“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. But that is not the way you learned Christ! Assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:17-24
When I think back to my wedding day, there are a host of memories and emotions that come flooding into my heart. The flowers, the rings, the dress, and the first sight of my love…the family, the friends, the dancing, and the fun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky of my mind that day – nothing but sheer joy. It was a day of newness and change. It would be the last day of my singleness, and the chapters of my old life would come to a close as the new chapters unfolded. It was the day that I would change my name and become part of a new family. It was the day that my parents gave me away to a man with whom I would build a new life.
While I imagine that my wedding day doesn’t induce any such emotion in you, I use it today only as a comparison between our old life and our new life in Christ. There are certain things that characterize our lives prior to marriage, and once we walk down that aisle, some, if not many, of these things change, as they should. Similarly, our lives before Christ were marked by certain characteristics of ungodly living. Paul lists four of them here in our passage today.
1. The futility of their minds – This is essentially an intellectual unproductiveness as far as spiritual matters are concerned. It’s a depravity of thinking. It’s a distortion of the mind and thoughts, causing a failure to produce moral living. Before we came to Christ by faith, this characterized our lives. We were futile in our thinking.
Futile: incapable of producing any result; ineffective; useless; not successful
2. Alienated from the life of God – As hard as this might be to swallow, unbelievers are separated from God and therefore ignorant to God’s truth. This is what “darkened in their understanding” means. You and I were once separated from God and ignorant to His truth. This characterized our lives before we came to Christ.
3. Hardness of heart – Unbelievers are morally insensitive. A repeated choice to pursue sin and to turn from God results in a calloused heart. The harder the heart, the more apathetic one becomes towards spiritual things. Before we came to Christ, this characterized our lives.
4. Sensuality and impurity – Unbelievers are characterized by a continual loss of moral restraint as they willingly oppose God and His ways. Like it or not, this, too, characterized our lives before we came to Christ.
Having unpacked some specifics on what our lives looked like prior to salvation, the call to new life should be much easier for us to grasp. Life after Christ should look significantly different than life before Him. One of my old pastors used to say it this way: “If your faith hasn’t changed you, it hasn’t saved you.” Our lives should look different than our unbelieving neighbors, and in more ways than our church attendance on Sunday mornings. The characteristics that mark unbelievers in this passage are addressing mind and heart issues. Do we think differently than we did before we came to Christ? Do we long for different things? Have our passions changed? Have our hearts been transformed and our minds renewed?
This is the call to new life! Today is the day to turn from the old. Today is the day to clothe yourself with what can come only through Jesus Christ. You have a decision to make today. Will you continue to be characterized by who you were before you met Jesus at the cross, continuing to dabble in the ways of the world, and justifying sinful behaviors? Or will you put off the old self and all of its corruption and choose for yourself this day whom you will serve? New life is available for you today. The choice is yours.