Online Bible Commentary
Ephesians 4:17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (NKJV)
Proper Biblical interpretation depends upon context. Therefore, each of these commentaries begins by giving some context of the passage.
The book of Ephesians is part of what is known as the Prison Epistles. The writings, themselves, affirm that the epistles were written by the Apostle Paul from prison.
There are differing opinions as to during which of Paul’s prison confinements the epistles were written. There are many sources that discuss this subject fully. For our purposes, we will go along with the thought of most scholars that Paul wrote the prison epistles during his house arrest in Rome from AD 60-62.
It is believed that the epistle was written about AD 61 to the house churches in Ephesus, Asia. The idea was that this authoritative letter would be passed along to the other churches.
The book of Ephesians can be divided into two halves. The first half, the first three chapters, is concerned with the positional; doctrine outlining our position in Christ.
The second half, the last three chapters, is concerned with the practical; how we work out our position in the practical living of our Christian life. This is similar to the breakdown of the book of Romans, Paul’s previous writing.
In this passage, Paul begins by writing “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk” (v. 17a). The “therefore’ refers to the previous passage, in which Paul calls on Christians to be mature in their faith. A mature faith requires that we live up to our position in Christ.
The literal Greek translation of verse 17a states “no longer you walk, even as also the rest of the nations walk”. The verb “walk” is an infinitive here, which presents as a concept and not an action, specifically the concept of our position in Christ.
Our position in Christ is as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, in verse 17, Paul is not making a suggestion on how we should live, but rather a statement of fact of our position, of who we are in Christ.
Next, Paul lists four characteristics of non-Christians, those who walk in the ways of the world:
1. “The futility of their mind” (v. 17b) - The literal translation of the Greek is “vanity”, not futility. This is a purposeful action and not just an action out of weakness.
Vanity, or being vain, is a selfish action. It is thinking only of ourselves. Non-Christians put themselves before God.
2. “Having their understanding darkened” (v. 18a) – The literal translation of the Greek is “having been darkened in the intellect”. The Greek construction indicates a continuing, ongoing, darkening of the intellect, because of the continuing ignorance of God.
Neglecting God, by neglecting church and the Bible, causes ignorance of God. Non-Christians are ignorant of God, and need educating, not condemnation.
3. “Being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (v. 18b). The literal Greek is “hardness of the heart”, not “blindness”.
Non-Christians are alienated from God. They are enemies of God because of this ignorance and because of the hardening of their hearts.
4. “Who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (v. 19). The literal Greek is “who having cast off all feeling themselves gave up to lust”.
This, again, is a purposeful action of “casting off” all restraints, even that of their conscience, which results in a giving themselves over “to lust”. This results in “all uncleanness with greediness”, sins against God.
“Uncleanness” means sexual immorality, such as adultery and homosexuality. “Greediness” means an insatiable desire to accumulate wealth, or a consuming ambition.
Paul continues “But you have not so learned Christ” (v. 20). The Christian knowledge of God is not the same as the ignorance of the non-Christian. Christians have a knowledge of Christ.
Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Bible, and to understand Christ. Christians have been taught by the Holy Spirit.
You can’t really know God, until you first become a Christian. Those who say they will not become a Christian until they fully understand God and the Bible will never become a Christian. We come by faith, then we learn from the Holy Spirit who comes to live within us.
Paul writes “if indeed you have heard Him” (v. 21a). The word “if” is better translated “since” in this verse. The Greek word “ei”, used here, can be translated “if” or “since”. Christians “have heard” Christ through His Word, the Bible.
He continues “and have been taught by Him” (v. 21b). Christians have been taught by Christ, through His Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes “as the truth is in Jesus” (v. 21c). All truth is from God. Jesus is truth. We find truth only in the Bible, the Word of God.
Paul continues “that you put off concerning your former conduct” (v. 22a). The meaning here is one of taking off your old clothes.
Our change in conduct when we become a Christian should be immediate and complete, all in one action like undressing. We will make new friends and we will partake in new activities. The old has gone, the new has come.
Paul writes “the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (v. 22b). When you become a Christian, you take off the old clothes. You take off the “old man”, who has grown “corrupt”, and you take off his “deceitful lusts”.
Paul continues “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (v. 23). When you become a Christian there is a renewing of your mind.
God changes your “want tos” to align with His will. You want to do His will. You can learn how to become a Christian in the “About Us” section of this website.
Paul concludes “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (v. 24). When you become a Christian you “put on” the new clothes, “the new man” who has been created by God to be righteous and holy.
So, it is time to go shopping for new clothes. These clothes are special. They will give you an abundant life now, and will take you to Heaven later.