It always intrigues me when a Christian is bewildered by the fact that unbelievers often do not vote right. It shouldn’t surprise you, my friend — especially after you study this week’s passage!
The idea of new life in Christ differentiates Christianity from other religions of the world in this way: accepting Jesus into one’s heart is the beginning of a personal relationship with God. This personal relationship idea is repeated throughout the NT (see Romans 6:4, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and Galatians 2:20); herein is the miracle of salvation that begins when we repent from sin and beg Christ to save us.
When we possess a personal relationship with God via the regenerating work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, we become indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who simultaneously leads us into all truth.
Such is not the case with the unregenerate — as this week’s passage, Ephesians 4:17-20 serves to illustrate! After you study what follows, you will not be so surprised as to why non-believers so often vote the way they do…. So let’s labor in evangelism to get them saved!
Read on, my friend.
This week I would like to examine Ephesians, chapter 4:17-20. In its closest context, this passage is an exhortation to directly connect the behavior of the believer to the doctrine of the believer. The NKJV conveys that particular idea explicitly when it says, “So this I say, therefore…,” signaling that what is about to be said is based on what has already been said. In the broader context, when the Holy Spirit regenerates the believer, there is an imputation of newness of life. One is “born again” in a spiritual sense. The gist of the Apostle Paul’s meaning in this passage is that God has redeemed the believer ( “for our citizenship is in heaven” Philippians 3:20); therefore, our respective thinking, lifestyle, actions — and yes, even our voting, should be drastically different than that of an unregenerated-by-the-Holy Spirit individual. Even though the believer remains “in the world” post salvation, he is not to live according to the thinking or the ways of the world. (Cf. John 15:19).
What follows then, are biblical characteristics of unregenerate individuals — characteristics that should no longer be a part of the believer’s life. Therefore, Ephesians 4:17-20 serves to illuminate why those who, biblically speaking, are in rebellion toward God — the unregenerate — have difficulty (among many other things) casting votes for matters that are biblically explicit and simple to understand (in one word, perspicuous).
Mind you, what follows is a very powerful and direct passage — a passage most pastors today just skip over, because it so condemns those who are without Christ. But in keeping with my discipline of teaching the whole of the Bible, such a study is imminent and unavoidable.
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. But you did not learn Christ in this way,
Paul’s lead-in statement, So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk… uses the Greek word for walk as a metaphor to describe the ongoing lifestyle of the believer after he has been saved. The believer is commanded to not walk just as the Gentiles. This Greek word for Gentiles is ethnos, which has the idea of “other peoples in the world.” Contextually, it means those who are unregenerate and ungodly.
What follow are four characteristics of the unregenerate, characteristics that should be foreign to those walking in and with a new nature who are in Christ, those who have, per the vocabulary of the passage, learned Christ.
As you study what follows, compare yourself to the descriptors and ask yourself if these are descriptive of you, or not. Hopefully, they are not.
II. FUTILE THINKING
…in the futility of their mind…
The first of four descriptors of the unregenerate is keyed by Paul’s incorporation of the Greek word translated futility (mataiotes). It means “vanity” or “emptiness” and as used contextually herein, relates to the pursuits of our mind or intellect. Notice that throughout this whole passage it is the intellect that leads to manifest ungodly behavior. Accordingly, this passage identifies the fact that:
UNBELIEVERS THINK DIFFERENTLY FROM BELIEVERS
That should come as no shock to most, but it is attributed to the power of regenerative, transforming faith in Christ! The starting point of sin, according to Scripture, is their mind, not their environment.1 Why? Because the unbeliever’s mind is informed by his fallen self, not the transformative (cf. Romans 12:2) indwelling Holy Spirit. Nor is it informed by God’s Word, whereas the believer’s epistemological source is captive to, a slave to, the Word of God. In essence, the non-Christian is his own authority and he reasons outward from his or her finite autonomy, starting with “well I think.”
Such a beginning point for reasoning and subsequent behavior always leads to self-centeredness, aimlessness, and meaninglessness. Dr. Wellithink is not a good philosopher. And even though such futility is equivalent to the OT Hebrew words “vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), the unregenerate spend their whole life consumed by, clawing and clamoring after the mental pursuit of wrong objectives. How sad. The believer, on the other hand, has come to know the living God of the universe who has disclosed Himself in the Scripture. The believer’s thinking, therefore, is not vain or empty because it is based on and beholden to a source outside of self — a source outside of his own fallen nature — God’s revelation in the Bible.
DO YOU SUBMIT TO AND BASE YOUR OPINIONS AND DECISIONS ON GOD’S WORD, OR ARE YOU THE PREEMINENT AUTHORITY FOR ALL DETERMINATIONS?
Whereas the former displays godly wisdom, the latter is a manifestation of what this passage labels as futility; in fact, in James 3:13 to 4:3, the author, James, call this in contrast, “the wisdom of the earth” versus “the wisdom from above.”
The fall of man in Genesis 3 is the causal agent for what conservative theologians label, “the noetic effect of sin.” That’s to say that when sin entered the world, it altered man’s ability to think straight — and the closer he gets to moral truths, the more warped his fallen thinking is evident. In summary of the point, the unregenerate are the victims of the futility of their mind. But we’ve only just begun to understand the whole thrust of this powerful passage…
III. IGNORANT UNDERSTANDING
…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…
Unbelievers are futile in their mind because they both ignore (agnoia) and harden (porosis) their hearts (kardia). Porosis is a word used both then and now to identify a condition of hard formations in joints that would lead to immobilization, i.e., a paralysis, or a petrifying effect. Paul uses this word to vividly picture someone who continually chooses to sin: As a result they become increasingly immobilized, insensitive, and paralyzed to God’s truth. This volitional direction leads to increasingly deleterious results: being darkened in their understanding of God’s ways.
Their intentional ignorance of God’s truth serves to increasingly calcify their heart. In other words, they have alienated and hardened their minds from the truths that are internally evident within them. God Himself says in this regard, in Romans 1:18-20:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
This passage is a twin sister to the one under study. The reason unbelievers have no life in God is that they choose to rebel against God, passively, and/or aggressively. They determine to ignore and suppress that which He has made evident within them. By mentally rejecting Him, their understanding is continually darkened. For example:
UNBELIEVERS BECOME STERN IN THEIR BELIEFS IN DARWINISM OR EVOLUTION, WHICH, IN SUMMARY STATES, “NOTHING TIMES NOBODY EQUALS EVERYTHING”
Others, more “religious” in their outward persona, but nonetheless, not repentant of personal sin or dependent on Christ in humility for their salvation, quote the findings of the Jesus Seminar which “voted out” Jesus’ deity! Such ridiculous viewpoints illustrate ignorant hearts. Better understood, the Greek word for ignorant hearts here is kardia, which means “minds.” All the while they outwardly postulate biblically antithetical ideologies; they are suppressing that which they know deep down to be true. Later, in his first chapter to the Romans, Paul succinctly describes the ungodly as ones “professing to be wise” who in turn “became fools” (1:22). In 2 Timothy 3:7 Paul gives yet another descriptive insight, stating that unrepentant sinners are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Commentator MacArthur has insightfully summarized ignorant understanding this way:
“The ungodly are unresponsive to truth. Just as a corpse cannot hear a conversation in the mortuary, the person who is “dead in [his] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) cannot hear or understand the things of God, no matter how loudly or clearly they may be declared or evidenced in his presence.”
And if you ever wonder why certain individuals on your subcommittee do not seem to get your biblical argument, here is the reason. Most likely it’s not because you lack perspicuity or communication skills, it is because they are spiritually incapable of getting it; they are spiritually deaf! Don’t be offended or take it personally when others reject your biblical positions; this passage informs you as to why: You should absolutely expect it! It therefore follows:
THE GREATEST NEED OF THE UNBELIEVER IS A SPIRITUAL HEARING AID — NEW LIFE IN CHRIST!
Evangelizing your colleagues is the best way you can aid other Members. Realize today that unbelievers — pre-salvation — come into office with futile thinking and ignorant understanding (the first two points of this outline).
It is, therefore, impossible for the unregenerate lawmaker to vote biblical, in ways pleasing unto the Lord all the time, my friend! Their hearts, says Paul, have a sinful bias. (Praise God when they do vote right!) It is this realization — this is the precise reason why your proffering of saving faith is essential to, and a prerequisite for, any societal change for the better that might be wrought through policy enactment. Take note:
YOUR EVANGELISM SKILL AS A PUBLIC SERVANT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR ELOCUTION OF SOLID POLICY POSITIONS!
Wise up to this. That conclusion is based on this week’s passage! You need to embrace what the Word of God is saying to you lest you continually spin your wheels with lesser priorities while serving in government.
What is doubly sad about the unregenerate politician is this: When public servants continue in their hardness, God will give them over and the sinner will seal his or her own fate. They become forever excluded from the life of God (cf. Romans 1:24, 26; Revelation 22:11). Learn to identify those in this spiritual condition, as sad as this biblical reality is, and as difficult as it is to exegete what God is saying in this passage. The longer a person rejects Christ, the greater his depravity becomes.
IV. CALLOUS BEHAVIOR
…and they, having become callous have given themselves over to sensuality…
As the unregenerate continually and habitually blot out the truths of God and His accompanying conviction of sin — truths that they know deep down are what is right — they become callous (apalgeo), which means, “to cease to feel pain.” As a result, they give themselves over to sensuality (aselgeia). This word carries the idea of the absence of all moral restraint, especially in the area of sexual deviation. More literally, it is the state of “no longer bridling self-indulgence.” In the same context and use of the same word, the Apostle Peter describes those characterized by aselgeia as people who are “daring and self-willed” (2 Peter 2:10-12). Such people care not what others think; they have no sense of shame due to the fact that their conscience (according to our parallel passage in Romans, chapter 1) has been cauterized.
Further, “ having become” carries the future tense thought that there is a downward progression in the lives of the unregenerate. This level of classification indicates that these folks have given themselves over (cf. Romans 1 where this is stated three different times in description of the same situation — only there it says that God actually gives up on them!). Both this and the Romans passages serve to profoundly communicate the theological idea that God’s common, restraining grace is now nowhere to be found in the life of such an individual. God’s otherwise gracious curtailment and restraint of our sin — at this level of unregeneracy — has now been removed.
Contradistinctively, those who are believers possess a deep sense of remorse, guilt, pain and repentance over their sin: quite the opposite of callousness! Make sure you understand this:
WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT INVADES, CONVICTS, REGENERATES AND EMPOWERS, HE ALSO SENSITIZES AND ILLUMINATES THROUGHOUT THE LIFETIME OF THE BELIEVER!
Praise God! What a great gift and miracle is His sustaining and persevering gift of salvation (cf. Hebrews 2:3)!
Politicians in this state of spiritual degeneracy are impervious to the moral depravity of their ways and their votes; in their callous behavior, they carry not the mind of God whatsoever — nor should anyone expect them too! Theirs are deep down, undealt with spiritual problems. Beloved, again, this passage teaches us that such attitudes amongst your seatmates should not surprise those who are biblically literate.
V. IMPURE PRACTICE
…for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
As if the first three descriptors that Paul has put forth in this passage are not enough, now things get even worse in the downward spiral of unregeneracy. The word for practice, ergasia, carries a meaning that is profoundly significant. Paul chooses a word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that communicates much more than the idea of a personal repetitive ritual, although that is in view here. Ergasia refers to a business practice. The Scriptures state here that callous unbelievers are those who have fallen so low that they have made a business out of impurity in some way! One obvious illustration in America is the porn industry. It is a vastly larger industry than the combined total earnings of the motion picture and music industries — now four times larger in annual gross revenues! Making a business based on and in impurity is not only true in LA, but in D.C. as well.
MANY ARE THE UNREGENERATE PUBLIC SERVANTS CHARACTERIZED BY IMPURITY WHO MANIFEST SUCH CALLOUS PRACTICES AS REVEALED IN AND BY THEIR ALL-OUT QUEST FOR POWER!
They will do anything, they will stoop to the lowest forms of sinfulness, unaffected by conscience in their lustful quest for power! Such is a broader application of the biblical meaning of the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
In fact, the Greek word for greediness (pleonexia) is closely aligned with impurity. Both words carry the idea of “uninhibited lust for that which is wanted.” Sensuality, impurity, and greediness are all identifiable manifestations of unregenerate individuals who will use or bulldoze over others for selfish gain and the fulfillment of personal wantonness. Such is characteristic of the end result and pattern of those who continually reject God’s voice in their heart; this, my beloved friend, is where life leads when one repeatedly, consistently, and habitually rejects Christ.
The ideas from the previous outline points of having given themselves over (No. IV) and being excluded from the life of God (No. III) are based on personal decisions to pursue debauchery. As a result, summarily, they are now incapable of salvation, because they have become callous, they themselves have cauterized their conscience toward the things of God.
Oh, my friend, I pray that you are not one of these! At the risk of sounding harsh and unloving, the phrase “throw the bums out” is an appropriate biblically based response as to how believers should treat such hardened individuals who now hold or seek public office. When politicians are motivated by such base, selfish attitudes, wherein they are in transactional benefit from things impure, it is obviously impossible for them to vote correctly now or in the future.
BY THE GRACE OF GOD, NOT EVERY UNBELIEVER IS THIS HARDENED WHO SERVES IN PUBLIC OFFICE
But those who are transactionally evil — those individuals commensurate with corruption — are those who should be shown the door. Even more sad than that is the biblical conclusion in terms of the possibility of their salvation. Individuals who are characterized by the practice of impurity, Paul says, are beyond being reached by the message or messengers of salvation. Lest you think this is an isolated interpretation or a skewed biblical text, Jesus said in this regard elsewhere, “Do not throw your pearls before swine.” (Matthew 7:6). And again, three times Romans, chapter 1, states regarding such individuals, “And God gave them over….”
Beloved, it is your biblical responsibility, it is in your keeping in obedience to God, that you identify such corruption and act appropriately! There are some in D.C. who are elected to office whom you should be witnessing to, and some whom you should be working to remove because they are so far gone, beyond remedy, as identified by their greedy involvement with things impure. Cleansing D.C. is a good idea, don’t you think?
It is not difficult to see the downward progression of these four aforementioned horrible characteristics of unbelief. I see at least three conclusive takeaways from this passage relative to Public Servants. They are:
A. REJECTING JESUS CHRIST LEADS TO TERRIBLE BEHAVIOR AND PRACTICE
These characteristics — and one’s progression toward degeneration — are true of for every unbeliever. Billy Graham used to reflect the truths of this Ephesian letter passage when in his evangelistic sermons he would say, “You may never get this opportunity again to profess your faith in Christ. Today is the day of salvation! Come forward!!” Certainly, that not every unregenerate individual is so far along in this identified progression of sinful hardening attests to the restraining work of the Holy Spirit — or again, what is referred to theologically as common grace. This is a protective shield that God bestows on both the believer and unbeliever, righteous, and unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45), and helps to curtail and diminish the deleterious effects of the fall, the truly severely drastic realities of the fallen world in which we live.
B. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD OF GOD SERVES TO BOTH PRESERVE AND ILLUMINATE
A summary of this scorching passage would not be complete without mention as to why the world is not worse off than it is. It is due to the preserving and illuminating influence of believers. The Word of God, when it goes out does not return void (cf. Isaiah 55). It is like a tiger; one does not have to defend it: one need only unleash it! It says of itself that it is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12). Such consistent proclamation of the Word and the making of strong disciples have an effect — like nothing in comparison — to quell the progressive consequences of unbelief and illuminate darkness in the capital community and the culture as a whole. That is why these weekly Bible studies disseminated throughout the offices every week are so vitally important to the health of our Members and nation.
LIKE RADIATION THAT IMPEDES THE PROGRESSION OF CANCER, THE PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD OF GOD AMAZINGLY THWARTS THE ROT AND ILLUMINES THE DARKNESS OF OTHERWISE UNBRIDLED AND DEGENERATIVE UNBELIEF
C. HOW IS YOUR WALK WITH CHRIST?
And lastly, the main point Paul is making is further signaled in his admonition at the conclusion of today’s passage: But you did not learn Christ in this way. This rebuke has a present applicability here in the capital. In other words, these progressive, sinful traits should be far from characterizing any and all true believers! The fact that some Members who are regenerate in Christ still vote incorrectly on biblically explicit issues (there can be honest disagreement with non-biblically-explicit issues) is to act in callousness to the perspicuous teachings of God’s Holy Word! If you are saved you must mature in Christ to the degree that it affects both your inward thinking and outward actions, which most definitely should include the way in which you vote on moral issues! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). If you are saved, then show it in D.C.: courageously proclaim to others that you have learned Christ in this way!