"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, 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; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Ephesians 4:17-19)Most often, when we read the word "Gentile" in the scriptures, we think of non-Jews. However, here Paul is not writing to Jews but to a Gentile people warning then to not walk as the Gentiles do. In this verse, the word "Gentile" may more appropriately be understood as "nations", "heathens", or "other tribes". Here, Paul is not speaking of non-Jews but all peoples who live outside of the commonwealth of Christ. When we come to Christ, we are made part of a new nation; we are joined to a new people. We no longer maintain our old allegiances and the culture of who we once were but are now joined with other believers as a new nation and a new people having a new culture that is distinctively their own. Peter tells us that we are, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Paul exhorts us to make a break with our former lives, to lay aside our former manor of living, and to adopt a new lifestyle, one that is befitting of the kingdom into which we have been saved. We are no longer to walk as the rest of the nations do but rather to walk as people of God, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. The life of the nations is characterized by futility and darkness. Futility, or vanity, represents the emptiness and worthlessness of our lives spent in worldly pursuits. Much of our lives are consumed with the pursuit of the temporary, those things that have no lasting value. We live our lives for the moment, living only for this life and ignoring the live yet to come. In the end, we are left with nothing and, when this world comes to an end, so will all we have worked so hard to obtain. Peter reminds us that, "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:17-19) Christ came to save us so that we might no longer walk as we used to, that we might lay aside the futile way of living that has been passed down from generation to generation. In living the Christian life, we cannot depend on the patterns and customs we received for our fathers but must learn a new way of living from Christ.
Similarly, we must come out of darkness and into light if we are to live our new life in Christ. The term "darkness" can also be translated as "blindness". However, this is not physical blindness but blindness in our understanding. If we are to come out of darkness we must first admit we are blind and then seek the true light to fill our understanding. Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23) There is no darkness greater than the darkness one believes to be light. As long as we claim light, and yet that light be really darkness, we will continue to walk and stumble in our darkness. It is only when we confess our darkness and turn to Jesus for true light that our blindness will be turned into seeing and our understanding will be flooded with light. Paul writes, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God... For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:3-6) It is only in turning to Jesus that our darkness can be turned into light.
When we live in futility and darkness, we become estranged from Christ and from His kingdom of love and power. This estrangement progresses in degrees. First it starts with ignorance; ignorance of God, ignorance of who we are, and ignorance of who we are called to be. In our ignorance, we turn to those things that do not profit us; living a life of futility and empty pursuits. We readily adopt the ways of our fathers without even understanding that there is a better way to live. We live in old patterns not knowing that Jesus has made a way for us to live in newness of life. As ignorance grows, we become hard in heart. This word for "hard" can also mean "stupidity" or "blind" of heart. We no longer care for each other or for the needs and wants for our fellow man. We becomes consumed with our own wants and desires and begin to pursue a self-centered life. In the end, our hardness of heart turns our love cold, both our love for God and our love for one another. Jesus warned us that, "because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:12 NKJV) As our cold heart shuts our our cares for everyone other than ourselves, we become callous towards God and others. This word for "callous" can also be translated "past feeling" or, literally, to "grieve out." Our consciences being seared, we find little or no restraint left to keep us from our sinful and destructive ways. We throw our lives fully into every form of pleasure, fulfilling every lust and given over to greed and avarice. In the end, we are left with nothing but death inside us. It is time to break free of this empty life. It is time to find a new way of living. It is time to come to Christ that He might teach us how to truly live; that we might find the truth of what he said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10 NKJV)