17Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20That is not the way you learned Christ! 21For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The author speaks now to the believers, those who hear or read the letter. He speaks about how Christ has changed their lives; they must guard against going back to old ways. This is a formerly Gentile audience; they once lived as their neighbors lived, in futility, darkened in understanding, unwilling to hear about Christ or feel God’s presence. They were alienated from God in their ignorance and hardness of heart. Because they were no longer sensitive to others, but were totally lost in selfishness, they focused their lives on overdoing the sensual side of life, seeking something that would impact them – too much exotic food, drunkenness, unbridled sexuality, the search for wealth and power. They were idolators, worshipping the wrong things, and finding only dissatisfaction in their search. Today, the same things are prevalent, except we would add drugs, and our idols do not have their own temples with stone statues.
In Ephesus, there were many temples to the idols, especially to the goddess Artemis, who supposedly brought fertility and good crops. People came to the city just to see her temple, which was one of the wonders of the world. Unfortunately, there are no traces of that temple left in the city, although there are acres and acres of ruins.
The author says that the Ephesians, when they found Christ, left all that behind. That is not how they came to know him! Truth (remember the previous paragraph, “speaking the truth in love”?) is to be found only in Christ. They, and we, must put aside the old, selfish self, and be renewed in the Spirit, and in our minds, clothing ourselves in the new self, in the likeness of Christ Jesus – where true righteousness and holiness are to be found. This is not the “made-up” righteousness of human rules, this person is ok to be one of us, that person is not, or the holiness found in certain modes of dress and hair-styles like the “Holiness” church I remember in my home town, whose women wore long dresses and did not cut their hair. This is true holiness and righteousness, to be found only in humbly following Christ.