“That Christ May Dwell in Your Hearts by Faith” Ephesians 3:17
In Ephesians 3:16, we talked about how we are to be strengthened with might in the inner person. We learned the inner person is the real us, the place in us which understands and responds to God the Father. We need this strengthening because we are not as strong as we need to be to live out the application that Paul wants us to carry out in our lives.
Having taught us we need to be strengthened in our inner man, the Apostle Paul shows us how we are strengthened. We are strengthened when Christ Jesus makes His home in our hearts by faith. “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16–17).
The first question we need to ask of this text is, “How does Christ dwell in our hearts by faith?” This text is somewhat confusing to us because the Bible tells us plainly that when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God takes up residence in our lives. Romans 8:9-10 asserts this fact. In the context, the Apostle Paul draws a contrast between those “who are in the flesh” and thus unsaved and unable to please God (the unconverted) and those who are “in the Spirit” and are able to have life and peace (the converted). In verses 8-9 Paul shows us the difference. “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” So those who are converted are those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.
In the prayer here in Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul is praying for believers. They are those who are saved and thus, according to Romans 8, already have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.
If the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of Christ already lives in them, what then is Paul praying for? What aspect of this indwelling of the Lord Jesus is he speaking about? A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, gives us a clue when he wrote: “Christ is asked to make his home in our hearts. This is the ideal, but a great deal of fixing would have to be done in our hearts for Christ.” If we accept Robertson’s thought, there are two aspects to Paul’s request for the Ephesians and us.
First, Paul prays that we would be growing in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, He is there and He is not silent. He begins working on us to change us from the inside out. Transformation, spiritual remodeling, takes supernatural power. So, Paul prays that we would work together with God to change our hearts and lives into a suitable home for the Spirit of Christ to make His home. This is the idea behind his exhortation in Philippians 2:12–13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” God works in us from the inside out both the willing and doing of our transformation, as we work together with Him. That is what Paul is praying for the Ephesian believers and for each of us.
Second, Paul is praying that the Lord Jesus Christ would be real to them. They would make Him a vital part of their own lives and consider what He wants for them. Our transformation happens as we walk in the light as He is in the light and we have fellowship with Him and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. We can only live like this if God is real to us. A passage in John’s Gospel sheds light on this principle. In John 14:22-23 we read, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world? Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’” In these verses, the Lord Jesus described the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are not clear how a ministry of the Spirit of God dwelling in them will eventually result in a ministry to the world that does not know Christ. So, Judas, not Iscariot, asks this question.
We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God as part of our salvation experience. Still, there seems to be an additional dimension in this text. In these verses the Lord Jesus is explaining how the Father and the Son are made manifest in the believer and how the world can see God in us. The one who loves Christ exhibits evidence of his love through obeying the word of God. In this way we and those around us should be aware that God the Father and God the Son both make their dwelling place in us. Others can see God in us.
A second question we need to ask in view of Ephesians 3:17 is, “How do we experience this indwelling?” How can we know that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith?
The key is the phrase, “through faith.” We find a similar statement in Colossians 2:6-10. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
Let us make two observations in these verses. First, notice how we are to walk in our relationship with Him. We are to do this in the same way that we received Him. That is by faith. We must focus on what we know to be true and ask that God would make that reality real to us.
Second, we must be rooted, built up and established in the faith. That is we must learn and make a part of us the body of truth that God has given us in His Word (the faith). We can’t grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus apart from the Word of God. The Bible must be a part of our being if all the reality of Christ dwelling in us is to be real to us!
What does all this mean? It is by faith that we are able to experience this kind of intimacy with the Lord Jesus. Faith reveals the possibility to us. As we believe the promise of God’s word, we recognize the reality of this kind of relationship.
Faith also makes us recognize that we like Paul need to pray that God would make it a reality in our lives. We are dealing with a reality here–not one that can be seen, measured or touched, but a reality nonetheless. Unless we appropriate the promise by faith, we will know little of the strengthening of the inner person that Paul prays for us. It is the enjoying of the presence of the inward dwelling Christ that makes the strengthening possible.
There is one more thing that needs to be pointed out about this request. The place that Christ dwells and makes His home is our hearts. The heart is the center of the real you and me. It is the seat of our emotions, intellect and will. Whatever has our hearts has us.
If we want to know this reality that Paul is holding out to us here, if we want an intimate relationship with the Lord of Glory in our lives, we must allow Him to have our hearts. Nothing else will suffice. He must dictate what it is that we love. He must influence the things about which we think. He must be the motivating force behind all that we do. When He is the center, then the life will be one that is filled with all the fullness of God.