What should we be doing with our lives after becoming Christians? Should we just avoid sin but otherwise please ourselves, killing time waiting for heaven? Of course not, we have a Lord – Jesus Christ, and should be seeking to please him. It’s important to avoid certain things that displease him, but that wouldn’t give us anything to do. It’s a stultified version of Christianity that teaches only things to avoid. Paul mentions such things elsewhere in this passage, but here he urges us to consider what to do. We should make decisions about what to do with each day, and indeed our whole lives, first and foremost by considering what pleases the Lord Jesus. This should be the Christian’s primary motivation.
The first thing to do is find out. This in itself is something to do. Obviously Bible reading and study etc. will be involved, as Paul explains to Timothy, ‘Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’(2 Timothy 3:16-17) But there’s a spiritual dynamic Paul emphasises here in a preceding phrase. ‘Walk as children of light… proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.’ The word ‘proving’ here could be translated ‘finding out’, ‘discerning’ or ‘trying out’. So these are not two disconnected instructions. Finding out results from walking as a child of the light. So how does this work?
Basically we learn on the job; it’s learning by doing – more specifically as we walk in the spiritual light God illuminates us with. At salvation we’re lit up by God’s light and are born as Christians, hence ‘children of light’. Then we begin to live the Christian life, often described as walking. As we walk, seeing by God’s spiritual light, we begin to understand what pleases the Lord – we find out. Importantly, we don’t have to attain a certain standard before starting. This learning by doing includes learning by our mistakes. As John put it, ‘God is light… if we walk in the light… the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’(1 John 1:5-9)
None of this can happen unless we’re connected spiritually to the Lord. In the preceding sentence we read, ‘you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.’ This being ‘in the Lord Jesus Christ’ is the key dynamic driving every Christian’s life story forward. As Paul urges the Colossians: ‘you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him’(Colossians 2:6-7).
So what does this walking in the Lord look like? This is in verse 9: ‘the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’. Now we begin to see some details. These three words are headings for areas in our lives in which we’ll learn to please God as we walk: ‘goodness’ represents moral character; it includes obedience and good deeds – being a good child, obeying God our Father: ‘righteousness’ represents justice – we will tend to be fair people, promoting a just and fair society as salt and ‘light’ in it: ‘truth’ represents becoming increasingly sound in our understanding of Christianity as we learn and articulate it – as Paul puts it earlier in this letter, ‘speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ’(Ephesians 4:15).
Living each day by these truths we will do well, but the things we do with each day are influenced greatly by plans and decisions made earlier in life – e.g. whether to remain single or marry, to have children; choosing our job, town, accommodation, associates, pastimes, etc. If we’re privileged enough to be Christians when making such plans it’s important to consider prayerfully, given our gifts and opportunities, what way of life is most pleasing to the Lord. Although joy for ourselves will often result, and pleasing others (boss, family, associates) by serving them will certainly be involved, pleasing such people should be secondary to our primary purpose of pleasing the Lord through walking in Him as a Child of the light.
As Paul continues, ‘watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time… don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.’(Ephesians 5:15-17)