By Lanny Carpenter
Ephesians 4:17-20 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Since the beginning of time, God and Satan have been locked in battle for the minds of the human race. It started in the Garden of Eden, and has not been completed as of yet. At Calvary, God won a decisive battle through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Another fatal blow was dealt on the Day of Pentecost, when God the Holy Spirit became personally involved in the lives of believers. But in recent years, Satan has begun to gain precious ground through the sadistic lies he continues to spread. The Apostle Paul describes this battleground extensively throughout his epistles, but none as clear as in the letter to the church at Ephesus. He describes in vivid detail the hold that Satan has on the minds of men, and how we as Christians are to be different. Paul’s command in verse 17 is literally, “Stop living as the Gentiles do.” Stop living as everyone else in your culture; even though wicked Ephesusis your home, stop living like them. This command implies that the Ephesian Christians were still battling with the old life.
The Unregenerate Mind
The Condition of the
Mind – Vanity
The mind is the beginning point for us to understand the predicament. Paul does not begin with our behavior. It is not a problem with our environment; it is not a problem of our biological structure; it is not even a problem of “nature or nurture.” The problem begins in our mind.
The word mind encompasses the reason, the understanding, the conscience, and the affections. What we believe affects the way we behave. When our reason is awry, our understanding is without light, our conscience is limited, and our affections are turned inward, then our behavior will be displeasing to God. Paul describes the condition of those without Christ as futility of thinking (better mind). Futility carries the idea of emptiness as to its results, in other words, bankrupt. The secular mind’s thinking results in an emptiness, an aimlessness, a uselessness. It is the waste of the rational powers on worthless objects.
The problem with the unregenerate person is that his mind has departed from the knowledge of the true God. Man knew God, but departed from him. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile” (Romans 1:21). This departure resulted in futile thinking, which ended in wrong behavior. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God . . .” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). Our actions flow from our thoughts, so if our thought life is futile and pointless, then our actions will be likewise irrational.
Paul also says they are darkened in their understanding. This implies that they have been partakers of life and light, i.e., before the Fall, and it also speaks of a condition which is permanent as far as their own power to change it. They are without the faculty of discernment, and are unable to clearly distinguish between right and wrong. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile” (Romans 1:21). Counselors, psy-chologists, and psychiatrists – their solutions to men’s problems are flawed, futile, and frustrated. To try to change a person’s behavior when he is operating with a materialistic, secular, depraved mind is futile. Man lacks the vital data to make the proper changes.
The Cause of the Condition
of the Mind – Alienation
The cause of the condition of the unregenerate mind all started with the Fall of man. Satan’s lie to Adam and Eve centered on their mind. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). By telling them that their eyes will be opened Satan meant that they would have more knowledge. “Be like God, knowing good and evil” means they would have enough knowledge to be self-sufficient. Adam and Eve certainly desired the fruit to gain more wisdom. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was . . . desirable for gaining wisdom . . . she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6-7). They bought into Satan’s lie. The result was their fall from God’s grace and separation from God.
It is the same lie that Satan expounds today. In Secular Humanism, man says: “There is no deity to help us; we must help ourselves.” In Postmodernism, man says: “There is no absolute truth; we must create our own.” In New Age philosophy, man says: “There is no Christian deity; I am my own God.”
Man also revolted from the revelation of God. Separated from the life of God is better translated “separated himself from the life of God,” and implies a willful separation. Man made the separation from God, not God from man. The separation has gotten wider as man’s mind has gotten darker. As we all know very well, a choice made often becomes a habit.
Their alienation was also a result of their ignorance, their lack of knowledge of God. Men are born in moral, ethical, and spiritual stupidity. But they also willfully turn from God, refusing to accept the knowledge of Him.
Unregenerate man’s alienation was a result of their hardness of heart as well. Literally, the word for hardening means “a callous, a hardening of the skin so as not to be sensible to touch.” They are calloused to feeling, having lost sensitivity to all moral principles and practices, and are morally unresponsive. Their hardness to the spiritual things of God has caused the gap between them and God to widen.
The Consequences of the Condition of the Mind – Degradation
One consequence of the unregenerate mind is that the person is past any spiritual sensitivity. Having lost all sensitivity means such persons had become insensitive to moral and spiritual impressions. They have become insensitive to the appeal of truth. “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2).
Another consequence is that they abandon themselves to moral perversion. Paul said “they have given themselves over to so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” In other words, there is no sense of shame or decency. They indulge themselves in pleasure for pleasure’s sake, living only to feel good. It becomes a narcotic, deadening the pain of futility, blindness, and alienation. All moral restraint is scorned; they do not have the resources to restrain themselves. Their desires are insatiable.
Are you still trying to hang on to the lifestyle you followed before you became a Christian? The Bible says that it is not possible to do so. “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). When a person becomes a Christian, he desires to cut himself off from the system of this world. Although the world continues to tempt us from time to time, we are to forsake Satan’s evil system. But how do we do that?
The Regenerate Mind
As we see from out text, Paul reminds us that we did learn a different way. As Christians we are to look, talk, and act different from the world. Our acceptance of Christ means we have accepted a new lifestyle. The mind of the believer is the place where the control of his new life starts. The mind is not fallow, but fertile soil, and so must be cultivated, or it will become a briar patch of tangled thoughts. Believers are renewed in their mind, and this process begins a whole new life.
What is Renewal of the Mind?
Again, for the regenerate person, we must begin with the mind. Paul tells us that the old man, the sin nature, has been put off. The old man was a process of corruption. In salvation, that old man has been crucified with Christ. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin . . .” (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). The old man has been reckoned dead. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:11-12).
It was the old man who controlled our minds. The old nature was futile, darkened, and ignorant. (Ephesians 4:17-18) The old man is also depraved. “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). Paul used the word corrupt to describe the old man. “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (I Timothy 6:3-5). That old nature is blinded. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:4).
What is Paul talking about when he says we are “to be made new in the attitude (or, spirit) of [our] minds”? The operative word here is the word translated “to be made new.” It refers to a renewal of the mind. It is in the continual and progressive voice, and means to continually undergo a restoration process. This renewal is to take place in the mind. The mind is the seat of reflective consciousness and intelligence. The mind is the faculty of moral judgment. Therefore, spirituality centers in the mind.
The mind is also that attitude and disposition which determines behavior and conduct. With the mind we have the power to refocus the way we live. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’” (Matthew 15:19-20
To what does Paul refer when he speaks of the attitude (or, spirit) of the mind? What is it that must be renewed? This phrase refers to the higher life principle in man by which the human reason viewed on its moral side – the organ of thinking and knowing – is informed. We sometimes refer to it as the “inner man.” When the spirit of the mind is changed, it radically alters the sphere and business of the inner mechanism of the mind. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
So let’s put this all together. What is it that we need? First, we must have a new birth. The new birth, referred to as regeneration, brings about a new way of thinking. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Reasoning is now from God’s standpoint. The mind now directs its bent and energies God-ward.
But that is just the beginning. Renewal involves the continuing process of readjusting our thinking. It is an adjustment of our moral and spiritual thinking to the mind of God. That moral judgment is related to our moral actions. It is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). In this process the person is not passive, but is a fellow worker with God in the process.
What are the Resources of Renewal?
The agent of renewal is the Holy Spirit. God does not force us to be renewed, but He does enable us. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit . . .” (Titus 3:5). Renewal is the constant operation brought about by regeneration, which comes through the Spirit. It is not a putting of new clothes on the old man, but a putting of a new man in new clothes! It is the Holy Spirit who applies salvation to us, including its continuous effect of renewing our mind. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being . . .” (Ephesians 3:16). Through Him we subdue sin, perform service, and walk in God’s ways. He gives us spiritual perception of the things we learn.
The instrument of renewal is the Bible. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to renew us. We are to be constantly and continually appro-priating new truth. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 2:2-3; cf. I Peter 1:23). As the Word of God comes into our souls and gives us life, our human viewpoint is replaced by a divine viewpoint.
The subject of renewal is Christ. Paul said in verses 20-21, “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” It is a learning about Him as well as a fellowship with Him. It is the study of Christ as He is revealed in the academic facts about Him. It is discovering the truths of Christ life here on earth, and mimicking them with our own lives. It is what we often refer to as “becoming Christ-like.”
What are the Results of Renewal?
One result is that we are restored to the image of God, becoming moral representations of what God is. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). God wants to restore within us what Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden: moral representations of Himself. Another result is that we are repaired of the total loss of righteousness and holiness, which are attributes of the truth. When truth comes, holiness follows. One other result is that we are returned to true obedience to God, living a life pleasing to Him. It is only with God’s enablement that we can please Him with our life.
Do you resemble God? Are you being transformed, by the renewing of your mind, into the image of God? If you are, you cannot conform to this present world. You have renounced all of its affections and lusts in the new birth. You bear the image of the heavenly. John Wesley said: “Ye know that the great end of religion is to renew our hearts in the image of God, to repair that total loss of righteousness and true holiness, which we sustained by the sin of our first parents. Ye know that all religion that does not answer this end, all that stops short of this, the renewal of our soul in the image of God, after the likeness of Him that created it, is no other than a poor farce, and a mere mockery of God, to the destruction of our own soul.”