Summary: Ephesians 4 presents ... a divine wardrobe which will really change one’s life...a heavenly, eternal style which will never go out of date — a wardrobe which wears increasingly better with time.
If you have been abroad, you know there is a worldwide fascination with fashion. Whether you travel to Chicago or London or Geneva or Beijingor Nairobi, you find fashion-conscious people making fashion statements. Much of this lure comes from fashion’s enticing promise of a “new you.” You have seen the ads — the before picture of a plain, unhappy-looking woman who lacks confidence, and then the photograph after she has come under the care of a salon and has a different hair color, cut, and eyebrows, a fresh paint job, and clothing to match. She is now a new person, brimming with confidence and appeal. The promise from the fashion world to men and women is new birth through clothing and it sells and sells and sells! The problem is, not only does clothing not make the man or woman — it covers up the real you. Clothing can polish the image but not the soul.
Ephesians 4 presents ... a divine wardrobe which will really change one’s life...a heavenly, eternal style which will never go out of date — a wardrobe which wears increasingly better with time. Paul tells us what we need to shed and what we need to put on to be properly dressed. If we take his recommendation to heart, we’ll be dressed for any occasion life may bring (Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (pp. 137–140). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.).
Showing first in verses 17–19 what believers must shed, or leave behind, Paul moves from the general to the specific, first giving four characteristics of the clothing of the old self specifying how the unredeemed are 1) Intellectually futile (Eph. 4:17) 2) Ignorant of God’s Truth (Eph. 4:18) 3) Spiritually and Morally Callused (Eph. 4:19a) and 4) Depraved in Mind (Eph. 4:19b)
Before all of that, in the beginning of verse 14, Paul introduces the command:
Ephesians 4:17 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. (ESV)
Now/therefore refers back to what Paul has been saying about our high calling in Jesus Christ. Because we are called to salvation, unified in the Body of Christ, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and built up by the gifted men (vv. 1–16), we must no longer walk as the Gentiles do. We cannot accomplish the glorious work of Christ by continuing to live the way the world lives.
Ethnos (Gentiles) is not in all of the ancient Greek texts, and may have been a later addition. But its presence here is perfectly consistent with its use elsewhere in the New Testament, including Paul’s other letters. The term basically refers to a multitude of people in general, and then to a group of people of a particular kind. It is this secondary meaning that we see in our derived English word ethnic. Jews used the term in two common ways, first to distinguish all other people from Jews and second to distinguish all religions from Judaism. Gentiles therefore referred racially and ethnically to all non–Jews and religiously to all pagans. Gentiles here represent all ungodly, unregenerate, pagan persons. (cf. 1 Thess. 4:5),
The church at Ephesus was a small island of despised people in a giant cesspool of wickedness. Ephesus was a leading city of commerce and culture in the Roman Empire, the home of the pagan temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Worship of Diana involved the worst immorality of degraded pagan religion. ...Temple prostitution, graft, crime, immorality, idolatry, and every conceivable form of sin abounded. Many of the Christians in Ephesus came out of that kind of background (Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 153). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).
Most of the believers had themselves once been a part of that paganism. They frequently passed by places where they once caroused and ran into friends with whom they once indulged in debauchery. They faced continual temptations to revert to the old ways, and the apostle therefore admonished them to resist.
•Different people have different temptations based on their background. Only you will know your triggers to sin. Understanding these triggers and pre-emptively avoiding them, can help you avoid a slide into sin.
The warning Paul gives did not originate from his own personal tastes or preferences. This I say … and testify/affirm in the Lord. The matter of forsaking sin and following righteousness is not the whim of isolated, narrow–minded preachers and teachers. It is God’s own standard and His only standard for those who belong to Him. It is the very essence of the gospel and is set in bold contrast to the standards of the unredeemed.
Paul now proceeds to give four specific characteristics of the ungodly, pagan life–style that believers are to forsake. The worldly life is 1) Intellectually futile (Ephesians 4:17), 2) Ignorant of God’s truth (Ephesians 4:18), 3) Spiritually and morally callused, and 4) Depraved in mind.