I don’t like being told how I should  think.  Yet that’s what Scripture does.  That’s what God does.  In today’s text (Ephesians 4:17-32), Paul does.  He tells us how to think and how not to think.  And gives us an implicit warning. It’s all part of walking worthy of our calling.

It’s vital to remember the call comes first . . .

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, . . . ” (Ephesians 1:18).

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received . . . ” (Ephesians 4:1).

We don’t merit God’s call in Christ by living worthy; we honor the call by living worthy.

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” (4:17-19).
The churches Paul addresses are made up largely of Gentiles.  Paul insists, as the Lord’s apostle, that they change their lifestyle.  Stop living “as the Gentiles do . . . ”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).

They’re futile in thinking “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God”.  Their understanding is “darkened” (Greek skotooo–used of the sun turning dark and of Gentiles’ inability to “see” truth. )  They’re excluded from God’s life.  Not physical life given in creation, but spiritual life given through Christ.

Paul gives two reasons for unbelieving Gentiles’ condition.  One, “because of the ignorance that is in them”. They’re ignorant, but can’t say, “We didn’t know.”  They’re liable for not knowing . . .

 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19,20).

Two, their thinking is futile “because of the hardness of their heart”.   A hard heart is insensitive, obtuse, stubborn, resistant to the gospel.  The context implies they made themselves hard.  Every “no” to Jesus adds a layer of hardness.

Furthermore, they’ve become “callous”.  They lack moral sensitivity.  They can’t feel shame for their conduct. Their consciences have atrophied.

Moral callousness leads to “sensuality” and “impurity with greediness.” Aselgia and akatharsia are often found together in New Testament lists of vices.  They refer to debauchery, lewdness and unrestrained sexual immorality.  These vices, Paul charges, they pursue with greed.  The NIV captures the sense well:  “with a continual lust for more”.

As I see it, Paul’s concern for the church is two-fold.  First, that these Gentile believers not continue in their pre-faith sinful conduct.  Second, having surrendered to Christ, that they not be drawn into Gentile-unbeliever thinking.

* * *

Are unbelievers’  minds really morally empty?  Is their moral understanding as dark as a stormy night?  Are they really morally ignorant?  Do they have rock-hard hearts?  Are they immune to shame?  Do they really lust continually for more and more sensual and impure gratification?

Maybe Bill Cosby or Madonna.  But surely not most of our neighbors, even if unbelievers.  Paul’s diagnosis seems harsh.  Yet, this is God’s Word.

Echoes of a Judeo-Christian ethic still make our society less evil than Paul’s pagan one.  But those echoes are fading–most dangerously in worldview.

A worldview is a philosophical view of everything that exists and that matters to us.  A worldview defines our ethics and shapes our conduct.  The Christian worldview has dominated the West for centuries.  But recently it’s lost its dominance, and competing worldviews have become more prominent.  Here are a few . . .

    • Naturalism: there is no God; humans are just highly evolved animals; the universe is a closed physical system.
    • Postmodernism: there are no objective truths and moral standards; “reality” is ultimately a human social construction.
    • Pluralism: the different world religions represent equally valid perspectives on the ultimate reality; there are many valid paths to salvation.
    • Moralistic therapeutic deism: God just wants us to be happy and nice to other people; He intervenes in our affairs only when we call on Him to help us out.

How do each of these differ from a Christian worldview?  What kind of thinking and behaving do these worldviews promote?  Where are these worldviews increasing in our culture?

Are we prepared to let God’s Word tell us how to think?

 

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