Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You are what you think all day long”. And I think Scripture would agree with him.
The mind is the biggest battlefield; because it reflects what is going on in our heart already. If the enemy is speaking negativity, lies, and pessimism to our heart, it will be reflected in our thoughts, and our thoughts shape our actions and decisions.
I believe this is why in the New Testament we see Paul repeatedly urging Christians to renew their minds, and why we read from cover to cover about the importance of memorizing and meditating on Scripture.
On the heels of reminding believers of their responsibility to the church and urging them to greater spiritual maturity, Paul goes on to remind them why there should be great distinction between the world and the church and that the mind plays a crucial role in this distinction.
He starts off with this very direct statement:
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,
I think if we take this passage (Ephesians 4:17 – Ephesians 5:7) in the context of the whole book and in agreement with the whole passage itself, we can see that when Paul refers to the Gentiles, he’s referring to Gentile Christians.
In other words, he is saying, “Don’t behave as other Gentile Christians behave.”
How were they behaving?
The word “futility of their mind” means void of truth, inappropriate, depraved, perverse, frail, lacking vigor.
I think each definition gives the phrase an almost 3-D effect.
Their minds were filled with lies and distortion of truth, inappropriate, depraved and perverse thinking, but their minds were also weak and lazy. They lacked the energy and will to control their thinking, so they allowed their thoughts to roam wherever they pleased.
Have you ever had that happen?
This often happens when we’re performing a menial task, such as housekeeping or driving. Our minds start on one thought, which leads to another and then to another; and before long our mind has led us into depression and anger because, if left to itself, our mind never leads us to good things.
If we allow our minds to roam freely, they will always lead to negativity and sin.
Paul goes on to further describe these Gentile Christians with weak and undisciplined minds:
having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
There are six more things here that describe these Gentiles:
- Their understanding is darkened
- They are alienated from the life of God
- They are filled with ignorance
- Their hearts are blinded
- They are numbed and calloused
- They are given over to outrageous lust and shamelessness
So, their minds are not only undisciplined and regularly wander into sinful territories, their entire way of thinking and perceiving the world is obscure. It is like they’re just feeling their way along in their effort to make wise decisions.
Because their minds just wander around and their ability to understand is obscure, they don’t have the life of Christ in them. They are cut off from the vine. John 15. They are estranged, they have no life source in them.
Because there is no life of Christ flowing in them, they completely lack knowledge and moral guidance. This is why more education doesn’t work!
Society today wants to combat moral depravity with more education. We engage in the drug war by educating young people about the dangers of drugs.
We combat teen pregnancy and the growing pandemic of sexually transmitted diseases by educating young people about “safe sex” and even Christian young people about the importance of abstinence.
Education in and outside the church has never, and will never, fix the problem when “their understanding is darkened” and they lack moral guidance and knowledge.
Not only that, their hearts were blind.
I find it fascinating that the Greek word used here doesn’t mean the inability to see. It means hardened, calloused, dulled perception, inability to mentally discern, a dull mind, stubbornness.
These were Christians that were living in delusion and stubbornly refused to see the truth. Their understanding was so darkened and filled with ignorance that their hearts grew calloused, hard and stubborn so that they were incapable of mentally discerning or perceiving truth.
How did these Christians arrive to such a state?
Because their hearts were “past feeling” or numbed and calloused. They had repeatedly ignored the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they could no longer feel His pain and grief over sin and as a result had given themselves over to their vices, excesses, and unbridled lust.
Who do you continue to identify with?
Paul then turns around to address the Ephesian Gentile Christians and says:
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
He is saying that if you have indeed heard Christ’s voice and have been taught by Him, they you have heard the truth.
What is the truth?
That you need to shed your grave clothes – the clothes that once identified you as an unbeliever, as a sinner, and start renewing your mind so that your mind begins behaving in accordance with who you really are!
The Christians that Paul describes above are believers who have come to Christ, but still walk around with an old identity.
Their behavior still reflects the person that died with Christ. Their mind doesn’t reflect who they are in Christ.
This is why renewal of the mind is so important!
If we get saved and fail to renew our mind, we will battle our old vices, our old mindsets, our old defaults, and all of those things that used to define us when we lived in the world.
Being saved doesn’t change those things.
There is a struggle in the process of being renewed, just as a caterpillar must struggle to exit the cocoon as a butterfly. And that struggle is what strengthens us spiritually.
Notice the Paul says, “put off….your former conduct” and “put on the new man”. Your spiritual clothing tells a lot about who you are on the inside!
How do you renew your mind?
1. Make God’s Word your standard of thinking, reasoning, opinions, and philosophy.
God’s Word must become the foundation of your worldview. It must be the filter for your thinking, your opinions, your philosophy of life and ministry, and for every decision you make.
2. When a thought fails to measure up to God’s Word, you must capture it and convert it to truth.
Find Scripture verses that expose that thought for the distortion that it is and begin reflecting that thought through the truth of God’s Word.
Distorted thought: “It is okay to use profanity when you’re trying to make a strong point about something.”
God’s Word says: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29
3. Completely give yourself over to the truth of God’s Word.
We must reject every temptation to rationalize away the truth of God’s Word and simply let it have the final word in our lives.
Once we have discovered what God’s Word says about our distorted thought, we must bring our thoughts and behavior into alignment with that truth.
You can do that in three ways:
Speak those verses out loud to yourself.
Memorize those verses so that you can recall them anytime, anywhere.
Meditate on those verses as you fall asleep every night so that the truth of God’s Word soaks down deep in your heart and begins a renewing process in your mind to correct the distorted thoughts the enemy has planted there.
(I am grateful to my dad, Dr. Dean Hackett, for letting me borrow this last section from his own personal material)