17 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,
Beginning with the following phrase, the Holy Spirit sets forth characteristics of non-Christians. First, they function in the sphere of futility.
in the futility of their mind [understanding],
Paul here began a list of characteristics of those who valued the pagan lifestyle; all these traits relate to the mind:
Course of life with vacuous thinking, v. 17
With darkened understanding of God’s revelation, v18a
Alien toward God due to of ignorance of biblical viewpoint, v. 18b
Callous attitude toward God caused them to hand themselves over to lewdness, v19
First, pagans lived in futility of mind. “Futility” carries the idea of something empty—a void. Gentile thinking had no goal or purpose that transcended their finite minds. Their orientation to life and attitudes about life were empty. Their understanding of what they assumed to be true was void of adequate substance.
All their pursuits had no adequate end or ultimate purpose. Therefore, they lived in meaningless existence, since had no adequate aim. Their values were futile because they were self-centered (Ro 1:21-22). “Futile” also occurs in Romans 8:20 of crumbling creation and 2 Peter 2:18 of empty words.
Since Gentiles were particularly empty of God’s revelation, they could not think God’s thoughts after Him; they could not think vertically, only horizontally. Paganism corrupted and distorted their thinking about God. They had what God calls “a reprobate mind” (Ro 1:28; cf. 8:7; 1 Co 2:14). Although the Greeks highly valued the mind, the mind without revelation is a dangerous instrument.
Becoming a Christian radically changes pursuits and attitudes about life.
Since non-Christians have no spiritual life, they live in a spiritual vacuum. They do not have capacity to think God’s thoughts after Him. They reach out for any philosophy or belief system available—other than biblical revelation. For Christians to follow the pursuits of the non-Christian, they will also come to the place of emptiness in their soul. Some Christians are so vacuous of God’s Word in their mind that they adopt the same useless thinking as non-Christians.
Non-Christians do not think straight. All they have is a crooked mind derived from their sinful proclivities. If we are to reach unbelievers, we must help them come to know the basics of Scripture that explain what they need to be born again; new birth transforms one’s orientation to life. The Greek word for “repentance” means to change the mind. For unbelievers to become Christians, they must change their mind about Jesus and what He did on the cross for their sins.
“Futility of mind” stands in contrast to “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (4:23). Every Christian must come to grips with the contrast of God’s viewpoint on life and man’s perspective. We cannot embrace both viewpoints but must choose one or the other. Either we think in a Christian or in a non-Christian way. When a person becomes a Christian, his entire worldview and mental orientation radically changes. The issue is whether the individual believer accepts the challenge to have his entire way of looking at life changed by the Word of God.