[In these days of increasing pressures in life I thought I would change the order in this article by having shorter sections at the beginning of the article. Such as, an introduction to the text we are looking at, the actual text and then a simple prayer based on that as we continue the series on praying through Ephesians. Following that are the results of a more detailed study of the passage. ]
A]. AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PASSAGE
In this section of the epistle Paul reminds his readers of the difference Christ makes when He is encountered and received into human lives. He does so by writing of the state of the Gentiles [non-Jews] who had not yet come to submit their lives to Christ. It is not a pretty picture. They may have been born in spiritual darkness but Paul emphases that they are culpable for their refusal to submit to Him.
By contrast, those who had come to trust in Jesus had become different. However to live as they should, required determined effort on their part. We will look later at this in more detail. First of all we look at the passage.
B]. THE PASSAGE. EPHESIANS 4:17-24
Eph 4:17 “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ! 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
C}. A SIMPLE PRAYER BASED ON THE PASSAGE
“Heavenly Father, We thank You that when we heard the good news about You, You gave us grace to respond to Your love in Your Son, Jesus Christ. We thank You that You brought us out of the darkness of sin and ignorance and gave us victory over the things that previously dominated our lives. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit to give ourselves completely to You, so that we may become more like Christ-like in everything we say and do. We ask these things in the precious name of Jesus. AMEN.”
D]. A DETAILED STUDY OF THE PASSAGE. EPHESIANS 4:17-24
CHARACTERISTICS OF GENTILES. [Those who didn’t trust in Jesus]
- Gentile minds were futile. 4:17 “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”
“Futility” in the original Greek language is the word [mataiotēs; ματαιότης]. It derives from [mátaios μάταιος] meaning empty or vain. It is found only here and in Romans 8:20, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope.” The following verse helps us understand some of its meaning, where Paul wrote, “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Rom 8:21. The creation is corrupt because of the Fall and so too are the humans by natural birth. Unregenerate humans’ minds are not what God created them to be. They became empty of the true knowledge of God and thus their thinking was vain.
This is brought out particularly in Romans 1:21 where the verb form is used denoting the result of the Fall, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futilein their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” [Note 1].
- Gentile minds were darkened in their understanding.18 “They are darkened in their understanding.”“Darkened” is [skotizō; σκοτίζω]. We saw in the previous paragraph how futility and darkness are associated with each other as they are in this verse. So we have a combination of futile thinking, foolish darkened hearts and darkened understanding.
John in John 1: 5 speaks of the darkness of the fallen world and that Christ [as the light of the world] had come to bring light to a world in darkness. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”Turning to Christ is the only way people can come from darkness into the light. When they do, they are no longer in darkness and they no longer have futile minds. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 2 Cor 3:14.
- Gentiles were alienated from the life of God. 18 “alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.” [“Alienated” is from the verb apallotrioō; ἀπαλλοτριόω.] However it is interesting that the verb is in the perfect tense, which stands for a past action with a present abiding result.
The meaning is that fallen humans [such as the Gentile and other unbelievers] are alienated from God and will remain so until they are enlightened and reconciled to God by receiving His Son as Saviour. Their “ignorance” of God also remains until they turn to Him.
- Gentile hearts were hardened.“due to their hardness of heart.” The Gentile ongoing ignorance was due to their hardness of heart. The word for “hardness” is known to many people in its English form. It is [pōrōsis; πώρωσις. The verb form “hardened” is pōroō, πωρόω] Thus osteoporosis is a hardening of the bones so that they become brittle.
In our English language we often refer to some people as being “hard- hearted.” In other words, they lack a sense of compassion and are unloving in their approach to others. It is a sad situation when the Person they are hard- hearted towards, is God Himself. Sad for them! Because of that they may not understand the purposes of God. We see that happening with Jesus’ own disciples. Mark records of them, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Mk 6:52. Jesus censured them for failing to understand the significance of what was happening at that stage in His ministry, “And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” Mk 8:17.
Paul twice wrote of the hardness of the Jews in responding to Jesus and to the Christian message, In Rom 11:7 he wrote, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it but the rest were hardened.” And as we saw above, in 2Cor 3:14 he wrote,“But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.”
Hard hearts prevent compassion being shown by those who have them. They also inhibit understanding, especially of the purposes of God for His people.
- Gentile behaviour stemmed from callous hearts.19 “They have become callous”
The ‘plot thickens’ as they say. From hardness of heart we go to “callous.” This is a perfect participle of the Greek word [apalgeō; ἀπαλγέω] remembering that the Perfect tense of a verb demotes a past action with a present abiding result. It means that they had come to a stage where they lacked feeling, had become apathetic or beyond feeling. Not just hard but calloused! That is a pretty advanced form of hardness of heart. The problem is that it can lead to a declining sense of values as we see in the following phrases.
- Gentiles became sensuous. “and have given themselves up to sensuality”
It is amazing as you read these words to see the lengths people can go to in losing control of their lives. “Giving [themselves] up” is from the word, [paradidōmi; παραδίδωμι ]. It can mean to surrender to, to hand over, to deliver. For example, Paul used it three times of God “handing over’” those who rebelled against Him as their Creator, in Rom 1:24,26,28. He used it of Jesus as being handed over to fufil God’s purposes, “who was delivered upfor our trespasses and raised for our justification” Rom 4:25 and in Rom 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” [NOTE 2]
So the Gentiles callously chose to give themselves up to “sensuality.” What is that? The word is [aselgeia; ἀσέλγεια]. It is often translated as licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, sexual excess or even perversion. It is one of the “works of the flesh” [or unregenerate nature] in Galatians 5:19. There are other apparent references to sexual excesses in the New Testament that use this word. [NOTE 3].
- Gentiles were greedy to practice every kind of impurity. “greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
“Impurity“ [akatharsía; ἀκαθαρσία] is another of the works of the flesh in Gal 5:19 along with sensuality. Gentiles were greedy [really wanting] to practice [or work out] every sort of impurity. It refers to moral uncleanness as well as uncleanness in general. They were not greedy for purity but for impurity.
It is interesting to note that in the next chapter, both impurity and greed [covetousness ] are named as not being fitting for the believer, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” 5:3.
Paul in Colossians 3:5, gave the reason, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Greed or covetousness is actually serving another god!
So how could the unbelieving Gentiles become free to live as the True God desired them to live? That is the question Paul now goes on to answer!
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NEW [CHRISTIAN] LIFE. [Those who do trust in Jesus]
- The New Way of Living Is Based On Knowing Christ. “But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.” Coming to a true knowledge of Jesus is liberating.
The gospel is good news. It is the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done for humankind. The Ephesians had heard and responded to the gospel message and committed their lives to the Christ of the message. Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of their commitment to Jesus.
- The New Way Involves putting Off The Old [Unregenerate] Self. 22 “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.”
These believers had been made alive spiritually through Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”, Eph 2:5-6.
They had become new creatures in Christ, [2 Cor 5:17.]
They had received the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable them to walk in the victory that Christ had accomplished on their behalf. That involved actively putting to death anything of the old self that surfaced and allowing the new self to be manifest in their lives.
- The New Way Involves Being Renewed In The Spirit Of Their Minds.23 “and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” The word “Renewed” is [ananeoō; ἀνανεόω] and surprisingly it is its only occurrence in the New Testament.
However a similar word rendered “renewal” is found in Rom 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… .”It appears that such renewal is a process to valued and be pursued by all believers.
- The New Way Involves Putting On The New Self.24 “and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
To put on the new self, created in believers by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, also requires a committed approach. It means living like Jesus, allowing our lives to be are inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit as we open ourselves completely to Him. This is not some fake display of righteousness or holiness but the real thing. It is true righteousness. It is true holiness. As Paul expressed his sincere aim to the Philippians, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”Phil 3:9. God’s righteousness was imputed to Paul as he trusted in Christ.
There is victory over ignorance and sin for every unbeliever. Entirely free! But it came at the cost of the life of the Son of God. There is no such thing as cheap grace. The Creator’s blood was willingly shed for His creatures. The victory the unbelievers can obtain is found only in Christ. The Christ who knocks at the door of very human heart and says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.” Millions of unbelieving Gentiles have found that to be true over many centuries, the present writer among them.
[NOTE 1]. References to “futile.”
Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
1 Cor. 3:20 – the lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile
1 Cor. 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
1 Pet. 1:18. you were ransomed from your futile ways
[NOTE 2]. References to “deliver” or “hand over.” [paradidōmi; παραδίδωμι].
1 Cor. 5:5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
1 Cor. 11:23 – “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread.”
1 Cor. 13:3 –“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
1 Cor. 15:24 –“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power”
2 Cor. 4:11 – “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Gal. 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Eph. 5:2 – “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Eph. 5:25 –“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
[NOTE 3] References to “sensuality.”
Rom. 13:13. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
2Cor 12:21. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
2 Pet. 2:2. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
2 Pet. 2:7. (Sodom and Gomorrah) and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked
2 Pet 2:18. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.