Darkness characterized our existence before we knew Christ; therefore, we once engaged gladly in that which manifests evil hearts — sexual immorality, covetousness, deceptiveness, and all other forms of impurity (Eph. 5:3–8a). Now that we have trusted Jesus, however, we are light in the Lord and must walk in a way consistent with light — in goodness, righteousness, and truth (vv. 8b–9). There is an even simpler way to summarize what it means to walk in the light, however. As the apostle Paul tells us in today’s passage, those who are in the light of Christ “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (v. 10).
Scripture often emphasizes our need to please God in all circumstances. The psalmist hoped that his prayer would please the Creator (Ps. 104:34). Paul and his ministry partners aimed to please the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9). Christians who support the work of the gospel present a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable to God” (Phil. 4:18). This desire to please God is a mark of conversion, and the Bible finds it inconceivable that any regenerate person would lack a desire to please the Lord.
Some people might consider an emphasis on our need to do what pleases God incompatible with the gospel of justification by faith alone. Indeed, a stress on pleasing the Lord would be improper if we were to believe that we must please God before He will save us. Our best deeds fall far short of our Creator’s perfect standards (Isa. 64:6), so pleasing Him is not our ticket to heaven. But it is not inconsistent to seek to please the Lord following salvation. In fact, a desire to please God is the necessary and inevitable consequence of the new birth. We see this in the very structure of Ephesians: first, Paul describes salvation by grace and prays that we would understand this doctrine (Eph. 1–3), then he describes how we are to lead a life pleasing to God in light of this redemption (Eph. 4–6).
How do we discern what pleases the Lord? Dr. R.C. Sproul answers, “There is no way of learning more accurately or more quickly about what is pleasing to God, than studying the law of God” (The Purpose of God: Ephesians, p. 125). Soaking ourselves in Scripture reinforces our understanding of the light in which we must walk, transforming our minds that we might do what pleases God (Rom. 12:2).