Walking the Word

Introduction: In light of the admonition in 4:17 no longer to walk as the Gentiles in the futility of their minds, and to put on the new self and to live a new way, Paul give further explanation of what is involved in such a walk. Particularly in reference to the forgiveness believers have received in Christ, he points them to a walk of love and light.

I. Walk in Love (Verses 1, 2)

A. You are loved as “Beloved Children,” so imitate the one who made you his child. The word for “imitators” is the word from which we derive “mimic.” Seek to follow the pattern of conduct we observe in the Father by which he claimed us as his own. The “therefore” points back to God’s provision of a means of forgiveness through his Son, the Christ (4:32). In this epistle, Paul returns to the idea of unconditional and creative love as necessary for his argument throughout. Note 5:25, 28, 33, 6:24, 25.

  1. God’s election of individuals to share eternal fellowship with him in holiness and blamelessness arises from love. This love is resident in his very nature and moves him to act graciously on behalf of sinners. Though he sees us as sinners, yet in grace he determines to justify us and qualify us for his presence for eternity (1:4).
  2. Conforming to the pattern of his election, “in love” the Father “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (1:5). We thus are made “beloved children” in the context of the Father’s wisdom expressed in predestination, “the kind intention of his will,” the wise counsel by which he brings his elect step by step to hear and believe the gospel.
  3. The entire operation of grace to accomplish proceeds in the context of his love for the Son. All his grace he “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” The Father loves the Son and has granted him a people who will know, worship, love, and praise the triune God through a work that only the Son could accomplish. If we imitate the Father, no barrier will hinder our work of love.

B. Christ loved you. The verb is a strict past tense (aorist) and probably refers to the specific act described. Paul has prayed (3:19) that we will “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” The Son, in the eternal covenant of redemption, joins the Father with a love that will find a way beyond all barriers. While this love, in accord with the Father’s, was eternal and never-ceasing, its most clearly observable manifestation was in the cross. What Paul tells these churches as a group he personalized in Galatians 2:20: “The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me.” The way in which Paul defines this love of Christ is short, pungent, and breathtaking.

  1. With purpose and determination, with the success of his undertaking in mind, “He gave himself up.” The “himself” who was given is the eternal Son of God who has taken our nature and our due wrath to cleanse us from culpability.
  2. This act of self-surrender was “for us.” He was holy and righteous and we were dead in trespasses and sins. The mere contrast between the giver and the recipient is in itself overwhelming. Nothing surpasses the grace and pure selflessness of that single act.
  3. The idea of Christ’s sacrifice as a fragrant aroma and sacrifice refers to its unblemished, pleasing, and beautiful character as sinless on the one hand, and its sufficiency as a propitiatory sacrifice on the other. That which was worthy of being pleasing to God also was worthy of bearing the full weight of the sins of others.



II. Walk as Children of Light (Verse 8)

A. Paul described the darkness that once engulfed our lives and constituted our identity (Verses 3-8). He already has said that in our lost state we were “darkened in our understanding.”

  1. Sexual Perversity and rampant materialism absorb the energies of those who are darkness. Because there is no transcendent value in the life of the lost person, he or she seeks to fill the senses with pleasure and with material security. In the Gentile culture this often involved even religious expressions of sexual perversity as temple prostitutes were on hand to satisfy the carnal desires of those who went to the temple in worship of Diana, Aphrodite, or one of the other pagan deities of physical pleasure.
  2. Their manner of using the great gift of speech is destructive and pours forth the perverseness of heart of the darkened understanding.
  • How readily the human mouth is given over to coarseness and filthiness, to suggestive innuendos of illicit sexuality, to malicious talk about other persons may be seen with just a few minutes of dialogue on late night talk shows or the inane verbal drivel of situation comedies. The workplace also often provides distressing examples of such unclean language and torrent of malice.
  • The Christian must counter this with expressions of thanksgiving to God for his merciful providences; we must use our tongues for praise and acknowledgement of God’s holy goodness. Verse 20 marks giving of thanks as a work of the Spirit. We must seek opportunities for building up people and provide an example of beautiful language and benevolent minds to add the salt of goodness to conversation.

B. Destiny of destruction. Those who are engulfed in the pleasures and pursuits of this world (“the lust of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life”– See 1 John 2:15-17 in several translations) have a miserable destiny.

  1. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who give themselves to the works of darkness will forever be separated from the joyful presence of God. They will be mired down in their own misery, enmeshed irretrievably in the vanity and destructive power of their own carnal corruptions—never even with the fulfillment of them as in this life, but only with the gnawing wretchedness of unattainable allurements.
  2. They will, instead, receive the wrath of God. Not only will the misery of pure and absolute frustration be their eternal condition, they will suffer justly under the wrath of God (verse 6). God’s wrath is a righteous anger that actively inflicts fitting punishment on breakers of his law and despisers of his holiness (Revelation 20:11-15).
  3. Do not be deceived by any false reasoning to the contrary. Like the original deceit, some will say, “You shall not surely die,” for God is too merciful to inflict eternal death on any of his creatures. Others will say, in a perverse manipulation of gospel grace, “You are free from the law and its condemnation; sin offers the opportunity for grace to abound, so do not be oppressive of your desires.” Others may say, like the dualistic Gnostics of the day, what you do in your body does not affect the purity of your spirit. Paul wrote that we are to glorify God in our body, that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, that is, wholly devoted to the service of God.
  4. Do not participate with them either in their conduct or their destiny. The Christian, therefore, does not participate in these former deeds of darkness, but flees from them. If a person participates with those of darkened understanding in their dark activities, they show that they themselves are darkness and will along with the other inhabit eternal darkness. When Jesus comes in his glory at the close of this age and renders his judgment, a portion of it will be a display of the conduct of all people. The group that has not lived their lives as children of light will hear the words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . .And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41, 46).

C. You are light. As in Ephesians 2, Paul reminds his readers that they lived among those and were like those who are darkness. “You were dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1), and “you were formerly darkness” (8). By the effectual work of the Spirit of God, they have been brought to life spiritually (2:5, 6) and the have been qualified “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12).

  1. What is the fruit of the light?
  • Goodness is a pervasive attribute of God. All his works are expressions of his goodness, including his redemptive mercies as well as his holy wrath. Likewise, our goodness as a fruit of light is manifest in our merciful and benevolent attitude and work toward others and in our resistance to evil in our own lives and in the culture in which we live.
  • Righteousness is a manifestation of God’s goodness expressed in the conformity of all his actions to his immutable holiness. Even in redemption and in the most extravagant demonstration of mercy and grace, God did not bypass his righteousness. Rather his redemptive work became the clearest demonstration of his righteousness—“It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Righteousness, therefore, consists of our faithfulness to God’s own uprightness, obedience to his commands, and honoring his prerogatives over all his creation. God established a testimony in Jacob and “appointed a law in Israel . . .that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and may not be like their fathers a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Psalm 78: 5, 7, 8). As children of light we see the goodness expressed in God’s commandments, love the righteousness that they convey, and seek to walk in their light.
  • Truth is the perfect correlation between God’s infinitely perfect being, his decrees, and his revelation of his decrees. Truth exists in the perfect correspondence between reality and statement. Jesus claims to be the way the truth, and the life for he has created all things, holds all things together, and in his own person shows the decrees of God to be immutable. If we walk in light, we will love truth and will seek to have our speech and our conduct consistent with the revealed will of God. We cannot walk in darkness and be people of truth: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. . . . If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not is us. . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). Saturation with the word of God that results in increasing conformity to its propositions in mind and conduct makes us people of truth.
  • John used this same analogy to light in his gospel and in his epistles. The relationship between free redemption and our being children of light he expressed this way: “God s light and in him is no darkness . . .If we walk in the light even as he himself is in the light, we are having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Sn is cleansing us from all sin” (1 John 1:5, 7).
  • That we might find out the will of God in the multiplicity of events and decisions that flood our lives, we walk as children of light. We test and prove what God’s will is through manifesting the fruit of light. A constant flow of truth, righteousness, and goodness from Scripture renews the mind for a keener discernment of what is well-pleasing to God. This sense of “testing” what is pleasing to the Lord is seen also in Romans 12:2 where Paul uses the words, “good, well-pleasing, and perfected” or mature.
  1. (Verses 11-14) What is the nature of light? It exposes what is hidden in darkness. In the light, we can see. A constant need for darkness causes blindness.
  • Do not participate in those actions that find darkness their friend. If darkness is needed to hide one’s actions from condemnation, if it is disgraceful to speak of the things done in darkness, then those things are to be avoided.
  • Instead, living in the light will necessarily expose the evil things of darkness. The perversity and ugliness of evil becomes clear when it is put into the light. The misalignment and asymmetrical nature of evil becomes obvious when it is placed in the light. What is not square is exposed by a plumb line. The light of truth is the “plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel” (Zechariah 4:10); the complaint of Amos that the Lord’s justice was too hard was ceased by God’s placing a plumb line in the midst of Israel (Amos 7:7-9). Peter instructed the churches, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11).
  • “Everything that becomes visible is light.” Even evil things promote that which is good when the light shows their damning effect. When the law exposed Paul’s covetousness (Romans 7:7-11) the true nature of its evil became obvious; sin unexposed and so unrecognized until then, became alive in the light of the law and killed Paul’s efforts to trust in his own righteousness. Covetousness placed in the light did not become any less sinful but was revealed in the reflection of righteousness as a true evil. In that way it becomes light, for even covetousness highlights the marvelous beauty of godly contentment.
  • When those asleep in their sin are aroused from their slumber by the truth of the gospel, it is the beauty, goodness, worthiness, and righteousness of Christ himself that shines on them. “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
  • To walk as children of light means that the fruit of light will be ever uncovering and bringing to light the dark deeds of unrighteousness: Honesty will expose dishonesty, truth will expose error, virtue will expose vice, purity will expose lasciviousness, worship will expose profaneness, thanksgiving will expose grumbling and ingratitude, forgiveness will expose vengefulness, repentance will expose pride, and faith will expose unbelief.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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