The verb "walk" in its literal sense of going along or moving about on foot at a moderate pace is found numerous times in the Gospels. However, this same verb is more often used throughout the Old Testament and the epistles of the New Testament in a metaphorical way. In this sense it means to follow a certain course of life or to conduct oneself in a certain way. Many times the verb translated "walk" is present tense in the Greek of the New Testament, which means that the writer is referring to a continued mode of conduct or behavior. In fact, the infinitive "to walk" can be translated, in a Hebraistic way, "to live." Such a use is common in the Old Testament and the writings of Paul and of John, but is not found in those of Peter or James.
Throughout the New Testament, the verb "walk" is qualified in various ways to ensure that the reader understands what correct Christian living or conduct is and what it is not. Christians are not to continue to walk in darkness ( 1 John 1:6 ; 2:11 ). What John means is that Christians should not continue living in ignorance of divine truth, an ignorance that is associated with sin and its evil results. Along with this, their walk should not be characterized by craftiness and cunning ( 2 Cor 4:2 ) or by such sins as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, sins, the writer says, which used to characterize their continual living before salvation ( Col 3:5-7 ).
To the contrary, Christian living should be characterized by newness of life ( Rom 6:4 ), good works ( Eph 2:10 ), love ( Eph 5:2 ), wisdom ( Col 4:5 ), truth (3 John 4), and obedience to the light received from the apostle ( 1 Thess 4:10 ).
The standard of victorious Christian living is stated two different ways by the apostle Paul. His dominant theme in Romans 8 is that the Christian is not to continue walking "according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (v. 4; see also vv. 12-13). The sinful nature in this expression is not bodily, material flesh but that ethical flesh, which refers to the sin dwelling in the Christian, as referred to in Romans 7:17, 20, 21, 23. It is the nature of humankind, apart from the supernatural influences of the Holy Spirit; and this corrupt sinful nature, the core of which is selfishness, must not govern our conduct. In other words, Paul writes that the Christian should not live in accordance with the age to which this world belongs ( Eph 2:2 ). The mature Christian will walk in accordance with the Holy Spirit's leading ( Rom 8:4 ) via the Lord's commands given to him in the Scriptures (2 John). This leading is not some ethereal, mystical kind of guidance but comes in the form of clear "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots."
In addition to writing the instruction given above, the New Testament writers do not leave maturing Christians in the dark as to the manner of walking that is expected from them. They are not to keep on walking as the nations or Gentiles outside Christ do ( Eph 4:17 ). The apostle Paul thereby lets his readers know that he expects a different lifestyle from Christians than from non-Christians. They are not to conduct their lives in an unruly or disorderly fashion, deviating from the prescribed kind of life or rule given by the apostles in the Bible ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6 2 Thessalonians 3:11 ). Some Christians in Thessalonica, because of wrong beliefs about the second coming of Christ, had given up their Jobs and were sponging off the other church members. Paul reminds the church that this should not be tolerated and that the one who does not work should not be allowed to eat at the expense of the others.
To the contrary, the members of the faith should continue walking decently and properly, as in the daylight ( Rom 13:13 ), not in carousing, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, sensuality, strife, or jealousy. The deeds of darkness must be put away and the armor of the light needs to be put on ( Rom 13:12 ). They should walk worthy of their calling as Christians ( Eph 4:1 ). They should walk as children of the light who have the lamp of the Bible for their guidance ( Eph 5:8 ). Furthermore, they should walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of the time because the days are evil. They should behave circumspectly and with great care and understanding of what the will of the Lord is ( Eph 5:15-17 ). In addition, they ought to walk in a manner that is suitable and worthy of God, whose children they are ( Eph 4:1 ). A Christian should continue walking decently and properly with reference to those outside the church ( 1 Thess 4:12 ). Finally, the Christian should continue behaving in this world, as much as possible, as Christ behaved ( 1 John 2:6 ) and as Paul, in his own life, exemplified a pattern of Christian living ( Php 3:17 ).
In 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul described the means of the Christian's walk or behavior which he describes in his epistles. He succinctly says, "We live by faith, not by sight." To walk by faith means to rely on Christ for one's own salvation and to trust that the promises found in the Bible, God's Word, are dependable and will be faithfully fulfilled. Paul also wrote the Galatians that they should continue walking by the Spirit ( Gal 5:16 ).
From both the Old and New Testament references, it is clear that the metaphorical or figurative use of the English verb, "walk, " refers to conduct or behavior which, it is insisted, should support one's verbal testimony. The metaphorical use of the word "walk" in the Bible refers to the way in which an individual lives or conducts his or her life; and regularly, the Christian's walk will be in stark contrast to that of the unbeliever's.
Wesley L. Gerig
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Walk'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".