Ephesians 4:17-24


The texts from Ephesians for Sundays Pentecost X-XIV are admonitory texts. Today's text is the second in that series of five. The final text from Ephesians, 6:10-20, is the text about the whole armor of God.

 The Formula of Concord, S.D., Free Will (Tappert 521-522) gives us this:

Although man's reason or natural intellect still has a dim spark of the knowledge that there is a God, as well as of the teaching of the Law, Romans 1:19-21,28,32, nevertheless, it is so ignorant, blind, and perverse that when even the most gifted and the most educated people on earth read or hear the Gospel of the Son of God and the promise of eternal salvation, they cannot by their own powers perceive this, comprehend it, understand it, or believe and accept it as the truth. On the contrary, the more zealously and diligently they want to comprehend these spiritual things with their reason, the less they understand or believe, and until the Holy Spirit enlightens and teaches them they consider it all mere foolishness and fables. 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1:21; Ephesians 2:1; 4:17-18; 5:8; Matthew 13:13; Romans 3:11-12; Acts 26:18; John 1:5; Colossians 2:13.

Ephesians 4:17 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.

The thought points back to verses 15-16. Verse 17 is an echo of verse 1. Verse 1 tells them to walk worthily. This verse tells them how NOT to walk. The language is emphatic.

"In the Lord" in TEV is "In the Lord's name." NASB has: "Affirm together with the Lord." Paul speaks as Christ's messenger and makes an emphatic point.

Paul implies that they had made a break with heathen living.

Rienecker: The word 'futility' contains the idea of aimlessness, the leading to no object or end, vanity.
Kretzmann: The inner life of natural man, his thinking, willing, desiring, is vain, useless, purposeless, altogether without reality and worth before God. No unbeliever can have a conception of real moral values, for his mind is centered in nothingness.
Bengel: 'Vanity' is explained in verse 18; 'Walking' is explained in verse 19.
Lenski: He says that all their mind contains leads them to nothing.
Stoeckhardt: This is true of all men as constituted before conversion.

Ephesians 4:18 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.

Lenski calls this verse the classic location for the teaching about the state of natural man. Remember the quote above from the Formula of Concord.

The verse implies that they are spiritually dead. "That is in them" reminds us that it is inherited. "Hardness of heart" denotes the condition of all unconverted people. On this thought compare Ezekiel 11:19 where the same metaphor is found.

Verse 18 is an expansion of verse 17.

Kretzmann: The terms used by Paul presuppose a former, more enlightened condition of man . . . Not a spark of fear, love, and trust in God is found in natural man. This condition is due to the inherited depravity of mankind.
Stoeckhardt: Unregenerate man is by nature entirely blind, stupid, dull, and unreceptive for all that is noble, high, and godly.
John 3:19 tells us "People loved the darkness more than the light." This does not deny their physical beauty and stamina, their intelligence and their cleverness. But natural man is spiritually blind, dead and an enemy of God.

Ephesians 4:19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

In the Greek text verses 17 through 19 comprise one sentence. The translations are interesting: being past feeling, they have lost all feeling of shame, having lost their sense of right and wrong, having lost all sensitivity, have become callous.

This verse denotes the conduct of the pagans. Unrestrained living, performance, insatiable greed. NIV: "With a continual lust for more." For more of every kind of uncleanness. This verse gives a gruesome picture of the debauched nature of man when all restraint is abandoned.

Lenski: Paul is describing the whole pagan life. Uncleanness marked their religion and their worship, their pleasures and diversions, their business and their social relations, their politics, their public shows, and what not . . . Such was paganism; it is such to this day -- an outrageous vile mess.
Kretzmann: They have become abandoned to a state of heart without conscience. They have willingly yielded themselves, by their own guilty choice, to wantonness, to shameless, outrageous sensuality, to a reckless, unbridled behavior . . . They make it their business to indulge in every form of uncleanness, greed or covetousness, both vices are self-seeking.

People today would rather choose abortion than to give up illicit sex. Others run the risk of suffering from fatal AIDS rather than give up unnatural sex. So it goes. They do these things with a callous conscience.

Ephesians 4:20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.

Lenski: 'Not thus' repudiates all of the foregoing. The negation is a litotes; 'not thus' means in a manner utterly opposite . . . To learn Christ is the counterpart of to preach Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 1:19.
Kretzmann: There is a clear-cut, irreconcilable difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate person.

Ephesians 4:21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

Lenski: Paul appends a parenthetical conditional clause.

 "Certainly" does not diminish, but increases the strength of the admonition. TEV: "You certainly heard about him." NIV: "Surely you heard of him. " They did not hear of Jesus in person. The grammar indicates that they thoroughly understood Christ's teaching. The teachers could not be faulted. Paul himself taught them.

Stoeckhardt: Christ is here definitely presented on the one hand as object, on the other as the sphere of Christian teaching and instruction. Christ is the center and kernel of the Apostolic message.

The life of the pagan Gentiles is in utter contrast to that of the Christian.

"The truth,"  immediately reminds us of John 14:6. He is the Truth. There is none other. He is the source of justification and also of sanctification. The Word of God gives us the true knowledge of the true God.

Kretzmann: He that has entered into the sphere of Jesus as His disciples is thereby under obligation to conduct himself in his entire life as Jesus walked.
Here He is called "Jesus" because Paul is speaking of His person, not His office. The article with it means something like "The well-known." 

Ephesians 4:22 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;

This verse is not synergistic. The Christian has the strength, from the Gospel, to fight sin and the old Adam.

The text is saying that conversion has not changed the corrupt old man. He is the same as he was under the former, heathen conduct. This is a very sobering thought.

The old man is constantly corrupting himself. Of course, the corruption of Adam at the time of the fall was total. The sinful flesh of mankind is not becoming more corrupt as time passes because the initial corruption was total. But the old man is constantly trying to corrupt the person of the regenerate Christian.

The lusts are deceitful. Hebrews 3:13 speaks about "the deceitfulness of sin, " using the same word used here in the Greek.

Kretzmann: The lusts and desires of the old man are deceitful; they seem to promise happiness, joy, life, while in reality they ruin a person that follows their guidance, both in body and spirit, until he is lost forever.
Rienecker: Every trait of the Old Man's behavior is putrid, crumbling, or inflated like rottening waste or cadavers, stinking, ripe for being disposed of and forgotten.
Lenski: Putting off this old man is violent, painful; Romans 6:6 calls it a crucifixion.

See also Galatians 5:24.

Ephesians 4:23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;

Here we have an interesting verb. It is present tense because it is a constant, daily renewing. It is passive because God is the agent, though the Christian is told to do it. That is a deep mystery. In Galatians 5:16 the Christian is told to walk in the Spirit. But in verse 18 he is told that he is lead by the Spirit. Both are true. But God, and only God, gives the spiritual power. None comes from me.

Stoeckhardt: Man is renewed so that he begins to live a new life, and he is renovated so that his former being is transformed. In this passage both of these conceptions are presented side by side.

"Attitude" comes from the Greek spirit. Constantly be renewed in respect to the spirit of your mind. Compare in the vanity of their minds, in verse 17. The mind is the source of the thoughts which determine the actions. Renew the thoughts and the actions will also be renewed. Putting off the old man, verse 22, being renewed in the spirit of the mind, verse 23, and putting on the new man, verse 24, happen at one and the same time. They are simply different aspects of one and the same thing.

But notice that "putting off the old man" is mentioned first. Christianity is a never-ending battle against the flesh. Romans 6:4; 7:6; Galatians 6:15. The Romans said "Resist the beginnings." Never let sin get a hold on you.

Kretzmann: The putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new is done at the same time; the two events are simultaneous. In and by his conversion a person begins an entirely new life . . . This regeneration must be continuous and steady, lest the old sinful nature once more gain the ascendancy. It is a necessary part of Christian sanctification for a Christian always to being anew. . . . The new man is the sum total of all the Christian virtues, the entire number of God's moral demands in realization.

Ephesians 4:24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Compare Genesis 1:27 with this verse.

Stoeckhardt: The new man, by regeneration, is created in conformity to the image of God. . . . The new man is righteous, exactly as man should be, without defect, holy, pure, clean, without taint, or spot, like unto God, the righteousness and holy One.

The renovated one means the one who was created with God as model. Regeneration means to be God-like. The fact that this person is created, which means to come into existence, eliminates all synergism.

Regeneration is a mystery. Look at Romans 1:16. The Gospel is the righteousness of God. It must be preached constantly to give people this regeneration power.

Lenski: Righteousness and holiness are the chief perfection of Adam in his original state, in the image of God. . . The creation of the new man places the new man in control of our life and our conduct; our imputed righteousness and holiness produce acquired righteousness and holiness.

Righteousness denotes all that which is right and good. Holiness denotes aversion to sin.

AAT: "Put on the new self, which is created to be like God, righteous and holy in the truth." This righteousness and holiness belong to and are the product of Jesus Who Himself is the Truth.

Galatians 5:16-25 summarizes the constant conflict between the old and the new man in the Christian. Our greatest cross is our sinful flesh. The preacher must constantly help his hearers to drown the flesh but also to nudge the new man to live with God as model.


(Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,
by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 46-49)

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index