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         What Does It Mean 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; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,'

Ephesians 3:17

 

We continue our study of the seventeenth verse---the petition which the Apostle offers for the Ephesian Christians---`That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'. So far we have considered it in general. We must now look at it in a more practical sense. Beyond any question we are dealing here with the greatest truth which can ever confront a human being. Here we are shown the possibilities for a Christian in this present life in this world of time. This is true. I repeat that I am not saying that you cannot be a Christian without being in this position; I am saying, rather, we are very poor Christians unless we know something about it. This is what we are meant to be, this is what is possible for us. Surely, therefore, nothing is more important for us than to know how we may arrive at this position, and at the same time know whether Christ does actually dwell in us, and how we may be enabled to enjoy this supreme privilege and greatest source of joy.

Let us remind ourselves of what this means in order to whet our appetites and stimulate our desire for it. For we are not dealing with a purely theological matter here, but with something which has been a realized fact in the life of large numbers of God's people in all ages and places, and often in spite of theological differences. As we have already seen, there is a common testimony to this great experience of Christ in the heart. Let us take as a further example and illustration the testimony found in one of Charles Wesley's hymns:

 

Thou hidden Source of calm repose:

Thou all-sufficient Love divine;

My help and refuge from my foes,

Secure I am if Thou art mine:

And lo! from sin and grief and shame

I hide me, Jesus, in Thy Name.

 

Thy mighty Name salvation is,

And keeps my happy soul above;

Comfort it brings, and power, and peace,

And joy and everlasting love:

To me, with Thy dear Name are given

Pardon, and holiness, and heaven.

 

Jesus, my All in all Thou art,

My rest in toil, mine ease in pain,

The medicine of my broken heart;

In war my peace, in loss my gain;

My smile beneath the tyrant's frown;

In shame, my glory and my crown:

 

In want, my plentiful supply;

In weakness, mine almighty power;

In bonds, my perfect liberty;

My light in Satan's darkest hour;

My help and stay whene'er I call;

My life in death, my heaven, my All!

 

I ask a simple and obvious question, Is this your experience? Can you adopt these words and use them? Does Christ mean this to you? That is what happens when Christ dwells in the heart. Observe the intimacy of the relationship, the fulness of the satisfaction. Christ is his `All in all', his everything, whatever the circumstances and conditions. This is experimental, experiential; it is not held in the mind only; it is not theory. Charles Wesley found his complete satisfaction in Christ. He had proved the truth of the words spoken by our Lord Himself when He said that if any man came to Him he would `never hunger', if any man believed in Him he would `never thirst'. He had within him `a well of water springing up into everlasting life'.

I repeat that this is essential Christianity. It is what we are offered, and it is to the extent that we know this experience and can testify to it that we are likely to attract others to the Christian faith. Non-Christian people are entitled to watch and observe us, and they do so. We make the tremendous claim that God has done something unique, that He has sent His only Son into the world. We believe in the Incarnation, in the power of the Spirit; but what does it lead to in practice? And if as Christian people we appear to be miserable, if in times of stress and strain we seem to have no consolation or reserves to fall back on, the world is fully entitled to ask, What is the value of your Christianity? what is there in it after all? In an age such as this, when the hearts of so many people are failing for fear, they tend to look at us. So not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of God and His glorious salvation, for the sake of the Son of God who came and endured so much that we might come to this position, it behoves us to be able to testify to this great fact of Christ dwelling in our hearts from day to day.

 

              *    *    *

 

We come, then, to this most practical and essential question: How does this become possible? How may the longings of those who say that they would give the whole world if they could but use those words of Charles Wesley honestly be satisfied? The Apostle answers, `By faith'---`That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith', or, `through faith'. This phrase is one which is frequently misunderstood. We can consider it in terms of the picture to which we referred earlier, in Revelation 3:20, where Christ 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'. What is meant by `opening the door'? and how is it related to faith?

To answer these questions in a practical manner we must start with verse 16; `That he (the Father) would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man'. This is something of which no man in and of himself is capable. But at this point the danger arises of thinking that, because of this emphasis and stress upon the primary work of the Holy Spirit, we simply have to remain passive and wait for something to happen to us. But that is an entire fallacy. The truth about this matter is expressed once and for ever in the Epistle to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 12 and 13, where the Apostle says, `Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure'. There we have the right balance and the right sequence. The Apostle starts with an exhortation, almost a command: `Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling'. There is the imperative; there is something you and I have to do. But immediately he adds, `For it is God which worketh in you'. Though the order there is the reverse of what we have here in Ephesians 3:16 it is saying the same thing. Were it not for the fact that God `works in us both to will and to do', we could never do anything at all. Our wills, as we have seen, need to be stimulated and to be strengthened; we need the power. And it is because God `works in us both to will and to do' that we can `work out our own salvation with fear and trembling'. Verse 16 does not therefore teach any kind of passivity in which we simply wait and do nothing.

Next, the Apostle goes on to say that this is something which happens `by faith'. What does that mean exactly? Once more we come across a type of teaching which has caused many to stumble and has kept them from the living experience we are considering. `By faith' does not mean (I use the current phrase) `take it by faith', to which we have already referred briefly. This teaches, concerning this or any other experience in the Christian life, that it is `quite simple', you `just take it by faith'; you just `open the door to Christ', and He is in your heart immediately. Though you may feel nothing at all, you must convince yourself that because the Word says that if you open the door He will enter in, therefore, if you have opened the door, He must have entered! That you feel nothing is quite immaterial; they say you must go on `reckoning' and assuming that He has entered because He says He will do so.

Such teaching is completely wrong. No teaching is so calculated to rob us of the most exalted experiences in the Christian life; and for this reason, that it is nothing but a form of self persuasion, the putting into practice of the psychological principle of auto-suggestion. What makes it particularly wrong in this connection is that we are not dealing here with an influence, but with a Person: `that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'. When Charles Wesley wrote the hymn we have quoted, he was not persuading himself, but writing his experience of what Christ actually was to him. He does not say that he had no feelings whatsoever, that he was left to himself, and had to persuade himself that these things are so, and `take them by faith'; what he says is that Christ is the medicine of his broken heart, his perfect liberty when in bonds. It was a matter of experience. He was not persuading himself of something, he was experiencing this something. And that, as we have seen, has always been the experience of God's people. It is not something which you have to assume or to take for granted, and then continue on your journey in blind faith. Thank God it is not such; it is a reality, a living reality. The Apostle Paul is not speaking in hyperbole when he says, `To me to live is Christ'; it was true of him. And when he says, `I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me', he was stating a fact in his experience.

We must therefore reject the teaching which talks about `taking it by faith'. In any case, there is nothing which is so misleading as to say that it is `quite simple'. Advocates of this false teaching often use a particular illustration. They ask us to think of a room with drawn blinds, which as a consequence is in a state of darkness, although there is brilliant sunshine outside. They say, `All you have to do is to let up the blinds, and the sunshine will come streaming in. It is as simple as that!' Such teaching leaves many people in perplexity because they say that they have been trying to practise this advice for years. They have believed that it is quite simple', but somehow it does not seem to happen and they still have not had this experience. But faith is not `simple' in that sense; it is not auto-suggestion, or some kind of 'believism'. Faith is much More active. If you read the biographies of God's people who have known what it is to have Christ in their hearts by faith, you will find that not one of them says that it is `quite simple'; on the contrary you will find that many of them, indeed most of them, have known a long process of seeking and of

searching, of becoming almost desperate and of almost giving up in despair. But they have continued in the quest, they have sought and they have struggled, and at last they have become aware that Christ is in truth and in fact dwelling within them.

 

*    *    *

 

Let us turn to the positive answer to the question of what is meant by this expression `by faith'? We cannot do better than take the description we are given in chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews, a chapter written in order to give us an account and a description of what the life of faith really is. It is not a passive state, we shall find, but primarily and essentially an activity; and the author of that Epistle sums it up for us in one verse: `These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth' (Hebrew 11:13). In the light of this definition of faith we can now discover the true meaning of the words: `That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'.

The first principle involved is that I must `see' this---`having seen the promises afar off'. In other words I must recognize the teaching, and not read it superficially. I must be arrested by it. The men depicted in that eleventh chapter of Hebrews were living their lives in this world, even as you and I are doing, and a message came to them of something very different, something spiritual, something from God. And these men of faith `saw' it. Most of their contemporaries did not see it, in fact they ridiculed it. Take a man like Noah, for instance. He heard the message that God was about to destroy the world by a flood. He `saw' that message; and he did something about it. His fellow-men and women did not, they ridiculed him for building his ark. They laughed at him with scorn and derision; the thing seemed to them to be monstrous.

What differentiates the Christian from all others, in the first instance, is that he `sees' something. So the vital question for us as we consider the possibility of Christ dwelling in the heart is: Do we see this possibility? Or are we inclined to think that it is some kind of mysticism or enthusiasm or fanaticism? `I believe in being a Christian', says a certain type of believer, `and I believe in holding to the Christian truth in general in my mind, and leading a good life; but you are now leading us, surely, into a dangerous realm, where strange things may happen to us'. Indeed I am! I am directing you into the realm of the great heroes of the faith. I am leading you into the realm in which the Apostle Paul, and the other apostles, and the first Christians lived. Unless we see this as a concrete reality, obviously we shall never know it or experience it.

But not only did these people see these things, they were 'persuaded' of them. This must be emphasized, because many, when they read this passage and begin to get some understanding of it and to `see' it, go no further, for they reason as follows. They recognize the type of experience described, and grant that it can be demonstrated out of the Scriptures and the hymn books, and that it has certainly been true of many Christians. But they wonder whether this is only true of rather exceptional people. And does it not depend finally upon one's make up? Some people are naturally mystical, while others are more stolid, more ordinary, more of the mundane type. Is not this experience solely for a certain type of person? There are many who think and argue in that fashion. The devil has come and has suggested to them that this is a perfectly genuine experience, of course, but it was never meant for everybody.

But difficulties may take yet another form. One may say: Of course, this is a very wonderful experience and I enjoy hearing and reading about it; but it is obviously not meant for me; I am a business man and am concerned with the affairs of this life. Or, I am a professional man and am extremely busy. I can see quite clearly that if I had nothing else to do but to spend my days in study, concentrating upon the Christian life, or if I became a monk or a hermit or an anchorite, and could really give myself to the pursuit of this matter, I have no doubt that it would be possible for me. But I am immersed in business affairs and many pressing problems; surely this experience is quite impossible for me?

The simple answer to this plea is that the Apostle Paul regarded it as a possibility for every one of the members of the Christian Church in Ephesus. These early Christians, at least the majority of them, were slaves, not their own masters at all, and were forced to work and to labour and to sweat. They often lacked education and knowledge and culture, and were immersed in the most sordid details of life. Yet the Apostle maintains that this is possible for them.

So it is essential that we should be persuaded about this truth. If you evade it by pleading that your position or your circumstances are such that it is not possible for you, of course you will never know it. But to do so is utterly unscriptural. You are denying the Apostle's teaching, and not only so, you are denying Christian experience in the Church throughout the centuries. . . .  According to the New Testament every individual Christian is a saint. All the members of the Church at Corinth were `called to be saints', and are regarded as saints by the Apostle. So we must be persuaded by the teaching that this experience is possible for every one of us. As we all enjoy the same salvation by the blood of Christ, and are given the same gift of life, and are meant to experience and to live the same life, to die in the same knowledge of the resurrection, and to go to the same heaven, so we are all meant to enter into this experience. And it is a sheer fact of history that the most ordinary kind of individual has had this blessed experience and has been able to testify to it. It is not confined to outstanding people; it has been the experience of the most ordinary as well as the extraordinary people, because finally it does not depend upon anything in us but upon the Lord Himself. What we have to do is to believe in it, to see it, and to be persuaded of it. If we are not persuaded of it as a possibility for us, obviously we shall not seek it.

The next term in Hebrews 11:13 states that believers embraced the promises. Each term takes us a step further. The moment these people were persuaded of the promises they desired to lay hold of them; they began earnestly to desire their fulfilment. Now this is what our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, in one of the Beatitudes, as recorded in Matthew's Gospel; `Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled' (5:6). Embracing the promises means hungering and thirsting after them. Being persuaded that they were intended for themselves, they now begin to hunger and thirst for them and then to lay hold of them.

The logic of this argument is familiar to us in ordinary life. Are we too busy to be persuaded of, and to embrace, things that we desire in life in this world? Have we no time to cultivate our interests and our tastes? Does a business man or a professional man who tells us that he is too busy to seek Christ in this way also tell us that he is too busy to seek a wife? In that respect he is able to find time indeed, he `makes' time. We must act likewise with this possibility in the Christian life. We must `embrace' it. An excellent statement of this is found in a hymn by Gerhard Tersteegen, a saintly eighteenth-century Prussian (though with Dutch associations), who had himself experienced these things. He had not only `seen' this, he was persuaded of it, and he embraced it.

 

Thou hidden Love of God, whose height,

Whose depth unfathomed, no man knows,

I see from far Thy beauteous light,

Inwardly I sigh for Thy repose;

My heart is pained, nor can it be

At rest, till it finds rest in Thee.

 

He had not only seen it as an intellectual possibility, it had become a spiritual reality to him. He continues:

 

'Tis mercy all, that Thou hast brought

My mind to seek her peace in Thee;

Yet, while I seek but find Thee not,

No peace my wandering soul shall see;

O when shall all my wanderings end,

And all my steps to Thee-ward tend?

 

Have we seen the possibility? Do we desire it? Have we sought it, and have we felt that while we cannot find it there is no peace? Have we seen it so clearly that we can say that we shall never be happy again until we have it? Tersteegen did not find it `very simple', he did not say that it was just a matter of lifting up the window-blind! There is no glibness about this; the people who have experienced this have never been glib. I repeat what I have often felt and said, that there are many people today who have taken so much by faith that they have nothing. Tersteegen had to struggle; he sought, he felt it seemed to be eluding him, and then he cries out in the agony of his soul---`O when shall all my wanderings end?' Have you sought Him in that way? Have you tried to embrace the promise in that particular manner?

The next term in Hebrews 11:13, is a vitally important one. They `confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth'. This is the point at which they began to act. If we fail to act on what we have embraced, all is in vain. There are certain things which we have to do if this is to become a fact in our experience. In the case of the mighty men of faith referred to in Hebrews chapter 11, we find that their whole life and outlook was determined by this and was controlled by it. The story of each one of those men emphasizes this as their chief characteristic. When Abraham embraced this promise he left his country and went out, `not knowing whither he went'. He confessed, he acted, his whole life became a testimony to the reality of God. When Noah saw it he separated himself from others and began to build the ark. Once we see this, and are persuaded of it, and embrace it, this becomes the controlling motive of our life and the centre of our being. To desire Christ in the heart makes us ready to give up everything until we have Him.

 

*    *    *

 

To this end, the first practical step we have to take is to keep this matter constantly in our minds. You may have been attracted by the possibility many times; the hymns you have read and sung may have caused you to desire it. But how difficult it is to keep this feeling and desire in the mind! The only way to do so is to read your Bible, and especially passages such as this and similar ones, and then to meditate upon it, to think about it frequently and deliberately cause your mind to turn to it. Another invaluable practice is to read the experiences of the saints, as we have it in our hymn books and in the biographies of saintly men of God. Observe how they sought it, and what they did about it. And as you do so you will be keeping it before your mind. We have to do this deliberately, and to be ruthless with ourselves.

Above all we have to remind ourselves constantly that a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is involved. That is quite central. We are not dealing with some `It', or some experience as such; we are talking about Him, Christ in the heart, and the experience which flows out of an intimacy with Him. We therefore have to ask ourselves deliberately whether Jesus Christ is real to us. We believe on Him, we have accepted the Christian faith; but do we know Him in this sense? can we speak of Him as Charles Wesley has done? You have to keep on questioning yourself and holding the Lord's Person before you. That is the first and the most important matter.

The next thing we have to realize is that certain things are quite incompatible with this experience. If Christ is in our hearts then certain other things must not be, and cannot be, in our hearts. A very clear statement on this aspect of the experience is found in 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, where we read: `. . . what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Be1ia1? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people' (vv. 14-16). There is no need to argue about this. Certain things are incompatibles. There is no concord between Christ and Belial. If Christ is in my heart there are certain things that have to go out of my heart. He will not dwell with them. He is the Son of God; He is holy and sinless.

If then we truly seek this experience and embrace it, we have to take action in this respect. `Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world', says the Apostle John in his First Epistle (2: 15). You cannot have the love of the Father and the love of the world at the same time. Therefore, if you want Christ in your heart, get rid of the world and its mind and its outlook and its actions and its behaviour. But having got rid of them, you will find that another enemy still remains, and he is the most subtle of all, namely, self. If you get rid of all other objectionable things in your own strength, you will end by praising yourself, and will become proud of yourself and your holiness. Christ and sinful self cannot dwell in the heart at one and the same time. If He is to occupy I must abdicate. Here again we are aware of a danger to which many of the saints have testified. Let us take an example out of the experience of a French Protestant saint, Theodore Monod:

 

O the bitter shame and sorrow,

That a time could ever be,

When I let the Saviour's pity

Plead in vain, and proudly answered:

`All of self, and none of Thee!'

 

Yet He found me: I beheld Him

Bleeding on the accursed tree,

Heard Him pray: 'Forgive them, Father!'

And my wistful heart said faintly:

`Some of self, and some of Thee!'

 

Even after he had become a Christian and had ceased to say, `All of self, and none of Thee', there was a stage in which he said, `Some of self, and some of Thee!'

But he continues----

 

Day by day, His tender mercy,

Healing, helping, full and free,

Sweet and strong, and ah! so patient,

Brought me lower, while I whispered:

`Less of self, and more of Thee!'

 

Then he reaches the pinnacle:

 

Higher than the highest heaven,

Deeper than the deepest sea,

Lord, Thy love at last hath conquered;

Grant me now my supplication:

`None of self, and all of Thee!'

 

Do we know something about these stages? Do we know the subtlety of the devil? It has to be either Christ or self. While you and I are in control of our lives Christ is not in control; so not only do evil things have to go out, self must go out as well.

But we must not only recognize that all this is true, we must proceed to act on it. `Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing'. It is not `quite simple', is it? It is not simply a case of letting up the blinds. No! you have to be very active. `Touch not the unclean thing'. It is then that the promise comes, `And I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty'. It is not surprising that in 2 Corinthians 7:1 the Apostle argues, `Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God'. The Spirit is already strengthening us with might by His power in the inner man, and it is because He does so that we have got to do these things. If you truly desire Christ in your heart then you have to put this exhortation into practice. There is no other way. `If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me' (Matt 16:24). `They that are Christ's', says Paul, `have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts' (Gal 5:24).

Then the next step is the step of prayer. We must realize our utter dependence upon the Lord. If you think that mutilating the body or mortifying the flesh, or doing various other things which some of the mystics have done erroneously, are going to lead to this desired end, automatically, you are greatly mistaken. We must heed the exhortation, `Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling'; but we must also realize our utter dependence upon Him. I come back again to Tersteegen. Having realized what he needs and having failed to find it, he continues:

 

Is there a thing beneath the sun

That strives with Thee my heart to share?

Ah, tear it thence, and reign alone,

The Lord of every motion there!

Then shall my heart from earth be free,

When it hath found repose in Thee.

 

O Love, Thy sovereign aid impart

To save me from low-thoughted care;

Chase this self-will through all my heart,

Through all its latent mazes there:

Make me Thy duteous child, that I

Ceaseless may 'Abba, Father' cry!

 

Each moment draw from earth away

My heart that lowly waits Thy call;

Speak to my inmost soul, and say,

`I am thy Love, thy God, thy All!'

To feel Thy power, to hear Thy voice,

To taste Thy love, be all my choice.

 

Do you pray in this way to the Lord? This is the prayer of a man who is truly embracing these things and confessing them. He spends his time in talking to Christ, in asking Him to come. He tries to cleanse and to purify himself but he realizes that he needs the strength that Christ alone can give. So he pleads for it, he yearns for it, he asks Him for it. Prayer is essential.

Finally there must be perseverance. We must continue and persist. There will be many discouragements. You may well feel much worse than you did before. You may find things in your own heart such as you had never imagined were there. You may feel that you are going further from God. But go on, continue, persevere. It is His process, He is leading you on. And we have His definite promise and assurance, `Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out' (John 6:37). This is His desire for us. But, knowing us as He does, He knows that those other things have to take place first. Thus it generally happens that the first step in the coming of this experience of `Christ in the heart' is that we are given a vision of the blackness of our hearts, the horror of self, and of the self-seeking life which daunts us and makes us feel utterly desperate. But that is precisely what He wants us to feel. It is only when we are utterly desperate, and feel quite hopeless, that we look to Him and realize our need of the strengthening of the Spirit in the inner man, and pray for it as we have never prayed before. And God answers our prayer, and the Holy Spirit so strengthens us, and works in us, and so moves in us, that we are able `to will and to do', and to prepare the place for the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts. Then He will fulfil His own promise: I will manifest Myself to you; I will come and take up My abode in you; I and the Father will dwell in you. [167-180]

 

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