The book of Ephesians is comprised of two parts:
- Ephesians 1–3: Speaks of the Good News, of the price that was paid and the grace of God.
- Ephesians 4–6: The expression of the Good News within our life, our congregation, unity, spiritual gifts, and ministry.
This section (Ephesians 4:17–24) focuses on how the Good News produces fruit within our personal life as believers. In Ephesus, there was a temple to the goddess of hunting, Artemis. The people of Ephesus that came to faith had previously worshipped false gods such as Artemis. They lived in a culture in which worship of idols was the norm. In verse 17, Paul speaks with authority to discourage them from going along with the ways of the world. Pauls speaks to the gentile believers of Ephesus and encourages them to depart from the ways of the unbelieving gentiles. He begins by encouraging them to stay away from vain pursuits. A vain pursuit is anything that disappears quickly without worth. The world encourages us to go after vain pursuits that have no worth in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In Romans 1:18–23, we see that people sought to replace God with vanities and the wisdom of man. These are the things that Paul speaks of when he speaks of the futility of their mind. The end of futile thinking is futility, and it is this end that Paul seeks to discourage as he calls the Ephesians to depart from the ways of the world.
In verses 18–19, Paul calls these people “darkened in their understanding”. In Greek, the idea of “darkened understanding” has to do with occupation with things that evade understanding, things that are beyond human understanding and so vanity for us to waste our time on. This is how Paul viewed the things with which some of the Ephesians were occupying themselves. Paul asserts that they are “excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them”.
In Romans 1:24–32, we see how their occupation with vain pursuits was a matter of rebellion against God. For that reason, God gave them over to these things and they backslid, lost their sensitivity to God’s guidance in their life, became numb to the Spirit, and fell out of touch with the Lord entirely.
We see in Romans 7:17–35 that this battle against the flesh is no easy struggle. The desire to operate according to the Spirit and to resist the flesh is a daily struggle even for those of us who have wholly committed our life to the Lord. Paul is not encouraging the Ephesians to be detached and disconnected from the world but rather simply to be set apart and not to become like them so as to bring the light of the Lord into their life.
In verse 20, it is written: “But you did not learn Christ in this way”. We see that there is a difference between theoretic knowledge of God and true understand of and relationship with the Lord. Paul tells the Ephesians that they have heard and learned the truth of Yeshua, and that they must be guided by the truth of Yeshua alone (and not by the norms of Ephesus).
In verses 22–24, all of this work of putting off the old, putting on the new, and being renewed is a matter of choice that must flow from a place of love. This is a matter of choosing to be sanctified. In order to be changed in this way, we must not look at these verses as a matter of “Thou shall” or “Thou shalt not” commandments, but rather a matter of desire to serve the Lord from a place of love according to His Word.
According to Romans 6:6–13, God is the one who has already taken the first step. We were dead, but He has given us new life by His grace and by His might. We have been transformed from what we were into a new creation. This new creation is not immune to the old ways, however, and so we must continually be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
What is this renewal anyway?
- It begins with our mindset being transformed by God.
- We are not alone. We have the Holy Spirit to help us from within.
- We can be transformed by choosing to occupy our time with things that we know will honor the Lord rather than things that are vanities that will lead to boredom. If I occupy my time with things that I know the Lord doesn’t approve of, then I will find that these things lead to nothing and will ultimately be bored and unfulfilled and this will lead to further sin that ultimately leads to total disconnection from God. We must fill our time with things that bring glory to God. We must replace those sinful activities of our past with things that serve God and bring Him glory.
Yeshua has made us into a new creation and this is expressed in a few ways:
- We stop walking in the ways of the world after vain pursuits.
- We come to really know the Lord in a personal way.
- We are transformed by the renewing of our mind and become increasingly like Him.