“It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and companion with the exalted and ever present Redeemer…he communes with his people and his people commune with him in conscious reciprocal love….The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.” –John Murray
“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives it name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. And, I pray that you will have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know the love that surpasses knowledge- that you would be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19
Not long ago I sat in a meeting of missionaries where we were discussing the necessity of expressing feelings while trying to communicate with one another. Chosen by God to be an antagonist, I decided to fulfill my calling. I said, “You know, I really don’t care about how one feels. I want to know what God has said. My faith and life is not determined by how I feel. That changes. I need to live and express my faith according to what God has written in his Word.”
I immediately got the response I was expecting. Two ladies took great exception to what I was saying. One replied with great feelings: “How can you talk about yourself without sharing your feelings?” I quickly found out I was in the minority, but not alone. The leader of the group, who did not agree with my statement, asked one of our young missionary recruits, “Hannah, how do you feel about this?” Hannah is a unique creature of God’s grace. Her jaw is permanently locked. She has had 57 operations in her short lifetime. She was told she would never be able to talk or walk. However, by God’s grace she communicates well and runs half marathons. What was her response to the leader’s inquiry? Pointing at me she said, “I am with him.”
I suspect she had learned in her short and very painful existence that there were many times she did not “feel” like she was special to God; that she was tempted to feel deserted and let feelings of bitterness and self-pity rule her life. But, instead, she, by God’s grace chose to live on the basis of what God had promised her in the Word. Her whole life was a radiant manifestation of the glory of God resting upon her soul by faith.
With that said, let me point out that Scripture’s teachings and examples show that emotions are an important aspect of our relationship with Jesus. How could we not be moved in the depth of our being by the incomparable beauty of our Lord? Another way of saying this is that our fellowship with God cannot be reduced to “cold metallic assent.” We are called and designed to “experience” intimacy with Jesus, a communion that is known and felt. That is what Paul was praying for in the life of his letter’s recipients.
I have been meditating upon Ephesians 3:14-21 since the beginning of 2015. I have discovered the following characteristics of this passage: 1.) This passage is a prayer. Paul is praying that the church, believers like you and me, would experience something that goes beyond mere assent to biblical truths; 2.) This is a letter to Christians. They already have the Spirit living within them. He is not praying for salvation. 3.) What he is praying for is not an extra-ordinary, “second blessing” reserved only for a few super-saints. He prays and expects that you and I, normal followers of Jesus, will experience the joy of having Jesus living within our hearts.
He asks for four things to happen in us: 1) That Christ would “dwell” in our hearts by faith. 2) That we would “grasp” the infinite dimensions of Christ’s love for us. 3) That we would “know” this love that surpasses knowledge; 4) And, that we would be “filled to the measure of the fullness of God.”
In chapters 1-3:13 of Ephesians, Paul catalogued the wonderful things God has done for us and in us. He knew that before the Church could hear the charge and challenge of her mission, she needed to know the power and privilege of her position. This prayer, verses 14-21, is tucked in between those two movements. John MacArthur makes the point that Ephesians is like an automobile. In chapters 1-3, Paul describes the Church’s high-octane engine. In chapters 4-6, he describes the awesome work she is designed to do and accomplish. This segment he calls “Christian ignition,” the spark that gets the powerful motor running in the life of the believer.
The point I am trying to make is that what Paul is praying for is not something that happens inside us and we don’t know it or “feel’ it. No, Paul is praying for an experience that we recognize and celebrate. He prays for a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our “inner being,” our hearts, so that we come to enjoy Jesus in a way that is both personal and powerful. In this teaching I will try to deal with Paul’s first request and leave the other three to subsequent articles.
What does it mean to consciously experience Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith? Paul prays that God would, out of his glorious riches, strengthen us with power by his Spirit. The result would be to enable Christ to dwell in our hearts by faith. First, we see that what he is praying for calls for a work of God by the Spirit. Whatever is going to happen, we cannot make happen by our own, unaided efforts. God must take the initiative. Next, we see that whatever is going to happen, it is tied to faith. I would take that to mean that Paul is asking for the Spirit to answer his prayer by enabling us to believe God in ways we have failed to do previously. Faith is a verb. It means action. So, here the Spirit enables us to act in ways that challenge and change our relationship with Christ.
Our Spirit empowered faith makes the way for Christ to “dwell” in our hearts. The word for dwell is “kata oy keto.” “oy keto” means to be in your home or house and “kata” means “down.” The compound word has the sense of “settling down” or “being at home” or being “totally comfortable.” When Paul’s prayer is answered in us, when the Spirit accomplishes his faith building work, Christ rests and reigns comfortably in our “inner being,” our heart. I would take that to mean that He will be the dominating presence in our house. Understanding him will be the focus of our minds. Enjoying him will be the passion of our souls. Pleasing him will become the motive for our decisions.
What is not stated here, but is declared everywhere in the Bible, is the moral dimension of Paul’s prayer. He is not merely praying that we will have a mystical experience of the divine. He is praying that we would submit to the Spirit’s leading in our life so that our faith is strengthened to the point of cleaning our house. All of the dirt and grime that would keep Christ from being comfortable in our hearts must go. It is not a call to perfection. It is a call for reflection. Paul wants us to know and be encouraged by the truth that Christ wants to be at home in our hearts and that alone should drive us do all we can to prepare him a place. It is the Spirit’s work to help us to see that, believe that and want that more than anything else.
Now, here is the exciting news. When Christ comes into our home he comes to commune with us. By faith we become conscious of God’s nearness, of his love and of his delight in us. We hear him speak to us. How that will be “felt” in you I am not sure. I do know that Paul prays that Christ’s presence and love would be known in us. It remains a mystery in that I cannot fully wrap my mind around it or articulate it clearly with words. But, based upon the prayer of Jesus that he and the Father would come and make their home in us, and in that coming, we would experience the love they experience with each other (John 17:20-26); and, trusting that God answered Paul’s prayer for that to happen in us, I am confident that Christ will not only dwell in my inner being, but he will make his sweet presence known known to my heart. I will know and experience the passion and warmth of divine love “because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”