Paul continues to expound upon the Church’s responsibilities as together Christians strive to walk with Christ. Verses 17-24 of chapter 4 contrasts the old or former life with the new life that Christians have in Christ. We see immediately that Christianity is not a “When in Rome…” religion. We are not to be conformed to this world. Conforming to the world is a fatal error for the Christian. Rather, Christians are to stand out – “shine like stars” as Paul says in Philippians 2. We are to live holy lives as we are transformed into the image of Christ.
A New Walk (17-24)
Living with & for Christ means Christians have a new lifestyle vastly different than their former one.
17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
Now this…in the Lord: Now shows Paul is now addressing the intensely practical aspects of Christian living. Focus (I say) & intensity (I testify) are implied. This is a solemn charge (in the Lord).
You must…Gentiles do: These Christians, a majority of which are surely Gentiles, are surrounded by “other” (KJV) Gentiles who live their lives “in the darkness of their godlessness” (Foulkes 133). Paul tells them that Christians do not live like they used to, like the rest of the world. How so?
The futility of their minds: Here is the 1st distinction—useless thinking & thoughts which produce “frivolous, empty aims in life” (PC 151).
We are still surrounded by a culture & society which has largely abandoned God and any semblance of godliness. America has loosed itself from the moorings of its founding upon Christian principles and is now drifting further & further onto the sea of secularism. So much of the thinking today is useless: TMZ, supermarket tabloids, celebrity gossip, fantasy football, etc. And so we have people whose minds are full of content void of meaning.
18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
They are…understanding: Here is the 2nd distinction—lack of spiritual discernment. Perfect tense participle indicates that darkness came in the past (when sin came) & they are still in darkness.
Alienated from the life of God: Here is the 3rd distinction—exclusion from God. Another perfect participle—they lost life (when sin came) & life still eludes them.
Because…hardness of heart: This is an explanation as to the Gentiles spiritual condition. Hardness of heart means they stubbornly refuse and are insensitive to spiritual influences. So they remain ignorant, neither knowing God nor known by Him.
So many today stubbornly refuse or are insensitive to God’s word. Why? It begins in the mind as they 1) pursue meaningless thoughts [futility of mind] and 2) refusal to consider God [darkened understanding]. Their mind is already full; there’s no room for God. This leads to exclusion from the divine presence, privileges, and promises [alienated from life of God].
As Ed Ames sang:
If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!
People act as they think. God knows this which is why He invites us to have our thinking transformed, our minds renewed. Thinking rightly should lead to acting rightly.
19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
They have become callous: or “being past feeling” (NKJV). Habitual sin has left them shameless
Given themselves up…impurity: Here is the 4th distinction—moral depravity. This is the climax: full blown hedonism (lack of moral restraint). Given themselves up (aorist) indicates they threw in the towel on being good. Greedy indicates they want more impurity. See Rom 6.19b.
Our society “parades their sin like Sodom” without regard to offending sensibilities, without shame, no fear of God, and no idea of the degradation of sin. We live in a callous culture! And they are greedy for more of “every kind of impurity.” The dirtier, the better. Is it any wonder marijuana is called a gateway drug; it leads to the harder stuff. Having a beer or two in the evening to unwind typically leads to alcoholism. Stealing glances at one’s porn stash will lead to viewing videos on the internet. When that does not satisfy, one must live out those fantasies in real life, typically through solicitation of a prostitute. Folks, the research is in and it indicates exactly what I’m telling you which is exactly what Paul says here: sin is greedy. “lawlessness leads to more lawlessness.”
20But that is not the way you learned Christ!—
But…Christ: You is emphatic. Learned is aorist tense, pointing back to their conversion. Since they came to know Christ, their lives are radically changed looking nothing like it was before.
When a person learns Christ, that is, they come to know Him in all His beauty and glory, they cannot continue to live like they used. Hence, the “no longer” in this section. Our thinking is no longer futile, we are no longer in spiritual darkness, we are no longer alienated from life with God, we are no longer greedy for immorality. Stated positively…
- Futility of mind: Christians are now to think God’s thoughts after Him
- Darkened understanding: Christians have been illuminated by the light of God’s truth
- Alienated from life with God: Christians have been brought into life with God
- Given over to depravity: Christians are in pursuit of holiness
21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
Assuming…about Him: Paul calls on these Christians to affirm they had heard (aor.) about Christ, that is, heard Him preached whether by Paul or some other.
Were taught…in Jesus: Since they heard they likewise were taught (aor.). Both events (hearing & teaching) point back to their conversion. They heard about & were taught in Christ in the past. However, the present reality is that the truth is in Jesus. Truth is always in Jesus; indeed, He is truth.
The voice of Christ is still heard through the apostolic word contained in the NT. Those who “have ears to hear, let him hear” and when they do, they come to learn Him. By the way, Christ is in the emphatic position in both statements (i.e. “Him you heard, Him you learned”). That means that Christ is the sum total of the gospel message, He is at the heart of the Christian message. Hence, the final phrase that “the truth is in Jesus.” Only in Jesus is there truth. Indeed, He is “the truth” (John 14.6). And truth still is in Jesus (present reality).
22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
To put off the old self: the old self is the hedonistic pagan lifestyle these Christians came out of (v.17). When they heard and learned Christ, they put off (aor. Mid.) that former life. The tense of this verb indicates a snapshot event, esp. baptism. Patzia says the language is “baptismal instruction.”
Which belongs…of life: “As past sins are dealt with by the grace of forgiveness, and as repentance determines to abandonthem completely, all that belongs to the old way of life, the way of the heathen that has been described in verses 17-19, is to be set aside decisively” (Foulkes 137).
Is corrupt…desires: Our “lusts” (NKJV) are deceitful because they promise more than they can deliver. In fact, they only disappoint causing more & more corruption leading to destruction.
23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
And to be renewed…your minds: present passive indicates this is the ongoing, continual reality for the Christian. Further, this is the work of God on the Christian (pass.), made possible no doubt by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the word.
24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
And to put on the new self: to put off (aor. Mid.) is connected with “to put off” in v.22. Both occur at the same time: baptism. The old self is put off when the new self is put on.
Created…of God: Cf. Col 3.9-10. Surely reticent for Paul is Genesis 1.26. Just as the creation of men was God’s work, so the new self is the work of God since He creates it.
In true righteousness and holiness: lit. in righteousness & holiness of the truth. This stands juxtaposed with the “deceitful desire” of the former life (v.22). See also Luke 1.75; Acts 3.14.
“Baptism is the beginning of a new ethical way of life” (Patzia 250). There is a definite and permanent break from the former life and Paul’s use of the aorist tense makes this all the more clear. The continued struggle against the old self is capture in the constant, continual renewal which must take place (v.23). We must allow God to renew our minds if we would keep off the old self and live the new self in righteousness & holiness. Someone has posited that righteousness is our duty to man (neighbor, v.25) and holiness is our duty to God. Indeed, these two characteristics are linked several times in Scripture (Luke 1.75; Acts 3.14; 1 Thess 2.10). So constantly learning of Christ is essential. We came to learn Christ and continue to learn Christ.