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     That Christ may Dwell in Our Hearts by Faith

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The sermon was preached at Westminster Chapel, London, in 1956 and first published in 1979 and reprinted in 2004.

 

`That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.'

Ephesians 3:17

 

We are here face to face with the highest heights of the Christian life and of what is possible for us as Christian people. It is therefore not an easy portion of Scripture. But there is nothing which is more glorious. People who climb mountains tell us that the higher you get the more difficult it is to climb; and yet it becomes more and more exhilarating and wonderful. The same applies to the Scriptures. And here we are certainly on the very mountain top of Christian experience.

But let us remind ourselves afresh that this is something which is meant for all Christians. The Apostle writes to all the members of the church at Ephesus and he obviously meant them to understand it; indeed he assumes that they will be able to understand it. I say that for the reason that there are so many Christians today who do not attempt to understand anything which is at all difficult. But that is deliberately to ignore the plain teaching that we are meant `to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' (2 Peter 3:18). As the Apostle says in the next chapter, we are not to be children, not to remain children, and `to be carried about with every wind of doctrine'. And these words, let us never forget, were written to people who were probably slaves, and who had received no education at all, and had none of the advantages which we enjoy. So, to use the language of the Apostle Peter, we must `gird up the loins of our mind'. We have to make an effort to discipline ourselves as we enter this rarefied atmosphere. We need to move with precision and with all our might and power. But above all we must pay attention to the Apostle's petitions.

The first petition, as we have seen, is that we might be strengthened with might by God's Spirit in the inner man'. When we are strengthened `according to the riches of God's glory' by the Holy Spirit we shall be able to climb and to attain to this great height. We can test ourselves at this point by asking ourselves one simple question---Am I looking forward to the ascent? Am I thrilled with expectancy as I consider these glowing phrases which the Apostle puts before us?

We now come to the petition, `that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'. There has been much discussion as to how this, and the former two petitions, are to be taken. Are they saying the same thing in a different way, or does the Apostle put the petition about being strengthened first because it is an essential preliminary to this further petition? I have no doubt myself but that the latter possibly is the true one, although there is a sense in which it is equally true to say that these things always more or less merge together and cannot be divided in any ultimate sense. The Apostle puts them in this order---the strengthening first and then `that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'.

As we approach this staggering statement---and we must walk, as I have suggested, warily, carefully, and circumspectly---it is essential that we remind ourselves yet once more that this prayer is offered for believers. I emphasize the matter because a phrase has gained currency in connection with evangelism which has often caused confusion with respect to this particular verse. In giving their experience and talking about their conversion people often say, `It is now many years since I first received Christ into my heart'. Evangelists often put their message in that way, and ask people whether they will receive Christ into their hearts. But this is not a scriptural expression and it can be most misleading, particularly when we meet with a phrase such as the one which we are now studying. It is for this reason that I remind you that the Apostle is offering this prayer for people who are already believers. They were people who once were afar off but who have now been made nigh, brought nigh, by the blood of Christ. They are already believers, they are already united to Christ their Head, they are already members of His body which is the Church. They are `in Him' and He is in them.

In other words, the Apostle is not praying that these people may become Christians, He is praying that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, although He is already present. Paul is not praying for their conversion, or their salvation, or their justification. All that is taken for granted; it has already taken place. To remove any possible doubt or confusion concerning this, let us remind ourselves again of the Apostle's statement in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 13 verse 5, `Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?' He says that to be believers, to be Christians at all, means that Jesus Christ is in us. You cannot be a Christian at all without Jesus Christ in some sense being in you. Likewise there is the statement in the Epistle to the Romans, chapter 8 verse 9, `If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his'. That was true of these Ephesians; they are already Christians. Indeed it is because they are Christians he goes on to offer this prayer for them, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith.

What then is the difference between this, and the normal state, the invariable state, of all who are truly Christian? The answer is to be found primarily in the word `dwell'. It is a compound word which basically means `to live in as a house'. But when a prefix, meaning `down' is added, the word comes to mean `to settle down and be at home'. The Apostle deliberately chooses to use this word to emphasize the idea of taking up your abode, of settling down, of making your permanent home, as distinct from merely paying a visit or as being in a place in some general sense.

Light is thrown on this conception by what we read in the third chapter of the Book of Revelation in the message to the church of the Laodiceans, and especially in verse 20. The risen Lord says, `Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with me'. I sometimes think that there is no single statement of Scripture which is more frequently misunderstood, and more misused and abused, than that particular statement. It is taken almost invariably in an evangelistic sense. Christ is depicted as standing outside the shut door of the sinner's heart, and as entreating the sinner to give him admittance and to receive Him into his heart. But that is a completely false interpretation of Revelation 3:20. The letter to the Laodiceans is, of course, a letter to a church; it is `what the Spirit saith to the churches'. Its words are not addressed to unbelievers, but to those who are already Christians and within the Christian Church. The whole of chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation, we must always remember, are addressed to Christian people, to believing people, to people who have already believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and who are joined to Him, who are in Him and He in them. And yet the message of the knocking at a closed door is addressed to them, in particular to the Church of the Laodiceans. They were Christian people; but they were in a bad condition, `neither hot nor cold'; they thought that they were rich and had everything, whereas in reality they were poor, and naked, and blind, and empty. It is to such Christians that our Lord says, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me'.

These words then are addressed to Christians who have spiritual life, but who are in a very poor and immature condition. There is a sense in which they know the Lord Jesus Christ, but in a deeper sense they do not know Him. They are in a relationship to Him, but they are not controlled by Him. They are certainly in a position in which they are having dealings with Him; but He is not in the centre of their lives. He is not really in their hearts, He is not `dwelling' there, He has not `settled down' there, He has not `taken up His abode' there.

The letter to the church of the Laodiceans supplies us with the key to the understanding of the petition which is being offered by the Apostle Paul on behalf of the Ephesians. He thanks God for all that has happened to them; but he longs for them to realize what is yet possible for them, and especially this further intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This cannot happen until they have been strengthened by the Spirit. We have to be prepared for this, as a home has to be prepared for some great and distinguished guest. As Paul has already told them, the church is made to be, and meant to be, `a habitation of God through the Spirit', and individually they are to be habitations for Christ through the Spirit. This had not yet happened to the Ephesian Christians, but Paul desires it to happen.

The Apostle longs for this to happen to them because he himself knew exactly what it means to experience it. This is a man who is able to say in writing to the Galatians:`I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me : and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (2:20). He was in a position in which he could say without any doubt or hesitation, `I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me'. So he prays that the Ephesians may have, and may enjoy, a like experience.

We can look at Paul's petition also in terms of a passage in chapter 14 of John's Gospel. Our Lord, on the very eve of His crucifixion, turns to these men who were so wretched and unhappy and crestfallen because He has just told them that He is going to leave them, and says, `Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid' (v. 27). He says that in one sense He is going to leave them, but that in another sense He is going to come to them. Then He introduces the truth concerning the Holy Spirit and His coming, and tells them that as the result of the coming of the Spirit He Himself will come back to them, in order to `dwell' and `take up His abode' in them. He further told them, `At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you' (14:20). They did not know it at that time; so He says, `at that day' ye shall know it.

When the Lord was speaking to them they were already Christians, and so He proceeds to say to them, `Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you' (15:3). He also

differentiates between them and the world in chapter 17 when He says: `I pray for them: I pray not for the world . . .' (v. 9). They are Christians; but they do not yet realize that they are in Him and that He is in them. Or take verse 21 in that same chapter 14 of John's Gospel. The Lord is talking about the Christian man to whom the Spirit shall have come and who is keeping His commandments. He says, `I will love him and will manifest myself to him'. He emphasizes that He will not manifest Himself in that way to the world but only to the man who is already a Christian. This cannot refer to the general revelation which we have in the Scriptures because the disciples had already believed it. This is something further, as is made yet more clear when the Lord goes on in verse 23 to say, speaking of Himself and the Father, `We will come unto him and make our abode with him'. The word `abiding' is a characteristic of John's Gospel. It conveys this same idea of `settling down', `taking up permanent residence', not just occasionally being present, but being there permanently.

 

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Quite clearly, this is something entirely beyond simple believing; it is entirely beyond justification; it is entirely beyond salvation in the sense of the experience of the forgiveness of sins. We might well refer again at this point to Spurgeon's words about there being a point in the experience of the Christian which is as much above the experience of the ordinary Christian as the experience of the ordinary Christian is above the experience of the man who is not a Christian at all.

What then is the Apostle really praying for here? We must look at one other word before answering the question. The word `dwell' really conveys all, but the Apostle underlines it, as it were, by saying, `That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'. In Scripture the word `heart' generally means the very centre of the personality. It does not mean the seat of the affections only; it also includes the mind, the understanding and the will. It is therefore the very citadel of the soul. So what the Apostle desires for the Ephesians is that Christ may dwell in their minds; not only in their intellects but also in the very centre of their personalities. He was already in their minds, for they had already believed; but there is a great difference between being a believer in Christ and having Christ dwelling in your heart. Such is the distinction which Paul is clearly drawing here in the case of Ephesian Christians.

It is vitally important that we should apply this to ourselves. To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is not the end of Christianity, it is but the beginning. To believe the truth about His person and about His work is absolutely essential, and if we do not subscribe to these truths we are just not Christians at all. No man can be a Christian unless he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ in that sense. But that is not what the Apostle has in his mind here. You can have Christ in your mind and in your intellect and still not be able to say `I live, yet not I . . .' Paul's desire is that Christ may also dwell in their affections, that Christ may dwell in their will, that Christ may be the dominating factor in the whole of their life, controlling it and directing it. Christ is to be the very heart of their hearts, He is to be at the very centre of their lives.

It is here then we come into that rarefied atmosphere to which I have referred. If Christ is in your heart, then Christ has manifested Himself to you. And when Christ manifests Himself to us it is not merely a figure of speech, it is real, it is actual. It is so definite that there is no doubt at all about it. As you read the experiences of some of the saints of the past you find that they are very careful to draw this distinction. They say that there was a time when they came to believe in Him and when they had an assurance that their sins were forgiven. They knew that they were related to Him, that they were in Him, and that they had found peace and rest for their souls. They also say that for a while, sometimes for years, they thought that that was the whole of Christianity. But then they began to discover that there was something altogether vaster and greater, which they had never known at all. They came across the Lord's promise expressed in the words, `I will manifest myself to him' (John 14:21), and they began to wonder whether Christ had manifested Himself to them. They were not sure as to its meaning. They believed on Him and were aware of His general influence upon them; but this statement about His manifesting Himself to His own seemed to be such a specific statement. Then they began to realize that they had never known it.

When Christ manifests Himself to us He becomes real to us as a person. We get to know Him in a personal sense. In other words, such an experience is the fulfilment of all that the Lord promises in chapter 14 of the Gospel according to St John. Let me ask a very personal question: Do you really know the Lord Jesus Christ personally? Do you know Him as a person? As a person is He real to you? Has He manifested Himself to you in that sense? It is clear that that had happened to the Apostle Paul. Not only had he seen Him actually on the road to Damascus, not only had he had a vision later in the temple; in addition to that, and above that, he says in writing to the Galatians, `It pleased God to reveal his Son in me'. He says `in' me and not `to' me. It is an inward manifestation of the Son of God in which He is made as real to us as any other person, even more so. I cannot do anything better at this point than to quote a little verse which Hudson Taylor used to pray for himself every day of his life:

 

Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me

A living, bright Reality;

More present to faith's vision keen

Than any outward object seen;

More dear, more intimately nigh

Than e'en the sweetest earthly tie.

 

This is what the Apostle was praying on behalf of the Ephesians. He seems to say: I know that you are Christians, I know that there is a sense in which Christ is in you, for you cannot be Christians without being united with Him as your Head, I know that you are in Him and that He is in you; but beyond that, do you know Him? Is Christ Himself at the centre of your life; is He actually real to you and known to you? Or is He someone who is vaguely in the distance, someone whom you approach only in terms of belief? Has he really manifested Himself to you?

There is a further element in Paul's statement which makes this exposition still more sure. The tense of the verb which he uses in connection with `dwelling' is the aorist, which carries the meaning of something that happens once and for ever. Here, therefore, he is praying for a specific and not merely for a general blessing upon the Ephesians, a blessing which leads a man to say: `Up to this moment I have not really known Christ personally, but now He has manifested Himself to me and I know Him. He has become real and living to me. It is a supreme moment of my life.' It is not a question of visions or of trances, but of a spiritual knowing of Christ. The Holy Spirit brings Him to us, and through the Spirit He manifests Himself so that He becomes real and living and true to us. In his great hymn J. Caspar Lavater prays for this very thing when he asks, `O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me, And all things else recede'. In a later verse he prays that Jesus Christ may become more real, more dear, the passion of his soul. That only becomes true when one has this personal knowledge Of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This, in turn, leads to a conscious sense of fellowship with the Lord and an enjoyment of Him. Do we know what it is to enjoy a conscious fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Let us be clear about this; you can be a Christian without it. Thank God for that! You can be a Christian without enjoying conscious fellowship with Him. You can be in the position in which you are relying upon Him, relying upon His perfect work on your behalf, and you can even be praying to Him, and yet not have a conscious fellowship, a conscious realization of His nearness and a conscious enjoyment of Him. That is what the Apostle desires for these Ephesians, `That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'. And when this is true, of course, He obviously controls everything in our lives.

We can sum it up by repeating words used by the Apostle Paul elsewhere. It is when Christ is thus known to us, and in our hearts, that we can say honestly and truthfully, `I live, yet not I' (Galatians 2:20), and `I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me' (Phil 4:13). The Apostle is not boasting when he writes such things. There is always the danger when we read his epistles that we may regard him as some literary man who indulges in hyperbole. But that is not the case. When the Apostle uses these phrases he is being strictly accurate, he is stating his experience, it was all true of him. He knew the Lord Jesus Christ so well that he can say, `I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me' and `I know both how to be abased and how to abound' (Phil 4:12), how to be rich and how to be poor. It does not matter what happens, says Paul, as long as He is with me He strengthens me, and I can do everything. I am not alone. This is indeed most elevated doctrine.

But we must go one step further. This presence of Christ in the heart is something real. It does not only mean that He is present through the Spirit, or present in the sense that He is influencing us in a general manner, and giving us graces and enabling us to feel certain of His influence. It goes beyond that. It means that He Himself in some mystical sense that we cannot begin to understand really does dwell in us. This is what the Apostle has in mind when he reprimands the Corinthian Christians for being guilty of certain bodily sins of the flesh, and says: `Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?' (1 Cor 6:19). This not only means that the Holy Spirit is influencing us generally. When Paul says `body' he means `body', flesh and bones and sinews; he means our physical frame. This refers, not to His influence, but to the fact that He Himself is in you. That is why to sin with your body is so serious; and it is in this way that the Christian should face sin. He is not only to look at the particular sin and confess that he has done wrong and should not have done so; the Apostle teaches that we have to realize that the Holy Spirit is resident in our bodies and that we are not to use the temple of the Holy Ghost in an unworthy manner.

Similarly, as the Holy Ghost dwells in our bodies, the Lord Jesus Christ enters in the same manner. He is standing and knocking at the door of the heart of the Christian who does not know Him, and He says in effect, I would like you to know me. If you but open that door I will come in and I will manifest myself to you, and I will sit down, and I will sup with you and you with me. You will then know Me with an intimacy that you have never yet experienced. I will come into you, and I will dwell within you. It is as real as that!

We must note that all this becomes possible by faith---`That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'. `By faith' means that it is faith that reveals this possibility to us. Had you realized that this was a possibility for you? It is possible for us to read the Scriptures with much intellectual understanding, but without faith it is possible to read over these great words without understanding their real meaning. You may have read this third chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians and many times have said 'Marvelous! Wonderful! How eloquent the Apostle is!' But had you realized that it means that Christ will come right into your heart and that you will know Him in a living and in a real sense? It is faith which reveals this possibility to us.

It is likewise faith also that enables us to believe that the indwelling of Christ in the heart is a reality and not just a phrase. The man who lacks faith will never believe it. I can imagine a man hearing or reading this and saying, `What is all this about? I really have no idea what the Apostle has been talking about. It seems to be up in the clouds somewhere. I am a practical man, and I have to fight against temptation and sin, and I am living in a world in which I am surrounded by problems---what is all this?' A man who speaks in that way is saying that he has not got faith; in consequence he will never know this truth, for it is known `by faith'. Faith reveals it as a reality.

I can take the matter still further. Faith reveals it as a reality for me personally. Faith enables you to say to yourself as you read it, or as you hear it, That is God's word, which says that it is possible to any Christian, to all Christians; well therefore, it is possible for me. It is possible for me to know the Lord Jesus Christ in this intimate manner. Faith lays hold upon the promise, personally and individually. It is faith alone that enables a man to believe God's word, to accept it fully, and to rely upon it. And after coming to believe it he then begins to pray for it. The Apostle himself believing it, and experiencing it, was praying without ceasing for the Ephesian Christians. He `bows his knees' before the Father and he prays that they may be strengthened in order that this may happen to them. And if you and I believe it we shall begin to pray this for ourselves from this moment. We shall say, I do not know Christ in that intimate manner, and I want so to know Him. I believe it is possible, and I am going to ask for it. So you go to God in faith, with confidence, with boldness, and with assurance, and you say `I know that this does not depend upon me, but I pray that YOU would strengthen me with might by the Spirit in my inner man, that I may get this knowledge, that Christ may manifest Himself to me. I want to know Him, I want Him to live in my life and to control the whole of my being'.

So you begin to pray, and you go on praying thus in faith until some marvellous moment comes and suddenly you find yourself knowing Christ. He will have manifested Himself to you, He will have taken up His abode in you, and settled down in your heart. And you will say with amazement: How could I have spent so many years being satisfied with the mere beginnings of Christianity, the mere portals of the temple, when it was so wondrously and gloriously possible for me to enter into `the Holiest of all'?

 

O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me,

And all things else recede;

My heart be daily nearer Thee

From sin be daily freed.

 

Each day let Thy supporting might

My weakness still embrace;

My darkness vanish in Thy light,

Thy life my death efface.

 

More of Thy glory let me see,

Thou Holy, Wise, and True!

I would Thy living image be,

In joy and sorrow too.

 

Make this poor self grow less and less,

Be Thou my life and aim;

Oh, make me daily, through Thy grace,

More meet to bear Thy Name!

(Johann Caspar Lavater) [142-153]

 

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