“…you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”Ephesians 4:17-19
In the passage above, Paul reveals the connection between insightful thinking, a tender heart, and actions that line up with God’s way of living. He starts by exhorting the Christians in Ephesus to no longer live as the Gentiles do, and he specifically identifies the problem: “the futility of their thinking.” He rewords this same problem a couple more times saying the Gentiles are “darkened in their understanding.” He exposes their “ignorance.”
All of this is a problem in the mind. Their thinking was skewed. They lacked insight and wisdom in the way they thought about things. Their minds were cut off from God’s revelation and truth. What is most interesting is Paul’s diagnosis. How did their minds and their thinking get so warped? How could they become so blind to the truth? Paul says that this happened because of the “hardening of their hearts.”
I find this fascinating!
The reason their thinking was so warped and their ability to embrace truth so damaged was because of a condition in their heart. They had “lost all sensitivity.” What does that mean? It means that, over time, if we don’t actively try to keep a tender heart, our heart will become hardened. If we aren’t actively forgiving those who hurt us, if we aren’t actively being sensitive to the contamination of sin and impurity, we will eventually become desensitized. Bitterness will become normal. We will stop feeling the pangs of conviction when we sin. Instead of feeling the natural guilt that comes from lust and perversion, we’ll feel nothing at all but justification for our actions.
When hearts become hardened to sin, our actions become unrestrained. Selfishness, indulgence, pleasure, and ego become king. Greed becomes normal, along with lust and jealousy, fear and hatred. And it’s not difficult to see how this works its way backward toward darkened understanding and futility in thinking.
When sin abounds in our life, our heart loses its sensitivity to conviction, its sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. And when our heart loses sensitivity over time, it becomes hardened, calloused, desensitized. Inevitably, the hardness of our heart prevents our mind from receiving truth, illumination, and revelation. We are cut off from the profound insights that the Lord wants to plant in our minds, and our thinking becomes darkened and futile.
So often we compartmentalize the wholeness of our being and we miss the deep connections between our actions, our heart, and our mind. Paul makes these connections clear to the Ephesians and to us. We all want to have profound, insightful thoughts, but most people don’t see the connection between how they’re living and how they’re thinking. We want to have illuminating thoughts without obedience. We want insight without self-discipline. But they are connected.
The more willing we are to surrender our actions to the Lord, the more willing we are to be obedient in our self-denial, then the more tender our heart remains. We want a heart that is sensitive to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit. We want a heart that is quick to embrace conviction of sin and quick to repent. This then keeps the door open and receptive for when God wants to download His thoughts into ours. This then keeps us ready to receive profound, illuminating thoughts that are thick with wisdom and insight.
Our actions change the condition of our hearts. Our hearts then change the receptivity of our minds.