“...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...”
We have come to a phrase of great significance that we cannot skip over lightly, thinking it has only a surface application and only joins one phrase or one thought to the next.
If the reader is not careful, there is the danger of thinking (or not really thinking at all) that this is a reference to salvation itself, and going on without pause, because, after all, we’re Christians, so we needn’t deal with the salvation issue any more.
But I’d like for you to consider today, that Paul is writing to believers. We’ve already established that in previous sermons from previous verses of this letter; so we won’t go over all that again.
He’s writing to the church. Christians. So he must mean something here, deeper than the doctrine of salvation and the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ at conversion.
Just to be sure I don’t leave anything unsaid though, let’s begin with the basics and talk about:
CHRIST IN THE HEART AT SALVATION
We are taught by the Bible that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Although this is not the only place these doctrinal truths can be substantiated, Paul’s letter to the Romans establishes very systematically that when Adam sinned, all of mankind was in his loins and therefore all are accountable for sin. We are born with a sin nature, and therefore need a Savior.
The Bible says that prior to Christ we are all dead in trespasses and sins, and are therefore devoid of the divine nature. We have only the fallen nature, and are entirely ruled by that.
In fact, we can stay right here in Ephesians to show that the difference between the man in Christ and the man outside of Christ, is absolute. It is literally the difference between life and death.
We touched on it briefly in our last sermon, when we talked about the inner man and the outer man.
In that sermon I said that this inner man, this spiritual man, is what the unsaved person does not have. He has only his outer self; his flesh, and must contend with and be concerned with only that, because that is all he has, until he comes to Christ in repentance and faith and is born from above.
The man who has not received this spiritual life from above is nothing but an empty shell. He is entirely concerned with and controlled by the circumstances and conditions of the world around him, and in order to survive he must constantly contend with those, in order to maintain any control of his life. It is a constant battle that occupies all his thoughts and efforts, and so far as this world is concerned, it is a wise man who stays vigilant in this exercise, and an apathetic fool who does not.
The Christian is one who is born from above, or ‘born again’, as Jesus said to the Pharisee, Nicodemus. It means he has been given new life in the Spirit, and is now a partaker of the divine nature. In II Peter 1, verses 3 and 4, Peter tells us that God called us by His “...own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
This is the dwelling place of God in the Spirit, that Paul is talking about here in Ephesians 2:22. God gives new life to the one who comes to Him in repentance and faith. He comes by His own Holy Spirit and indwells the man, and from that moment on, this is the real man. The inner man. This is the one with whom the Christian must be most concerned. The old nature did not die, but the Christian must reckon himself dead to it, and alive to God through the divine nature imparted to him.
His duty, now that he is a new creation in Christ, filled with the Christ-life and no longer of this world, is to respond to life and all of its conditions and circumstances as the new man; not relying on all of the old ways with which he dealt with life in the flesh, but submitting all things to Christ, and living by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In reference to these things, Romans 6 through 8 are the chapters to read and meditate on for clearer understanding. Paul makes very clear in those chapters, the difference between the man in the flesh and the man in the Spirit.
His focus in those chapters, and especially in Romans 8:5-11 is not that we should live according to the Spirit, but that in Christ, we are according to the Spirit.
Saying that another way; the spiritual reality now that we belong to Him, is that our very existence is now by the Spirit of Christ, and we no longer exist in the power of the flesh.
That is why Paul said to the Galatians,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (2:20)
It is why he tells the Corinthians (II Cor. 10:3-5) that although they still walk in the flesh, they do not walk according to the flesh, but says,
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
This is not something that could be done in the flesh, but can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells them.
So it is well established by New Testament doctrine that the Christian has Christ living in him, and in fact, there is no such thing as a Christian who does not have Christ living in him. It is that indwelling that makes him a Christian. Not membership in a church, not an ability to memorize and quote scripture, not water baptism, not partaking of the Lord’s Supper, not all the rituals and calisthenics of religion... but the impartation of the divine nature by the life-giving Holy Spirit of God, through faith in the shed blood and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Now before we move on, I want to warn you for your own benefit that you and you alone must examine yourself, as to whether you are in the faith. Either you have been born again, or you have not. Either you have the divine nature, or only your fleshly, fallen nature.
This is the most important decision you will ever make in your life, because your eternal destiny hangs in the balance. Either you is, or you ain’t. There is no middle ground. You are dead in trespasses and sins, or you are a new creation in Christ.
The way to determine for yourself if you have Christ in you, is to do an honest assessment of your own heart.
What is your reaction to the conditions and circumstances of life? Do you react as those in the world react? Putting all of your trust in your own abilities to deal with every situation? Reacting in kind when you are mistreated, reviled, inconvenienced?
Or do you sense the peace of the Spirit in you when trouble is on the horizon or comes near? Do you sense a call to prayer for yourself and for loved ones, and even for those who you may not know, but who need God’s help?
Do you have a godly burden for those outside of Christ? Are you grieved by sin, as God is? Do you have a desire to submit every part of your life; your job, your recreation, your finances, your dreams, your goals, your private thoughts, to Him in obedience and faith?
When you think about His imminent return, what is your first, knee-jerk reaction? When you picture yourself suddenly standing face-to-face with Jesus, what emotion do you experience? Fear? Doubt? Excitement?
The most important thing you will ever do, is to be absolutely and perhaps painfully honest with yourself in answering these questions; because these things reveal whether you are a born again believer, headed for Heaven, or a self-deceived church-goer, wearing the badge...carrying the card...but destined for eternity apart from God because the Christ-life is not in you.
Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit”. What is your fruit? You ask God to give you clarity of thought, do your own soul-searching, and decide for yourself.
Now having established those basics, let me remind you again that Paul is writing to Christians, when he says, “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”.
So he cannot be talking about conversion. He is not telling Christians that he is praying that they might become what they already are. So we have to look deeper.
CHRIST IN THE HEART OF THE BELIEVER
Again, let me say, there must be some distinction being made here, between salvation itself, and a significant ‘something more’. Paul is talking to Christians, and it is a given that the Spirit of Christ has come to them and is in them. They are regenerated. They are justified, meaning that they are declared right with God through faith in the shed blood of Christ and His resurrection, and they are sanctified, meaning that they are set apart unto God, and His purifying, conforming work is continuing in them. They are saved. They have Christ in them; the hope of glory.
So in order to deal rightly with this phrase which is our text today, we have to lower the magnifying glass over it and study the details.
Let’s look first at what seems to be the key word. “Dwell”. “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...”
There are approximately 17 Greek words used throughout the New Testament that we ultimately translate into some form of ‘dwell’; whether it be ‘dwell’, or ‘dwelling’, or ‘dwelling place’, or ‘inhabit’, or ‘habitation’... you get my drift.
This particular word in Ephesians 3:17 though, is very specific, and we mustn’t miss the point being made. It means to settle down. To set up housekeeping. In other words, it is more than a visit, or a short-term stay.
It is more than just having a place one can claim as a mailing address. Paul is saying to these Christians, ~if you’ll allow me to amplify here~ “...that Christ may come in and sit down and take up permanent residence in your heart”.
Now I realize that as Believers, who have been taught, correctly, that Christ indwells us by His Spirit when we come to Him in faith, it can be difficult to grasp that Paul is talking about something different here.
But this is not my distinction, it is Paul’s, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. So we cannot ignore it; we must deal with it.
Let me make clear, that I am not advocating a doctrine of what has been called a “second work of grace”, or “salvation ~ the sequel”.
What Paul is praying for the Ephesians, and therefore for all Christians, when he bows his knees before the Father, is a strengthening and maturing of the inner man, the divine nature imparted to us, so that we may know Christ in a powerful and personal way.
Another way I might say it is, that he is not praying for more of Christ in us, but that we would more know the Christ who is in us.
The New Testament writers and prominent Christians whose names have become widely known throughout history because of their devotion to their Lord, have all seemed to be saying the same thing, when they talk of a deeper knowledge, a closer walk with Christ.
Again, Paul was talking to Christians, and about himself as a Christian, when he said to the Philippians that he had left all things behind, worldly prestige, self righteousness, etcetera, “...that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10,11)
So you see, Paul is making a distinction between simply being saved and bound for heaven, and having an intimate knowledge and significant relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.
The next important word in the phrase we’re studying today, is ‘heart’.
In the scriptures, and in the middle eastern mind, the word ‘heart’ means much more than the organ that pumps blood to the members; and it means more even than the seat of the emotions.
In the minds of his readers, when Paul said “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts...”
they understood him to mean the very center of the personality. The mind. The will. The soul.
I would submit to you today, fellow believers, that there is an experience with Christ to be found after conversion, that is above and beyond simple conversion, and raises the one who finds it to a higher plane; an intimate knowledge of Christ and spiritual communion with Him that many Christians never reach, because they never quite come to the place of being willing to release their grip on this world completely, and answer His knocking on the door of their heart.
I thank God that our ultimate salvation and our place with Him is not dependant on our attaining to this deeper intimacy with Him. It is such a relief to know that my place in Heaven is secured by His sacrifice for me, and His declaration of my right standing before Him by grace through faith.
I am so happy that I am able to assure you that Heaven is secured for you eternally simply by coming in repentance and placing your faith in the shed blood of Christ for you sins.
But Paul didn’t want his readers to stay there. I don’t want you to stay there. I don’t want you to continue on, through whatever length of time the Lord chooses to leave you on this earth, only being saved and being satisfied with that.
It is one thing to be considered a citizen of the kingdom in good standing. It is another thing altogether, to be a bosom friend of the King.
Please don’t take this as a doctrinal statement here, but only for the sake of illustration: at conversion Jesus comes into your life; but He wants to come into your heart.
He wants more than to be the One indwelling you to give you quantity of life. He wants to be the very center of your universe. He wants to dwell in your heart; the center of your personality; the center of your soul; to give you quality of life.
“I came that they might have life; and might have it abundantly”, He said in John 10:10
He wants you to know Him as an intimate friend, whose presence you are aware of constantly, because the exchange between the two of you is frequent and personal and meaningful. He wants to be closer than a brother, closer than a lover, closer than your very best friend.
THAT is what Paul means by “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts...”
The last word I want us to look at today is ‘faith’. “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...”
This particular Greek word refers to a firm persuasion. “A conviction based upon hearing“, says Vine’s dictionary.
Salvation is by faith. We know that as an elementary doctrine of Christianity. I won’t cover that ground again here today.
But you must know and understand that faith is not like a key that opens the door to Heaven for us, then to be dropped in our pocket and forgotten.
Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” And I might point out that this statement is in the middle of a chapter that lists the great men and women of the Bible who are remembered for their faith.
Faith is not just something we exercise when we are in need (or perceived need) of some worldly aid or comfort.
The believer in Christ lives by faith. His continued existence is by faith. The works that he does for Christ are according to faith, or they have no eternal value whatsoever.
To the man without faith, all of this is nonsense. He cannot begin to comprehend it, and the very thought of personally knowing a man who lived and died two thousand years ago is too ridiculous for him to spend time contemplating.
He cannot enter into the spiritual realm apart from it; and believer, I want you to understand that, having entered in, you cannot continue in the spiritual realm without it.
Faith is the continuing, uninterrupted conviction of the heart that it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, and the life that you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you, and delivered Himself up for you.
Paul bowed his knees for you and me, Christian, and prayed to the Father that He would, by the riches of His glory, strengthen our inner man so that Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith.
He knew what it was like to leave this world behind and enter into intimate fellowship with the indwelling Christ.
He knew what it was like to feel as though he had died and been resurrected, and that if the Holy Spirit was to depart there would be nothing left but an empty shell, because he had no life apart from the Spirit any more.
He knew what it was like, not to just stand in the sanctuary, but to enter into the Holy of Holies and the very presence of God.
That’s what Paul wanted for you and me. It’s what God wants for you and me. It’s the fellowship that He yearns for...paid for...calls for when He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
That’s not an invitation for unbelievers, Christian, it was said to the church; and it is said to you.
Open up and let Christ set up housekeeping in your heart of hearts, and begin to develop the intimate, personal relationship with Him that will set your feet on higher ground, walking above the conditions and circumstances of this world, because it is a God-pleasing walk of faith, in intimate communion with the indwelling Christ.