17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 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. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (Eph 4:17-19)
What does it mean to be sensitive to God? Man has been created with a spirit that enables him to communicate to God. Every man has a conscience, which serves as a moral compass that echoes the divine nature, though at times in an imperfect way. When the spirit gets activated or man is born again with the birth of the Holy Spirit within him when he receives Jesus, the communication line with God is re-established in a secure way. He can talk to God and listen better to the promptings of God within him. The Spirit witnesses with his spirit, and the stage is set for man to live in harmony with God. However if he does not submit to God, that sensitivity can get blunted over time. On the other hand for one who continually submits to him, a deeper relationship with God is made real. As we observe the lives of Jesus and his disciples who followed him, they had a sense of God’s timing for various events in their lives. The also discerned the real need of people around them regardless of what was seen on the outside. Often Jesus replied to people addressing their real need as opposed to their spoken need. Moving with God also meant that their lives were unbelievably productive.
In the above passage, Paul talks about the disastrous effects of a life that has lost its sensitivity to God. Losing sensitivity is a sequel to the hardening of the heart. It is far easier to follow the sinful nature rather than the voice of the Lord. It is far easier to go astray along with the ways of the world rather than espouse a life of denial in response to the voice of the Lord.
As the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert where, your fathers tested and tried me. (Heb 3:7-9)
Testing and trying God by not submitting to him can over a period of time lead to a state of hardening of our hearts where the sensitivity is lost and the voice of God grows feebler with time before being snuffed out. Once that happens three things follow.
First is ignorance and darkness. In the absence of God’s input, the ‘understanding’ or the mind is darkened. When the light is taken away it is the path of least resistance that man invariably takes- and that is the way of the sinful nature. Ignorance is when the divine perspective is taken away. The mind continues to work and can achieve much but will always be devoid of meaning.
Second, there follows a life of separation from God. The difference between a planet and a space rock hurtling through space is that the former has orderly movement around the sun. You can live and exist without God, but the richness of life will be taken away, so will the meaning. Death is a formidable enemy from whose clutches there is no escape for one separated from God. You are left to redefine what life is all about and vainly hope you are right.
Finally you plunge headlong into a life of enslavement to indulgence. V17 indicates that futile thinking leads to a futile life. That pattern is unmistakable- your thinking determines the life you live. What you think and speak defines who you are and forms the basis for what you do. When the senses control you enslaving you to a life where you continually seek more of indulgence, it is a pitiable end to a life that held much promise, but was wasted away when sensitivity to God was lost.