Elon, North Carolina
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. 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. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19 ESV)
Today, we want to look at seven deadly sins, seven terrifying words which describe the lost. This description is short. It is only one sentence in Greek. The ESV makes it three but in Greek it is only one sentence. As we have already seen, Paul like to write in long sentences. That is his writing style. We have said that Paul does not write like Hemingway. These three verses are short but they are one of the clearest and most concise descriptions anywhere in the NT of the unsaved person.
Paul gave another description of the lost in Ephesians 2. He described the whole human race as guilty before God. They are under God’s wrath. They are ruled by the Devil. They are spiritually dead. They are not only dead but enslaved in body and mind, addicted to sin. They live in lusts and follow their own passions and desires. They are totally depraved. He calls them “children of disobedience” and says that they have no hope in the world.
Paul describes the unsaved world in seven words: futility, darkness, alienation, ignorance, hardness, immorality, addiction. These seven words described the lost in Paul’s day. They described unsaved Gentiles in the city of Ephesus or wherever this church was located but they also perfectly describe unsaved people today thousands of years later in the modern era. Human nature has not changed. Wherever you go, regardless of culture or race, you see these same basic characteristics.
Some would say that it does not describe everyone. Every unsaved person on the planet is not sexually immoral. Everyone is not an adulterer. No every unsaved person sleeps around and visits prostitutes. There are some outwardly moral pagans, who are even religious on the outside but we should keep two things in mind here.
God restrains people so that they are not as bad as they could possibly be. He gives people a conscience. When we want to do something bad, something inside us tells us not to do it. It tells us that it is wrong. He gives society government with laws and punishment for crimes. He also restrains society with police officers and with judges and with prisons which deter crime.
The other thing to remember is that immorality takes MANY different forms. Paul speaks of people indulging in EVERY form of impurity or uncleanness (Ephesians 4:19). Sexual immorality takes many different forms. Everyone does not indulge in the same form of depravity. There are different forms of sin and different degrees of sin.
In Ephesians 4, we have another description of the lost and this description is very similar to another one Paul gave in the NT. In Romans 1, Paul gave a lengthy description of the Gentile world and all seven of these sins are found in that chapter.
He described them by futility. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became FUTILE in their thinking (Romans 1:21 ESV).
He described the Gentile word as darkness. He says, “their foolish hearts were DARKENED” (σκοτίζω) in Romans 1:21 ESV), the same word used in Ephesians 4:17. Their hearts were not only dark, so were their minds. They have a “debased mind” (Romans 1:28 ESV)
He described them by alienation. They relationship to God was affected. God’s wrath was revealed against their sin. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV). They themselves were described as “haters of God” (Romans 1:30 ESV). In both passages, Paul speaks of them as being “given up” (παραδίδωμι) to sin (Ephesians 4:19; Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
He described them as ignorant. He says that they were “without understanding” (Romans 1:31 KJV, NASB). It is ignorant to exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV).
He describe them by hardness. He describes them as without any shame (Romans 1:27) and “heartless” (Romans 1:31 ESV).
He described them as sexually immoral. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves (Romans 1:24 ESV). In fact, Paul uses the same word for sexual impurity (ἀκαθαρσία) in Romans 1:24 that he uses in Ephesians 4:19. in Ephesians 4:19, he speaks of “every kind of impurity” (πᾶς ἀκαθαρσία). In Romans 1:29, he speaks of “every kind of wickedness” (πᾶς ἀδικία).
He describes them as greedy (πλεονεξία) and uses the same word in Romans 1:29 that he uses in Ephesians 4:19.
Let’s look at these seven sins characteristic of the lost and then let’s look at how these words apply to us.
The first word is FUTILITY. Paul says that they were futile in their minds. They were characterized by mental futility. Paul’s list of sins begins with the mind and ends with actions. What does futility mean?
It means that they have no purpose in life. Life is pointless to them. They do not understand what life is all about. They are completely clueless.
Life without God is empty. It is vain. Life without God is vanity. That is the theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The word “vanity” is found thirty-eight times in the book. Ecclesiastes 1:2 says, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (KJV).
The NIV reads, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” The last recorded words of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln were “useless…useless” after he was shot in the neck before he died.
Solomon says that life apart from God is completely meaningless. It is pointless. It is vain. It is futile. You live for nothing. Solomon described life apart from God as “vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). It is like chasing the wind.
It gives no real satisfaction. It has no eternal value. They are material things or physical things, not spiritual things or eternal tings. They focus on their car, their house, their money or their investments. One day everything in this world will burn up. It will be gone. It will be destroyed by fire. Peter says the earth will be destroyed with intense heat (II Peter 3:10 NASB).
The second word is DARKNESS. We see these same to characteristics in Romans 1:21. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became FUTILE and their foolish hearts were DARKENED (NIV).
Ephesians 4:18 says that the unsaved are darkened in their understanding, not just their heart but their mind. The Bible says that Satan has not just blinded the hearts of people, he has blinded their minds.
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (II Corinthians 4:4 NIV)
The darkness is mental. Notice that the first two of characteristics in this Ephesians 4 list have to do with the MIND (futile in their minds, darkened in their understanding). The list starts with the mind and ends with actions. Why does he start with the mind?
The problem lies in the mind. Many of our problems go back to the mind. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks, so is he.” Darkened understanding leads to darkened behavior. The pagan mind is foolish. It is darkened. It is depraved, and it is ignorant. It is godless. You cannot change the way people act until you change the way they think.
Their understanding is darkened. That is true of everyone who is not a Christian. Their minds are in the dark (Ephesians 4:18). Their minds are full of darkness (NLT). They would say that they are the ones who are enlightened, open-minded and progressive and it is the Christian who lives in the dark ages
Paul says that the state of unbelievers is one of darkness. The Bible says that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16). The unbeliever walks in the darkness. They live in darkness. They sit in darkness (Matthew 4:16 NASB, KJV).
Africa has been spoken of as “the dark continent” but the Bible says that the whole earth is dark. We do not just have a dark continent, we have a dark planet. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples (Isaiah 60:2 NIV). This is not an academic darkness. It not that the whole planet is illiterate. It is moral darkness. It is spiritual darkness. It is religious darkness. That sounds terrible.
The picture is bad but it gets worse. Not only do people on the planet live in total darkness spiritually but they LOVE it. We would feel sorry for someone in that situation. The problem is that they like the darkness. Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people LOVED DARKNESS instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19 NIV).
The third word is ALIENATION. The third characteristic of the unsaved is that they are alienated from the life of God. What does it mean that we are alienated from God? When there is an alienation, there is a separation. There is an isolation.
It is one thing to be alienated from other people, to be estranged. That is bad enough to be estranged from your own family, when your own family will not talk to you but to be alienated from God is even worse. It is the worst form of alienation. They are not only excluded from the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12), they are separated from God.
It is one thing to not be able to have a relationship with another person. It is another thing to be not able to have a relationship with God. The NIV says they are “separated from the life of God.” The NASB says that they are “excluded from the life of God.”
We were created to have a relationship with God but the unsaved are alienated from God. The point here is not that they once had a relationship with God but lost it. They never had it and are excluded because they are unregenerate.
The fourth word is IGNORANCE. The one thing that the unsaved boast about is their intellect. They pride themselves in their education and degrees. Paul says that they are ignorant. They think that we are ignorant. Bible-believing Christians are ignorant. They are primitive. They are backwards. The truth is that they are the ones who are ignorant. Unbelievers are spiritually ignorant.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and CANNOT understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (I Corinthians 2:14 NIV).
Paul is not saying that all unbelievers are uneducated. He is not saying that they are all illiterate. He is not saying that they have a low IQ or that they cannot do math. They may be brilliant. They may have a high IQ. They may have a Ph.D. in physics or philosophy.
Plato and Aristotle were not ignorant. They were some of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known but if they did not know the true God, they were ignorant. Einstein was not ignorant. He was the most brilliant physicist in world history but if he did not know God he was ignorant of the most important thing that he could know.
Stephen Hawking was not ignorant. He was another theoretical physicist who was brilliant. He was the director of cosmology at Cambridge. Hawking was an atheist. He says there is no possibility of God in our universe. Hawking was highly intelligent but the Bible calls him a fool. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (NIV).
Anyone who says there is no God is a fool. He is stupid. God says this twice in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 14 is the only Psalm that appears twice in the book. God says this twice. Hawking is not an atheist anymore. He died in 2018.
You can have a lot of knowledge but not a whole lot of wisdom. Some people are smart fools. Atheism is a fool’s religion. There are many fools in the world today. They think that rejecting God and the Bible makes them wise. One atheist at work told me that he did not get smart until he became an atheist.
Ernest Hemingway said, “All thinking men are atheists.” That is not true. Some of the most brilliant scientists in history believed in God (Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, Bacon, Faraday, Mendel, Kelvin, Newton). Many of the founders of modern science believed in God. Many thinking people, many smart people, believe in God. The Bible says, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22 KJV).
The fifth word is HARDNESS. The Greek word πώρωσιςis only used three times in the NT (Ephesians 4:18; Romans 11;25; Mark 3:5). The KJV reads “blindness” but most commentators believe this should be translated hardness, not blindness. The noun form of this word means stone (πῶρος). We have a medical term that comes from this word (porosis from which we get osteoporosis).
It is followed by the statement “they have become callous” (Ephesians 4:19 ESV). The KJV reads “who being past feeling.” The word translated “callous” or “past feeling” (ἀπηλγηκότες) is also a medical term. Is the Greek word from which we get the word analgesic, which is a drug given to relieve pain. It is what we call pain-killers today.
Many physical hearts on the outside are hard. They have a medical condition called physical heart disease. They have clogged arteries. They have hardening of the arteries. It can be deadly. It can kill people. It causes heart attacks and strokes.
Paul is talking about people who have hard spiritual hearts on the inside. He is talking about spiritual heart disease. Some people’s hearts are completely petrified. They are hard as a rock.
Four Signs of a Hard Heart
1. You reject the gospel
You can preach the gospel to them and every time they reject it. You can give them a thousand verses to read but they do absolutely no good. It is like you are speaking to a brick wall. That is a sign of a hard heart. A hard heart is one reason people reject the gospel.
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would NOT BELIEVE in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and HARDENED their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (John 12:37-40 NIV)
2. You are antagonistic to faith
Some not only reject the gospel repeatedly but go one step further and mock and ridicule people who have faith. They laugh at them. They persecute. That is a sign of a hard heart.
3. You do not have feelings of guilt
They become “past feeling.” They can sin and do not feel it. They do not have any feelings of guilt. They do not acknowledge what they do is wrong. When they sinned, they are not bother by it at all. They are not depressed. They can violate scripture and not feel bad. They can break the law and commit a crime and not feel bad.
One a sign of a hard heart is when people completely ignore their conscience. They do it so much that they end up with a seared conscience. Paul said that some people’s consciences have been seared with a hot iron (I Timothy 4:2).
4. You justify overtly sinful behavior
In fact, they justify it and often use Scripture to justify their sin. They do not try to hide their lifestyle. They do not try to hide sin but are open and shameless about it. They celebrate it publicly and flaunt it. This is a final sign of a hard heart. They live a sinful lifestyle out in the open.
The sixth and final form of sin on the list is SEXUAL SIN. Matthew Henry said, “When men’s consciences are once seared, there are no bounds to their sins.” They live a life without any restraint. The wicked believe that sexual immorality is a form of liberation. It is really a form of rebellion to God’s laws and it takes many different forms.
Some immorality is HOMOSEXUAL in nature and some immorality is HETEROSEXUAL in nature.
Some immorality involves ONE person and some involves MULTIPLE partners.
Some have sexual relations with someone who is not their spouse BEFORE they are married (fornication) and some have sexual relations with someone who is not their spouse AFTER they are married (adultery)
For some it is a PHYSICAL immorality and for some it is MENTAL adultery. Some are unclean in body and some are unclean in thought and imagination.
Paul does not use this word, but he does say that they engage in all of these immoral practices with greed. Why with greed? Because they are never satisfied. Their behavior leads to an addiction that never really meets their needs. They think that sin leads to freedom but it only leads to slavery. It leads to addiction.
What is the application to us today? Paul says, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). That is the way the unsaved live. That is the way many of us used to live and now we are to live differently.
We are not to live lives of FUTILITY. Our lives should not be empty and futile. All of us should live life with a purpose. We should not live as if God does not matter. We should not live for ourselves. Every day, we should ask God what he wants us to do. We should live our lives for Him.
What about DARKNESS? We are sons of the light. We should live like children of darkness. We will see this in Ephesians 5.
We should not live lives of ALIENATION. If we have accepted Christ, we are saved but all of us are not close to God. Even as believers, when we sin, we are separated from God in communion and fellowship. God wants us to live in fellowship with Him.
We should not as Christians be IGNORANT and yet the sad fact is that many Christians are ignorant. They do not know what the Word teaches. They do not know basic bible truths. When Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, he said that he did not want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:1).
What about HARDNESS? Are there some Christians that have hard hearts? Yes. Some live in sin. Some are not open to rebuke at all. They are not open to what God’s Word says about their life. Paul said something shocking in Hebrews 3:12-13. Speaking to Christians, he said the following:
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (ESV).
What about IMMORALITY? The sad fact is that Christians can fall into immorality, just like many saints in the OT fell into. None of us are exempt from it. Some books of the Bible were written to Christians in this situation. Paul says in the next chapter of Ephesians that we should be free from even a hint of immorality.
Finally, there is ADDICTION. Sadly, many Christians struggle with addictions of various types. You say, how do we have victory over these sins? What do we have to do? That is our topic for next week. We will find out next week, as we look at the next things that Paul says in Ephesians 4.
 I develop and add details to the basic outline given by Stephen J. Cole at https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-30-how-not-live-ephesians-417-19
 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:17, 43-44.
 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 586.