Children of Light and Day

Dr. Brian Allison

Recently someone gave me a book entitled Y2K, The Millennium Bug by Shaunti Christine Feldhahn. It is a book written from a Christian perspective on the Y2K problem. Y2K is also called the 'Doomsday Bug'. There are those (some would call them alarmists, some would call them realists) who say that when the clock strikes midnight, January 1, 2000 – and the timing mechanism or devices in the computers or software systems must register the new date in two figures, '00' – the world, by and large, will be plummeted into total chaos and confusion because computers and software systems will interpret the date as 1900, and not 2000, resulting in complete reversion, with all data becoming lost or unusable. It is predicted that apparently many computers and software systems will not be able to successfully support that change. There are those who are predicting that this will mark the beginning of the end. Business, commerce, and government supposedly will come to a grinding halt. It will be a time of every man for himself, trying to survive. However, Peter De Jager, one of the people who first brought to our attention the seriousness of the Y2K problem, announced this past week that the doomsday possibility will be avoided. The economic and social disruption will not be as bad as originally anticipated and predicted. There are various companies, businesses, and institutions – for instance, The Royal Bank, Ontario Hydro, etc. – which have been doing tests to correct the problem, and have been successful.

Notwithstanding, as we move toward the end of human history, there will be chaos and confusion of another sort. There will be tribulation and persecution as we move toward the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord will be a day of judgement, a day of punishment, a day of affliction and suffering. As Christians, we ought not to be anxiously concerned about that day; we ought not to be worried about it. For Christians, it will be a day of liberation and joy. When the apostle Paul wrote to believers at Thessalonica, making reference to the Day of the Lord, he made the point of comforting and encouraging them so that they would not worry concerning this inevitable day. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11 reads, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing."

Enlightened concerning the future

For us to properly understand the teaching in these verses, we need to keep in mind that the apostle Paul has as his aim and design, in writing these words, to communicate comfort to these believers, having made reference to the Day of the Lord. In the verse before the ones we are here considering, we read that this day will be a day of destruction; that pain and suffering will be inevitable. Accordingly, the Thessalonian believers could have possibly responded with alarm and worry in reading or hearing these words. Thus, the apostle Paul, in his pastoral way, anticipated this possible response by believers, and was quick to comfort them. So, he says in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief." Verse 4 harks back to verse 2 – "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." That is, many will not be expecting the day of Christ's return; they will not be ready for it. Many will be in a state of deceptive ignorance. Life apparently will be going on as it has normally gone on, and people will be caught by surprise when Christ returns. When people least expect it, Jesus will appear in the clouds of heaven.

But Christians should be expecting Christ's return. Again, he says, "But you, brethren [a term of endearment; remember that he is trying to communicate comfort and encouragement to these believers; that they really do not have anything to be concerned about], are not in darkness that the day should overtake you like a thief [that day should not catch you unawares; you are not ignorant of future events and what will transpire]" (5:4). Believers know the truth; they have the knowledge of God. The believers at Thessalonica had already been instructed in these matters. They knew exactly what was going to unfold with respect to the coming of the Day of the Lord.

That day should not catch us unawares either. My Christian brothers and sisters, we are not in darkness, we know full well what the Scriptures teach about coming events, we know what the future holds. We know that there will be a time of intense, fierce, and violent tribulation. We know that the Man of sin, the Man of lawlessness, the Antichrist will come on to the world scene, and that will coincide with this tribulation. We know that there will be a time of great apostasy associated with this tribulation – God testing and sifting the Church to see who is really of Christ and who has made a false profession of faith. We are not in spiritual darkness so that this day should take us unexpectedly. Are you prepared for the Lord's return? If Christ were to come in the next hour, would you be ready? Would you be able to hold your head high, by His Spirit, through His grace, unashamed, ready to receive the Lord? Or are there some things that, if you knew He were coming in the next hour, you would quickly address and settle? Are you ready?

The believer's spiritual status and conduct

The apostle Paul proceeds to state why believers are not in darkness – "For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness" (5:5). Believers are not ignorant of future events because they occupy a certain spiritual status or position. They are children of the light and day. Of course, when we think of the title of 'sonship', that indicates that the ones who bear this title have been born again of the Spirit. Believers are the children of the living God. God by nature is light, He is day; and we who are His children are characterized by light and day. With verse 5, the apostle Paul moves beyond the simile of verses 2 and 4 to the use of a metaphor; and he infuses moral significance into the language. Light and day relate to right action and true thinking. John 12:35,36, reads, "Jesus therefore said to them, 'For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes [he is blind and ignorant to the ways and leading of God]. While you have the light [the spiritual light of God, the truth], believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light'." In considering an earlier section in John's Gospel, we gain more insight into what this light means and consists of. For instance, John 3:19-21 reads, "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world [a reference to Christ Himself Who has brought and disclosed the truth of God, the true knowledge of God], and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil [this light has a moral character to it; it not only relates to truth, but it relates to righteousness]. For everyone who does evil hates the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

As believers, light is our spiritual status; being spiritual light-bearers is our spiritual role. We are sons of light, sons of day. Thus, Paul says that the Day of Christ should not overtake us. We know the mind of God because we have been enlightened by the Spirit of God concerning the truth of God; and so Paul repeats himself, stating it negatively – "We are not of night nor of darkness [morally speaking]" (5:5b). The concept of night naturally aligns with that of darkness. Now, in verse 6, we are given the necessary conclusion of having a certain spiritual status – "So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober [that is, because we are children of truth, people of righteousness, we ought to evidence a particular behaviour; a particular status necessitates a particular conduct]." In following through with the metaphor, Paul says (now focusing on the idea of night rather than of darkness), "So then let us not sleep as others do." The phrase "as others do" literally means 'the remaining ones'. It refers to unbelievers. The same phrase is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which says, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest [the remaining ones] who have no hope."

Unbelievers are sleeping because they are in the darkness of night. In effect, Paul says, "Let us not be indifferent, let us not be complacent, but rather, because we are sons of light and sons of day, let us be spiritually awake and morally disciplined." The term translated 'be alert' means be on guard, be vigilant. Christians should be watching for the Lord's return. Coupled with being spiritually awake or alert, we are to be morally disciplined or sober; and in being morally sober, we will be spiritually alert. To be morally sober means that we are to harness our desires and passions; we are to be self-controlled in our behaviour. It is the language of holiness. We need to keep check on our urges and lusts because our urges and lusts are at the very heart of sin. We are to slay our lusts and urges in order that we might overcome sin. Are you keeping your passions in check? Are you keeping your lusts under control? Are you pursuing holiness, without which you not will see the Lord? So, as a believer, you are a child of light – that is your status, that is your calling – and you are to reflect and emanate the light that is in you, which is God Himself. Are you spiritually alert and morally sober?

Those who are spiritually asleep, of course, do not even realize that they are sleeping. It is only when God awakens them that they realize that they have been asleep. Are you sleeping? Now, I am really asking you to recognize what it is impossible for you to do; but to ask the question presents an occasion whereby the Spirit can move. In asking this question, and being pressed to actually consider it, that becomes the means by which God is pleased to actually enlighten and awaken those who are sleeping. The consciousness is stimulated, allowing for the reception of the truth. So, ask yourself the question: Am I sleeping? If you are sleeping, then in seriously asking yourself this question, you give the Spirit the opportunity to begin to awaken you.

The spiritual fruit of the children of light

The apostle Paul continues to emphasize the natural activities of the night – "For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night" (5:7). Sleep corresponds to being alert, and drunkenness corresponds to being sober. We further read, "But since we are of the day, let us be sober [rather than drunk], having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation" (5:8). Of course, we are to understand sobriety on the backdrop of being drunk. When one is drunk, he loses his senses and rationality; he no longer has self-control; he is easily angered and upset, and sometimes violent. Hence, we read, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit (5:18).

To be morally sober means, among other things, to evidence the triad of graces: love, faith, and hope – "having put on the breastplate [protection for the heart] of faith and love, and as a helmet [protection for the head], the hope of salvation" (5:8b). This is the second time in this epistle that we have a reference to the triad of graces. They are first introduced in 1:3, "Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father." First, if we are morally sober, then we will be people of faith. We will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, as our King, as our Master. We will trust in God, abiding in His Word, accepting His teachings, and doing His commands. Faith entails obedience. Second, if we are morally sober, then we will be people of love. We will give ourselves to one another. We will first love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength, and also love our neighbour, and our fellow believer, just as ourselves. We will be willing to sacrifice our time and energy, giving up our comfort, for the good and profit of others. Third, if we are morally sober, then we will be people of hope. As believers, we should have the assurance of redemption. We should be eagerly looking forward to the second coming of Christ. There should be a hearty expectation and anticipation.

Paul possibly uses the phrase "the helmet, the hope of salvation" because, again, he is attempting to comfort these believers with respect to the coming of the Day of the Lord. As believers, we need not be concerned or worried – our eternal salvation is secured. We do not need to wonder where we will stand when Christ returns. We have been accepted in the Beloved. Do you have the hope of salvation? Are you assured of your place in heaven? If you were to die today, would you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that "absent from the body, present with the Lord"? That is the heritage of the children of the light, the children of the day.

The reason and ground for hope

Having mentioned the hope of salvation, the apostle Paul writes, "For God has not destined us for wrath [the Day of the Lord is coming – a day of punishment and judgement], but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:9). We could translate the beginning of verse 9 as follows, "For God has not appointed us for wrath." In saying that "God has not appointed us for wrath," Paul implies that God has appointed some for wrath. God takes the initiative in this matter of salvation. Recall 2 Thessalonians 2:13, "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." Now you may ask, "What are you saying when you make the suggestion that God has appointed some for wrath? It does not seem right, it does not seem fair." Notice 2 Thessalonians 2:11, "And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they may be judged who did not believe [because God sent upon them a deluding influence] the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." Then verse 13 says that some have been chosen from the beginning. This text parallels what we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:9. Let us be honest with the language. The Scripture clearly teaches that God has elected some, from eternity past, to receive salvation; and He has determined to pass over others, thus sealing their awful fate.

The elect receive and enjoy this "salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." The language "through our Lord Jesus Christ" certainly suggests the idea of mediation. It is only through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ that we are saved; it is not through human merit nor by human initiative. So, in verse 9, we have the reason for the hope of salvation – God's decision to save. This gives us assurance because if God has appointed, it will be accomplished. Having made mention that this salvation is through the mediatorship of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are given the ground of [the hope of] salvation – "Who died for us [the only time we read this phrase in the Thessalonian literature], that whether we are awake or asleep [in a physical sense now, not a moral one; recall the language in 4:13, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep;" that is a euphemism for death], we may live together with Him" (5:10).

Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, the godly for the ungodly, the holy for the unholy. Christ died as a representative on our behalf, and He died to deliver us from the wrath to come. Salvation simply means to be delivered from God's wrath, wrath that is directed towards sinners because of their rebellion against God in breaking His law. All of us, in our natural state are children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). In His death, Christ received God's wrath, and extinguished it, for the sake of the children of light. And because of His death on our behalf, we have the assurance of eternal fellowship with God. Paul, in effect, says, "This is our confidence – it does not matter, whether we live and survive until the coming of Christ, or whether we die before that coming, we will experience the grand end of redemption, namely, living together with Him." Think about that. Isn't it your desire to be with Christ, to fellowship with Him, to commune with Him? Here is the promise: Regardless of what happens to us physically, we are going to live together with Him. That is the bottom line, and that is the end of the story – together with Christ. Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul concludes with these words in verse 11, "Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing." It is the same language that the apostle uses in 4:18, "Therefore comfort one another with these words."

When we truly understand and appreciate what is taught here, with the emphasis and climax being on living together with Christ, we must be encouraged. We should encourage one another and edify one another by sharing this truth. It is by His promises that God makes us strong. Notice that the apostle affirms that these Thessalonian believers were indeed reciprocally encouraging and edifying. Let me leave you with this challenge and exhortation. Are you encouraging your spiritual brothers and sisters? Are you building them up? Are you strengthening them? Have you recently said to a fellow believer anything concerning being with Christ, fellowshiping with Christ, and loving Christ – the hope of salvation? That is what encourages the heart, that is what infuses strength and grace into the spirit – Christ. We need to emphasize Christ and Christ alone. He is the One who meets our every spiritual need. He is the One who uplifts us. Think on Christ and His beauty and His fellowship. I want to encourage you to talk about Christ this week with fellow believers, talk about His goodness, His grace, and His love.