Vanity of Vanities



Paul spoke:

Brothers and sisters:
I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
that is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph 4: 17, 20-24)

He tells us that we must not continue to live in the “futility” of our minds. When we think of our minds, we think of our intellect. Futility means, in the Greek, Mataiotes or vanity, which alludes to emptiness or uselessness.

What does he mean by this?

Gentiles, the unbelievers, live by their minds. They have no purpose beyond what ever they define as success in the world about them. They may seek power, money, professional success, public fame, or any number of things that seem to the intellectual thought process worthy ends.

But are they? Can you take any of them to the grave? Will they do you any good if you do?

Of course not. Such goals are fleeting, passing with our mortal bodies. They are empty goals.

Paul attempts to explain to these new believers that they have become different by their baptism. They are no longer seekers of transient things such as money or fame. They now seek permanent goals–loving God and the promises of heaven. They have purpose finally. Real purpose.

This is not to say that intellectual pursuits are bad, as some would claim. In fact many on the far right would dismiss the intellectual , considering it dangerous and unbiblical,  based on a simplistic reading of this passage. But Paul is not saying that at all.

What he is saying is that God and Godly pursuits are beyond the logical results of our thinking. We cannot welcome the spirit of God simply by logical analysis. It requires a leap of faith–something beyond 1 + 1 = 2. Basing our entire life on the logic of intellectual reasoning will take us far, but never far enough–for that we need to put on a new self, and be renewed in the spirit of our mind.

The Spirit offers us a new way of examining the world, a new way of judging if you will. We no longer rely on  slide rules and Socratic methods as our sole means of determining our reality. The Spirit offers us a new plane of existence, a new way of examination, to over-lay upon our three-dimensional world.

Now we do not conclude that something is either good or bad, right or wrong, beneficial or harmful based on a “me” approach. That is what the pagans do. No, we see the totality of the world as all of creation, and that changes the equation dramatically.

Now some may say that I am only talking about a sense of morality, and those who consider themselves “atheists” also can and do have great moral standards that include considering the entire world in their calculations of good and evil. I would agree, such people often do exhibit such considerations, and there are many an atheist who is a good deal more moral that a good many self-defined believers in God.

But of course, just because one is unaware on the intellectual plane of the God who graciously offers guidance, doesn’t mean that they don’t open themselves to that gracious assistance, simply by calling it something else. Now I admit that is an argument that is circular in nature and surely won’t satisfy the average thinking atheist. All I’m saying is that atheists can be perfectly moral while at the same time having no way of knowing why they are. I choose to think that God works in those who profess no faith, yet who open themselves to divine instruction, unknowing as it may be.

Paul concludes by telling us that this new self is created in God’s way, in righteousness and in holy truth. We, these new creations are bound to seek and speak truth, for all truth is holy. All truth is righteous, all truth is God’s way.

Pray for truth in the renewal of the spirit of your mind.






2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Aug 05, 2012 @ 12:45:46

    Sherry you make a very fine point that is bound to frighten many a believer. (Good for you!) Your thoughts bring to mind Paul’s teaching that unbelievers have “the law written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness.” (Romans 2.15) This morning our pastor spoke of the “seed of God” planted in every person, which, if properly nourished, grows into God. It is absolutely conceivable that those who don’t believe nonetheless receive the nourishment to grow into God without knowing it and exhibit godly traits despite their professed belief in no God at all.

    The reason why this is such a tough purchase for some, I believe, is that they actually treat faith as an intellectual, logically ordered thing, which it is not. Such an idea is vanity through and through, as it puts reliance for godly attitudes and behaviors solely on the individual, which cancels out belief in Paul’s statement in Philippians 2.13: “For it is God Who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good purpose.” Or as my beloved grandfather always said (referring to the story of Balaam), “If God can make a donkey talk, there’s no telling who God will use and how God will use them!”

    I think the core question for us in all of this is, if God is able to move through the hearts and minds of unbelievers, how much more should God move through those of us who do believe?

    You’ve given us a tough problem today–one we should wrestle with regularly. Thank you.

    Blessings always,


    • Sherry
      Aug 05, 2012 @ 12:54:06

      Thanks Tim for your additions of scripture. It is strange what strikes one in the readings. Paul often doesn’t “speak” loudly to me. today he did. That is the spirit of course. I do agree, some believers find such ideas that the faithless are filled with God’s loving assistance as well, just unpalatable. I agree with you, it doesn’t fit their logic, but frankly I think it has a lot to do, with “I’m doing all this, and you get it for free?” The height of arrogance.


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