17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Ephesians 4:17–19)
“What is wrong with people anyway?”
I have heard this question asked many times in my Christian life; indeed, I have asked it myself. We look around and see so many people doing foolish or immoral things, and we, for a moment, forget where it all comes from. It’s sin, that’s the answer, and we know that.
The problem with so many people around us committing immorality is that we are tempted to give in and do the same. Why not? Everyone else is!
This passage contains a command not to give in and do as our unsaved culture does, and it contains a detailed description of what is really wrong with people.
What’s Wrong With People Anyway? Well, first…
I. THEIR MINDS ARE DARKENED
Ephesians 4:17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
Ephesians 4:18a Having the understanding darkened…
Who are the “Gentiles”? In the Bible, a Gentile is a non-Jewish person, but here, for all intents and purposes, we can consider a Gentile to an unsaved person. These verses show us…
A. The Condition Of The Unsaved Mind
Look at two phrases that have to do with the mind:
1. “in the vanity of their mind”
“vanity” (ματαιότητι, ματαιότης, Pres/Mid-Pass/Ind/1st/Sg) here means futile or empty, as in “it was a vain attempt to establish peace in the Middle East” (the same Greek word is used in extensively in Ecclesiastes in the LXX). The only other New Testament uses are 2 Peter 2:18 and Romans 8:20.
So the phrase “the vanity of their mind” means that their minds are empty; what they think won’t amount to anything in view of eternity.
King Solomon was a wise king who had vast riches. But even he, in the book of Ecclesiastes, concluded that the greatest achievements that man can have are empty in the end (Ecclesiastes 1:16-2:17):
16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. (Ecclesiastes 1:16)
15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:15)
So it’s all like memorizing a vast amount of trivia, that, while fun to have, really helps very little in living your life.
Everything the unsaved person thinks is ultimately worthless, because of what we learn from the next phrase:
2. “Having the understanding darkened,”
“darkened” (ἐσκοτισμένοι, σκοτίζω, Perf/Pass/Part/Pl/Nom/Masc) means that they are unable to “see” or understand spiritual things.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Unbelievers have an inability to understand the things of God even if they are religious. That’s why you hear them say silly things like, “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not in the Bible.
Or you hear, “I think God loves everyone so much that everyone will go to Heaven.” Those are words of an spiritually ignorant mind. What does the Bible say?
16 For God so loved the world [yes, he does love everyone], that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him [but not everyone does] should not perish [which will happen if you don’t believe in Jesus], but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
When we remember the condition of the unsaved mind, we ought to remember…
B. The Caution Of Following Unsaved Mind
There are a lot of smart people in the world, people that we can learn from. But, Christian, keep this in mind: if they don’t know and love and glorify the true God, then they really are quite ignorant.
Where the Word of God does not give us guidance, such as how to fix a car, we can turn to an unbeliever for guidance.
But where the Word of God gives us guidance, such as how to fix a relationship, or how to be right with God, or how to live a God-pleasing life, or how to train a child in the way they should go, or even the best use of our financial resources…we must defer to the Word of God first and foremost.
We must consider unbelievers to be darkened. We must consider that their advice is vanity—it will amount to nothing in eternity.
What’s Wrong With People Anyway? We’ve seen that’s their minds are darkened, and the reason why is that…
II. THEIR LIVES ARE ALIENATED
Ephesians 4:18b …being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
A. The Alienation From God
“being alienated from the life of God”
“alienated” (ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι, ἀπαλλοτριόω, Perf/Pass/Part/Pl/Nom/Masc) means estranged or separated, as in “the husband and wife were estranged from one another.”
In this case, it’s that the unsaved person is estranged from God and from the life that he can give to them (see Colossians 1:21, Ezekiel 14:5). The Bible even says:
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. (Psalm 58:3)
Why are they separated from God? Paul says that it is “through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:”
(1) There’s “ignorance” (ἄγνοιαν, ἄγνοια, Acc/Sg/Fem). In the New Testament, this word is always used to refer to an unsaved person’s ignorance of God. It is a sinful ignorance, a lack of knowledge that leads to sinful behavior.
The ignorance of mankind can be summed up in the three prominent religions and philosophies of today:
Secular Humanism says that there is no god to help us; we must help ourselves.
Postmodernism says that there is no absolute truth; we must create our own,
New Age says that there is no Christian deity; I am my own god.
(2) A second word used here to describe why they are estranged from God is “blindness” (πώρωσιν, πώρωσις, Acc/Sg/Fem), which means to be hard or stubborn.
We might say to a person stubbornly refusing to go to the hospital: “Are you blind! Can’t you see that unless you get help, you’ll die!” (see Mark 3:4-5).
Unsaved people are estranged, separated, alienated from God because they are willfully ignorant and blind. They refuse to acknowledge God, even though Creation itself screams that there is a Creator, a Designer, a God.
Sadly, they hurt themselves because true, eternal life is only found in God. They have “alienated [themselves] from the life of God.”
B. The Beginning Of The Alienation
Why does this happen? When did mankind start being separated from God?
Turn to Genesis 3, where we see the Fall of Man. Eve listened to Satan, who in the form of a serpent, tempted her to believe that God did not have her best interests in mind.
She and Adam then disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden of Eden. If that seems trivial to you, let me explain that the sin wasn’t really about the tree as much as it was about trusting that God knew what was best for them. Their sin was against God himself.
Now, when you sin against someone, isn’t there often a separation until you reconcile? The clueless husband goes bowling on the night of his wedding anniversary wonders why his wife is cold and distant. It’s because his sin has separated her from him.
The same is true with God, but on a much larger scale. Adam and Eve experienced this separation in Genesis 3:23-24,
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23–24)
God placed Cherubims and a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden to be a visual reminder to Adam and Eve of what their sin had done to their relationship with him. It alienated them from God.
The Cherubims and the flaming sword were also a statement to Adam and Eve that they could not get back into the garden through their own ability. They weren’t going to being able to do an end run around those guards! They weren’t going to be able to sneak under the fence. The separation could only be repaired by God.
The repair would be made possible 4,000 years later when God’s Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross to pay for our sins.
Adam and Eve would have to have faith in God to one day send a Savior. Today, we have to have faith that God has sent a Savior—his name is Jesus and…
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Are you alienated from God today? Or have you found salvation in Jesus Christ?
What’s Wrong With People Anyway? Their minds are darkened because their lives are alienated and as a result…
III. THEIR HEARTS ARE DESENSITIZED
Ephesians 4:19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
A. They Are Desensitized to Sin
Paul says that the unsaved are “past feeling” (ἀπηλγηκότες, ἀπαλγέω, Perf/Act/Part/Pl/Nom/Masc) which means “to become callous” or “to lose feeling of shame” or “to be dead to feeling” or “to be unconcerned about the sin that one commits.” “Desensitized.”
It’s like being given a shot of Novocain to numb your gums when you go to the dentist. In this case, it’s being numb to the reality of sin and numb to the consequences of sin.
In our culture today, there is little attempt to restrain from or to hide sin. It’s everywhere. For example, many people use filthy language, whereas once it was only rough guys like sailors (which is why we had the saying: “swear like a sailor”).
Now women and children join in on the swearing—and are they are the ones offended if they are told to be quiet unlike years ago when someone rebuked for their language would say, “Pardon my language.”
Also in our culture, sexual sins abound. What often only happened behind closed doors, now exists where everyone can see—on magazine racks, on television, and even in public places.
Some of you will remember the old TV sitcoms where a married couple slept in separate twin beds (Dennis the Menace, I Love Lucy). Sure it was unrealistic, but it made an attempt to avoid desensitizing people to sin.
When people start to become desensitized to sin, you find that…
B. They Are In A Downward Spiral
The Bible says in Ephesians 4:19 that they…“have given themselves over unto lasciviousness”
“lasciviousness” (ἀσελγείᾳ, ἀσέλγεια, Dat/Sg/Fem). This is a “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable; self-abandonment” (BDAG).
This person doesn’t care what others think—he or she only cares about satisfying the depraved cravings of their sinful mind. In a word, they are narcissistic. In another word, they are in a downward spiral.
They push the bounds, like what we’ve seen in our nation in the last few decades. Homosexual marriage is one example. The most recent poll done in Montana showed, for the first time, a greater than fifty percent approval of gay marriage.
They also given themselves “to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
“uncleanness” (ἀκαθαρσίας, ἀκαθαρσία, Gen/Sg/Fem) means immorality, vileness, filth. The Greek even has a smell to it—they are committing stinky sins.
And if it’s not enough to pursue unclean and immoral sins, they do it with “greediness” (πλεονεξίᾳ, πλεονεξία, Dat/Sg/Fem). They covet uncleanness. They are greedy for more sin and greater sins. Again, it’s a downward spiral.
This is the pattern of desensitization: once a person’s sin becomes common to them, they seek a greater sin, a greater immorality. Year by year, they increasingly degrade themselves and others with new sin.
As believers, we must beware of desensitization to sin. We need to draw a line in the sand and not walk as other Gentiles—as the unsaved—walk. Otherwise, we too will find ourselves in the downward spiral of being desensitized to sin.
What’s wrong with people anyway?
1. Their Minds Are Darkened
2. Their Lives Are Alienated
3. Their Hearts Are Desensitized
Can an ancient book like the Bible know what is wrong with people today? It sure can, because…
A. Modern Culture Same As Ancient Culture
The church at Ephesus was made up mainly of saved Gentiles, who had come out of one of the most ungodly and immoral cultures the world has ever know.
Ephesus especially was known for it’s rampant sexual immorality. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the massive Temple of Diana (or Artemis), the Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. What was called worship was actually cult prostitution.
With that being the kind of god that most Ephesian Gentiles followed, you can only imagine how depraved their lives were.
The new Christian converts in Ephesus would have struggled with temptation to return to their old lifestyle, so God, through Paul, commanded them “that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk,”
Today, we also must heed this command, because our culture is similar to Ephesus.
Just as their goddess told them that sexual immorality was normal, so our culture’s god, Evolution, tells us that we are merely animals who are accountable to no one, so we can and should do as we please.
Thus, today sexual immorality and other sins are running rampant. Our culture continually tempts us to give in and be like everyone else, but we must listen to our Lord when he says, “walk not as other Gentiles walk,” We aren’t to “walk” or behave like unsaved people behave.
But why should we?
B. We Have A New Life In Christ
We’ll learn more about why we shouldn’t be walk like the Gentiles when we come to verses 20 to 24 because those verses speak of Christians being renewed in our minds and have a new life in Christ. As the familiar memory verse says:
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Because we have been saved and given a new life, we ought to live radically different from the rest of the world.
If you were freed from prison, why would you stay in the jail cell? We are not to behave like those who haven’t been saved from the prison of sin.
As you walk through this week, be asking yourself: “Am I really that different from the world around me? Is the new life that Jesus gave me apparent to those around me?”