The American poet Robert Frost wrote about standing in the woods looking at two different paths. They were “about the same” even though one was “grassy and wanted wear.”1 Frost took the less traveled road and then philosophized as to whether he would ever have the chance to take the other road. Jesus also referred to two roads (Matthew 7:13-14). These roads are not similar at all. They are different in quality (rough vs. smooth) and different in destination (destruction vs. life). In the New Testament epistles (Romans—Jude), there are many references to the Christian road. This is a reference to Christian conduct or the manner by which a Christian regulates his life. The word that describes this way of life is the word “walk.”
The Bible compares the Christian life to a “walk.” Walking is a basic means of transportation. Until recently in world history, most people walked everywhere they went. Cars were not available until the 20th century. Horses were available before that, and people have ridden horses for centuries, but horses require care and often that care was too expensive or too time-consuming. Most people, for lack of better means, walked. Because of this, the Bible uses the familiar idea of walking as a synonym for living the Christian life.
The Pre-Christian Walk (smooth and destined for destruction)
The Bible describes unsaved people as blindly living in sin. Their “walk” is not the same as the “walk” of a believer and they are not exactly aware of this fact. The apostle Paul states that the unbeliever’s “walk” has three aspects. (1) It is according to the course of the world (that which is opposed to God). (2) It is also a “walk” according to Satan. (3) This “walk” has other unbelievers for company (Ephesians 2:2). There is a sense of ease in this life because it goes with the rest of the world; because it goes with the encouragement of the Devil; because it has company for the journey. This is why Jesus described the pathway as “smooth.”
Likewise, the apostle John states that this “walk” of unbelief is evident in three ways. (1) It is evident because it is characterized by spiritual darkness (1 John 1:6-7). There is no authentic spiritual life in the journey of unbelief. Those who make their way by their own guidance do so in complete spiritual darkness. The apostle Paul describes them as someone fumbling about in the dark for the light-switch (Acts 17:27). (2) It is evident because it is not like the life of Jesus at all (1 John 2:6). Some of the common perceptions of Jesus are way off the mark. Jesus was no political radical who got Himself killed for his political views. He was not a reformer who sought to encourage some change in the Pharisaical class. Jesus is the Son of God who came to bring spiritual life to those who trust in Him. (3) It is evident because it is characterized by hatred for Christians (1 John 2:11). The apostle Paul wrote the same thing (Romans 14:15). Unbelievers do not like believers. Jesus warned His disciples that they should not be surprised when they learn that the world hates them because they hated Him first (John 15:18). Those who follow Jesus find that they experience “afflictions in the gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). There is something real about suffering for the Lord’s sake.
Some of the common qualities that define this “walk” are sins such as moral impurity and idolatry, anger, rage, and malice, blasphemy against God, lies, and wicked speech (Colossians 3:5-9). Other examples of the sins that characterize the lives of those on this particular path are being drunk, being jealous of others, and being sexually immoral (Romans 13:13). Now it may be that you are still on this non-Christian path, but you believe that your life is not characterized by these particular sins. This does not contradict the Scriptures. If you look at your own heart honestly, you will discover that there are a variety of sins you commit, some of them quite regularly. Be honest. Do you ever get angry and lose your temper? Are you ever selfish? Have you gossiped about others? Are you ever prideful? (2 Corinthians 12:20-21) Have you ever stolen something? Have you ever worshipped a god other than the God of the Bible? (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Do you love yourself? Do you love money? Do you boast about yourself? Have you disobeyed (or are you disobeying) your parents? Do you forget to thank God for what He has given to you? Have you lied about others? (2 Timothy 3:2-5) The pre-Christian walk, the road that Jesus says leads to destruction, is a life filled with sin. It may not be the “worst” sorts of sins, but it is still a life separated from the righteousness of God.
The Christian Walk (rough but destined to life)
The Christian life is completely different from life of an unbeliever. Saved people live a “new life” that is “in Christ.” This connection is obvious. Paul wrote: “as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). This is the “identity” part of discipleship. He encouraged Christians to “walk in a manner worthy of your calling (salvation) by which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). This is the “conformity” and “activity” parts of discipleship. It is a lifestyle that rejects anything that goes against God (Ephesians 4:17). Instead, this walk is a lifestyle that is in a manner worthy of the Lord by both (1) pleasing Him and (2) by bearing fruit in every action and attitude (Colossians 1:10). This lifestyle is that which Paul taught new believers that he discipled (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Trusting in the gospel of Jesus means being “buried with Him” in His death so that even as He rose from the dead, so we also “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). It is a life characterized as “according to the Spirit” rather than “according to the flesh” (Romans 8:4). It is also a walk that is by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The most comprehensive explanation of this “walk” is in Ephesians. Because Christians are saved by grace through faith (2:8-9), they have been created in Jesus for a very specific divine purpose. God has pre-ordained that those who are saved in Christ would do “good works.” This is the Christian way. Salvation is by grace, not good works. However, the Christian life is all about doing good works (God’s will through complete surrender to the Holy Spirit) to the glory of God. Salvation is not by works of self-righteousness, but by God’s mercy (Titus 3:5). The Christian life, however, is about maintaining good works (Titus 3:8, 13). Paul writes: “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). What are the good works that make up the Christian “walk?” The emphasis in Ephesians is on the personal transformation that occurs (sanctification) after our decision to follow Jesus (salvation).
The Christian’s Change in Christ
A Christian should not have the same attitude as he did before he became a follower of Jesus. It is God’s will that a Christian lives his life in a manner that is worthy of his calling to salvation (Ephesians 4:1). The character quality that Paul emphasizes here is humility. A Christian should have a humble opinion of oneself (lowliness) accompanied by a mild demeanor (meekness). This humility is one of the quintessential character qualities of mature believers. Think about it this way—how weird does it seem that someone who is self-described as a prisoner also has an uppity attitude? Servants of Jesus (or slaves/prisoners of Jesus—4:1) must have a right view of self. He should never lose his temper at other people’s faults. When someone sins against him, he should forbear and forgive because he is called to forgive other people to the same threshold of God’s own forgiveness of his sins. “Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). He should also work to maintain peace with others, especially within the church.
The Christian life should also be characterized by righteousness. Humble believers readily put away spiritually harmful sin. Instead of lying, a follower of Jesus should “speak the truth” (Ephesians 4:25). Instead of being sinfully angry, he should put away wrath (4:26). Instead of stealing, he should work so that he can give to others (4:28). Instead of speaking corrupt words, we should speak edifying words (4:29). Instead of speaking bitter towards others, he should speak peace (4:31-32).
The Christian life is also about love (Ephesians 5:1-4). Being controlled by God-like love is part of Christian discipleship (5:1-2). This love is compared to the way that Jesus loves His people. This is sacrificial love. This requires one to put the interests of others before his own. A good example of this godly love is a rejection of committing sexual sin. Man-centered love (5:3-4) is steeped in fornication, sexual activity outside the marriage bond; it is exemplified in uncleanness such as sexual lust (voyeurism, pornography); it is sexual covetousness such as sexual lust for a person who is not his or her spouse. Moreover, even within the boundary of marriage, such lust only seeks to fulfill one’s own desires, not considering the needs of the other spouse. This is not how God ordained marriage to be. Sacrificial love is also expressed verbally. We should not be man-centered love in our words (5:4). We should not use obscenities, engage in “dirty” conversation, or even joke about sexually impure things. This is commonly seen in the “comedy” on television, on the internet, and in the movies, producing laughs. This is not for believers.
Rather, the Christian life is about living in the “light” of God’s truth. Salvation begins the sanctification process whereby a Christian begins to progressively put away sinful activities that characterize unbelievers. These are described as “walking” in a spiritually mindless fashion (4:17). This is because non-Christians are spiritually blind and are without spiritual life (4:18). Just as a Christian should progressively become more like Jesus, unbelievers progressively become more like their “master,” Satan (2:2, 4:19). Unbelievers are becoming increasingly corrupt (4:22). Consequently, Christians should not participate in their sin. Believers should not become attached to unbelievers so as to come to practice their sin. Psalm 1 indicates that the blessed man (the “happy” Christian) is one who disassociates himself from those who provide ungodly counsel, who practice sinful things, or who scorn God’s way. This same concept is reintroduced in the wisdom passages at the beginning of Proverbs. “If sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Proverbs 1:10). This is why God’s wrath is coming upon the wicked (Ephesians 5:6-14). While believers were, at one time, a party to such behavior (or would have been if not saved at an early age), a new life in Christ should mean a complete break from the old life so that there is no participation in sin. Now, instead of being characterized by sinful (death) behavior (5:8) Christians are characterized by righteous (life) behavior (5:8b). Followers of Jesus are to order their lives in righteousness, not in sinfulness. This is what God loves. When the Spirit of God is in control, a formerly sinful person produces the “fruit” of the Spirit, described as goodness, righteousness, and truth. If something is described by God as “the unfruitful works of darkness,” a Christian should not engage in these things but rather, reprove them (5:11). It is shameful for a believer to even talk about such things. Instead, God’s people should expose them in the light of God’s truth (5:13).
This kind of living only occurs as believers live in wisdom of God. Christians must observe to take each step in wisdom and not folly (Ephesians 5:15). The Bible defines wisdom as the combination of three essential qualities. Wisdom involves the knowledge of God. Knowledge itself is not wisdom. There are many very smart people who are really “fools” (Romans 1:22). Knowing God, however, is where true wisdom begins because God is truth. Everything that is right and true is from Him. The second essential quality is ability. This is the skill to apply the knowledge of God to life. Knowing that something is true alone is not wisdom. It must be applied to the life in order to qualify as wisdom (James 1:22-25). The final aspect of wisdom is discipline. This is the actual will to action. Knowing the truth and how to apply that truth to a situation is not wisdom if it is not actually done. The will must be there to do it (Proverbs 22:3). Those who just go with the flow of life are in danger of living in folly. They adopt the same values as their culture. They rear their children in the same manner—they rear fools. Those who go in the will of God adopt His plans for themselves. They know what God wants and are determined to do it.
The Christian’s Enemy and How to Fight Him
The enemy of Jesus is Satan. He is exposed as such (Ephesians 2:2). His desire is to destroy people (John 8:44).2 Peter compares Satan to a hungry lion who is roaming about looking for someone to eat (1 Peter 5:8). He cautions Christians to be on their guard against him. John refers to Satan as a dragon and a serpent signifying both his power and his subtlety (Revelation 12:4, 9; 20:2). It is paramount that Christians do not give him any amount of influence in the life (Ephesians 4:27). He has methods (6:11) that can are dangerous to the Christian’s life (they are described as fiery darts—6:16). Unfortunately, Satan has two accomplices in his effort to harm. These are the sinful flesh and the world (2:2-3). While the world is external, the flesh is internal. Christians take their sinful flesh with them everywhere. It is something that cannot be escaped in this life.
It is paramount, then, that Christians learn to fight against Satan, the world, and their own flesh. God has not left His people empty-handed in the fight. Christians can be “strong in the Lord’s strength” (6:10) by putting on God’s armor. The pieces of this armor are comprised of truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, and salvation (6:14-17a). He also holds in his hand a weapon of great power when put to use—God’s own Word (6:17b). This is described as “the Spirit’s sword.” It is wielded through prayer as the Christian prays for himself personally and in intercession for others.
It is also important to remember that Jesus is greater than Satan. The armor God provides is perfectly able to protect us against the Devil (Ephesians 6:11). While he is in the world and against us, and has our own sinful flesh as an ally, the One who is in us is greater still (1 John 4:4). The fiery darts of Satan cannot harm those who hold onto the shield of faith.
Personal Application Questions
- In what areas of life (of the five mentioned in Ephesians) is your “walk” different from your “talk?”
- What specific sins do you need to “put off” so that your lifestyle mirrors your position in Christ?
- What practical things can you do to help other believers in their “walk” with the Lord?
- Read Colossians 2:6-7, 3:1-4:1.
- What does it mean to “walk in him (Jesus Christ)?” (from 2:6)
- What does it mean to “seek” the things above (3:1) or to set our affection on things above (3:2)?
- What does it mean to you when Paul writes “you have put off the old man” and “have put on the new man?”
- Recount a few times when you have forgiven someone or needed someone to forgive you.
- How should your Christian “walk” influence your daily life at work and home (3:18-4:1)?
1 Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken
2 Satan can be identified as both a liar and a murderer. These twin ideas are critical for understanding spiritual warfare.