A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/01/1998

Ephesians 3:17-19

That Christ May Dwell " . . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." INTRODUCTION

Ephesians is one of the grandest mountain ranges of Scripture, and in that range these verses are one of the highest peaks. We are come to the very heart and soul, the very center, kernel, and core of what the Christian life is all about. We set up our base camp for an expedition to climb this peak last week in vs. 16, where God granted us to be strengthened with power in our inner man through the Spirit. We must dig in firmly on that ground again today, for it is only with the inner strength provided there that we may hope to scale the pinnacles looming up ahead.

So we must remember that 3:1-17 is a parenthesis in the argument of the book; that vv. 14ff are therefore connected to the theme of the growth of the Church at the end of chapter 2; that therefore 3:14-21 deals with personal growth of the individual believer in the Lord, and 4:1-16 will deal with corporate growth in the Body of believers which is the Church. We grow then in the first place by being strengthened in our inner man, that part of us in Rom. 7:22 that agrees with the law of God but yields through weakness to the other law in our bodies. And the way to receive the granting of this gift is to earnestly desire it, to ask for it in faith, and then to act on the basis that it has been given.

Now we are ready, standing on this great spur of rock, to look up to the even higher peaks growing out of it. We will begin that trek today.


We are susceptible to misunderstandings of this verse because we are used to the language of popular evangelism, which encourages us to receive Christ as Savior by "inviting him into your heart." My purpose is not to criticize that language if it has been meaningful to you, but simply to point out that it is not in fact a NT way of talking about conversion. Here Paul prays that Christ will come to dwell in the hearts of people who have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing (1:3), chosen before the foundations of the world (1:4), predestined to adoption (1:5), redeemed through Christ's blood (1:7), sealed with his Spirit (1:13), and made alive in Him (2:5). So whatever he is talking about here, it is not something that is true of all believers, not something that all of them experience--at least not at the same level. It is something that the Ephesians, though already saved, still needed. But how can this be? Can anyone be a Christian without Christ living in his heart through faith? Surely not.

The key to the concept is the word "dwell." It means to take up permanent residence, not just to inhabit a space as we might inhabit a motel room, but to unpack, settle down, hang our pictures on the walls, and get comfortable. Surely Christ is present in the lives of all believers, but he does not necessarily "dwell" with them in this sense. It connotes a deeper, more intimate, more stable and consistent, more thorough and far reaching relationship than many experience.

Compare Gal. 4:19, where Paul is again in labor with the Galatian believers until Christ is "formed" in them. Some of you are believers. You are redeemed, you have been made alive, you have been sealed with the Spirit. But is Christ being formed in you? He may be present, but is his character taking shape in you? It may be present, but is it settling down into every nook and cranny so that the house begins to take on His personality? Does he DWELL in your heart by faith?

Compare also Gal. 2:20. If you are a believer, you can say you have been crucified with Christ. But can you say it is not you who live but Christ who lives in you? You have received Him as Savior and Lord; you've granted him the title and deed to the property and he has moved in. But is he comfortable there? Does he feel at home? Does he "dwell" there? Or does he sometimes feel more like an unwelcome guest? Like a stranger in his own home? Paul prays that you will be strengthened in you inner man to the point that he will "dwell" in your heart by faith.


But what does it mean for him to dwell in your "heart"? Here we are in danger of falling prey to another misconception. For contemporary American culture uses the heart as a symbol for the emotions. But in the NT the heart does not stand for the emotions at all. The body part used to represent the feelings is the "bowels," as in Col. 3:12. (Some modern translations may use the word heart, but it is a different word in Greek.) This erroneous identification causes many contemporary Christians to put an inordinate amount of emphasis on introspection, examining of their emotions, to see if they are maintaining some artificial state of feeling pious about things. But this is a mere diversion that has little to do with real holiness.

So what is the heart as a biblical concept? It refers to the center or core of the personality, that unity from which intellect, emotions, and will all flow. It is very close to the "inner man" of v. 16--the essential inner you. For Christ to dwell in your heart means that your whole inner life--your thoughts, your feelings, your motives, your intentions--would be something Jesus could be comfortable with, which would make him feel at home. How? Because He is there, in control, influencing, directing, energizing, empowering. It means that you and He are on the same wavelength, enjoying deep, intimate, and conscious fellowship. Now, if you have known even a little of this, you know that it is what you were made for. Life would be worthless without it. Eternity is not too long to know it. Eternity without it would be intolerable--would be in fact the precise technical definition of Hell.

Bernard of Clairveaux described it thus in 1150 AD:

Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts, Thou found of life, thou light of men, From the best bliss that earth imparts We turn, unfilled, to thee again. Or, as we find it in another hymn, O hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek, To those who fall, how kind thou art, How good to those who seek. But what to those who find? Ah, this Nor tongue nor pen can show. The love of Jesus, what it is, Only his loved ones know.

This is not just poetic language; it cannot be dismissed as mere hyperbole or metaphor. It is the literal truth, the testimony of one who understands and has begun to live Ephesians 3:17.


There is only one way to scale an Everest. You have to set out from the base camp! You need to be strengthened in your inner man.

You need to be strengthened first of all because of the overwhelming greatness of what you are to receive. I remember working on a construction project where we had made a plywood frame to receive a load of concrete to form a supporting wall as part of the foundation of the building we were erecting. As the concrete poured in, suddenly we were horrified to notice a bulge forming on one side of the wall. We jumped into the area beside it with 2x4's trying to reinforce our flimsy structure, but it was too late. The bulge kept growing in spite of all we could do. About that time the foreman showed up, and just shook his head at us. "Y'all might as well come out of there," he said, "or you're going to end up part of that wall yourselves!" What was supposed to be a straight, plumb wall ended up looking more like an aircraft carrier. Fortunately, the bulge was in a place that was going to be buried anyway, so we were still able to use it. But our plywood was just too weak for what we were trying to put into it.

So, is your heart capable of having Christ dwell in it? Does you mind understand any of this? Are your emotions capable of handling infinite love, infinite gratitude, infinite humility? Is your will capable of willing the kind of sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross? You need to be strengthened in your inner man so that Christ may dwell in your heart!

You need to be strengthened in the second place simply to make the necessary preparations. When a guest is coming to our house, there is always a great flurry of cleaning and straightening and provision. And the provision must be in accordance with the nature of the guest. You might set out flowers for one person, but not if you knew he suffered from hay fever. Yet some of us maintain conditions in our hearts which must be a great grief and sorrow to our heavenly Guest. There are rooms filled with the dust and smoke of sin: envy, bitterness, pride, selfishness, disobedience, lust. There are rooms locked away, off limits. Some want to feel good about Christ but are unwilling to think for him; the mind, a most neglected room, has a sign reading "No Admittance!" Others are willing to think but their thoughts are all arid, barren, lacking in any sympathy for others. And as for the Will, the throne room . . .

For Christ to dwell in your heart, sin must be expelled. And you can't do that! So the preparations required for him to dwell are not something you can even begin to do in your own strength. You need to be strengthened in you inner man so that Christ can come to dwell in your heart by faith and you can then move on to know the heights and depths of his love and be filled up to all the fullness of God (as we will see in coming weeks).


The ultimate question then must be this: How does Christ strengthen us? Through the Holy Spirit. And what does the Spirit use? Bible study, prayer, public worship, good expository preaching, Christian fellowship, exercise in Christian service. Part of the serious asking we spoke of last week is our involvement in these things, the means through which He works. It is a life-long process by which we become stronger, able to bear more of what God wants to give us, and Christ comes more and more to dwell in our hearts as one who can be at home there. And then,

What to those who find? Ah, this Nor pen nor tongue can show. The love of Jesus, what it is, Only his loved ones know.

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams