Ephesians 4:17 says, “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” Normally when the bible references Gentiles it speaks of those who are not Jews. Since the Church of Ephesus was a mostly Gentile church and not an exclusively Jewish church this is obviously not the case. Here, Paul is giving instructions not to walk as a Gentile indicating that their walk is one like a non believer. In this text Paul is giving a clear distinction between the believers walk and the non believers walk.
In this verse Paul says that the Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind. The word futile literally means pointless. The wording here, futility of mind, is the best translation but I do love how the New Living Translation states it as it says, “For they are hopelessly confused.” Since the futility is of their mind their thoughts are therefore pointless and have no purpose or value. They are abandoned to a pointless word and humanistic view.
The next verse tells us why their mind is futile as it states, “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” (Ephesians 4:18). This verse literally states that in their mind the lights are off. Now we need to remember, this is speaking of the spiritual mind. There are obviously many extraordinarily intelligent people who are not believers in Jesus Christ. However, all non believer are spiritually in the dark; spiritually, they are dim-witted. Why? Because they are “excluded from the life of God.” They are not excluded from the life of God because God doesn’t want them. God wanted them enough to send His Son to the cross to die for them. They are excluded because of the “hardness of their heart.” The hardness of their heart causes them to remain in ignorance to God and His kingdom; therefore, they are excluded; excluded by their own choice.
Because of this ignorance, darkness, and futility of mind due to their exclusion from God verse 19 says, “and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” They have become callous, or hardened so they have no shame, lost all sense of shame, cast off all feeling, or given themselves over as other translations state it. What have they become hardened to or given themselves over to? Sin. They stand in direct contrast to God, and they could care less. They are perfectly happy in their sin. Why? Because their heart is hardened towards God and they are ignorant of Him and His ways because they have no part in Him; they are excluded.
To put it simply, Paul is saying, don’t be like that. Again, we see the call to repent. We once were all like that, but if you know Him, God called you out of the futility of mind and included you in Him. Paul then writes in verses 20-21, “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him.” We didn’t learn Christ in this way, in other words, come to Him or come to know Him. When we discovered His grace we repented from the darkness and turned to the light.
Paul also said that they have not been “taught in Him in this way.” As a non believer we are taught the gospel and we choose to believe it or reject it. As a believer we are still taught. Now, we are taught how to walk in God. However, we can’t walk in God if we are excluded from Him. We must first turn to Him. Then, and only then, are we teachable. Then, and only then, are we able to walk in Him. As believers, we are taught by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are taught by studying the Word of God on our own and by allowing others who are called by God to teach us the Word of God.
Paul continued the theme of repentance in verses 22-24 as he stated, “in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Again, true biblical repentance isn’t just stopping the sin in your life. Apart from Jesus you can’t. True biblical repentance is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus. Anything else is futility of mind-pointless.