The apostle Paul uses the phrase walk worthy in Ephesians 4:1 and Colossians 1:10 in the KJV and NKJV. The NIV’s wording is “live a life worthy.” The ESV reads “walk in a manner worthy.”
In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul encourages the believers with the glorious truth of God’s grace in choosing them out of the world so that they would “be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). Then in chapter four, he turns to the practical application of the theology, exhorting them to “walk worthy” of their calling and position in Christ: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–3, NKJV).
To “walk” in the New Testament often refers to the daily conduct of one’s life. Ephesians 2:10 says God has ordained that His children should “walk” in good works (ESV). Paul similarly encourages the Colossian believers, praying that they would “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Colossians 1:10–12, NKJV). Paul assures the Christians in Rome that all whose faith rests in Christ have been baptized into His death and buried with Him, and that now, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, ESV).
The word worthy has the idea of “matching up”: our actions should match our words, and our outward presentation should match our inward convictions. To “walk worthy” of our calling means to live up to that calling, to live in such a way as to honor God as we complete His course of action for us. In Colossians 1, walking worthy is tied to four personal characteristics:
1) being fruitful in every good work
2) steadily increasing in the knowledge of God
3) using the power of God to joyfully endure and patiently persevere, and
4) giving thanks to the Father for what He has done.
The command to walk worthy of our calling does not mean that we are to somehow merit or earn our position. Rather, Paul is exhorting believers to live their lives so as to prove they belong to Christ. They are to maintain a fidelity to Christ and live with integrity. True believers will display the fruit of the Spirit who lives in them (John 14:17; Galatians 5:22–23). Their daily lives match their message (the gospel), their position in Christ, and the character of Christ. They live their religion, not merely profess it.
We have been called “with a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9, NASB). James reiterates the idea that we should walk according to that call, our lives reflecting good works: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14). James is warning those who do not walk worthy of their calling that their “faith” is a dead faith, which is no faith at all. How we live should match up with what we say we believe.
We have been called out of darkness into light (Acts 26:18), out of slavery to sin into freedom (Romans 6:16–18), and out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:9; Colossians 1:13). The reality of that calling is reflected in our daily lives as we rely on His divine power to “walk worthy.”