-Christ through regeneration, wherein the Spirit actually dwells within. Anything less leaves us in self-reliance. Only thus can people arise from death in Adam to life in Christ who shines through them.
Walk wisely, admonished Paul. The Authorized Version translated ἀκριβῶς as circumspectly because the word literally means exactly, accurately, and/or diligently. To be circumspect is to be heedful of potential consequences. It is to be future oriented in the sense of considering the outcome of one’s thinking and behavior.
To walk at all is to go somewhere. The purpose of walking is to get to the end of the journey. To walk without a destination is like being lost. Sometimes the destination is simply around the block, or for the exercise, or for the beauty of the trail. Of course, the journey is to be enjoyed. But contrary to the popular idea, a journey without a destination or purpose is unwise because the world is a dangerous place—particularly poor neighborhoods.
Paul advised not to be unwise but to be wise (σοφός)—skilled, intelligent, cultivated, learned, smart. Wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom is understanding how to apply knowledge. Wisdom involves discernment, discretion, and discipline. Wisdom involves prudence, knowing how to determine the subtle differences between similar things. Wisdom knows that political correctness is foolishness. Conversely, fools think that political correctness is wisdom.
(from Ephesians—Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)