Ephesians 4:17-32 Bible Study - Walking in a confused world!

Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle

Ephesians 4:17-32 Bible Study - Walking in a confused world!

by I Gordon

Well, another week and sadly, no, the world hasn't become any saner! What a confused world we live in. As we carry on in our studies in Ephesians we'll be exploring chapter 4 verses 17-32 today and it is a passage that is as relevant today as when Paul wrote it. It is what I've called 'Walking in a confused world'. And to be clear, it is not always simple and straight forward walking on such a mixed-up planet! What do you follow? Whose voice do you listen to? Who can you trust? What do you believe? So many voices, so many opinions, so much deception and propaganda... and that's just from those who are meant to be governing and leading us! Well, thankfully, we listen to, follow, believe and trust the Lord Jesus and His word! 

The passage before us today begins with the state of this confused world, looking at the walk of the unsaved and how they got there. This is then contrasted by the directions given for the believer to walk in newness of life... and how we get there! So, drilling down a little, we'll look at:

  • What a walk of futility looks like
  • How we move from the old ways to the new
  • Potential pitfalls: Who are we giving space to?
  • What walking in the new life looks like 

Let's dive right in!

The walk of futility

Eph 4:17-19 NASB 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, (18) 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; (19) and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

So we begin with an exhortation to no longer walk as the world does. This is ancient advice yet important for today. Especially to a Church that lives in confusion, often trying to be relevant to the world, by being like the world. Listen to the word picture painted to describe the unbelieving world around us here... It says they have 'futility of their mind', 'darkened in understanding', 'hardness of heart', 'callous', 'given over to sensuality and impurity'. Not exactly a good look! And it starts with this word 'futile' which does a great job of summing up what the world without God is like. Futile. Gulp. The Greek word here is 'mataiótētos' which means 'worthless, empty, vanity, without meaning'. Imagine pouring all your dreams and hopes into something just to end up with nothing... but emptiness. That is the walk of those that do not know God. 'Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!' a man once cried after chasing every pleasure that this world could offer, only to find, in his words, that it was like chasing after the wind (Ecc 1:2, 4:4) Some Bible versions have it 'Futility of futilities,” says the Preacher, “All is futility.' 

Psa 4:2 sums up the same thought with this question - 'O sons of men... How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah.' Yep... selah... stop and ponder that one. How long will the sons of men love what is worthless? The J.B Phillips paraphrase of our verse in Ephesians says "Do not live any longer as the Gentiles live. For they live blindfold in a world of illusion..." They are blinded in their own darkness. I recently heard Bible teacher David Reagan speak where he mentioned the progression and results of a self-centered life without God: 

  • Their religion - Humanism (self)
  • Their God - Materialism (money and possessions)
  • Their lifestyle - Hedonism (pleasure)
  • Their final state - Nihilism (despair)

That is quite the 'progression' of these 'progressives'... Humanism  > Materialism > Hedonism > Nihilism! And yet, so sure of themselves and desperate for meaning, the majority seek more of the same! As the NIV puts it 'they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.' Like the leech and it's two daughters in Proverbs 30:15, the sinful nature never says 'enough!' Just give, give... Evil is never satisfied. And eventually, having 'given themselves over' to these ways as Ephesians says, the Lord Himself will 'give them over' and allows them to experience the fruit of their choices as mentioned in the famous Romans 1 passage.1  

Pro 1:29-31 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, (30) since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, (31) they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

As seen in the Ephesians passage, one of the results of this is that the unbelieving world become 'callous'. The Greek word here is 'apalgéō' meaning 'To grow or become insensible, void of or past feeling.' It's from this word that we get the English word 'analgesic" (which is a pain-killer). So the thought is that as the unbeliever gives themselves over to more and more sensuality and impurity, they grow numb to the pings and pains of a guilty conscience. Until finally they are past feeling bad about it, having dumbed all pain, but instead start to reveal in it.  Wow... does that sound like Western Culture today or what? 

And yet, at the end of it all, comes the three ugly sisters of futility, despair and emptiness.  

Out with the old, in with the new!

Eph 4:20-21 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. (21) Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 

And thank God for that! We know that the world is in a confused state... and unfortunately large parts of the Church are not far behind, riddled with apostacy, love of money, mixed messages and division. But, thank God, Jesus is not like that! Keep your eyes on Him. He is the truth. Man will let you down but the Son of Man won't! There is no emptiness, worthlessness, vanity or futility in Jesus! He is the truth. He walked in the complete opposite way to that of the world described above.  

Who would you trust?

As a side note on who we can trust, I was recently looking at a Dec 2020 Gallop survey2 from the US were people were asked to rate the honesty and ethics of different professions. It is interesting to see who people do trust. Let me give you a few professions and see what your gut reaction is. Would you think that journalists are trust worthy and speak the truth? What about doctors and nurses? Or clergy? Police Officers? Members of Congress? Lawyers? Used car salesmen? Pharmacists? Which of those do you think rated the highest for their honesty and ethics? Which do you think were the lowest? 

Ok... let me do the grand reveal... (*drum roll*) The profession that rated the highest was Nurses (with 89% giving them a high or very high honesty and ethics rating) followed by Medical Doctors at 77%. Clergy were around the middle at 39% trustworthiness (which isn't saying much!) Journalists were lower still (not surprising) at 28%. And who was right at the bottom you ask? Sharing bottom place was Used Car Salesmen with (wait for it...) Members of Congress with an 8% rating!

The truth is, in this day and age where unseen agendas and big money rules, it is not easy to trust the advice many in authority give. Which makes me all the more thankful that 'the truth' is 'in Jesus'. Not 'a truth' or 'some truth' mixed with hidden agendas. Not 'enough truth' to lure you in then spring the trap. The Truth. He is 'The truth'. No agendas. No mixed messages. No lies. He gets a 100% rating!    

Eph 4:22-24 NASB that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, (23) and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, (24) and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Now 'the truth in Jesus' has a practical application in your life. Notice that Paul recognizes that there is still a battle going on. The believer lives in a fallen confused world, still with a fallen fleshly nature (here called the old self or old man) that still seeks to influence the soul (mind, will and emotions) for its own gratifications. Yet at the same time there is the new creation, which is the new nature within which is the real 'you' that desires the things of God. Thus there is a battle raging between flesh and Spirit in the heart of man (Rom 7:14-25, Gal 5:16). This is why the ongoing 'putting off' and 'putting on' becomes important. Put off the old self scripture says. Put on the new self. When I go Mountain Biking and get muddy, I'll come home, take off the dirty clothes, wash and put on fresh clean clothes. That is what Paul says to do but it is with the things of the heart. We put off the old thinking and actions and are renewed with the truth. But notice that the old nature doesn't change. Scripture says that it is (present tense) still being corrupted by 'lusts of deceit'. That is, deceitful urges. They are deceitful because they promise much but leave only emptiness. Sin, like Satan's lies in the garden of Eden, only ultimately deceives. It never fulfills.  

Heb 3:13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

So what is the way forward here? In between the putting off and the putting on, there is the key ingredient! Right smack in the middle we see these words 'Be renewed in the spirit of your mind'. Great. Ok then. Sorted. That's the one. But, um, what does that mean? I like how H.A Ironside puts it:

In what sense am I being renewed in the spirit of my mind? How am I being renewed in my physical strength? I am strengthened physically by eating those foods that are nourishing and that will build a strong body. Then how am I renewed in the spirit of my mind? I am strengthened spiritually by feeding on His Word, enjoying communion with Him and fellowship with His beloved people. In all these ways we are being renewed in the spirit of our minds. You never saw a strong Christian who was not a Bible-loving Christian. You never saw a strong Christian who was not one who delighted in communion with fellow believers. 

Contrasting the old and new you

Eph 4:25-29 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (26) In your anger do not sin : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, (27) and do not give the devil a foothold. (28) He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

So look at the contrasts between the old and the new which I'll put in this table. As we go you will see that this contrast is being amplified in today's society. 

Old You / Today's society  New You
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood
The old nature is steeped in falsehood. It has no problem lying. And if it gets caught? Well, the easiest way out of a lie is to just tell another one right? You've probably seen little kids do this and may remember yourself doing it. "Iain, did you take all the cookies?" "Um, no" he says wiping his lips. But we shouldn't just pin it on children. You've probably seen established politicians do the same! Lies, deception and falsehood are nothing to the old man. It is part his nature.
"Speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body"
In contrast the believer is to speak the truth. Now the context here is especially related to the body of Christ. William MacDonald writes "It is as unthinkable for one Christian to lie to another as it would be for a nerve in the body to deliberately send a false message to the brain, or for the eye to deceive the rest of the body when danger is approaching... The life of a Christian becomes a libel rather than a Bible when he stoops to any form of tampering with truthfulness."
In your anger do not sin : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry
Oh how the old nature loves to dwell in anger. It loves to hold onto anger and let it fester and grow into bitterness and malice. It delights in thinking ill of others and cutting people down. Look at where our 'cancel culture' is leading us. Look at all the anger and division in the US especially in (but not limited to) politics3policing and race relations.  
In your anger do not sin : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry
The believer, with a new nature, is called to be the opposite. Instead of allowing anger to grow into bitterness and resentment we are called to resolve our issues and conflicts. It says here not to let our anger still over from one day into the next. That starts by taking it to God and giving Him 'the space' to work in a situation (as we shall see below). It means praying for one another and treating others like you would like to be treated.
He who has been stealing must steal no longer
The old nature has no problem taking things it wants because it is dominated by 'self'. When I was young I sometimes stole money from my own Mother! In the West we have now moved into an 'entitlement' culture. Many see themselves as 'entitled' to have what others have. Everything should be equitable they say. And if you are entitled, and don't have it, and someone else does, well, simply take it (or destroy what they have). It's your right... right? No, not right. Wrong actually. It's actually stealing and breaks the law of God. 
...but must work doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need
Again, what a contrast for the believer. Instead of just taking what we think we are entitled to, we are told to work hard... why? To have more stuff? No, so that we will have something to share with those less fortunate! Again I love what William MacDonald writes here saying "Grace, not law, is the power of holiness. Only the positive power of grace can turn a thief into a philanthropist." So true!
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths
The old nature also has no problems speaking words designed to cut others down instead of edifying them. As the lyrics of a song go, "We are Hosea's wife. We are squandering this life. Using people like ladders and word like knives." As I have mentioned before, we see this only increasing on Social Media and survey's have shown that the majority now see platforms like Twitter and Facebook as being more harmful than helpful.  
...but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
The believer is called to do the opposite. Instead of 'unwholesome' words (the Greek means rotten, corrupt, worthless) we are called to edify and speak words that help build up. Another version says that we are to 'give grace' to those that hear. Those saved and kept by grace should also speak words of grace! Imagine a world that was only like this!

Giving space to the enemy... or the Lord?

Now I want to draw your attention to something very interesting. Nicely nestled right in the middle of this passage comes another key ingredient. It says 'and do not give the devil a foothold'. Hmmm. So who are you giving space to? Who are you giving an opportunity to? Because you are giving an opportunity to someone. Either God or the Devil. You decide! 

"Ephesians 4:27: neither give place to the devil. The Greek word for place here is not the usual Greek word, but is a military term that means “beachhead.” A beachhead is a section of control within enemy territory. When an army attacks enemy territory, it first tries to get a beachhead. From this beachhead, the attackers can move on to try to conquer the rest of the territory. A beachhead means a place of control from within enemy territory. Paul, writing to believers, states: “Do not give a place of control to Satan.” The context deals with habitual sin, which implies that the way one gives a place of control to Satan is by habitual sin."4 
Arnold Fructenbaum

J. Dwight Pentecost also has some interesting thoughts on this in the fine print if interested.5

An interesting point here is that the same word about giving the devil an 'opportunity', 'foothold' or 'space' is also used in our response to the Lord in situations where we might take matters into our own hands and do or say something, well, not exactly useful! 

Rom 12:18-21 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (19) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (20) On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The context of this and the Ephesian passage is the same. In your anger do not sin. Ephesians tells us not to give space to the enemy by dwelling on it and allowing it to grow. Romans tells us to do the opposite. Instead of giving space to the enemy, leave room for God! It is the same Greek word 'topos' - 'a space, room'. So who are you leaving and giving room to? Can you think of any current situation where you are holding onto sin? Or grasping tight to unforgiveness? Or allowing anger to move on into malice? If so you are giving room to the enemy. Reserve that room for a space for the Lord and see what He can do in the situation!  

The new life requires the Spirit of God!

Eph 4:30-32  (30) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (32) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Finally we come to a critical passage concerning the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force, and thus we read that He can be grieved6. When we operate as the world would and don't treat others like the Spirit treats us, He can be grieved. We need to remember that He is the HOLY Spirit and He is the Spirit of GRACE. He is the opposite of what we normally see in this confused world. Instead of falsehood and lies, we have been given the Spirit of truth (John 14:7). Instead of anger and resentment, we have been given the Spirit of peace (Gal 5:23). Instead of stealing and greed we have been given the Spirit of grace & kindness (Zech 12:10, Gal 5:23). Instead of unwholesome words, the Spirit is our Counselor and comforter (John 16:7) who gives edifying words.

It is only the Holy Spirit that is able to keep the desires flesh in their place. (Gal 5:17) I recently read the following that illustrates the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives:

"A young boy knocked at the studio door of an Italian artist who had died. When it was opened, he explained, "Please, madam, will you give me the master's brush?" The boy, who had a passionate longing to be an artist, wished for the great master's touch. The woman placed the brush in the boy's hand and invited him to try. He made a supreme effort but soon found he could paint no better with that brush than with his own. The woman then said, "Remember, you cannot paint like the great master unless you have his spirit."

So too, people who have never been born again are doomed to disappointment and failure when they attempt to live in a way that pleases God. Without the indwelling Holy Spirit, they cannot do it. Perhaps you have experienced the new birth and you have Christ's Spirit living within you, yet you feel so powerless. The reason may be that though you have all of His Spirit, His Spirit does not have all of you. All your ambitions and desires must be submitted to His control. The greatness of the power and effectiveness of your service for Christ is in exact proportion to the measure of your surrender to Christ."
Our Daily Bread - Henry G. Bosch

But if we don't give God 'room' or 'space' (as we saw above) and simply carry on living like the old man, doing the opposite of what He, the Holy Spirit wants to be through us now, then He can be grieved. So, keeping it simple, there are two parts to this grieving:

  1. Doing what we shouldn't - Or not holding back what we should (ie speaking lies, slander, malice and a desire to cut down...) 
  2. Not doing what we should - Or holding back on what we should give (ie grace, kindness, compassion, forgiveness...) 

So the positive aspect of this is simply this - Treat others as God has treated you. Even if we were to pass onto others just a wee fraction of what God has done for us it would be more than enough! Simply draw from that huge cup of forgiveness, kindness and grace that God has given you and allow others to experience and taste the same. But remember! It comes from bringing God into each situation. It is giving Him space to move! That way we draw from His resources and will as His Spirit gives us grace. The end result being that instead of grieving, we'll be pleasing the Spirit of God!  


To conclude, we have seen that we live and walk in a confused world. It has darkened ways, blinded eyes and futile outcomes. It tries to mold us into its ways but we are obviously not to walk like that. We are called to walk in step with the Holy Spirit, giving room for God. I want to end on a positive note concerning our redemption. We have spoken about the need to not grieve the Holy Spirit. This is important obviously. But also note that that 'grieving' doesn't mean 'leaving'. He doesn't leave us. Jesus said that He would give us the comforter who would be with us 'forever' (John 14:16). So let's just end with this thought about redemption. In this confused and very odd world, it does us good to keep looking up and remember what is still to come!

A positive note... Sealed for the day of redemption

One reason that we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit is because He is with true believers, through it all, to the day of redemption. Normally when we speak of redemption or being redeemed it is in the past tense looking back at the cross of Jesus. Which is true. Jesus paid the price of redemption on the cross and we are redeemed by His blood. But the full aspect of redemption also looks forward to the return of Jesus. That is when our redemption is completed for we will be with Him and like Him! We'll have a new body and a new home!

So I looked up the first mention of 'redeem', 'redemption' in the Bible to see if it was significant. Often the first mention of an important word or phrase says a lot about it's meaning. And let's just say I wasn't disappointed! Here is the first mention of 'redeem':

Exo 6:5-8 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. (6) Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. (7) I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. (8) And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.' "

What a great passage! Amazing promises for Israel but also instructive for us for it is all a type of what God will do once again for His people today. Look at the order:

  1. I will free you from being slaves (thus He did at our salvation)
  2. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm (He stretches His arm out to us metaphorically, but was also willing to do so physically on the cross to pay the price for redemption!)
  3. I will be your God (this is wonderful position today as we grow in our relationship with Him)
  4. I will bring you to the land I swore (this is what we await as believers - He is coming to take us to our promised home!)
  5. I will give it to you as a possession (a great inheritance awaits believers... I cannot wait! : )

  1. You will note that the same Bible that speaks of believers being 'Chosen', 'Predestined' etc never applies that to unbelievers. They have not been 'chosen' for hell. They have 'given themselves over' as it says in Eph 4:19 and become hardened to the truth. God will eventually give them over as well but their attitude and love of sin comes first. We see the same thing with the hardening of Pharaoh's heart in the book of Exodus. Yes, it does say that God hardened Pharaohs' heart (6 times in Ex 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8), but not before Pharaoh had hardened his heart (Ex. 7:13,14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7). Never ever blame God for man's failures.  

  2. From https://news.gallup.com/poll/328136/ethics-ratings-rise-medical-workers-teachers.aspx

  3. On US politics I read recently that no one is actually a Biden supporter. No one really came to listen at his rally's or thinks he is a good President. The 2020 election was about whether you were a Trump supporter or a Trump hater. And that's about true and shows the hatred and division that exists.

  4. From https://www.ariel.org.nz/mbs143-the-spiritual-life-and-spiritual-warfare/

  5. In like manner J. Dwight Pentecost writes on Eph 4:27 "One scaling a mountain does not need a road to get to the top. A skilled mountain climber can make his way on the ice fields and up sheer granite walls if he can get or make as much as a toe hold. He doesn’t take a bulldozer and bulldoze a road to the top. Give him a toehold and he can ascend the highest mountain. We somehow have felt that unless we provide Satan a four-lane paved super-highway he can’t attack us or overcome us or defeat us. Peter didn’t believe that; nor did Paul. Paul was afraid that Satan would get an advantage by getting a toe hold. In a military maneuver all that is needed is a beachhead. From that beachhead the army can launch a successful attack.

    Satan is looking for a beachhead and if he can establish a toehold or a beachhead in your life, he can destroy you. Satan can establish a beachhead by causing you to doubt. If you begin to doubt the authority of the Word of God, you have given Satan a beachhead upon which he can launch a campaign that will overthrow your faith. You don’t have to throw the Bible away; just harbor a single doubt about the truth that is revealed in the book and you have given Satan a beachhead to destroy your faith. He doesn’t have to get you to deny the holiness and the righteousness of God to pervert your conduct. All he has to do is get you to turn the least bit from the path of perfect obedience to God and he, from that beachhead, can destroy a life.

    The apostles recognized this danger; they recognized there is never a moment, day or night, day in and day out, when your footsteps are not being pursued by an adversary who is watching every move that you make. The first time you provide him with a beachhead he will establish himself on that beachhead and he will begin his work from it. But he cannot do it unless you provide him the opportunity. He cannot overpower the defenses of the Holy Spirit nor can Satan penetrate the armor that has been provided through the Word of God as the Apostle outlines it in Ephesians. You must give him the beachhead; you must give him the opportunity. (our Adversary, the Devil. Originally published: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel 1997) (Bolding added)"


  6. Also see https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/Isaiah63