Holy Living In An Unholy World,

How To Dress For Success

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Are clothes important? Does God care what we wear? Before you answer “no” too quickly, it may surprise you to know that it was the Christian philosopher Erasmus who, in the 1500s, coined the saying “Clothes make the man” and then added, “Clothe yourself as best you can.”

The apostle Paul could not have agreed more. He was very concerned with our clothing choices—not our material clothes but the spiritual clothes—the behavior that we put on and wear every day of our lives. That is the theme of the second half of Ephesians 4

You may remember that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is divided into two equal parts. The first half is doctrinal and an inventory of a Christian’s wealth, but the second half is filled with practical application, explaining our walk or conduct as Christians.

1. The Mandate for Purity (Ephesians 4:17-19)

This is not just Paul’s idea. What Paul is about to describe is the way the Lord Jesus sees the lost, and what Paul is going to command has the authority of the risen Lord Himself. Do not walk or conduct your life in the same way that the Gentiles live.

Now, in Ephesians, Paul uses the term “gentiles” or “ethnos” in two distinct ways. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul uses it to describe people who were not Jews by birth, which certainly included the majority of those who lived in Ephesus. He makes the point that even those Gentiles were outside of the covenant of promise in the Old Testament, through Christ, God has joined believing Jews and Gentiles into one body, which is the body of Christ, the church.

But in this passage, Paul uses the term Gentiles to refer to pagans as he does in 1 Thessalonians 4:5, in which Paul urges us not to engage in lustful passion “like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

To fully understand how we are to walk, we need to contrast the positive with the negative. How do the Gentiles or unbelievers conduct their lives?

This letter was not written in a vacuum but to a real group of Christians who were living in a desperately depressing situation. The city of Ephesus was comparable to New York City, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas. It was a leading commercial and cultural city in the Roman Empire. But it was also a leading city of sexual immorality, some rank it as the most immoral city in all of Asia Minor. The center of debauchery in the city was the Temple of Diana, or as she was also known, Artemis.

Don’t be like them, Paul says. How did the Gentiles sink into such immorality? How do you explain the immorality that characterizes our country today? What is it that allows people to engage in unspeakable acts of immorality or to torture and murder little children with absolutely no feeling of remorse?

We think that it is because they have never had a chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ that they are the way that they are. But that isn’t it at all, the Bible says. The immorality and hardness of heart of unbelievers is not because they have not heard the truth, but because they have rejected the truth that they have already received.

Every Unbeliever Has:

  1. Received the truth. (Romans 1:18-20)
  2. Rejected the truth. (Romans 1:21-22)
  3. Replaced the truth. (Romans 1:23)

Why do unbelievers practice immorality? Remember, the progression they receive is truth, then they reject the truth, and they foolishly replace the truth with an untruth; therefore, God abandons them to depravity and ultimately to destruction.

Paul expresses a similar thought in Ephesians 4. He describes the Gentiles in Ephesus, whom the pagan philosopher said had morals lower than the animals and were fit only to be drowned. How did they become that way?

2. The Downward Spiral of Unbelief (Ephesians 4:18-19)

  • Darkness

“Being darkened in their understanding.” The non-Christian thinks that rejecting the Bible leads to enlightenment and understanding. No, it leads to darkness. They cannot see the truth.

  • Ignorance

You know the old cliché, “Ignorance is bliss,” is a lie, don’t you? Well, it is, as John R. W. Stott points out: “Scripture bears an unwavering testimony to the power of ignorance and error to corrupt, and the power of truth to liberate, enable and refine.” 

Although the unbeliever may have a graduate degree in philosophy or comparative religions, he is ignorant of the truth of God. Paul describes this kind of person in 2 Timothy 3:7 who is always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Do you know people like that who are always searching for answers, trying different religions and philosophies, but never coming to the truth? Why is that?

  • Hardness

The Greek word “porosis,” from which we get porous, was originally used by physicians to describe the calcification that forms around broken bones.

William Barclay translates the word as “petrified” and calls it a “grim and terrible” term. He goes on: Originally, [porosis] meant a stone that was harder than marble. It came to have certain medical uses. It was used for the chalk stone, which can form in the joints and completely paralyze action. It was used for the callus that forms when a bone has been broken and reset, a callus that is harder than the bone itself. Finally, the word came to mean the loss of all power of sensation; it described something that had become so hardened, so petrified that it had no power to feel at all. The terror of sin is its petrifying effect. The process of sin is quite discernible. No one becomes a great sinner all at once. At first, people regard sin with horror. When they sin, remorse and regret enter into their hearts. But, if people continue to sin, there comes a time when they lose all sensation and can do the most shameful things without any feeling at all. Their consciences have become petrified.

Continued disobedience to God and rejection of the truth of God causes the unbeliever’s heart to become petrified so that he feels nothing. He is incapable of repenting of his sin and cannot receive the truth. It’s the same pattern here as in Romans 1—he receives the truth, rejects the truth, replaces the truth, and he is abandoned by God.

Although Paul is speaking of unbelievers here, I believe there is an application for Christians as well. When we continually reject the truth of God, resist the Spirit of God, and rebel against the commands of God, there is scar tissue that forms around our hearts to the point that we are no longer able to hear the voice of God speaking to us.

3. The Means of Purity (Ephesians 4:20-24)

You are different from unbelievers in that our minds are no longer dark, and our hearts are no longer hard. Therefore, we should live differently. What makes us different?

  1. We have learned Christ.
  2. We have heard Christ.

We are to live and die differently than unbelievers because we follow a different leader—one who leads us to the purity of life and one who promises to lead us to our eternal home.


Full Passage: Ephesians 4:17-24