Christ in the Heart: Hindrances (Part 3)

In this article Andrew Young helps us to continue thinking about what it means to have Christ dwelling within us. This is the last part of a three part series on this subject. You can find part one here.

HINDRANCES TO CHRIST’S INDWELLING


Lloyd-Jones identifies six hindrances to Christians experiencing the indwelling presence of Christ in their lives.


Overemphasizing Doctrine

The first, as already noted previously, is the tendency to confuse true Christianity with knowing doctrine and theology. Lloyd-Jones was not against the study of doctrine – far from it. To a large degree, he was responsible for a revived interest in doctrine in Britain in the 20th century. What did concern him was making the study of doctrine (or for that matter, history or archaeology, or grammar) an end in itself. When that happens, he argued, our attention is transferred from the Creator to the creature. In effect, we make something inherently good into an idol.


It was Lloyd-Jones’ contention that all theology was intended to be practical and meant to help people know God. On this, a favorite theme in his ministry, he writes,

"All Christian doctrine is meant to lead, and is designed to lead, to a practical result and outcome. This cannot be overemphasized. Truth is not something merely for the mind or the intellect. It is, of course, primarily for the mind and the intellect, and it is taken in with the mind and the intellect. But it is fatal to think that truth or doctrine or theology – call it what you will – is to be regarded as an end in itself, something that you are aware of and that you can appropriate with your mind, that you can discuss and argue about, and nothing more. If doctrine stops at that point I do not hesitate to assert that it can even be a curse. Doctrine is meant and designed to bring us to God. It is meant to be practical…. All biblical doctrine is about this blessed Person; and there is no greater snare in the Christian life than to forget the Person Himself and to live simply on truths concerning him."[1]

Elsewhere he issues the following warning against resting content with ideas rather than a personal knowledge of God:

"I emphasize this great danger of being content with ideas and truths about the Lord Jesus Christ instead of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. You can become enamored with the thoughts, the principles and the concepts; and you can become so entranced by them that they come between you and the Person. The very doctrine concerning Him may hide Him from your eyes. Nothing is more tragic than that! It is a terrible snare; beware of it. It is as dangerous as a false mysticism; it is as dangerous as remaining a babe in Christ… All biblical doctrine is about this blessed Person; and there is no greater snare in the Christian life than to forget the Person himself and to live simply on truths concerning Him."[2]

Mistaking True Knowledge

Closely related to the above is a mistaken idea about the nature of “knowing.” In our Western culture “knowing” is often associated with understanding and remembering information. As such it can be simply theoretical in character. We can know about things, but have no real personal acquaintance with them. That characteristic often carries over into the Christian faith. People assume that if they know certain things about God then they in fact know him. However, as Lloyd-Jones insists, the biblical notion of knowledge is typically more experiential. You do not really know a person or thing until you have some first-hand, even intimate association with them.


This word ‘knowing’ as used in the Scriptures is always personal and experimental. Furthermore, the verb ‘to know’ refers to direct, immediate knowledge which is not the result of contemplation and meditation; that is to say, it is not mediate, but immediate and direct. It is a knowledge in the realm of experience.[3] It is true, he admits, that knowledge begins with the conceptual – that is, it begins by understanding certain truths about a person or thing. But that is always only the first step. To truly know something we must go beyond apprehending it to experiencing it.


We are looking now, not primarily at an activity of the mind or of the understanding. A more passive element enters in here. It describes not so much an activity on our part, as an awareness of something that is happening to us, and that is taking place within us. We are no longer looking at the love of Christ externally with a sense of wonder and of amazement; we are now experiencing it, being bathed in it, being enveloped by it, being ravished by and filled with it.[4]


Confusion about Mysticism

The direct and personal character of the knowledge outlined above is easily confused with a type of mysticism that Lloyd-Jones calls “false mysticism.” It is the mysticism common in Eastern religions and in some expressions of Christian spirituality that entail a loss of true personality and absorption into the being of God. Inevitably, Lloyd-Jones says, this kind of mysticism is a “morbid, introspective, selfish, impractical and useless type of mysticism.”[5]

Over against this, he contends, there is what we might call a true or biblical mysticism. The Bible does speak of an intimate personal relationship between God and man that is beyond our complete understanding. It is real and something that can only be known through experience.


The indwelling of Christ within us belongs to this category. We cannot properly comprehend it or see it, but we do believe it because the Bible speaks of it, then also because we can consciously experience it. The 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.[6]


Repeatedly Lloyd-Jones connects what Paul is saying in his prayer in Ephesians 3 with Jesus’ farewell conversation with his disciples. Christ “dwelling in the heart through faith” is simply the fulfillment of his promise to return and be with his disciples (John 14:21). What He [Jesus] is really saying is that after he has gone and has baptized them with the Holy Ghost, he will be more real to them that He is at that moment. And this is what happened after Pentecost. He was more real to them, more living to them, more vital to them afterwards than He was in the days of His flesh. His promise was literally fulfilled and verified… The Lord Jesus Christ is not among us in the flesh now; but in the Spirit He can be much more real, and we can know him with an intimacy that the disciples and apostles did not enjoy when He was here in the days of His flesh.[7]


Absorption with Experiences

Sometimes, Lloyd-Jones believed, people react to the dry sterility of a theoretical Christianity by going to the other extreme of seeking experiences. When they do this they are not pursuing a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ so much as experiences commonly associated with vital spirituality. Such spiritual experiences are real and are a valued part of Christianity. Lloyd-Jones was certainly not against experience as such, for he writes,

"Thank God for experiences of enjoying the reading and the preaching of the Word, experiences that come in meetings for prayer, experiences that come while singing a hymn, or the experiences we know in Christian fellowship, and in many other respects. Thank God for all such general Christian experiences."[8]

What he did object to, however, was people making the enjoyment of experiences the essence of their Christian life. He continues,

"But while we thank God for them in this particular realm with which we are dealing, we have to realize that even they can be dangerous….Many people live on ‘meetings’ and not on the Lord Jesus Christ… Indeed, it is possible for us so to misuse the means of grace as to live on them instead of going on through them to discover the Giver of all grace. How subtle all this is!"[9] When people make the pursuit of experiences the goal of their life, they are going to fail to know the blessing of Christ manifesting himself in their hearts. According to Lloyd-Jones there is only one safe rule: “Seek the Lord Himself. Seek the Person.”[10]

Denying Direct Dealings

A fifth hindrance to experiencing the reality of Christ dwelling in our hearts is the belief that God doesn’t have direct, personal dealing with people any longer. Some people hold that now that the Scriptures are complete, all we need is to understand what God has written and to act upon it. To talk of anything beyond that is to border on fanatical mysticism. It is enough, they say,

"…just to see the truth externally in the Scriptures and to apply it in our daily lives. We are not meant to know and talk about immediate and direct experiences, and of loving Christ personally. All that, they say, is fevered imagination, not to say a condition which sometimes even crosses the borderline and becomes psychopathic."[11]

While great care is needed in talking about “direct experiences” of Christ, and in guarding against any thought that the Scriptures are not sufficient, there is a sense in which it is proper to speak in this way. For whenever the Holy Spirit living within us operates upon us – mysterious as that operation is – we are bring directly influenced by God. The way the Spirit usually does so is through his Word, but the fact remains that he works in us by and through that Word and produces definite effects. Our lives are touched by God, and in that sense it is proper to speak of “direct experiences” or of “immediate influences.” To deny this is to shut ourselves up to an essentially objective form of Christianity.


Connected with this objective viewpoint is the charge that claims of knowing Christ personally and experientially are expressions of sentimentality. Because this experiential knowledge of Christ it generates deep emotions, it is often dismissed as emotionalism. Lloyd-Jones responds by saying,

"There are, unfortunately, even many evangelical Christians who deny that God has any direct dealings with men today, and who hold feeling and emotion at a discount. They frequently substitute for true emotion a flabby sentimentalism. They are afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit, and so afraid of certain excesses which are sometime found in mysticism and in certain people who claim to have unusual experiences of the Holy Spirit, that they ‘quench the Spirit’ and never have any personal knowledge of Christ. Indeed, they often go so far as to deny the possibility of such a knowledge."[12]

Rejecting as Impractical

Finally, there is another popular hindrance to knowing Christ’s living presence in the heart, namely, a preoccupation with activity. To the active, busy person intent on seeing results, the idea of seeking Christ and endeavoring to live out of the fullness of his life is impractical. It is passive and achieves nothing. Lloyd-Jones writes,

"Perhaps the greatest danger confronting the Church and Christian people today, is that instead of realizing the supreme need of the moment is knowledge of the love of Christ, we spend our time and energy in organizing activities. We have made activity an end in itself. We say we must be ‘getting busy’. And in a carnal manner we are attempting to do God’s work. But how little happens! It is not surprising we are forgetting the true motive and the energizing power."[13]

In responding to the claim that an emphasis on knowing Christ is really an impractical approach to the Christian life, Lloyd-Jones writes:

"Such an argument is based on sheer ignorance, not only of the Scriptures, but also of Church history. For the fact is that men who have been busy in the service of the Lord and Master, in the long history of the church, have always been those who have known Him best and who have rejoiced most of all in His love… I argue that there is nothing more practical than this experience. The truly practical man is not the man who is always bustling and busy and excited and rushing about here and there, but the man who is being used by God the Holy Spirit. .. As long as we continue to trust to our own abilities and activities we shall avail nothing. The Church needs this fullness of God which alone leads to true practical activity."[14]

CONCLUSION

If I have summarized Lloyd-Jones’ understanding correctly, and if he has accurately interpreted what Paul is saying in this prayer, then surely Lloyd-Jones is justified in saying that it “takes us to the topmost level… the very mountaintop of Christian experience.”[15] If Christ the mighty Creator does personally indwell us and manifest his love to us, then “beyond any question, we are dealing with the greatest truth that can ever confront a human being.”[16]

It also highlights the possibilities for the Christian – for every Christian – in this present world. Paul is not writing to super-saints but has in mind “all the saints” (Ephesians 3:18). Furthermore he is not thinking of an experience that relates to some time in the distant future, and some realm of existence beyond our present world, but to the here and now. All Christians can know in some measure the love of Christ in its fullness now, and can experience it in a way that “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3: 19). Lloyd-Jones goes so far as to say that

…there is a point in grace as much above the ordinary Christian as the ordinary Christian is above the worldling.[17] In this respect, he believes many Christians make the mistake of thinking that the experience of forgiveness and the promise of salvation is all that matters in the Christian life. Rather, it is only the beginning, the first step, “an indication of entry into the kingdom of God.”[18]


Most of us tend to think of salvation only in terms of forgiveness, as if the love of Christ only purchases forgiveness for our sins. Anyone who stops at that has clearly never known anything about the height of the love of Christ.[19] Again, if this is the correct understanding of Paul’s prayer, it is right to say that it holds the “real key to Christian living” and Christian ministry.[20] The Christian life is not a matter of finding some quick and easy method for sanctification, and Christian ministry is not a matter of finding quick and easy methods for sanctification and ministry. It is fundamentally about knowing God and experiencing the life of his Son within us. Lloyd-Jones makes the claim that "all holiness, sanctification, every kind of blessing and every condition in the Christian life, is to be the result of our knowledge of Him as a person and our communion with Himself."[21]


Finally, if this is a correct understanding of Paul’s prayer then pursuing a deeper experience of Christ’s presence and love is not something that should be neglected. It was something, Lloyd-Jones says, that occupied the great saints of the past much more than it does Christians today. They spent much time, he claims, “meditating upon the love of Christ to themselves and to all God’s people. Nothing brought them great joy.”[22] Our failure to do so, he says, is one of the major defects of the church today. Rather than absorbing ourselves with doctrine and theology, and meditating on the love of Christ, we mistakenly think the most important thing is to be practical. Of course it is important to be practical, but our practice and activity has to flow from the right source. If it arises from our programmes, money, personnel and plans, then it is doomed to fail. But if it flows out of the energizing love of Christ, both the church and the world will be transformed.[23]


[1] Ibid, 94.

[2] Ibid, 260, 208.

[3] Ibid, 234.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 248.

[6] Ibid, 150.

[7] Ibid, 249-50.

[8] Ibid, 260

[9] Ibid, 260-1.

[10] Ibid, 261.

[11] Ibid, 247.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, 252-3.

[14] Ibid, 251, 290.

[15] Ibid, 120. 142.

[16] Ibid, 167.

[17] Ibid, 131.

[18] Ibid, 130.

[19] Ibid, 227. Lloyd-Jones adds, “He died not merely that we might be forgiven and saved from hell. He died that we might ‘be filled with all the fullness of God’ – here in this life! Not when you are dead and have passed into heaven and into glory, but here and now! This is Christianity. To be content with anything less than this is sinful, and dishonouring to the Lord. ” Ibid, 300.

[20] Ibid, 120.

[21] Ibid, 181.

[22] Ibid, 219.

[23] Ibid, 229.

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