Ephesians 3:14-19. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
We continue to move through this spectacular prayer of Paul’s from the HOW we pray to the WHAT we pray for.
The greatest, most important thing that we can pray for, as those who are united to Christ, is an experience of Christ.
And that is what Paul is praying for here: that…he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Let’s try to understand this prayer by seeing both what Paul IS NOT praying for and then what he IS praying for.
1. He IS NOT praying for the presence of Christ. He IS praying for an experience of the presence of Christ.
This prayer can get a little confusing because Paul prays that Christ would dwell in our hearts. Of course, those of us who have been tracking through Ephesians (and this blog, and basically all of the New Testament) know that the big idea so far has been that we are IN CHRIST. We have the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). We already have all of Christ. There is no more to get.
So how do we make sense of this phrase?
One clue is the word Paul uses for “dwell.” It means to settle down. To make yourself at home somewhere. Back in chapter two Paul described our justification as moving into God’s house. Here he is describing our progressive sanctification as Christ settling into our heart house.
Is Christ making himself at home in your heart (like this kid)?
This is not a prayer to receive Christ or even to receive more of Christ. This is a prayer to experience more fully the Christ that you have in his fullness. Jesus has already moved in but have you allowed him to make himself at home in your heart? Can he go to the fridge without asking? Can he control the TV remote? Has he been in the basement? Has he unpacked his suitcase into the dresser?
2. He IS NOT praying for a spiritual experience that is separate from Christ. He IS praying for a spiritual experience found only in union with Christ.
It is extremely important that we see here the parallel between an experience of the Holy Spirit and an experience of Christ. Look at the scripture again. The power of the Spirit allows Christ to dwell in our hearts.
There is no spiritual experience apart from an experience of the indwelling Christ.
And the indwelling Christ is the Christ who suffered and died, and then and only then rose and was glorified.
So many Christians are looking for spiritual experiences that have nothing to do with Christ Jesus. They expect the Holy Spirit to drop diamond dust on them (OK that’s the extreme). Or, more commonly, we expect the Spirit to constantly help us overcome our addictions and struggles without any connection to the suffering of Christ that is required. We want the Spirit to fill us with strength that is separate from faith in and dependence upon an indwelling Jesus. We want a spiritual Christianity that is often a Christ-less Christianity.
3. He IS NOT praying for strength for the outer man. He IS praying for strength for the inner man.
We pray for strength to overcome. Strength to withstand the burden. Strength to walk through the illness or the grief. Strength to resist. But these are asking for a power that works from the outside-in rather than the inside-out.
The strength of the Spirit and of Christ comes from weakness and dependency. We might see the things I’ve listed above as a form of dependency. But they are not true dependency. Yes, we are “dependent” upon the Spirit, but to do what? To increase our own strength. They are not a true dependency on the work of Christ alone on our behalf on the cross. There’s a huge difference. One is asking the Spirit to build you up. The other is asking the Spirit to let you remain weak so that Christ can be revealed.
This should not leave us passive. But it does mean we move forward in complete need. In weakness. In desperation for God and his glory.
Think about Moses. At the bush. At the Sea. At the rock. At the mountain. “Lord show me your glory,” he cried. But God only revealed the riches of his glory when Moses was at the point of desperation. Nothing left for him to do but stand there. In faith. That’s inner man strength. Not outer man strength.
“To live is Christ” means you have all of Christ. But you may not be experiencing all of Christ all of the time (in fact most likely you’re not). But that is our prayer. A prayer for the Spirit to give us strength in the inner man as we allow Christ to make himself at home in our inner man. Jesus, make yourself at home in us.
I know it’s a Christmas song, but Ephesians 3:17 is the fulfillment of Christmas, so…