Ephesians 4:17–19 “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
“It is possible for believing people like us who are truly distressed by the course of this world to live lives that are so profoundly influenced by culture that Sodom is reborn in the lives of those we love the most.” — R. Kent Hughes
Sometimes the most helpful instruction is to highlight a negative example. For example, perhaps your middle school teacher drove home the importance of loyalty by telling the story of the famous American traitor Benedict Arnold. In other words, we often need direction on what not to do in order to understand the correct way. The Holy Spirit through Paul uses this strategy to direct us in our lives as the redeemed church. He begins in Ephesians 4:17–19 by telling us how not to walk. This sobering depiction of unbelievers provides a dark backdrop against which the light of a renewed life in Christ will shine. These verses begin an extended contrast that shows the transforming difference God’s grace makes in the life of a believer.
|This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk,||I solemnly affirm this truth by Christ’s own authority that you no longer behave as unsaved sinners|
|in the vanity of their mind,||who live according to a completely worthless mindset|
|having the understanding darkened,||(1) that in its moral reflection is covered in darkness|
|being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:||(2) that is separated in hostility from God’s life because of willful ignorance and a stubborn insensibility to spiritual truth and|
|who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.||(3) that results in a callous abandonment of moral restraint in order to practice all kinds of impurity, with greed but not satisfaction.|
Paul solemnly commands the Ephesian believers to conduct their lives in a manner that is completely different from the prevailing, corrupt lifestyle of the Gentiles (or unbelievers). Our new life in Christ demands a new lifestyle. Paul reminds us of our former meaningless condition—hardened toward God, full of darkness and morally bankrupt—with the purpose of showing us where we came from and what we can no longer be.
First of all, Gentiles are hardened toward God.
Their hearts are like petrified wood, impenetrable because of their stubbornness toward God. Little conviction breaks through to their hearts, because they have willfully resisted the knowledge of the truth. They have become internally calloused and can no longer feel guilt or shame for their moral sins. The root of all error and idolatry in mankind springs out of a stubborn, hardened heart toward God. Their deepest problem is not ignorance but stubbornness, “because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God” (Romans 1:21).
Secondly, Gentiles live in darkness.
Though they may be intellectually gifted, they have no spiritual light and are mentally incapacitated when it comes to knowing God (1 Cor. 1:21). Gentiles are incapable of knowing the truth, because they lack divine illumination, due to satanic bondage. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3–4). Unbelievers are alienated from the greatest reality in the universe—God—and are therefore incapable of understanding life’s purpose.
Thirdly, Gentiles are morally bankrupt.
Because of their hardened hearts, they have thrown off God’s moral standards and have abandoned themselves to self-gratification. They flaunt their sexuality in public without shame and gratify it in private without guilt. They are preoccupied with their morally corrupt appetites, which can never be satisfied. In the end the hard-hearted Gentiles are slaves to their lusts, for which they are ultimately ruined and eternally damned (Eph. 2:3, 5:5).
Consequently, Gentiles live meaningless lives.
Their lives are full of “vanity” (4:17). Since they do not know God, they have not discovered life’s purpose. They make choices simply to satisfy their own desires or to fulfill ambitions that have no eternal meaning or value. Therefore, their lives are ultimately futile.
As believers, we must decisively break with the old life as characterized by the Gentiles, making every attempt to ensure that our lives are free of worldly motivations and practices. Becoming a Christian means receiving a new life full of meaning, a life in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We are now a part of the church, the body of Christ. The moral image of God is within our hearts creating new, fresh desires to change and to become like Christ. Our testimony to the power of God in salvation is seen in the transformation that has taken place in our lives.
Hear Dr. Pettit’s chapel message on Ephesians 4:17–19:
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