Note: For those of you who read my last post on Ephesians, verses 13-15, I added verse 16 to it. Here’s the link:
Commentary on Ephesians, 13-16
“17 This therefore I say and testify in the Lord, [that] you no longer walk as the Gentiles walk: in the futility of their mind,” LEB
Notice Paul begins this sentence with “therefore.” He still has what he’s been talking about in view. He wants us to understand that what he’s about to say now still pertains to the same subject.
In other words, “therefore, with the growing and maturity of the body of Christ in mind, let’s make sure that we’re no longer walking according to the lifestyle that we used to have, the same lifestyle that characterizes those who don’t know Christ as we do.”
Our lives should reflect who we really are in Christ. If they don’t, and our lives instead look much like those who are without Christ, then we have a serious problem. Not only is the genuineness of our salvation in question, but we are at that point useless to the body of Christ.
“in the futility of their mind”
Unbelievers (Gentiles) live according to the futility of their minds. The Greek word for futility is mataiotes. It means devoid of the truth, depravity, perverseness, aimless, vain, futile. Wuest says: “Speaks of want of attainment.”
Think about each one of those words. Those are the words that describe the unregenerate. They live as they do because that is who they are. They’re spiritually depraved, so they’re simply being who they are. However, those words do not describe born-again followers of Christ. That is not who we are in Christ. Thus if we profess Christ, but our lifestyle is really no different than that of unbelievers, then it’s evidence that we are not really who we think we are. Either we were never born-again to begin with, or we have allowed sin to take over in our lives, and have thus drifted away from the faith we used to have in Christ.
The fact that Paul is exhorting Christians not to walk as unregenerate Gentiles, shows that it’s possible that we can indeed do so. Whenever the Word of God instructs us to do something, or warns us about the consequences of doing something (or not), then we know that the possibility of it occurring is real.
If we as professing Christians live as unbelievers do, then that’s clear evidence that there’s a serious problem with our thinking. If we are living like the unregenerate, then that means we’re also thinking like the unregenerate. If that kind of thinking and lifestyle is now what we’re characterized by, then it’s a strong indication that we have drifted from the faith we once had. True saving faith is an enduring faith that is characterized by a sincere heart and love for Jesus. True faith follows what it knows to be true.
“18 being darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance [that] is in them, because of the hardness of their heart, 19 who, becoming callous, gave themselves over to licentiousness, for the pursuit of all uncleanness in greediness.” LEB
Reworded, verse 19 can be better understood by the following:
“who being past feeling have given themselves over to unrestrained lust, to engage in every type of filth with the selfish desire for more and more.”
Those without Christ are characterized by futile thinking, darkened understanding, ignorance, and hardness of heart. The result of all this is an ungodly, self-seeking, sinful lifestyle. As I discussed above, if a Christian drifts back into that same kind of lifestyle, then that means their heart has become hardened to God, and their understanding about spiritual matters has become darkened. They’ve become callous to the effects of sin. Where they were once walking in the light of Christ, they are now walking in darkness.
Therefore, the argument here is, if Paul’s description is what characterizes the unregenerate, and if he is warning Christians against falling back into that mold, then he is actually warning against falling from saving grace (“alienated from the life of God”). That means we need to be diligent about keeping our eyes on Christ. We must continuously be depending on Him for our salvation. We must daily be filling our minds with the truth of God’s Word in order to prevent our thinking from becoming corrupt. That’s the only way to remain firm in our faith (Ro 10:17).
With the context of this whole passage in view, I cannot express strongly enough the importance of pastors faithfully teaching the Word of God, and exhorting their people to live holy, separated lives unto the Lord. When pastors are teaching God’s Word verse by verse, and denouncing worldliness in our personal walk and in church ministry, then they’re providing God’s people the safety they need, and the kind of influence that is needed to shun the things of this world in order to have a close walk with Christ.
However, if pastors themselves are living worldly lives, and their churches are characterized by worldliness, and all that is taught are shallow, topical, felt-needs, series types of messages, then they’re setting their people up for a fall. That type of environment does little to encourage personal holiness and separation from the things of this world. On the contrary, it invites the very opposite. Trust me, I speak from experience.
Pastors need to realize the tremendous responsibility that’s been laid upon their shoulders, and not to give in to compromise for the sake of numbers and popularity.