We Must No Longer Live as the Pagans Do
No matter how much theology precedes, how much reveling in God’s love and grace, Paul rarely writes a letter where he does not include warnings about how the Christian is NOT to live. This particular passage is rather brief compared to others. It mirrors much of what he says in Romans 1:18-23 where Paul addresses the source of sin as well as the sins. And that source is man’s natural hardness of heart with which he is born, which yields a darkened mind from which he cannot escape, that is, apart from the regenerating work of God.
So Paul begins saying “that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” You see that I have inserted the word, “pagan,” for “Gentile,” as we understand Gentile today to simply mean, “non-Jew,” which although true then as now, still included all the unsavory sins (e.g., idolatry, sexual immorality, strife) associated with paganism, now as then. And how do the pagans walk? In the futility of their minds. And why is this? Because they are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God. But why are they so? Because they are ignorant of God, His law, and ways. And the final reason given for this is their hardness of heart. So Romans 1:18-23 tells us that the reason for all of this is that natural man (man without God, born into the state of nature as all men are) suppresses the knowledge of God that screams at him from both the natural world and, we may add, his own human nature having been created in God’s image. And this natural sinful, pagan state is not something any man can avoid; it is our lot from the first man. And so being, men turn to sensuality and impurity, and all the while becoming more calloused as they live their lives. In this state, God may do one of two things: give them up (Romans 1:24, 26, & 28) or send His Spirit to convict, convince, and save (John 16:8-11).
But in describing the pagan way of walking, Paul admonishes the Ephesians, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” Fortunately, Paul talks more about how the believer walks than the pagan, and we shall take up those passages in the next few days. But we note two things: 1) The desperate situation in which we are born full of ignorance and hardness of heart; and, 2) We must “learn” Christ if we will walk like him. This learning begins with our regeneration—being born again of the Spirit—then studying our Lord’s life as the Bible presents it, and then imitating that life as the Holy Spirit empowers us to do so. So Christ is to be learned and lived. And in this way, we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.