Walking Worthy: A Call to Live out the Faith

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

I was recently struck by the idea of living a life that is “worthy” of certain things in the NT. As one reads through the NT they are confronted in a number of different places with this idea. We are to live in such a way that our life is considered “worthy” of God, our calling, and the gospel. There are a numerous questions that come up as we think more carefully about this concept. In this post I want to try and explain in part how we should understand the phrase “walking worthy.”

Before we begin, however, I find that it will be helpful to list the three passages I specifically have in mind while subsequently offering a few brief thoughts on each. The first passage is Ephesians 4:1. Paul seems to lay out who we are in Christ in the first three chapters of Ephesins before turning to ethical exhortations in the last three chapters. After closing with a prayer in chapter 3, Paul begins chapter 4 urging the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (ESV). The second passage is found in Philippians as Paul uses a similar admonishment. Paul recounts in 1:12-26 how he is in “chains” but that his imprisonment “has really served to advance the gospel” (1:12 NIV, 1984). After talking about his remaining (versus departing to be with Christ) for them (1:24), he says in 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (ESV). Lastly, in 1 Thessalonians Paul uses almost identical language in 2:12. In this passage he has talked about his ministry in Thessalonica, how he has been “gentle” (2:7) among them, has worked diligently (2:9), and has behaved as a “father” towards his “children” (2:11). Then Paul exhorts them to “walk in a manner worthy of God…” (2:12).

As we can see, Paul did not think it wrong to call professing Christians to a standard of life. From these texts we can at least say that Paul thought the Christian life should be  worthy of (1) a calling, (2) the gospel, and (3) God. Now, what that means needs unpacking. But first I want to comment on the idea of “walking” that appears in two of our three passages. Specifically, we see that we are to “walk in a manner…” in Ephesians 4:1 and in 1 Thessalonians 2:12. Without offering a long treatise on this idea, we can simply assert that to “walk in a manner” is merely a reference to how a person is to live. The NIV captures  this when it translates Ephesians 4:1 as “live a life worthy” and Philippians 1:27 as “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy…”. From the NIV rendering we can clearly see that Paul is setting out to address how a person lives.

So we see that Paul calls Christians to live to a standard. But what does it mean to live worthy of God, the gospel, and our calling? To understand that, we have to understand the three ideas of God, the gospel, and our calling. Briefly, let me comment on those.

First, we are to walk worthy of God. This is the one true and living God who exists as three persons. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is holy, majestic, good, righteous, and just. He is perfect in every way and we are to reflect him in our very existence. We are created in him image and serve as reflectors of the divine glory (Gen. 1:27). So, we can at least say that living worthy of God is striving to live in a way that rightly reflects who he is. Gene L. Green summarizes the idea nicely. He states, “[w]hat Paul has in mind is the “holy” life (Col. 1:10), one that honors God in all its relationships and activities” (Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 137).

Second, we are to walk worthy of the gospel. What is the gospel? The  gospel is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of the sinners. This is the message that Paul delivered as of “first importance” to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15) and is to be preached to the ends of the earth. Somehow our life is either worthy of the gospel or it is not. Peter T. Obrien helps us understand what Paul is trying to communicate. Obrien writes, “[b]y calling the Philippians to live worthily of the gospel Paul is reminding them of the prior action of God in their midst. At the same time ‘the gospel establishes the norm of the Philippians conduct’. As they are wholly committed to the advance of the gospel, that is, its dynamic onward march, they will walk worthily of the gospel by holding fast to it, preaching and confessing it in spite of opposition and temptation” (Obrien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 148). Thus, walking worthy of the gospel is walking in a way that helps to hold onto and advance the very gospel that has saved you!

Third, and last, we are to walk worthy of our calling. This may be the more abstract idea of the three and a bit harder to put a finger on. Some take it to refer to the whole of what Paul has presented up to this point in Ephesians. Thus, the calling is bound up in our being chosen (1:3), predestined for adoption (1:5), called from death to life (2:1, 4-5), and made into one new man (body) (2:15). I prefer, however, to see the calling referring primarily to the bringing together of both Jew and Gentile. This has been the theme  that Paul has unpacked from 2:11-3:21. Then, after Paul calls the Ephesians to walk worthy (action) he then tells them how (manner). That is, he tells them what to do and how to do it. Walk worthy of the calling by humbly, gently, patiently, bearing with each other so that this unity created by the Spirit is maintained (4:1-3).

From these passages it is clear that we are called to a standard of life. We live a life that is worthy of all these things listed above. That means, those things that are listed (God, gospel, calling) deserve a certain type of life. If we lived unholy, pagan, and unrepentant lives, we might say that the relationship with God, the gospel that we believed, and the calling we received all deserved better. 

My aim in this rather lengthy post has been to try and show that Paul calls us, in at least these three passages, to live in light of certain realities. The three realities that he mentions are God, the gospel, and the calling we have received. All these realities deserve a specific type of life. Thus, today and everyday forward, you can either live worthy lives or unworthy lives. For the Christian, we strive to live in light of who we are in Jesus. And as we do, we walk worthy of the God who has called both Jew and Gentile together into the church through the gospel.

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