Some of you have felt it. It’s frustrating; it’s bewildering; it’s a transparent moment when the truth dawns and the answer is not at all what you had expected. It happened to me behind a lawn mower. O it had happened before and it has certainly happened since. This time just sticks out in my mind.
Since I wasn’t old enough to drive (but old enough to cut grass) my father had taken me over to the church to mow the lawn. Now he wasn’t being cruel; I got paid $5 to do it. Big money for me back then. But this wasn’t just any drive. On the way he had a little discussion with me about my attitude and my behavior. He pulled his trump card on me; the thing he always used to get me. I don’t know exactly how he said it, but the gist of it was that a Christian should not have the kind of attitude I had been having.
Well, how do you answer that? I had to admit in my own heart that he was right, but I also knew that he didn’t know the pressure and the temptation I had been dealing with. I didn’t dare tell him either because I didn’t want to invite even more scrutiny, but as we arrived and started unloading the lawn mower, I remember looking at him and making this statement. It was that transparent moment of frustration and bewilderment I mentioned. From the bottom of my heart I meant it. I looked at him and said, “When it comes to the Christian life, Dad, I just can’t live it.”
Have you ever felt that way? I would dare say that every person sitting in this room who has genuinely tried to live for God has been there. After a real effort, you have been to that frustrating place where you discover, “I just can’t live it.”
Some of you may be saying that today. You feel like your Christian life is nothing but a failure. If that’s you, can I just tell you that “I just can’t live it” people usually fall into one of three groups.
There are those who “just can’t live it” because they have no desire to live it. Their desire is non-existent. To them, the Christian life is a big question mark. While they may somewhat admire people who call themselves Christians and live it, they walk away from their conversations with them scratching their heads and asking one question: “Why are these people putting themselves through all this? What’s the point of trying to live so “perfectly.” While I admire their consistency, I have to question their sanity.” If that’s you this morning, I am concerned. You see, one characteristic of someone who is on their way to heaven is this: They want to live like they belong in Heaven. They may not always get there, but they desire it to be so. If you really don’t have any desire to “live it,” there’s probably a real good reason. You’re not alive. You’ve never experienced the new birth.
And then there are those of us who have some desire this morning, but we lack it in some very key areas. For instance, they may know that God wants them to study His Word and spend a significant time in prayer, but they don’t do it and, as much as they may say it is, it isn’t because they don’t have time. It’s that they really don’t want to do it. They may be saved, but their desire is very weak.
Now that’s where some of us are this morning, but certainly not all of us. The majority of us are believers and we do have a desire to “live it.” But between our desire and our life is huge gap that seems unbridgeable. We echo the Apostle Paul when he said in Romans 7:19–20 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. We have a desire, but we lack the ability to carry out that desire. We just can’t live it because we have not appropriated God’s ability to live it
Now here’s what I know about you, regardless of the category within which you fit. If you are living beneath the holiness to which God has called you, you lack joy. But I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. You’ve sensed the lack of real joy in your life and you already know that you are often walking around in spiritual failure. What you need isn’t as much diagnosis as treatment. I want to tell you the answer this morning. You need grace.
Now as soon as I say that, you may be disappointed. You might have thought that I was about to offer some innovative solution that you haven’t thought of yet. But . . .Grace? Really? Isn’t that what you receive in your salvation?
Well, yes that is a part of the concept of grace, but the concept goes much deeper than this. Strongs dictionary defines it like this: the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life. Someone else has defined it as God’s “enabling desire.” As Life Action puts it, Grace is the dynamic quality of God that gives us the desire and the power to obey.
Now may I ask you, if you are one of those joyless, “I can’t live it” Christians, isn’t this what you need? You need the desire and the power to obey. Our question, then becomes, how? How do we receive the desire and the power to obey God.
I think that our text has part of the answer. Ephesians 3:14 begins:
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
You see, whatever the reason for your failure, there is a process by which a Christian can receive both the desire and the power to obey God. It is a product of Grace and it follows a process. In fact, “process” is a good word to describe what happens in the life of a “next level” Christian. There is a process of change that transforms tired “I just can’t live it” Christians into next level believers, and if your life is to change, you must embrace that process. In verses 16 and 17 this process is described and you can break that process down into 3 steps that every believer must take if they are to allow God to work that process in them. The first step is this: You can embrace this process of change if you
DIVISION 1: REALIZE THE PLACE OF THE PROCESS.
Paul is very clear in describing that place for us. Notice in v. 16 he says that he is praying that God would strengthen them “in the inner man.” You may say, “Well, Paul may have been clear about the place of this process, but what in the world does he mean when he says “inner man?” Well, some would call this inner man the “soul” of man. It is that part of us that is conscious of a reality that is hidden from our natural, “outer” senses. It is that part of us that senses the eternal when we see a beautiful sunset, or seems to breathe a little more deeply when it hears a bubbling brook.
Martin Lloyd Jones, speaking of this passage, describes the inner man as the connecting point between the mind, the will, and the heart. And when Paul prays that the inner man be strengthened, he is actually praying a prayer for all three of these areas. He says that the mind needs to be strengthened because we are constantly assailed by doubts and fears by our enemy, the devil. It is also true because the unsearchable riches of Christ can never be comprehended without divine help.
He goes on to say that the heart needs to be strengthened: In our own power, the fears that beset us and the circumstances we encounter will cause us to imagine or even plan all kinds of escape or evil in our hearts. We are fatally vulnerable if God does not strengthen our inner man.
This strength affects the mind and the emotions, and it also affects the will. The very minute we are honest with ourselves, we discover that when it comes to saying yes to righteousness and no to evil, we are weak indeed! Furthermore, we find that the more we try to make ourselves strong enough to do right, the harder it seems to become. “I cannot make myself strong. I cannot put this ‘iron’ into the walls of my soul; no matter what I do I fail. But Paul is promising that, in the middle of this struggle, God is strong, and He can “ . . . strengthen us in the inner man.” The inner man is the place of this process.
Wow, Rusty, you may be saying, you’re starting to sound like Dr. Phil. What’s all this “inner man” stuff about? It sounds like a lot of psychological gobbledygook to me.
And that’s exactly why you’re failing in your Christian life! See, until you realize the place of the process you’ll end up fighting the wrong battles and constantly loosing! Until you know that the struggle is in the inner man, you will engage the wrong enemy. Until you see that the war is fought on the inner man battlefield, you’ll waste a lot of your life futilely struggling to make your outside sing a tune your inside isn’t playing. As long as you think that your drug problem, or your marriage difficulty, or your conflict at work is “out there” and not “in here”, that thought is the problem. And many people waste their lives foolishly seeking change in the wrong place.
Ok. Men, its time to be honest. You’re walking out the door to go to work and, as you leave, you reach into your pocket for your keys. They aren’t there! What is the very first thing you do? Start to look for them? O no! That would be too logical and it would require too much effort. If you are married, what do you do? That’s right, ask your wife!
Some time ago that happened to me. Only I wasn’t looking for my keys, I was looking for my shades. Well, lucky for me, I wasn’t around Kathy. She was gone somewhere, or maybe I was at the church, I don’t remember, but I couldn’t ask her where they were. Well, you know what that meant, don’t you? Yep. Had to actually look for them myself. So, I did. I looked through the office. Looked in my desk drawer. I looked all around the room, and even walked around a little bit looking for them. Finally I gave up on them being around my office and went out to look for them. I’m digging through the glove compartnment, in the little tray under the radio. I looked under the seat and in the trunk. Finally, in digust, I climbed in the front seat and gave up thinking, “Why isn’t that Kathy around when I need her?” Then I looked up in the rear view mirror and busted out laughing. I found my glasses. Know where they were (Put your glasses on the top of your head and point.)
Hey, Christian, many of us “look for our shades” all our lives, spiritually speaking. We go to conferences. We join accountability groups. We try to conform to some formula or some rules to make ourselves holy. We’ll even change jobs, thinking that if we just get ourselves in a better environment, surely things will turn around, but nothing works. Why not? Because the problem isn’t “out there”, its in here. The battle is in the inner man.
Now that truth has some significant consequences. For one thing, since the struggle is in the inner man, you can hide it. All of us can look at you and think, “Wow what a great Christian!” when really, you are rotten to the core. That’s what Jesus said to the Pharisees when he told them in Luke 11 that they were like graves that men walk over and don’t even know they are there. What a picture! How is that possible? It’s possible because you can put on a good front! You can smile when you have absolute hatred in your heart! You can piously bow your head for prayer when you are in inward rebellion. Since the struggle is in the inner man, you can hide it.
O you can hide this inner struggle, but until you address the inner struggle you won’t change. See, rules won’t change this inner man. That’s one reason I so despise legalism. It isn’t just because it is rigid and judgmental. Its because it is misfocused. You see, people can outwardly conform and have nothing of the blessing or the power of God on their lives. They go to a church where every one dresses a certain way and listens to the same radio station and the social pressure alone may be enough to conform them outwardly, but they’ve not been touched on the inside
Which just leads me to the last conclusion you can draw from this truth. Since the struggle is in the inner man, not only can you hide it and not only will rules not change it, Also, will power won’t fix it. See that inner man is a part of you that you cannot control. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it.” You can’t even fully know your inner man, much less control it. The only way to win this battle for the inner man is to have outside help. And that’s why, if you want to make the kind of inside changes that take you to the “next level,” you can
DIVISION 2: REQUEST THE POWER FOR THE PROCESS
That’s what the Apostle Paul is doing here. He is praying that they will be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” That phrase tells us three things about how this power comes into our lives. He talks first of the chang-er. That is he tells us the one who initiates the change. That is implied in that verb “to be strengthened”. The verb is passive, which just means that the action is something that is done to us, not something we do. This “strengthening” is something that comes to us from the outside, and the source of this change is God.
But then he describes the change itself. He asks that we be strengthened “with might in the inner man.” He tells us that what we need is spiritual supernatural power. We need an ability that we didn’t have before that comes into us. We used to look at the Christian life and say “I Can’t.” I can’t control my temper; I can’t discipline my time; I can’t study God’s Word; I can’t apologize to the person I harmed; I can’t step out in faith and obey God.” In short, “I can’t live it.” Here’s the change: Paul says that when God answers our prayer and sends His might into our inner man, Our “I can’ts” become “He can’s!”
But that still doesn’t answer the how question: How does God go about strengthening our “inner man?” See, the chang-er is God, the change is power and the change-agent is the Holy Spirit. That’s the how! We pray for strengthening, God sends His Spirit to invade our hearts and we are strengthened in the inner man. Over in Ephesians 5:18 Paul sheds more light on how this happens when he commands the Ephesians not to be “drunk with wine,” but “to be filled with HisSpirit.”
What does that look like? What does it mean? Is it even possible? Well, better men than me have have answered a resounding “Yes!” (And, as far as I know, none of them would have been considered charismatic). In fact some of them would surprise you:
For instance, C. H. Spurgeon once said, “There is a point in grace as much above the ordinary Christian as the ordinary Christian is above the worldling.” In other words, there is a stage in the growth of a Christian in which if he becomes so full of the Holy Spirit that if you held him up beside someone who was an immature believer, that there would be as much difference between him and the immature believer as there would be between that immature believer and someone who had never accepted Christ.
Tommy Tenney in his book The God Chasers wrote this:
The reason people who know you aren’t interested in your God may be because you don’t have enough of the presence of God in your life. There is something about God’s presence that makes everything else crumble in comparison. Without it, you will be just as pale and lifeless as everybody else around you. No matter what you do, without His presence, you will be “just another somebody” to those around you.
"I don’t know about you, but I am tired of just being ‘another somebody’ to the lost around me. I have made a decision. I made up my mind and set my heart to declare, ‘I am going to pursue the presence of God in my life. I am going to get so close to God that when I walk into secular and public places, people will meet Him.’ They may not know that I’m there, but they will definitely know that He is there. I want to be so saturated with God’s presence that when I take a seat on a plane, then everyone near me will suddenly feel uncomfortable if they’re not right with God – even though I haven’t said a word." I’m not wanting to condemn or to convict them; I just want to carry the fragrance of my Father with me.
And the great preacher of doctrine; the man who wrote the 8 volume commentary set on this book of Ephesians and who is still considered one of the premier theologians of recent days; the man who would certainly not be known as a charismatic preacher, when he was preaching at Westminster Chapel in London, England, near the end of his life and at the pinnacle of his ministry said this to his congregation:
"I want to talk to you today about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You may call it what you want, but I want to know, have you experienced the fullness of the Spirit? I know all of you listening to me come as I do from a Reformed background. But it’s not good enough. I know that all of you would want to say to my question about the Holy Spirit, ’Well, we got it all at conversion; there’s no need for any more experience.’ Well," said Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "I have only one other question to ask you. If you got it all at conversion, where in God’s name is it?"
Great question, isn’t it? If we have received the Holy Spirit (and if you have been truly saved, you have received Him) why isn’t He more evident in our lives. Well, it’s because of some things you need to know about the power of this process. First, the process is not automatic. While you may, indeed, receive the Holy Spirit when you are saved, you are not automatically “strengthened in the inner man.” How do I know that? Well, I know it because these Ephesians whom Paul was writing were believers and yet he was praying for them to be strengthened. Obviously, this process isn’t automatic: you must ask God to strengthen you.
And this neither is this process instant. It is not a once for all thing. We are strengthened and filled with the Spirit as we, surrender by surrender, follow Christ. As the issues come up in our lives we must surrender to His Spirit.
And last of all, this process isn’t optional. That struck me this past week as I was studying for this message. In my quiet time, I have been studying through the book of Revelation. As I was going through chapter 2 I encountered this church in Ephesus again. There, the Exalted risen Christ confronts this church at Ephesus and indicts them for leaving their first love. Now that’s significant because the primary result of this process we’ve been talking about is love. Look at the very next phrase in verse 17: “that you, being rooted and grounded in what? That’s right “love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, to know the what? That’s right! “Love of God.” You see the result of this process is love and that is exactly what Christ indicts the Ephesian church for losing.
O but the worst is yet to come! In v. 5 of Revelation 2 Jesus warns this church that they must repent and return to their love or “else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place.” He is speaking there of the absolute destruction of the church. Doom is predicted if they did not return. How did it turn out? Well, today, there is no church in the Turkish location that was once Ephesus. Islam has taken over the area that Paul worked so hard to evangelize.
If the primary result of this process is love, and if the loss of love will result in disaster for a church and the loss of its spiritual life and maybe even its physical existence, I would submit to you that this process isn’t optional!
It isn’t optional for the church as a whole and it is certainly not optional for you as an individual believer. So, how is your inner man? O you all look good on the outside. You would probably smile and me and say “fine” if I were to ask you how you are, but how are you on the inside. Is your “inner man” strong? Are you full of the Holy Spirit? Do you overflow with a love for others that is impacting your world? Does your heart respond to God in worship? Is there such a love for Christ in You that holiness is a natural desire that flows out of your heart, not out of a rule book that someone has tried to impose on you? Is there a hunger in you for God? Is He the absolute center of your mind, will, and emotions? If not, may I make a suggestion to you? Will you just humble yourself before the Lord and genuinely ask Him to strengthen you with might by His Spirit in the inner man? If you will, here’s what He promises. He promises that you will
DIV 3 : RECEIVE THE PAYOFF OF THE PROCESS
The payoff of the process you see summarized in the first phrase of v 17 “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith”. Now that can be a little confusing. After all, Paul is writing to believers, to those who had already received Christ. Christ should already be dwelling in their hearts, right?
Well, that’s a good question, and the answer is found in that word “dwell.” It literally means “to live or settle down; to colonize.” “Dwell” connotes a settled, permanent dwelling and is used by Paul on two other occasions to speak of all the fullness of God dwelling in Christ.
Martin Lloyd Jones says that this phrase makes more sense when you consider it in the light of Revelation 3:20.
There, the Lord, speaking to the church at Laodicea, says, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him and He with me." These words are also addressed to Christians who have been saved. They have spiritual life, but they are in a very poor and immature condition. There is a sense in which they do not know Him. Yes, they are in a relationship with Him, but they are not controlled by Him. They are certainly in a position in which they are having dealing with Him; but He is not in the center of their lives. he is not really in their hearts, He is not "dwelling" ther, He has not "settled down" there, He has not "taken up His abode" there.
In scripture the word "heart" generally means the center of the personality. It does not mean the seat of the affections only; it also includes the mind, the understanding and the will. To believe in the Lord Jesus is not the end of Christianity but the beginning . . . Paul’s desire is that Christ may also dwell in their affections, that Chrsti may dwell in their will, that Christ may be the dominating factor in the whole of their life controlling it and directing it.
If you put all this together you can say it like this: Paul is praying for them to be strengthened in their inner man so that, being so strengthened, Christ may become the center of their mind, their will and their hearts. The strengthening of the inner person results in such a deep indwelling of Christ in their lives till he becomes their everything and if you cut them they bleed Jesus.
That’s the payoff! Jesus becomes the absolute center of your thinking. He becomes the absolute controller of your decisions and He becomes the emotional center of Your life. He is your everything. To be around you is to be around Him.
Does that sound like most of the Christians you know? More importantly, is that you? You might say this morning, “Not really, Rusty. In fact, I have to be honest, when I hear you talking about being controlled by the Spirit, I get a little queazy because I know what that means. I know it means giving up some things I want to hold onto. I know it means that there are apologies I’d have to make that I really would rather avoid. I know it may mean confessing some things to my mate that I’d rather hide. I know it may mean that I step out on faith and start a ministry or work in a ministry I am afraid of. I know it may mean that my first check of the month would change from my groceries to God, and I am afraid to live that way. To be honest there’s a big part of me that doesn’t even want that kind of relationship with God. But I want to want it. I wish I wanted it more. How can I increase my desire to know God like that? How can I increase my hunger for God?”
I was talking this week to a discipleship student of mine. He gave his heart to Christ and became a full follower about a year and a half ago. We finished discipleship and now meet to discuss the Bible and any questions that he has. We, in fact hope to begin discipling someone else together very soon.
I’ve just seen him grow so much, and it hasn’t all been easy. He has lost a very dear family member, has had some very significant health challenges that have made it even difficult for him to read the word of God. That didn’t stop him however. He got the Bible on tape and has been listening even while he found it hard to read.
Then a couple of weeks ago he found out that he faced a very significant surgery that is not without some risk. This week we just sat and talked about that. I expected him to be down and depressed, but he wasn’t. He told me something like this: “Since I have found the Lord, I don’t really worry. If I die, I’ll be ok. If I live I’ll be great.” He also said, “I didn’t like to attend church at one time. I had no interest. Now, I’ll come back from a weekend at the beach to be here to worship. Nobody makes me, I just want to!”
Do you know what that is? That is the grace that flows out of a process of growth. It is the desire and the power that come when you are strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man. So here’s the question: Are you filled with all the fullness of God? Do you have His grace?