After spending the first part of Ephesians dealing with the nature of the church, spiritual gifts and Christian maturity, Paul now addresses the issue of living as a Christian in an unbelieving world.
“So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness”.
The recipients of this letter are Gentile converts to the Christian faith. The pagan gods of the Greek and Roman world provided the background and worldview of everyday life for these new believers. Sexual immorality and violence permeated the supernatural in that culture. These stories, while they were religious and very entertaining, they lacked any moral content or basis. Paul is instructing these new believers to completely abandon their “pagan thinking”. Paul describes the pagan worldview as futile, meaning that it is incapable of producing any useful result, it is pointless.
Paul further describes their thinking as “darkened in their understanding”, because they are alienated from God because of their ignorance due to the hardness of their hearts. The hardness of their hearts is the result of the idolatrous conditioning of their minds. They have lost all moral sensitivity; they have become insensitive to God and His ways.
Paul describes this process in Romans 1:21-23. “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles”.
Paul reasons “Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness”. Greediness refers to an increasing desire for more and more, the practice of self-gratification (no matter the sin) without regard for others. The argument Paul makes is that sinful passions and desires are never satisfied.
From Romans Paul reveals what happens with this wrong thinking, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done”, they are filled with every kind of unrighteousness. This concept that “God gave them over to a depraved mind” is difficult to understand. This paraphrase from The Message helps to clarify. “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!”
This spiral of sin is common in our culture today, we immediately think of addiction to drugs, alcohol or pornography, but be very aware of the spiral of sin connected to comparison of your life to others, which leads to sin, critiquing of others or to the need to assert your opinion on every subject that comes up. Whatever our sin Paul gives the antidote to this corrosive disease in Romans 12:2. “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”
Once again The Message helps me to understand, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Paul reminds the Ephesians about what they learned about Christ, you must not live like the Gentiles, because in Christ you have a different way of thinking and living. “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We have the Truth; we can test and judge all ideas, concepts, philosophies and claims against what God has revealed about himself in Scripture and in his Son Jesus.
Paul calls on the Ephesians to put off their old self, to lay aside the old man. “Our old way of life before we believed in Christ is completely in the past. We should put it behind us like old clothes to be thrown away. When we decide to accept Christ’s gift of salvation (2:8-10), it is both a one-time decision, as well as a daily conscious commitment. We are not to be driven by desire and impulse. We must put on the new nature, head in the new direction, and have the new way of thinking that the Holy Spirit gives.” Life Application commentary
We must shed our old ways of thinking and start over with new principles and expectations, which come from God himself. We do this by, renewing our minds and putting on the new man created in God’s image. Paul reminds us that we have been taught to lay aside our old life without Christ, and be transformed into the new man who has been created in God’s image –“in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.”
We have a choice. Put off, put on – that is the choice we must make. Reject our old way of thinking which leads into sin, and accept the new way of thinking, filled with the spirit that transforms us to be like Christ. Knowing that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.