|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|The apostle Paul explains to the Ephesians Christians, and therefore to us, that now that they have become members of God’s family, they are no longer to walk in their former ways.|
We pick up at verse 17 now, and it is almost like another section. Paul says, “I don’t want you going back and walking like you used to walk as a pagan, as a Gentile.” He is talking to Gentiles. Let’s read the text together in verses 17-19: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
In verse 17 when he says, “I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord,” that is a powerful statement. Paul wants to emphasize here that this is some serious stuff that he is about to tell us. So he says, “I say it to you with the Lord or in the Lord.” In other words, “Pay close attention to what I am about to tell you.” He wants them to see that Christianity is radically different from the way the world lives. These people had come out of the world. The temptation is always to go back to where we have come from. Paul says, “Oh no.” He has given us a picture of what the Christian life is all about, being strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit of God. Now he is saying, “Don’t go back. Live differently. It is a radically different lifestyle that you have now as a believer.”
Even though we have been delivered from the power of sin, we still have a problem we have to deal with. Look in I Peter 2:11. There is something we all have to deal with, and the Bible calls it the flesh. Of course, as long as we have human bodies, we have to deal with it. It always tends to pull us back to the place we came out of. Look in verse 11: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts.” In those two words you find out where they are. “Fleshly”—they have to do with my body, and they are called “lusts”. Those lusts want to pull me back to the world that I have come out of. Remember, spirituality is a pursuit, not an arrival. The moment I stop pursuing Him, guess what I am pursuing? I am letting the flesh dictate my life. There are fleshly lusts we have to deal with. So Paul is saying, “Don’t go back and live like you used to live. Be careful. There is a tendency like a magnet which is pulling you back to live after the flesh.”
Look over in James 1:13. Remember sin is missing the mark and when you miss the mark, that means you have not obeyed God. When you obey Him in the power of the Spirit, you always hit the mark. Righteousness is the result. When I don’t obey Him and listen to the whims of my flesh, look out. In James 1:13 he said, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” The word “temptation” there is the word peirazo. Let me give you my definition of that.
I think all decisions, all trials that we go through are neutral, but in every one of them God has something He wants to teach us, reveal to us. That is what He is doing. He is testing me. He doesn’t tempt me for evil. The old tempter comes along out of Matthew 4 and tempts us unto evil. Satan gets involved. Of course, the world is his playground and the world is his pulpit. Therefore, when I am in a very difficult time and I have to make a decision between my flesh and the Spirit, it is very obvious that I am in a time of peirazo. I am in a trial. The devil is pulling me one way, and God is pulling me the other way. It says in verse 14 of James 1, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”
The Apostle Paul is warning them: “Look out. Look out. You came out of the world.” Ephesus was the most wicked place you could find on the face of this earth. These young Christians had to live in the midst of all of that wickedness. He is saying, “Listen, don’t you dare go back to it. You have come out of it. Now be strengthened in the inner man by the power of God.”
What is sin? Sin is missing the mark. Sin is when you obey the flesh. Sin will take you further than you ever wanted to stray, cost you more than you ever dreamed you would pay, and keep you longer than you ever thought you would stay. Don’t ever forget that. Paul is encouraging them to a life of holiness.
He is saying, “You had better watch out. You had better not go back and live as the Gentiles lived.” He is going to show them first of all how not to walk. Then he is going to show them how to walk. Paul is speaking to Gentiles. Look in chapter 3 verse 1: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” That is a very significant term because it says in the Old Testament that Israel is not numbered among the nations. Israel had the nature of Adam in them, but they were not numbered among the Gentile nations.
The Gentile nations are very important to understand. As far as I can tell they were formed in Genesis 11. They tried to build the tower of Babel over there in Babylon. God remembered Babylon. Remember that in Revelation? When He did, He had to scatter them and change their languages. That is when the nations began to form with different languages and people scattered over the face of the earth.
In chapter 2 verse 12 of Ephesians, look at what it says about the Gentiles: “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” He is saying the Gentile world has no clue about God, Jesus or anything to do with the gospel. Paul’s mission was to get the gospel to these people, these Gentiles who were living in such detestable ways.
Look in 3:8. Paul says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” The Ephesian believers he was writing to were part of the ones who had been shown the light, had understood and believed. In 2:13 he says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” So he is speaking about Gentiles, remembering Israel is not numbered among the nations. Yes, all men have the nature of Adam in them and they are born separated from God.
Think with me for a second, these represented generation after generation of people with no clue of the gospel, no clue about God, and no clue about Jesus Christ. Think how depraved they had become by the time Paul is given the commission to take the gospel to the Gentile world.
Let’s see how Paul describes the way the Gentile nation, pagan people, lived at that time. They still live that way today. It says in verse 17, “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” The word “walk” there refers to the way they live. The word “futility” is the word that means emptiness, vanity. The term “mind” is the word that refers to the mind and its ability to understand, the intellect. They cannot understand spiritual truth. The way the pagan world thinks is totally foreign to God and to the world. The world out there does not have any ability to understand God.
Sometimes we get overwhelmed with all the immorality in our world. Friend, when sinners stop sinning, that is when you need to get overwhelmed. They don’t know the difference. They do not know God. They don’t have an ability to intellectually conceive of God. They don’t understand.
Look back in Romans 8:20. Paul uses that word “futility” to describe the disappointing misery of the world of nature as a result of the curse. When Adam sinned it didn’t just affect Adam. It affected the whole world. Romans 8:20 says, “For the creation was subjected to futility [emptiness, vanity], not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it.” In other words, when Adam sinned, it didn’t just bring a curse upon himself, it brought a curse upon all of nature. That is why they groan, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God, as the passage goes on to talk about.
In II Peter 2:17-18 Peter uses that word “futility” to mean emptiness, no ability to understand. He is describing false teachers. He says in verse 17, “These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error.” That word “vanity” there is the same word.
So we see it applied different ways. We see it applied to nature in their disappointing result of man’s sin and we also see it applied to false teachers. It is an emptiness, an inability to understand God.
Let’s go back to our text. The reason their minds are empty of any understanding of spiritual truth is because their minds are darkened. I think that is a very, very interesting thing that he is telling us here. Ephesians 4:18 says, “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” “Darkened” is in the perfect passive tense. When you have the perfect tense, something happened in the past that is bearing a present result. So they have been darkened. It is not so much that they did it themselves. Yes, something they did caused it, but they have been darkened. They can’t understand. It refers to the fact that their ability to understand has been darkened, and they are in a state of darkness. The word “understanding” is dianoia, which is a word that means intellect again. It is almost the same ability to understand.
Think about this when you think of the world. When you go to school next week, when you go to work next week, you are walking out into this. The Gentile nations, the world, has no ability on their own to understand spiritual truths because their ability to understand has been darkened. As a result, they live totally unacceptable lives. So when we go out into darkness, among people with darkened minds, we are not to allow our flesh to pull us back to the way we used to live. They are living a detestable lifestyle. They are a generation after generation after generation of people who don’t have a capacity to even understand God.
There is one thing I want you to get in your mind. “Being darkened” has the idea that God darkened them, but remember this. They would not, so therefore, they could not. It is not a matter of God being a mean God, and just darkening them. No, He knows the hearts of all men and nations who have turned against Him. He knows that. It began with Adam and filtered down through the nations and because of that, they have been unwilling to bow to Him. Therefore, God has darkened their minds. In reality, it is their own unwillingness that has brought the darkness upon them.
Verse 18 continues and says, “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God [alienated from God], because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” That is what I wanted you to see. The ignorance is there for a reason. It is because of the hardness of their heart that the ignorance is there. A person who won’t believe can’t believe, and he is, therefore, rendered unable to understand the truths of God.
They live in a state of being alienated because they have hardened their heart. Look in John 3:19-20. Jesus said this when He came. “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
Look over in Romans 1:5 and you will find almost the exact same thing Paul says in Ephesians. Paul is writing to Gentiles: “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake.” Now look down at verse 15. “Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
In other words, you keep putting layer upon layer upon layer of other things over it until finally you don’t even recognize it. That is what the world has been doing for generations.
Verse 19 goes on: “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” It is not as if they don’t have a clue. They don’t want it. Because they don’t want it, they are alienated and their hearts are hardened.
Verse 20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
All of this is as a result of men not wanting God in their lives. Paul is saying: “Listen guys, they are still out there. Over the generations it has gotten worse and worse and worse. When you go out there, don’t you go back and live like they live. Oh no. You live on a higher plain. God made Himself evident to them.”
When I was trying to track all of this back, I was thinking, “Was there a time when all the nations just rejected God?” It has to go back to Adam. In Romans 5:12 it says in that one man sinned, sin entered the world. In Genesis 11 that sin just continued to go from generation to generation to generation. Can you imagine how sick the world is now that we are living in? It has such a pull on us. We all were once that way, but we have come out of it. We have to realize if we live like Paul tells us to live in chapter 3, as we go out into a world this way, they can see the truth in us. Perhaps through us they can begin to understand what the gospel is all about.
Well, the apostle says in chapter 4 of II Corinthians that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” There is not a nation on this earth among Gentiles who has ever honored God. In the book of Revelation, the beast comes up out of the sea of nations and on his head are blasphemous names representing all the nations on earth. There has never been a nation that has honored God. “Oh, we live in a Christian nation.” Are you kidding? We are in a post-Christian era. We are living in a nation today that doesn’t have religious freedom. It has religious toleration. This has been going on for generation after generation. The next time you are so condemning of the lost people you hear on television, remember they are products of that kind of thing. They don’t know any better. They have no other frame of reference. Only the Christian has the understanding of truth and can intellectually conceive of God and what God wants.
The lost world is a result of centuries of darkened thinking. Just thinking about it boggles my mind, centuries of it. The Gentile nations of the world, verse 19 says, have become callused. That means hardened, insensitive. In other words, it is very difficult any more to even get anything across to them. That is the way the world is. This was back in Paul’s day. Just imagine what it is like today. Therefore, all of their inclinations are depraved. The nations chose to dishonor God and seek pleasure rather than Him, and “have given themselves over to sensuality.”
Now that word “sensuality” is a word that you probably don’t want to hear about because I really didn’t enjoy studying it. It is the word that means licentiousness which is sexual license, sexual excess, absence of restraint, an insatiable desire for pleasure. That is what they wanted. It didn’t say they were given over, they gave themselves over. They said, “God, we don’t want you. We want to satisfy ourselves.” That attitude has been propagated from generation to generation to generation. Associated with those attitudes of license to sin are three words: arrogance, insolence and brutality. Can you tell me a better picture of what is going on in our world today? It all started with Adam and filtered down through the nations. The nations rejected God even though they could see nature. They knew there was something causing it all to happen. They could have responded to the light that they had, but they rejected it. There has never been a Gentile nation to honor God. As a result, now their understanding is darkened. They have no clue.
By the way, when I say “they,” please understand what I am saying. It used to be us. I hear some people give their testimony as if they want a medal for finding Christ. Not one of us found Him, friend; He found us. We were a product of that same system for generation upon generation upon generation. That ought to make your heart break for people who still live in that system and have no clue what we understand about the truths of our God.
If you will look in I John 5:20, a beautiful verse appears there. John is signing off and says, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true.” Do you catch something in that phrase? Let’s go back: “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding.” You mean to tell me that I didn’t come up with that on my own? That is exactly right. He gave us the ability to understand and when the gospel came, it was all of Him. It is not any of us. Oh yes, we had to receive, but it was out of the faith and the grace He gave us even to do that.
When we go out living on that high plain and being filled to the fulness of God, they look at us and say to themselves, “I don’t understand that. There is something different about those people.” We begin to soften their hardness towards what the gospel is all about. Of course, the Holy Spirit uses that as a witness in this lost world.
I think if you study Ephesians you have to feel it. Paul is saying, “I have just raised you up to the highest level of understanding that you could possibly get to. Now I am warning you. Don’t you go back and live like you used to live. When you do, sin will take you further than you ever wanted to stray, keep you longer than you ever wanted to stay and cost you more than you ever dreamed you would pay.” Imagine going back to live that way.