“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They 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 have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17–19).
The transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly stands as a poignant illustration of the truth Paul next communicates to the Ephesians. He dreams of the Ephesians living in the newness of life that is theirs in Christ. He dreams of a church which, given a new nature from Jesus, now sours in that new nature. He sees a people who, like the caterpillar now transformed, are now something entirely different than what they used to be.
Conversely, Paul hates seeing them live as they used to be, in the old life and man, for they aren’t that any longer. For Paul, it would be tantamount to watching a butterfly crawl on its belly like the caterpillar it once was. Paul wants the Ephesians — and us — to live in the newness of life Jesus Christ bought for us on His cross and gave to us at our regeneration. God’s plan is to unite all things in Himself (Ephesians 1:10). Here, He longs for you to become united to your new self.
Before describing the new life we can live in, Paul describes the old life. He used dark phrases — “futility of their minds…darkened in their understanding…alienated from the life of God…ignorance that is in them…hardness of heart…they have become callous” — to describe the old life. The old life was one given up to “sensuality” and “every kind of impurity.”
This brief sentence from Paul is a summation of a long teaching he developed in Romans 1. There, Paul taught that a portion of humanity has so eliminated God from their consciousness, refusing to honor a creator God who is over all, that they then turn to idolatry and sensuality. In that Romans passage, Paul describes a downward rush towards sin, first in widespread sensuality, then in unnatural sensuality, and finally in a society which calls good evil and evil good. Not every society fits this description. In Romans, Paul also called out the moral and religious societies, teaching that they are also “under sin." But the community the Ephesians were in fit the Romans 1 description. Morality was all relative to that culture, just as it is for many today. The result was a widespread sensuality and hunger for every kind of impurity.
Paul’s point in Ephesians is not the same as it in is Romans, however. In Romans, Paul built a case for the lostness of man who needs the gospel. In Ephesians, Paul built the case that believers no longer fit that description. Covered by the blood of Jesus, born again, with a new nature, Christians are not futile in their minds or darkened in their understanding. We are not alienated from the life of God, filled with ignorance or hard hearts. We are not calloused and given up to a life of sensuality and hunger for every kind of impurity.
At least we don’t have to be. That many believers do live in this realm is evident from Paul’s exhortation. Don’t live like that any longer! It’s not you!
“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do” is the urging of Christ to His church through Paul. Remember the theme of this second half of Ephesians? “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). We no longer have to think and move and live like those who have denied God, engaged in idolatry, pursued every sexual desire, and have torn down and reinterpreted every moral code. We are to think and live differently.
At this point, someone might wonder why the Bible, again and again, demands obedience in the realm of the sex life. Why is it spoken of in conjunction with a rebellious, mind darkened society? Because the second a person denies there is a God whom they can worship, who loves them, whom they can enjoy, that person will feel an emptiness. That emptiness is created by a pang of hunger to connect with something or someone outside themself. For many, sex provides the hope of that fulfillment. It is no wonder a society that casts off the notion of God rushes inevitably towards every form of sensuality; they are thirsting for connection.
For the believer, obedience to God in the realm of your sex life in an indicator of His lordship over your life. If you will obey Him there, you'll likely obey Him everywhere. If you compartmentalize that portion of your life, choosing to pursue your every desire, it is likely He will not be the lord of anything else in your life. Grace exists when we fail, but sex outside marriage, pornography, and other sexual sins should not be the regular practice of our lives. The Bible teaches every believer will come under temptation, including in sexual desires. The Bible teaches we will sometimes stumble and be in need of gracious restoration. He can redeem! But to choose to define your terms and live how you will is not battling temptation, but choosing to “walk as the Gentiles do.” That isn’t you. You are new. You no longer have to walk that way. Christ has given you a new life.
During Fall 2017, I taught Calvary Monterey the book of Ephesians. During the series, I also wrote about Ephesians in sixty-plus short, devotionally styled posts. Each Thursday, through 2018, I will release a post. I hope you enjoy. For the entire series, please visit nateholdridge.com/united-for-unity-posts.