Christ Dwelling in the Heart by Faith

March 21, 2011

by Steve Owen

Taken from a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth.

Read Ephesians 3:14-21.

As I go about preaching in many of the smaller Reformed churches in South-west England, I am often struck by a certain moroseness and apparent lack of joy among the congregations. It is of course true that Christians do not have to go around grinning like idiots to show that they are happy, but nevertheless it would be nice to see folk enjoying more obviously the fact that they are on their way to heaven. David prayed, ‘Restore to me the joy of Your salvation’ (Psalm 51:12) which indicates that while it is not possible for a true Christian to lose his salvation, it is certainly possible for him to lose the joy of it; if not, why would he pray for it to be restored to him?

I believe that part of the problem is the world coming between the Christian and his God. We are so busy in both our work and our pleasures that we cease to delight ourselves in the Lord (Psalm 37:4) and we quench the Holy Spirit. We are taking our delights in this world in things that must pass away, and we forget that, ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forever more’ (Psalm 16:11). Another factor is that we don’t want to look like charismatics or to feel that we must put on a show in front of our friends, but perhaps the main problem is that we don’t claim for ourselves the wonderful promises of God. We believe them, but we don’t really lay hold of them and meditate upon them. So with these thoughts in mind, let us consider together Paul’s great prayer for the Ephesian Christians in Eph 3:14-12.

This prayer is surely one of the most sublime texts in the whole Bible, and second only to our Lord’s great High Priestly prayer and the greatest of all Scripture. It is also a shaming prayer; do we ever pray for our families, friends and each other in the terms of this prayer? Do we not tend to pray in more general terms? “O Lord, bless cousin Harry, I pray.” Maybe we might add, “Draw him closer to you,” if we felt Cousin harry was further from the Lord than he should be, but if we go into specifics at all, are we not much more likely to pray for his sprained thumb that is giving him so much pain just now, and for relief for him from his in-growing toenail? That’s not wrong, but it is worth observing that Paul does not pray for Timothy’s upset stomach; instead, he gives him practical advice- stop drinking the possibly polluted water at Ephesus and take a little wine instead (1Tim 5:23). When Paul prays, he prays for the spiritual welfare of the churches and he prays in detail, knowing what is the greatest need.

This prayer, however, is not restricted to the Ephesians. Many commentators take the view that Ephesians is a circular letter sent around all the churches of Asia Minor, with the exception of Colosse, which had its own epistle; the one that has come down to us just happens to be the one that was sent to Ephesus. If that is so then this prayer is Paul’s desire for all Christians, born of his intimate knowledge of so many 1st Century churches. Before looking at the text in depth, there are three preliminary points that should be made.

1. It is important to note that Paul is writing to Christians; his prayer is not that the Ephesians and others should be saved. He is writing, ‘To the saints who are in Ephesus’ (Eph 1:1) and elsewhere, so we who are the saints in Exmouth or Exeter are included along with the saints of all lands and times. Therefore when Paul prays, ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith’ (3:17), whatever he means, he is asking for something other than salvation.

2. It is a prayer for all Christians. ‘That He would grant you….’ (v16). All of you. This isn’t a prayer for an elite of super-Christians, it a prayer for you and me.

3. Because Paul prays it, it must be possible. Maybe some of you felt a little wistful when you read the prayer and are thinking, “‘Strengthened by might…….filled with all the fullness of God?’ Oh no! That isn’t me. I’m just an ordinary Christian.” Let us be clear that there is no such thing as an ordinary Christian. We are children of God and co-heirs with Christ, and, ‘He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also give us also all things?’ (Rom 8:32). Our Lord tells us, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you…….if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!’ (Matt 7:7, 11). James tells us, ‘You do not have because you do not ask’ (James 4:2). Let us realise that a close, personal relationship with God is possible for all Christians and let us look briefly at this prayer, and then let us pray it for ourselves and for each other.

vs14-15. ‘For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1), from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.’ For what reason is this? Because of the wonderful and blessed truths that Paul has been expounding in Chapters 1 & 2, and culminating in 2:19: ‘Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.’ It is because of our exalted status with God – citizens of heaven and members of His household – that Paul prays. This status has come about not through anything in us nor anything that we have done, but because of God’s free, electing love (1:4) and the atonement made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ (1:7). It is because of these things that Paul prays this prayer, confident that the Lord is both willing and able to grant it. We should never imagine that God is unwilling to grant our prayers and to give us spiritual blessings. On the contrary, He declares, ‘I am the LORD your God……Open your mouth wide and I will fill it’ (Psalm 81:10), and the Lord Jesus bids His Church, ‘Eat, O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones!’ (Song 5:1).

Next, Paul prays to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because all things have been gathered together in Christ, heavenly as well as earthly (1:10), the whole family receives its name from Him and we are united to Him by faith; therefore the Father will refuse us nothing that we rightly ask in His name.

V16. ‘That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by might in the inner man……’ Now Paul appeals to the munificence of God, His infinite resources and the fullness of His perfections. God’s glory is His excellence made manifest (Hendrickson); the perfections of His character displayed. There is no limit to God’s resources, and when they are revealed in us, God’s name is glorified. We glory in Him; He is glorified in us. When a sinner turns from his wicked ways and trusts in Christ for salvation, God is glorified. When a saint, in the midst of trouble and distress, transcends them and gives thanks to God, He is glorified.

‘Strengthened by might in the inner man.’ The ‘inner man’ is the Christian’s renewed self. In Rom 7:22, Paul writes, ‘For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man……’ A Christian has a new heart, a new nature, that loves the Lord, and it is this that Paul prays may be strengthened. Why does it need strengthening? Because there remains within our bodies the relic of our old nature, which Paul calls the ‘flesh,’ and these two natures are at war with each other within us. Paul continues, ‘…..But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.’ (cf. also Gal 5:17). Paul is praying that our new reborn nature may be strengthened in its battle with the remnant of sin. God promises to answer such a prayer. ‘He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength’ (Isaiah 40:29). David wrote, ‘In the day that I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul’ (Psalm 138:3). It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer to strengthen him and cause him to look upon Christ. If He is not working in such a way in you, maybe in is because you have not asked Him.

v17. ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’ We know that Christ, as God, in omnipresent. ‘”Do I not fill heaven and earth,” Says the LORD.’ (Jer 23:24). We also know that Christ indwells every believer (John 14:23); there is no need to pray for that. So this must mean something different. If you say to your spouse, “You are always in my heart, dear!” What does it mean? It means, if you are being truthful, that your husband or wife is always in your thoughts – that you are constantly and pleasantly engaged in meditation upon his or her aimiable features and general excellencies. So it is with the Lord Jesus. If He is dwelling in your heart by faith, then because you believe that He died in your stead, rose again and is seated in heaven as your Great High Priest, the He must surely be in your thoughts and contemplations – meditating upon His great love and constancy – ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb 13:5). And if some great pressure of business or other crisis should, for the moment, drive all other things from your mind, then as soon as you have leisure, you will surely return in your thoughts to that pleasant contemplation of our Lord. It is for this that Paul is praying; that Christ may be at the very centre of the believer’s heart; central to his thoughts and his life.

‘That you, being rooted and grounded in love…..’ When Christ is dwelling in our hearts in the way described above, we are firmly established; rooted and grounded. Rooted like a tree. Psalm 1 speaks of the man whose, ‘Delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by living waters……..’ Just as a tree draws its nourishment through its roots, so our love for Christ comes from deep within us, from our inner being. We are also grounded or established like a building with firm foundations (Eph 2:20). “And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock,” The rock, of course, being Christ. No calamity, no storm in our lives can separate us from our Saviour. The Puritan John Owen and his wife lost all of their nine children in infancy or youth. How does one cope with that kind of continuing grief? Nothing could shake Owen’s faith and love for Christ because it was founded upon the rock.

‘Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls……’ Though I may have been made redundant, and be in arreas with my rent; though I see the wicked prospering all around me; though I am part of a despised minority in my own country, and my own family mock me for my faith. Whatever may befall me, ‘…..Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation’ (Hab 3:17-18).

v18. ‘[That you]…….may be able to comprehend with all the saints…..’ ‘Comprehend’ means to grasp fully. This is not a sort of general acquiescence to the words of the Bible, but both head and heart knowledge- a knowledge born of experience as well as theory – ‘Oh! Taste and see that the LORD is good!’ (Psalm 34:8). We are to comprehend the love of Christ for His people- a love that passes knowledge!

‘Oh! The sweet, sweet love of Jesus; vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!’

“As the father has loved Me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). Christ has loved His Church from everlasting; His heart was fixed upon it before all time. She was gifted to Him by the Father, and He has redeemed her, suffered for her and washed her in His own blood, and at the end of time He will present her to the Father pure and radiant, without spot or blemish, to share in all His glories in the infinite age to come. His love is not just love for the Church in the abstract, but love for all its members; love for each one of us in all our helplessness, sinfulness and ignorance. He says to us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer 31:3). We say to Him’

‘Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, should’st die for me?

vs18-19. ‘…..What is the width and length and depth and height-‘ Paul prays that we might know the dimensions of Christ’s love. First, its width- not restricted to the Jews, nor to the Anglo-Saxons, but to every tribe and every nation. The cause of Christ may seem to be flagging in Britain and Europe these days, but in fact the greatest revival in history is going on in our day. In China, in Africa, in South America, thousands are coming to the Lord every day, often in the face of bitter persecution. How true it is that, ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty’ (Luke 1:53).

Then the length: ‘From everlasting to everlasting.’ Our saviour has loved us from eternity, yet He will never tire of us; never change His mind about us. He is utterly constant: ‘His mercy endures forever.’ We read of charities fearing lest their donors suffer from ‘compassion fatigue.’ Not so with our Lord Jesus; He will never run out of compassion, never run out of care. ‘For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”’ (Heb 13:5).

Next, the depth- His love for the worst of sinners. He stoops down so low to pick the drunk out of the gutter, the harlot out of the street, the criminal out of the jail, the addict out of bondage. ‘He brought me out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet on a rock and established my steps’ (Psalm 40:2). We were dead in our sins, but Christ has made us alive; deep down in our tombs like Lazarus, dead and stinking until Jesus called us forth.

Finally, the height, which is sublime. We are seated with Him in the heavenly places, and if it doesn’t seem like that to you right now, well, that is where God sees us as being. ‘[He] raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph 2:6). ‘He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, and sets them among princes’ (1Sam 2:8). Do you long for that blessed time when all our strivings cease? When our tired and worn-out bodies are changed for glorified ones, and we leave the last vestiges of sin behind us and enjoy our Saviour face to face forever? This is our heritage, our destiny, our sure and certain hope, not because of anything we have done, but because of the love with which our Lord has loved us.

So the width of God’s love is infinite, the length eternal, the depth profound and the height exalted beyond imagination. Such is the love of Christ for His people. Alleluia!

Finally, Paul prays that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. Our first reaction might be puzzlement; how can the finite be filled with the infinite? But what Paul is asking is that we might receive all that God has for us. And what God has is abundance. ‘“Try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of Hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Mal 3:10. cf. Rom 8:32). As Christ dwells more and more constantly and richly in our hearts, we will experience more and more of God’s blessings. More love, as we contemplate what He has done for us. More peace, as our circumstances become less pre-occupying. More wisdom, as His word dwells in our hearts. More joy, as we think of what lies in store for us. More kindness, as God’s love overflows us and we reach out to those around us. ‘For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly’ (Psalm 84:11).

All these things come to us, you see, because He ‘Is able to do exceedingly abundantly, above all that we ask or think’ (v20). Whatever I have written here has been an understatement; He can and will do more and He will do it through us, and through His power that works within us, ‘To do and to will of His good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13).

Why don’t we pray this prayer constantly for ourselves and for each other? James tells us, ‘You do not have because you do not ask God.’ Paul wasn’t embarrassed to pray it; nor should we be. Paul didn’t doubt that God could and would answer it; nor should we. One last thing as I close. ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear’ (Psalm 66:18). Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit with our worldliness, and let us not quench Him with our petty sins. Let us rather walk in the Spirit by the light of His word, with our eyes fixed upon Jesus as He dwells in our hearts by faith.

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