Summary: Ephesians 4:17-19 teaches us that Christians must not live like non-Christians.


Today I am beginning a new series of sermons in Ephesians 4:17-32 that I am calling, “The New Life.”

Paul continued his description of the life that is worthy of those who are called by God. God’s people have been called to be “one” people, and so unity must characterize Christians. Furthermore, God’s people have been called to be a “holy” people, and so holiness must also characterize Christians. Holiness is as indispensable a characteristic of Christians as unity.

In our new section of Scripture, the gist of Paul’s message is clear: now that you have a new life, you must no longer live as non-Christians. He wanted Christians to grasp the contrast between what they had been as non-Christians and what they now were as Christians, between their old life and their new life.

Let’s read about the non-Christian life in Ephesians 4:17-19:

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. 18 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. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19)


When a person is born again and thereby repents of sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ, a radical transformation takes place in that person. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” It is not that the new Christian has received some new addition but that he has become someone completely and utterly new. John MacArthur put it this way:

Salvation is not a matter of improvement or perfection of what has previously existed. It is total transformation. The New Testament speaks of believers having a new mind, a new will, a new heart, a new inheritance, a new relationship, new power, new knowledge, new wisdom, new perception, new understanding, new righteousness, new love, new desire, new citizenship, and many other new things—all of which are summed up in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

It is important to understand that when a person is born again and becomes a Christian he receives a new nature. That new nature is not added to the old nature but completely replaces it. The Bible does not teach that a Christian has two different natures: an old nature and a new nature. No. A Christian has only one nature, and it is a new nature.

So, the question is rightly asked, “Why, then, do we continue to sin after we become Christians?” Paul answered that question in Romans 7:17, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (cf. vv. 18-20). The reason that Christians continue to sin is because sin is still resident in their flesh, so that Christians are restrained from giving a full and perfect expression to their new nature. As John MacArthur says, “The believer as a total person is transformed but not yet wholly perfect. He has residing sin but no longer reigning sin (cf. Romans 6:14). He is no longer the old man corrupted but is now the new man created in righteousness and holiness, awaiting full salvation (cf. Romans 13:11).”

In Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul contrasted the non-Christian life with the Christian life. He began by first describing the non-Christian life. Paul said in verse 17a, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” That is: now that you have a new life, you must no longer live as non-Christians.


Ephesians 4:17-19 teaches us that Christians must not live like non-Christians.

Paul wrote that the non-Christian life is characterized by:

1. Emptiness (4:17)

2. Hardness (4:18c)

3. Darkness (4:18a)

4. Deadness (4:18b)

5. Recklessness (4:19)

I. Emptiness (4:17)

First, the non-Christian life is characterized by emptiness.

Having stated that Christians must no longer live as non-Christians, Paul went on to state that the non-Christian life is characterized by emptiness. He said in verse 17b, “… in the futility of their minds.” The Greek word for futility has to do with “emptiness or uselessness.” All actions begin in the mind. So, as far as anything spiritual is concerned, non-Christian thinking is empty or useless. Christians and non-Christians think differently; therefore, they act differently.

John MacArthur has a fascinating comment about this:

In their two-volume book The Criminal Personality, Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow maintain that criminal behavior is the result of warped thinking. Three entire sections (pp. 251–457) are devoted to “The thinking errors of the criminal.” By studying what criminals think, rather than trying to probe their feelings and backgrounds, these researchers use these sections to share their conclusions. “It is remarkable,” they write, “that the criminal often derives as great an impact from his activities during nonarrestable phases as he does from crime. The criminal’s thinking patterns operate everywhere; they are not restricted to crime.” That is a description of the depraved, reprobate mind. “Sociological explanations have been unsatisfactory,” the authors declare. “The idea that a man becomes a criminal because he is corrupted by his environment has proved to be too weak an explanation. We have indicated that criminals come from a broad spectrum of homes, both disadvantaged and privileged within the same neighborhood. Some are violators, and most are not. It is not the environment that turns a man into a criminal, it is a series of choices that he makes starting at a very early age.” The researchers also conclude that the criminal mind eventually “will decide that everything is worthless.” “His thinking is illogical,” they affirm in summary.

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