Christ in the Heart (Part 2)

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

THE MEANS OF CHRIST’S INDWELLING

Jesus’ presence in our lives is made real to us through faith. Where does this faith come from? Can we generate it ourselves, or are their ways and means by which it grows? Paul’s prayer addresses this as well.


Prayer for Strength

The fact that Ephesians 3:14-20 is a prayer alerts us to the impossibility of attaining this blessing by our own efforts. Experiencing Christ living in our hearts is not something we can generate ourselves. It is something only God can enable. The opening part of Paul’s prayer makes this obvious. The apostle begins by saying that when he prays for the Ephesian Christians he asks the Father to strengthen them “with power through his Spirit” in their inner being (v. 16). Lloyd-Jones defines this inner being as “the heart, and the mind, and the soul and the spirit of the regenerate man.”[1] To Paul, it is clearly not strong enough in itself to exercise the faith needed for Christ to “dwell” in the heart. Nothing less that the rich grace and the enabling power of God through the Holy Spirit can keep Christians focused on the Lord Jesus in trusting belief. Lloyd-Jones helpfully explains this further by commenting on the respective weaknesses of the mind, heart and will. Our minds, he says, are weak in that they are distorted by error, assailed by doubts, and innately lethargic when it comes to spiritual concerns. “Intellectual lethargy,” he says, “is undoubtedly the greatest sin of many Christians today. They never grow in knowledge. They end where they began.”[2]


The heart also needs strengthening. It is often attacked by fears and distressed by false imaginations. Likewise, the will is habitually weak – “feeble and irresolute” – when it comes to doing the things God requires. It too needs empowering if we are to ever exercise the faith that is needed for Christ’s active presence within us.[3] “The moment you begin to look at this inner man and to analyze him,” Lloyd-Jones says, “you see that he is very weak, very feeble, and needs to be strengthened.”[4] Paul, however, is undaunted by the degree of human need. He prays to the One who is Father and asks him to supply this need “according to the riches of his glory” (v. 16). The supply is infinite, and the heart of God is ever ready to give.

Prayer for grace, then, is the first step towards Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We must always see how totally dependent upon God we are and always look to him to strengthen our feeble efforts.


Reading the Word

If Christ is to be the object of our faith we need to feed our minds with truth concerning him. That means we must constantly read the Bible, the source of our knowledge of Christ.

If Bible reading is to profit us, Lloyd-Jones says, we must read it actively, meditatively and expectantly.[5] We cannot simply dream our way through its pages. We have to concentrate as we read. Moreover, we have to meditate carefully and thoughtfully on what we read. And finally, we must do so with a spirit of expectancy, believing that God will be at work in us through his Spirit to make our reading beneficial. But perhaps more importantly still, when we read we have to “look to find him everywhere.”[6] It is possible to read the Bible out of historical interest, or with a theoretical, linguistic or geographical concern. If we are to strengthen our faith, however, we need to do so with an eye to see God and to understand how we are to relate to him. Anything less than that will only lead to a theoretical spirituality.

In this regard, it is imperative, Lloyd-Jones points out, to “seek the person” himself and not content ourselves with mere ideas and doctrines and doctrines about him. Doctrines and theology are absolutely vital to the Christian, and we can never become strong in the faith without them. But to stop at these alone is always wrong.


The great rule which must never be forgotten is: seek the Lord Himself. Seek the Person. The Christian life is not simply a matter of adopting a number of ideas; Christianity is not a philosophy, not a collection of thoughts and concepts. Its special glory, and what makes it unique, is that it not only teaches us to apply a teaching, but to get to know a Person, and to walk with Him in the light. It is personal, it is individual. The essence of success in this matter is to keep that ever in the forefront. We must not allow anything, however good and beneficial it may be in itself, to satisfy us in our spiritual life until we can really say, I know Christ Himself.[7]


Dying to Self

Basic to experiencing Christ dwelling in us is the readiness to die to ourselves. As noted above, Christ lives in us to control and direct us. He wants us to present ourselves to him as his servants, ready to do his bidding. But we will never be able to do that if at heart we are intent upon having our own way. Nor will we exercise faith in him if our minds are so absorbed with ourselves or with the world that we cannot think of anything else. Faith in Jesus and absorption with the world simply cannot coexist. Consequently, one of the most important ways in which we are to seek the blessing of Christ’s active indwelling in our hearts is by putting to death our self-love and love of the world. Just as we “tidy our house” to welcome a guest, Lloyd-Jones says, so we must “get rid of the rubbish in our lives to welcome Christ.”[8] He adds,


While we love ourselves, Christ will not come into our hearts. We have to be rid of the love of self. This is the most difficult of all tasks in our experience. The ultimate battle in the Christian life is to get rid of self and self-love. And of ourselves, we cannot do this.[9]


Responding to His Approaches

A fourth step we need to take to enjoy the presence of Christ within is to “respond to his approaches.” Our Lord Jesus doesn’t always wait for us to approach him. He is also at work within us. Through his Spirit, he arouses the desire to pray, recalls to mind the forgotten duty, and impresses upon us a convicting Scripture. When and as he does so, we must learn to respond immediately. On this, Lloyd-Jones writes,

The moment you feel the slightest drawing or indication of his love, act upon it at once, however, it may come. You may be reading a book, for instance, and not thinking very much about this particular matter when suddenly you become aware of some urge or some call to prayer. The whole essence of wisdom in this matter is to put down your book immediately, no matter how interesting it may be, and begin to pray. Do not decide to finish the chapter and pray afterwards. If you do so, you may well find that the wonderful, glorious moment is gone; and you cannot recapture it. The moment you feel the slightest movement or indication of his love, respond, act, yield to him immediately. Whatever He calls you to do, do it at once.[10]

The more responsive we become, Lloyd-Jones insists, the more he will reveal himself to us.

And as you do so, you will find that he will come more frequently, and the manifestations will be plainer and clearer. And as we are responsive to Him and His every approach, He will come more and more to us; and we shall find ourselves basking in the sunshine of His face, rejoicing in His embraces, and drinking in His glorious and eternal love.[11]


Never Mechanical

Yet we must never imagine that we can control the Lord’s activity within us. Experiencing Christ in the heart can never be reduced to a mechanical formula. It is wrong to think that “as long as we do certain things, then inevitably and automatically we shall enjoy this blessing.”[12] We cannot manipulate him, or make him act at our beck and call. He remains the sovereign, indwelling Lord, and any way he chooses to manifest his presence within us is an act of grace. He is never in our debt, and never entirely at our bidding. We may “put ourselves in the way”[13] of receiving his blessing, but never mechanically orchestrate it.


The vital point to remember in all of this, Lloyd-Jones says, is that we are dealing with a Person. And as such, we have to realize that we are engaging in a relationship, not pulling levers and ropes in some mechanism. The fallacy behind that wrong approach is to forget that we are dealing with personal relationships and that in the realm of personal relationships mechanical methods not only do not count, but they can even be the greatest possible hindrance… We have to start by realizing that this is something which is entirely in God’s hands, that He dispenses his blessings as He wills, and when and where, and in His own way.[14]


THE RESULTS OF CHRIST’S INDWELLING

The apostle Paul goes further than just describing the means of experiencing Christ dwelling in the heart. He also depicts the results. He wants the Ephesian Christians to experience Christ dwelling in their hearts in order that they, “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” and that consequently they may be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3: 18, 19). In these words, he points to two closely related outcomes.


Knowing the Love of Christ

The active personal presence of Christ in our hearts, Paul says, is the basis of discovering even greater measures of his love. When he dwells in us and makes himself known to us this will inevitably result in our hearts being filled with love. To use the apostle’s words, we will be “rooted and grounded in love.” Our lives will be firmly resting on and deeply rooted in the soil of God’s love – a love that expresses itself in us as love toward God and toward others. “The Christian’s life and activity must be built on love,” says Lloyd-Jones, “for love is an essential and inevitable part of the life of all in whose hearts Christ has taken up his abode.”[15] But this being “rooted and grounded in love” is just the prelude to greater discoveries and of Christ’s love. As we live in love and continue to centre our lives on Christ, he will continue to reveal himself to us. And because he is love, any manifestation he makes of himself will always be a manifestation of love.[16] In this way, we will come to comprehend more of the vastness of his love, and more than that, actually come to experience it in our daily lives. We will “know” his love experientially.


An illustration might help:

On one occasion, I found myself needing help with a research and writing project. Early in the morning as I was reading and meditating on the Scriptures, I became aware that I should bring this need to the Lord Jesus and leave it to him to show me how I should proceed. As I did so and continued to reflect upon the challenge that lay before me, I began to see a totally different angle on the subject I was studying. Within the space of minutes, it was perfectly clear to me what I needed to do next. Familiar ideas suddenly took on a new significance and glowed with a beauty that assured me that the Lord had indeed heard my prayer.

But what was more, this act of resting in Christ had not only resolved a difficulty but given me a fresh experience of the love of Christ. I had “comprehended” more of its breadth and length, and “known” it in an experiential sense. This is the blessing Paul promises will flow from Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith.


Being Filled with the Fullness of God

When that happens – when we experience the love of Christ as he manifests himself within us – we are in fact being “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). How are we to understand this majestic phrase? Lloyd-Jones likens it to a fragrance that can’t be defined or dissected into parts. You don’t do that with a fragrance, he says, you simply experience it.[17] And to a degree that is all that we can do with this great expression, “filled with all the fullness of God.” It defies simple definition. But there are several things we can say about it, however. It is unquestionably the highest attainment possible in Christian life; it is something all Christians can experience, and it is something that we can know in the present. Furthermore, Lloyd-Jones points out, this experience of being “filled with (or unto) all the fullness of God” is not something essentially mystical. Our identity is not dissolved and merged into the eternal.[18] We remain who we are, and so too does God.


It is better to think of this idea in terms of the nature of Christ, and of our union with him. According to Paul, the “fullness of the Godhead” is something that dwells in the Lord Jesus (Colossians 2:9). That means that when he dwells within us, and particularly when he manifests himself to us, we are experiencing something of the “fullness of God.” Indeed, as the Lord Jesus fills and controls us, we can be said to be “filled with all the fullness of God.”

We can think of this also in terms of the love of God. Love belongs to the very essence of God (1 John 4:8), and might be thought of as the “fullness of God.” When the Lord Jesus “dwells in our heart” through faith, and manifests his love to us so that it fills us and dominates us, then it can be truly said that we are being “filled with all the fullness of God.”


Lloyd-Jones expresses this idea in terms of the analogy of the vine and its branches:

The fullness of God, therefore, can reside in me exactly the same way the fullness of the life of the vine is in every individual branch and twig. The fullness of the vine, the essence, the life, that element in the sap that makes the vine the vine, is in the branches also. All the fullness of the vine is in the branches because of the organic connection, the vital union of all its parts.[19]

He goes on to point out that we mustn’t think of this “fullness” of God in terms of quantity but of quality. If Christ is in me, then ‘all the fullness of the Godhead’ is in me in the sense that that quality of life is in me. The amount varies considerably in the same man from time to time; it varies from one Christian to another, yet we all can receive of its fullness.[20] The experience of this, he insists, is no “vague, abstract, mystical contemplation.”[21] On the contrary, it is immensely practical and energizing. “Indeed, I assert,” he says, “that there is nothing which is quite as practical as this.”[22] Noting that the church has habitually failed to see this, he adds,

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. O that the Church might be brought to realise this! This is the revival the church needs. It is only when she is revived by the Spirit that she becomes powerful. As long as we continue to trust our own abilities and activities we shall avail nothing. The Church needs this fullness of God which alone leads to true practical activity.[23]

In terms of what it means for us to experience this “fullness,” Lloyd-Jones writes,

It means that God dwells in us in such a way as to control us and all our faculties; indeed, that by a logical inevitability, God controls the whole of our life. He controls our thinking, and our feelings, and our outward actions. Man must be thought of even in terms of his mind, his heart and his will. If we are filled with all the fullness of God it means that God is controlling us in the mind, the realm of cognition; in the heart, the feelings, the sensibilities; and in the realm of the will, the outward actions, and all our activities.[24]

He adds that the effect of this is total satisfaction. The fullness of God dwelling in us satisfies every “spiritual aim and instinct.”[25] Our desire to know God is completely satisfied – not simply at the theoretical level, but in a direct, intimate personal way. Our thirst for righteousness and holiness is satisfied, and so too is our desire to serve him. When a man is filled with all the fullness of God, Lloyd-Jones says, “every sense of want, of emptiness, and of insufficiency has gone.”[26]

In the next installment we will consider the hindrances that stop us experiencing the true fruit of this reality.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: An Exposition of Ephesians 3:1-21 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979).

[2] Ibid, 138.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 139.

[5] Ibid, 266.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 261-2

[8] Ibid, 164.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid, 275

[11] Ibid, 275-6. Lloyd-Jones adds, “We find ourselves here in a very delicate and sensitive environment. May God fill us with His Spirit and with wisdom and understanding, so that we may be alive and alert and sensitive to his every approach, and never find ourselves being chided by Him for having refused on of his tender approaches…. Let us be sensitive to him, let us be ready, let us be even listening and longing and waiting for Him. And as we do so, He will most surely come and manifest himself to us.” Ibid, 276.

[12] Ibid, 255.

[13] Ibid, 257.

[14] Ibid, 256.

[15] Ibid, 193

[16] Lloyd-Jones writes, “If Christ dwells in our hearts, then love must be in our hearts.” Ibid, 193.

[17] Ibid, 206.

[18] Ibid, 279.

[19] Ibid, 286.

[20] Ibid, 286-7.

[21] Ibid, 289.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid, 290.

[24] Ibid, 291.

[25] Ibid, 296.

[26] Ibid, 298.

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