The apostle Paul is urging us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1). The first instruction for us to walk worthy of our glorious identity and calling is that we be unified in Christ, built on proper Christian attitudes (4:1-3) and the seven absolute truths (4:4-6). Christ conquered sin and death and distributed gifts so that we would grow together into Christ. Now Paul turns his attention to the second instruction for us to walk worthy of the calling. The command is this: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17). Now this command sounds a little strange. Paul is asking Gentiles not to live like the Gentiles. I think a similar Idea would be to tell us as Americans to no longer live like Americans. Don’t be like those you live among. You cannot be like the people where you live.
We read commands like this to not be like the Gentiles and can just think, “Yes, don’t live like the Gentiles.” But understand the significance of the command. You have to stop being you! You have to stop being like the people around you. Our world tell us that you have to be “true to yourself” and “be who you are.” God says not to do these things. Why would this be? Shouldn’t we “be who we are?” Shouldn’t we “listen to our heart?” Shouldn’t we “be true to ourselves?” Listen to why God says we cannot be ourselves.
The Broken Mind (4:17-18)
Listen to the three descriptions he gives of the Gentiles. First, they live “in the futility of their minds.” Second, “They are darkened in their understanding.” Third, they are alienated from the life of God “because of the ignorance that is in them.” Do we hear what God is telling us? Our natural minds cannot guide us. Our minds are darkened and teach us the wrong things. Our ways our futile. Our minds are in the fog (“darkened in understanding”) and lack all spiritual perception. Our reasoning processes are broken and darkened.
I have a paper cutter that is warped. If you put your stack of papers under the blade and pull down, it will not cut straight. Many times it will not cut at all. The cutter will just bend the paper because the blade is warped. What I have to do is pull the handle in toward the paper as I cut and the blade will cut straight and will cut through the paper every time. I have to pull the handle back where it belongs for it to function properly. Paul says that our minds are in the same condition. Our minds are warped. If you do what your mind says to do, you will be misled. We have to pull our minds back to where they belong, to the standard of God’s word, because our minds are warped. Sin has corrupted all of our minds.
Now we often look at the world and think that wisdom is found in the world. We think we should follow their standards and listen to their ways. Here is Paul’s explanation why we must not do that. First, they are intellectually blacked out (4:18). Their minds are darkened. There is no light in their lives or in their minds to give them life or guidance. Second, they are separated from the life God gives (4:18). They are separated from true living. They do not have eternal life. Why would we listen or follow their ways? Third, ignorance lives in them, not knowledge (4:18). They claim to have knowledge. We think they have knowledge. But ignorance is in them, not knowledge. Ignorance comes out of their mouths, not truth. Finally, their hearts are hardened (4:18-19). They are callous and stubborn against the ways of God. They willfully refuse the available light of God.
So we must draw a serious conclusion. God tells us not to accept value where the world assigns value. Whatever the world promotes is darkened, ignorant, and futile. We must understand that our minds are warped. That is why they react against the light and against the teachings of the scriptures. This means we must listen to the teaching of the scriptures and not react against it, but consider that our minds are corrupted and that is why we are reacting against it. The scriptures are not wrong. Our minds are broken and we need to pull our minds back to the straight standard of God.
Sin, The Outcome of the Broken Mind (4:19-21)
Paul says that there are three outcomes from our broken, corrupt minds. First, if we keep our minds in the dark and follow the ways of the world then we become callous. The conscience atrophies. Our hearts lose sensitivity. I like the NKJV which says that we become “past feeling.” If something is calloused, then it is past feeling and has no sensitivity at all. We can see this in people. Unfortunately, I can see it in people who claim to be followers of Jesus. We can see it people eyes, actions, and words. I can interact with you for just a few minutes and sometimes see this lack of sensitivity. This must be a frightening situation to see that we are become unfeeling and uncaring to spiritual things.
Second, when we keep our minds in the darkness of the world and follow the ways of the world then we given ourselves over to sensuality. Here is a great description of what we see in the world today. People given to every kind of sensuality (ESV), promiscuity (HCSB), lewdness (NKJV), indecency (NET), and lustful pleasure (NLT). These sins are the result of the corrupted mind. I want you to see this because, if you are participating in such things, I want to awaken your mind and heart to see that you are in the futility of your mind and darkened in your thinking. Paul is teaching us something important. Sin is the malfunction of the mind. Sin is the result of the darkened, ignorant mind.
Third, following the ways of the world leads to be eager to practice every kind of impurity. We will have the desire for more and more impurity. This is the nature of sin. New perversions replace old perversions. We are always needing more. One sin is not enough. The excitement and joy wanes and so we look for more sinful practices.
This is not the way you learned Christ! If our lives do not differ from the lives of those in the world, then we have not truly learned Christ. The call of Christ is to leave the world, die to self, and live for God. We know better! If we do not know better, then our knowledge and loyalty to Christ must be questioned. Have you let Christ teach you? If you have, then you know these practices are sinful. Learning Christ is having a life shaped by his teaching. If anyone practices these things or contends that these behaviors are acceptable, then you do not know Christ.
Knowing You Genuinely Learned Christ (4:22-24)
Paul gives us three life changes that show that we have learned Christ. Three things where we can examine our lives to know that we are learning Christ because our lives are shaped by his teachings.
Put off the old self (4:22).
If we learned Christ, then we will put away the former way of life. It is interesting that Paul uses language that makes it sound like we are taking off dirty clothes. We have to stop living the way we used to live. The reason is clear and has been the point Paul has been making throughout this section. Our old self is corrupted through deceitful desires. Listen to what Paul said. Your desires are deceitful. What you want to do is wrong. What your mind says is right is wrong. Your desires are deceitful and you are corrupted because of these deceitful desires. This is why God gave us the first three chapters of Ephesians. You have a new identity. There is a new self and you have to put off the old self. The old you must be taken off. To say this another way, there is not be a former way of life. There is to be something you can point to and say that it was the old life. This is the core of Christ’s teaching. You are not going to be you. You are going to put off that old self.
Be Renewed In The Spirit of Your Minds (4:23).
I admit that I have missed this very important command. I have often understood God calling us to put off the old self and put on the new self. But that thinking misses a very important step given by God. God is not commanding us to stop living one way and start living another way. God’s call is not simply “do this” and “don’t do this.” God said that your mind was broken. You are darkened in your understanding. You are living in the futility of your mind. You are alienated from life because of the ignorance in you. So what must happen? Listen carefully to verse 23. Your mind must be renewed. Too often this is left out which leads to our failure for change. There must be renewal. If there is no renewal of the mind, then there cannot be a new self. What is created is a hypocrite and a liar! What is created is a person who on the outside looks like is trying to serve God but the mind is still broken and the heart still chases after every kind of impurity and sensuality. Our minds require renewal. God must renew our minds.
How can our minds begin to be renewed by God? I know we are not going to like this. I don’t like this. Consider what I am about to say that we will not like is a reaction of the corrupted, darkened mind. Our minds can begin renewal when we get our mind out of the world. Stop looking at the world. Stop learning from the world. We need to watch less television. We need to listen to less music. We need to read less books. We need to avoid more movies. We need to get our minds more in God’s word and less in the world. Renewal of the mind cannot happen so long as we continue to expose our minds to the futility of this world! Identify sinful things. Be sick of watching sinful behaviors and sinful teachings. We are allowing our minds to be excessively influenced by this world and don’t realize it. Will you pull the plug on sinful television shows? Quit watching shows that glorify sinful behavior. Don’t go to movies that have sexuality and sinfulness. Do not allow yourself to be entertained by wickedness. Sin is all around us, bombarding our minds. God cannot renew our minds if we spend more time in the world than in the Word.
Put On The New Self (4:24).
Only after have we begun the renewing of our mind can we put on the new self. Transformation only occurs from the inside out. The new self will never be put on until we change our way of thinking. We need to take our warped, corrupted minds and bend them back to the will and thinking of God. As we do this each day, then the new self will begin to take shape. Our actions will change. Our words will become godly. Listen to what the new self will look like in verse 24: “Created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Literally this reads that the new self is created “according to God” which means there is a measure of similarity. The new self will not look like the world, but ever increasing in the likeness of God. Transformation of the mind will lead to the transformation of life. These three things are what we learned in Christ. If we learned Christ, then this is the process we are practicing: putting off the old self, renewing our minds in Christ, and putting on the new self.
The end of verse 21 serves as a good conclusion. “The truth is in Jesus.” The truth is not in this world. The truth is not in your mind. The truth is found in Jesus alone. So we must know him to know the truth and come out from the ignorance and darkness of our minds. Recognize that our minds and the thinking around us is not the truth. It will alienate you from the life that is found in God. Put off the old self, renew your thinking, and put on the new self. If you learned Christ, then this will happen to you. “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1). We pursue this new thinking and new self because of the greatness of Jesus who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.