Continuing his prayer for the believers in Asia Minor, Paul asked God to strengthen them with power from the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul’s prayer aligns with God’s desires. It was God who called the believers into faith, and converted them. It is God who has worked in them His will, and now, Paul prays and asks God to strengthen and empower them by His Spirit. This is clearly what God desires to accomplish. From the Old Testament, God foretold the day when His people would finally be able to obey His commands because His Spirit was in them empowering their obedience.
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” - Ezekiel 36:27
This is why in 1 Peter 1:16, God can command that we should “Be holy; for I am holy.” It is not because we have the capability to obey in and of ourselves. We are called to obey, but we must understand that it is the Spirit at work in us to help us obey. A few verses later in 1 Peter 1:22, Peter continues this call for holiness by telling us that we will be “obeying the truth through the Spirit.” It will not be in our power that we obey what God commands. Rather, it will be through the help of His power in His Spirit in us that we will obey. And as Paul prays for the Ephesians, he asks God to grant that empowering grace in the lives of the believers, that they might obey through the help of the Spirit.
Understanding that the Spirit indwells the believer and that He empowers the believer to do good works, Paul’s next prayer request in Ephesians 3:17 should cause us to pause. At face value, it seems that Paul is praying that Christ will come and indwell the believers, but why would he need to pray that if the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) already was dwelling in believers and empowering them? There has been some mishandling of the language in this text where the misapplied take away of Paul’s prayer is that people need to have Jesus come into their heart for salvation. In verse 17, Paul is praying for believers. Therefore, the indwelling of Christ is not a sign of their getting converted, but rather a sign of their further growth in sanctification. He is not saying “Jesus come and dwell in people’s hearts so that they will be saved,” rather, he is saying, “Jesus please come and dwell in believer’s hearts so that they will live more like you.” Asking Jesus to dwell in your heart is not the same as placing your faith in Jesus.
Now, with Christ dwelling in us, we can live like Him. As Paul continues the prayer in verses 17 he says that the result of Christ controlling our hearts is that we will be “rooted and grounded” in love. This means that we become so passionate about His love for us, that we love others in the same ways that He loves us. In selfless, sacrificial ways, we allow Christ to rule over our lives with His love. Instead of seeing Christ’s indwelling as His work of justification, we must see that as believers we need to daily surrender our hearts to His desires. We truly must become Christ-like in our love for those around us.
It’s not that we don’t need to ask Jesus to come into our hearts; it is that we need to understand what that request means when we do pray for it. As believers, we are praying that God would radically transform our hearts to love those around us. That as Christ loved tirelessly, we too would be rooted and grounded in love. This was Paul’s prayer for the believers at Ephesus, and this should be our prayer and desire for ourselves and the other believers around us – that, in fact, Jesus would come into your heart.
Reflect: What does it mean to have Jesus dwell in your heart? What doesn’t it mean?